I had a hard time coming up with what to name today’s post. I haven’t blogged in about 6 months but finally was hit with enough inspiration to return.
This morning, Michael crawled into bed with me and Mike at about 8:30. Not bad for a weekend. As he lay there between us, cuddling, I looked at him, and as every special needs parent probably does once in a while, wondered how our life would be different if he was not afflicted by his disorder. What would his friends be like? What sports would he play? What interests would he have? But as fast as I started to think about those things, I dismissed them. Autism has made impacts in my life that I wouldn’t change for anything.
I’ve met people I couldn’t imagine living without now – people who have brought so many things to my life: friendship, love, laughter, and inspiration. I’ve seen Michael bring out kindness, compassion, and joy in the lives of people. I’ve been able to help other people who are just starting to navigate the waters of autism.
I also realized, that I’ve become a better teacher because of Michael. I have often said that parents of children with special needs should be given an honorary degree in Exceptional Education. I have learned so many things on this journey and realized that some of the things that help Michael, and other kids with challenges, can help all kids. One of the incentives I offer in my class for outstanding behavior and citizenship, is sitting on a therapy ball for the day instead of a chair. Let me tell you that my students will pick that “bouncy ball” as a reward over “free homework” passes, extra computer time, candy – you name it. And the change I’ve seen in some of these kids JUST SITTING ON A BOUNCY BALL is unbelievable. I’ve learned so much about the brain and sensory input that I can actually notice when a kid needs something like this. I had a little girl in class the other day who at one point literally was fidgeting from her fingers to her feet. That very afternoon, I got a copy of a local free magazine “The Autism Notebook” that had an article about how just 5 – 10 minutes on a therapy ball can help a child focus for 2 hours. The very next day I pulled my little friend aside, and explained to her that I was going to let her sit on one of these to see if it made her feel different. WHAT A DIFFERENCE. Would I have known about this if it were not for Michael? No way. I have another little friend this year who is having a horrible time with organizing his books. Each time he goes to my co-teacher for the subjects she teaches, he invariably comes back to my classroom 3 – 4 times because he forgot something. This week, I plan to implement a visual schedule with him. Michael’s been using these in his self-contained room for years. Again – something I’d have no clue about were it not for Michael’s teachers working with us. Now, I have no delusions that I am going to change the life of all of my students, but some of these tiny little tricks can make a difference.
Michael started middle school this year. It’s still unreal to me that he’s reached this point. When I’m driving to pick him up, I see many of the students walking home. They’re so BIG! Is my little chubby cheeked peanut really old enough to be in the same school as these giants walking down the sidewalk texting and talking on their phones? One of the things I really do like about his school is the fact that the special needs’ teachers include life skills as part of their program. They’re going to work on cooking, doing laundry, etc. (They actually have a washer/dryer in a room attached to the classrooms!) This is going to be interesting. I have actually witnessed Michael get inside our washing machine and sit in there. At least it’s been some time since he’s done that. However, yesterday morning, Mike and I awoke to find the oven turned on (thankfully, it was only turned on the “clean” setting which won’t turn on unless the oven’s been locked) and he had taken half a bag of tater tots and dumped them onto a baking sheet which was sitting on the range top. We should have had a good idea he was doing something like this – we sleep with our door ajar, and at about 8 AM, Michael came on over and closed our bedroom door. In the words of Mike, he was likely thinking “I’m about to do something so bad, I’ll just go ahead and shut this door”. Well, at least we got the message, and Michael got to have tater tots for breakfast.
Finally, I have to give a “shout-out” to my former teaching partner-in-crime, Mrs. Judge. We taught first grade together for four years before I took my teaching hiatus in 2003 to stay home with my kids. I was so excited to run into her at a diocese-wide conference right before school started. Her words were “I don’t care what you are pinning on Pinterest or where you’re eating dinner – I WANT TO READ THAT BLOG”. Thanks, Mrs. Judge! I promise, I’ll keep up on the writing!