Last June, right before school let out, I had a great idea for a post. I was going to call it “How to have a successful year in kindergarten, ASD-style.” I was going to talk about the things AB’s teachers and therapists did with him at the beginning of the year that really set him up for success. I planned to convey what a fabulous time he had in kindergarten, and how he really came out of his shell throughout the year. But then I took a summer class for my master of library science program, and that was really intense. (A full semester crammed into 6 weeks. Yikes!) Then I got busy at work. (I played a clarinet feature on one concert and was the announcer on another concert, both in the same week.) Then I had 2 weeks of vacation. (Some time at the beach, some time with family in Chicago, and some time painting the boys rooms.) After vacation was over, I fell back into the work routine, and all of the sudden, it’s time to go back to school! Really?!?! Already?!?! Where the hell did summer go? I never got around to writing that post, and now so much time has passed that I’m afraid even my loyal readers may have forgotten that I have a blog at all!
So I’ll start with a shortened version of that post about AB’s great year in kindergarten. He had a tough time with the morning routine at first. He was supposed to unpack his backpack, hang it up, and then complete his morning work that was pre-placed on his desk each day. For the first few days, he went straight to his desk, skipping all of the parts of the routine. He then sat down and spent all of his time stimming with his fingers in front of his face, leaving the morning work untouched. So, our ABA therapist created a simple visual chart for him containing 5 small cards attached with Velcro. The cards were pictures of a folder, a lunch box, a snack bag, a backpack, and a worksheet. When he completed each step of the routine, he was allowed to remove the card and put it in a pocket on the chart. When all of the cards were gone, he was then allowed to have what the therapist called “AB time,” which meant that if his things were unpacked, his backpack was hung up, and his work was compete, he was allowed to stim with his fingers until the class began. This worked amazingly well for AB. He understood right away what to do, and this visual aid motivated him to unpack quickly and finish his morning work with time to spare. He used this chart for about a month, and then the teacher took it away because he didn’t need it anymore. She told me that after a month or so, he didn’t even need the stimming time as a reward anymore, because just accomplishing the morning routine was reward enough. (Boy, I wish SB was that easily motivated!) Several months into school, he saw the chart in his desk and told the teacher, “I don’t even use that anymore because I know what to do!”
The classroom teacher did a few other things to help AB throughout the year. He had a habit of zoning out during circle time activities, so she put an “X” on the floor close to her, and made that his special place to sit. Sitting close to the teacher helped him to listen better and stay engaged. The teacher also told me that she kept a timer in the classroom, and always gave the class a one-minute warning when the activity was about to change. She noticed that knowing how much time was left in an activity helped AB a lot, and that he would often remind her when the one minute was almost up. Probably the thing that helped him come out of his shell the most were the social skills that our ABA therapists introduced. These are things like practicing conversation skills with peers, asking other children to play and share, and how to express with words when he was upset and why. Again, I’d like to say how thankful I am that our school and our ABA therapists have such a positive relationship. I know first-hand that not all schools are welcoming to outside therapists, and that we are very lucky to have teachers and a principal who are willing to listen to and try the new things that our therapists suggest. At the beginning of the year AB was extremely and shy only played by himself, but by spring, he was teaching his friends how to play Pop the Pig on game day!
The boys have really had a great summer, filled with some camps and activities, and also some general down time, mostly used to play video games. Since my husband is a teacher, he gets to be “Mr. Mom” in the summertime, spending lots of quality time with the guys. (And we get to avoid day care costs! Yay!) We started the summer by joining the “Minis” program that is part of the swim team at our neighborhood pool. My husband calls it the “Farm Team” for the swim team. It’s for the kids who are too young for the swim team or aren’t experienced enough at swimming to be on the team. The guys participated well enough at practice each morning, but are still not yet ready to be swim team members. AB became more confident in the water throughout the summer, taking his first trips off the diving board and the down the slide in July. At the last swim meet of the season, the Minis were invited to make one lap across the deep end of the pool before the meet began. They were both pretty nervous about it, because they wouldn’t be able to touch the bottom. But with a kickboard, they both did it! My Mom was visiting that day, and she was on a swim team growing up, so she was happy to stay and watch a little bit of the meet with us. SB was thrilled! He cheered exuberantly for each swimmer, never losing interest with the experience, even though the swimmers were mostly strangers to him. AB and I got bored after a while, so we went to check out the options at the snack table. I really do hope they get good enough at swimming to join the team someday. It looks like a very positive social experience, and the kids on the team all seem really close. We will keep plugging away with swimming lessons at the local rec center!
