(It’s not exactly his birthday, but today was where the party had to fit in the calendar.)
It’s hard to believe he’s 3. Time really flies away on us. With him starting in the Pre-K autism preschool next week, this will definitely be an eventful and emotionally-charged week for us.
After having jam-packed events for his first two birthdays, we decided to keep this one low-key since he got a bit freaked out by the last two and the crowds. Most of our friends were out of town for the holiday, so that kept things simple, though we would have liked for them to be able to come.
I’m not sure there is a really good way to have a birthday party for an autistic toddler and still have any number of family and friends over. It’s hard to not overstimulate us as parents let alone him. We had to go well into our bag of calming tricks and manage a few tantrums, but it was still a lot of fun.
Mary found this excellent ‘cake’ at Target. It’s a bunch of cupcakes arranged into the shape of a monkey. And they were yummy too! Of course, he refused to touch any part of them. He never has liked any sort of cake. Unless they make birthday cakes out of chicken nuggets and tortilla chips, it may be a while before he eats his own birthday cake. (Obviously, his name is redacted.)
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We got the call today from the school system that we’ve been assigned to the school we wanted! All indications are that this school has a great Pre-K autism classroom (called “structured learning” here) with a teacher people rave about, all that and it’s just two miles from our house!
We talked briefly to the teacher today and we’re going to meet with her on Tuesday to get acquainted. She sounds like a very nice person who’s on top of things. We’re really looking forward to this.
Our first day of school should be Wednesday. What a long, strange, and very stressful trip this has been, but it looks like everything has worked out great. What a relief!!
It’s a weird feeling now because we had put so many plans on hold until all this resolved itself and everything finally became official. It’s still going to be disorienting for him to be away from the house so much. I imagine we will be really lost the first couple of days.
That and our little boy is growing up and starting to take a few steps out on his own. After having to be involved in every aspect of his life every day for three years, it’s hard to let go that little bit so he can start to do some things on his own.
And so begins one of the biggest transitions – if not the biggest – so far.
Thanks to everyone for the good thoughts and well wishes for today’s IEP meeting. We appreciate everyone’s encouragement!
This is the brief version because we’re feeling baked right now. After all the emotion and stress that gets invested in the IEP process, now that it’s essentially over, all we can think about doing is crashing for the night.
After today’s 2 1/2-hour IEP marathon, we signed all the papers and everyone left with a sense that we had come up with a good plan. If ideal is 100%, I’d provisionally give the result about a 90%. The 10% difference felt like reasonable compromises. We had the perfect scenario in mind and a range in which we’d negotiate, and the result fell somewhere in there.
The main highlight is getting full-day, five-day-a-week preschool, which is sort of the holy grail here. The bonus came in finding out that the “structured learning” class (it’s not ‘autistic preschool classroom’ anymore here) has a much better teacher-student ratio than we had originally been told. They’ve been restructuring how they do preschool for autistic kids here, so people are still figuring it out. It’s three teachers for eight students, which just rocks. We were willing to give a little on services since he’ll be getting more individual attention than we originally thought in the classroom.
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‘Twas the night before our IEP meeting… blah blah blah.
[Catch up on the whole IEP saga here.]
Getting past our IEP meeting with the school system tomorrow can’t come soon enough. For obvious reasons, J-Man’s 3rd birthday is in a few days and he ages out of Early Intervention so we are off that wagon after Labor Day. So, the school has to kick in with something next week or we’re going to end up having one of those – as we like to say – come to Jesus moments with everybody.
Basically, the rule is that after you are deemed eligible for school and services, the first day school is open on or after their 3rd birthday, your child gets to go and the related services kick in (if you’re approved for them). So here we are, a week before his theoretically possible kinda start date of school and we have no earthly idea what his placement and related services will be. I’ve been griping about how dumb it is to cut the whole thing this close and leave parents in a lurch, but I might as well be griping at the wall. It’s not like anyone on the IEP team can do anything about that.
To make matters more interesting, our county is on both a year-round and traditional calendar school year depending on what school you go to. AND, year-round schools are divided into four tracks, only three of which are in session at any given time. Supposedly, all special ed preschool is on the fourth track – though no one seems to be able to confirm this – meaning they are in session as I write this and will be until the end of September, at which point they have a three-week break. However, if it by some chance is on a different track, one of the tracks is currently not in session and won’t be for another four weeks.
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The Surfer’s Healing day camp is a highly-acclaimed, insanely-popular surf camp for children with autism. Everybody who has done it has given it rave reviews. We’re obviously not ready for such an adventure, but I keep hearing about it from parents here, so I was glad to see them do a piece on local TV about them. It’s so popular that getting a spot is very difficult and they’re already booked up for the season, but I wanted to mention it anyway just because I’m so impressed with their vision.
(Click here to read the piece, or click here to see the video of the TV spot. – Note: Will definitely make you all teary.)
The program was started by Izzy Paskowitz, whose own son is autistic. He saw how surfing did such wonderful things for his own son and got the idea to spread this gift to other children. He’s interviewed in the video, and you can tell how big a heart he has. He has the face of someone who has tapped into something amazing. It makes me feel better just knowing people like that exist in the world.
For parents of autistic children, many days are difficult. We know we’d bear anything and do whatever it took to give our children a really great day. Most parents we know of ‘typically developing’ children don’t really understand what that means to us. We watch our children struggle bravely through every challenge, and all we want is one day where these challenges fall away for a while and nothing but joy pours out of them.
You can see the faces of the children and the parents in this video, and one thing is clear – this was a really good day.
As I was leaving the library near J-Man’s preschool for my weekly “Friday Bliss and Freedom” two hours of time off (where “off” = “the rare occurrence of 120 consecutive minutes to do work for clients”), I passed a mom and her two kids where the son was screaming bloody murder. I had seen his fit begin when the mom denied him the reward of a sticker or something at the library’s front desk because of his behavior. He was screaming at levels that would have brought me running to see if someone was being attacked, if I hadn’t already been there.
I admit that before becoming a parent I likely would have judged her as being a crappy one. After long practice of finding creative ways to talk about J-Man’s quirks and behaviors and being around countless other children with similar needs and challenges, I think I’m starting know better. I’ve been on the receiving end of looks from other parents who I can tell are judging me and judging my son because he does things differently. I’ve developed a thick skin, but I still know how it feels.
A parent wiser than me once said, “Before you decide you know what’s going on, pause a moment…because you never know what their story is.” A couple of times I’ve discovered “the story” of a situation and been humbled by it.
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