The first camp the guys went to this summer was at a place called “Life Changing Fitness,” a gym facility with the goal to promote physical fitness specifically in special needs kids. After watching our guys and the other campers, we came to a happy realization. When looking at a room full of special needs children, our guys don’t really “fit in” anymore. They’ve made so much progress in language, behaviors, and social skills that they are starting to fit in a little better in a room full of typical kids. (When SB was 2 and was in the Preschool Autism Class, he DEFINITELY fit in with the other kids in the class.) We are so glad to be able to see this kind of progress. As I told a friend on Facebook recently, I wish that I could go back in time and talk to 2007 Mindy to tell her what 2013 SB will be like, how much progress he will make over the years, and how smart and interesting he will turn out to be. Then maybe 2007 Mindy wouldn’t have to be so miserable with all of her useless worrying!
The next activity was Vacation Bible School at our church. To make sure we had maximum participation from them, one of our ABA therapists was there every day, bopping back and forth between SB’s and AB’s classes. I would not have predicted that the guys would change roles on us – SB was a mostly model camper, while AB became the defiant, non-compliant one! AB’s bad attitude and refusal to participate kept Ms. R very busy. Thursday evening they did a Family Night presentation, with each class singing one song. Right as SB’s group was climbing the risers to sing their number, SB yelled for the entire sanctuary to hear, “Hey Mommy! Get your camera!” Not shy, this one! On Friday morning, SB said, “Aw! I’m a little bit sad VBS is almost over!” AB grumpily replied, “Well, *I’M* not sad!” “Didn’t you have fun at VBS?” I asked him. “No! Because Ms. R was always telling me NOT to do things!” Well, she’s an ABA therapist, kiddo. That’s kind of her job!
We went to several baseball games as a family this summer, and SB’s interest in baseball has really taken off. He can sit in the heat of a July afternoon in Washington, DC for 3 straight hours, and is just as excited about the last pitch of the game as he was about the first. Baseball is full of numbers and statistics, so I’m not surprised that it has piqued his interest. AB is less excited about sitting in the heat and watching the game, but thank goodness the Nationals stadium has a cool playground we can visit when things start to get boring! During one game, we were sitting right above the visiting team’s (the Rockies) bullpen, and the Nats were getting creamed. The stadium had emptied out considerably, but we were still there because SB was still enjoying himself. At one point a Rockies player looked up at us (the only people left in the entire section), made eye contact with me, pointed to SB, and then tossed us a ball! I caught it and gave it right to him, and boy, was he thrilled! He carried that ball with him everywhere he went for at least a week, and he still takes it to bed with him most nights.
Next they went to soccer camp, which was a huge success compared to previous years. I shared this photo on my Facebook page, and the caption explains it all:
“Burts Soccer Camp history:
2009: Simon went to soccer camp, age 4. Wandered field aimlessly, did not participate, left early every day except Friday, because on Friday we didn’t even bother to show up.
2012: Both boys went to soccer camp. This time I got smarter and enlisted the help of our ABA therapists and an aide provided by the county. Both had some participation issues, but generally stayed involved throughout most of the week.
2013: Both boys went to soccer camp. No ABA therapists were involved, and the county-provided aide only came for the first 2 days. Both actively participated most of the time with minimal assistance.
PROGRESS! It takes YEARS, but it does happen!”
Even though they did pretty well at the 3-hour a day, 5-day long camp, my husband and I decided not to enroll them in a soccer team this fall. We discussed the pros and cons at length, and came to the conclusion that neither one of them would really enjoy or get much out of doing a soccer team again. (If you want to read about how painful soccer was last year, check out: The Soccer Mom Goes Back to School.) During the camp, they did great during the drills and the silly games the coaches made up, but when it came time to play an actual game of soccer, my guys kind of tanked at it. Neither one is aggressive enough to really get in there and try to get the ball from the other players, so they just follow the other players around until they get bored, and then wander the field kind of aimlessly. During one of the games, AB complained to my husband that, “None of the other kids are sharing the ball!” Sorry, dude – you are kind of missing the point!
After last year’s big trip to Disney World, we decided to keep this year’s vacation somewhat low-key and visit my parents in Chicago, where there is plenty to do, plus a free place to stay. My parents spoiled them rotten, of course! They got matching Plants vs. Zombies T-shirts that they wanted to wear every day. My parents also took them “camping,” which was really just sleeping outdoors in tents in the backyard. They were so excited about their first camping experience that before we even left, SB announced, “I want to sleep in a tent ALL the nights!” I really thought they would get too scared and want to go back inside, but they made it through the night – twice!
The best time was the day we spent downtown, visiting the Navy Pier, going on a Lake Michigan cruise, and going up to the top of the Sears Tower. (Well, now it’s officially called the “Willis Tower,” but I’m going to keep calling it the Sears Tower in my mind.) When we got to the small glass enclosures that allow you to look straight down 103 stories to the ground, AB got scared and immediately turned and left. So did my husband! SB, however, became completely mesmerized by the view. He almost went into a sort of trance, laid face down on the glass, and just stared. There was a line to get into the glass enclosures, so after a few minutes, I told him to get up. He ignored me. I don’t think he even heard me. I told him several times to get up, and finally just gave up, picked him up, and carried him out. Surprisingly, he didn’t get upset. The effect the view had on him was pretty weird. Here is the picture:
The last camp of the summer was Dinosaur Days camp. It was a very well run camp and the boys had a fantastic time. The ABA therapists only came for the first day, and thought things were going so well that they didn’t need to come anymore. The guys made dinosaur-themed crafts every day, played games, went for hikes, dug for “dinosaur bones,” and learned all sorts of facts about dinosaurs. My favorite craft was the Stegosaurus vest.
Last spring I got embarrassed when I realized that I was working on a degree to become a librarian, yet my guys didn’t really know how to use a public library. So I decided to spend this summer teaching the guys how to use the library catalog and how to find books in the library by taking them once a week and giving them several tasks to complete. If you know my guys at all, you know that his was a pretty ambitious idea. (I get LOTS of ambitious ideas that I don’t have the time or resources to complete. Just ask my husband.) We didn’t make it to the library every single week, but we did go 5 times throughout the 10 weeks of summer. Each trip had a theme, such as “bugs” or “baseball.” I chose an appropriate book in advance, and then taught them how to find that book by typing the title or author in the catalog, writing down the Dewey Decimal number, and searching for it on the shelves. Then they had to choose 1-2 appropriate fiction books and use the self-checkout station to check out their books by themselves. The whole experience took about 20 minutes, yet always left me exhausted and frazzled. The cool thing is that our public library has a summer reading program that gives each kid a coupon book for local restaurants and entertainment after reading 15 books. It took all summer, but they did it. And they were jumping up and down with excitement when they received their coupon books, even though they had no idea what a coupon book actually was! We immediately went to Bob Evans to redeem the Free Kids Meal coupon to have pancakes for lunch.
Last year about this time, we experienced a lot of moodiness and meltdowns from SB that seemed random at first, but I soon realized that they were probably related to anxiety about going back to school. So far this year (knock on wood!) we haven’t noticed anything like that. School doesn’t start here in Virginia until September 3rd. (We usually go until mid or late June, so it works out to be the same as everywhere else in the end.) My husband has to go back this Monday for teacher work days, so the guys will start back to day care. And then they will begin first and third grades. Ready or not, here they come!