Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Predictions and Truths


The predictions about how Autism affects a family are not pretty:
They tell us that most marriages where there is a child with Autism will end in divorce.
They tell us that one parent is often forced to give up their job to care for a child with Autism.
They tell us that isolation and depression are common.
They tell us that financial solvency is a goal that we cannot reach, due to the expense of caring for our child and the unavailability of safe and dependable child care.

We tried so hard against those predictions, yet here we are.  Once the childcare domino fell, it's been a swift coast down the mountain we fought so hard to climb.  The last two months have been the longest and saddest of my life, as I watch the life we worked so hard for begin to crumble around the edges. I want to work, but there's no one else to watch Chico.  I've searched for work at home opportunities for at least an hour a day for the last eight weeks and I still have no clue how to bring in any real money.  I'm smart, and capable, and a damn hard worker, I just wish I could find some work to do that wouldn't require childcare. I'm watching Q work more and more hours at a job that doesn't appreciate him, and I'm just sick over it.  I feel like a failure, a burden.

And yet in my heart I know that we three are God's own perfect creation, never to be forsaken by Him. I know that Chico is a gift, chosen by the Lord for us. I know that He is pleased with the work I am doing with Chico. I know that He sees Q working so hard and smiles down on this beloved, faithful son of His.  I'm trying so hard to find the lesson in this, to see where I can use this experience to draw nearer to Him.

Q & I tried so hard to be good, be be generous, to pray, to be thankful, and I can't help but feel like it wasn't enough, like God took everything good to punish us. I know that's a lie from the enemy, but it comes every day and pulls me from my sleep.  I need to find my hope again.  Today I'm claiming my inheritance as a daughter of the king. The predictions can stand as they are, but I have these truths to stand upon:

"For I know what I have planned for you," says the Lord. "I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope." Jeremiah 29:11

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is an eternal God, the Creator of the whole earth.
He does not get tired or weary; there is no limit to his wisdom.  He gives strength to those who are tired; to the ones who lack power, he gives renewed energy. Isaiah 40:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28



For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Phillipians 1:6


The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. 2 Corinthians 16-17





Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Ideas for Keeping Your Autistic Student on Task

One of the biggest challenges Autistic students face is difficulty with keeping on task. That is certainly true in Chico's case.  In our five years of homeschooling, we've tried many things to help keep him focused as we work.  There are five that have proven to be the most beneficial.

1.  Use a visual schedule.  The one that I created for Chico has both a picture and text for each subject.  Choose bright, colorful pictures that are relevant to the subject, and a simple, clear font. I think using text is a good idea even for pre-readers; seeing those words each day is a good opportunity for the child to practice their decoding skills.  Create one block or line per subject to keep things short and simple; you can always create a separate work list to keep track of every task within a subject.  Laminate your schedule or put it in a page protector to allow your student to check off completed subjects with a dry erase marker.  There's so must satisfaction in seeing those check marks add up!

2.  Get your bounce on. C always does better when we do a little bit of mind-body connection before we sit down to learn.  Blow up an exercise ball and get bouncing.  Pull out the hula hoop and see who can get the most hoops in a minute.  Follow a Tai Chi video on YouTube.  Practice skipping and jumping.  Put on some salsa music and practice your cha-cha.  Be silly and active, and start your school day with a smile.

3.  Rethink your workspace.  Provide a comfortable, clean space that is clear of clutter.  If you are a stack-er by nature, move your stacks elsewhere.  Remove any visual distractions, or items that may capture your child's attention and pull it away from their work.  We are lucky enough to have a dedicated school room where Chico and I share a double desk. If you are schooling at the kitchen table or another shared area of your home, clear the area for the duration of your school time.  You can always put things back when school is done for the day.  That said...

4.  Leave your seat.  Depending on the subject or time of day, we can be found working at our desk in the schoolroom, sprawled out on the floor, cozied up with a book on the couch, or even working out on the front porch when weather permits.  You may be concerned that a change of venue will disrupt your carefully laid out plans.  I was too for a long time, and it caused me to be needlessly rigid. If you find that attention is wandering, try moving things to a different spot.  It could be that a change of scenery and seating will reset your child's focus.

5.  Redirect positively.  Some days you will hear "Are we almost done?" or "Can I be finished now?" far more times than you'd like. While I believe that the beauty of homeschool is that we can sometimes give breaks when they're needed, there are times that we just have to stick it out and get the work done.  I find that if we're having a day when Chico is continually asking to be finished with school, he's more likely to continue working if I avoid negative words.  Rather than saying "No.", or "We're not done yet.", I frame things in the positive for him.  I'll say, "You can be done after history and read aloud."  If C is getting off of his work track by talking about one of his special interests, I'll say, "I want to hear more about that after we finish this math lesson."  I try to make my interactions with Chico positive, even when enforcing a non preferred task or giving correction.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

2014-2015 School Year

We started our sixth year of homeschool a few weeks ago.

This is the first year that we'll be doing school work first thing in the morning, and so far, I have to say it's an improvement.  I'd expected as much based on a few vacation / no sitter days that we'd had over the years. In C's case, it's a good thing to wake up, take a little while to let him get his bearings, and then start on our work.  This lets him get into the groove of learning before any distractions creep in.  I've been letting him watch a show on PBS while I get his meds ready and to give him a bit of wake up time, but I may see how screen-free mornings go.

I feel like we've fallen into a wee bit of a rut, so we're experimenting with some new things for curriculum.  This is the first time in many years that I don't have a shelf full of shiny new Sonlight materials ready to go.  I loved Sonlight for the first couple of years, and we may go back to it again, but last year's read alouds were kind of a bust.  Several of the books were so painfully boring that we gave up on them.  Others we received had typos / grammatical errors.  It sounds persnickety when I say that, but we paid so. much. money. for SL that I just expected better.  Again, not to say that there's anything wrong with SL, but I think we just need to start with something new.

C's big challenge is Math, so we are concentrating a lot of effort in that area.  We're utilizing some things from Easy Peasy along with a lot of good old fashioned drills and work with manipulatives.  He also does one XtraMath session daily, and it's helped a lot with his fact recall. I've looked at Khan Academy, but it doesn't seem as comprehensive as we need.

Other things we are doing are Bible study/character building, copywork (will be adding a verbal dictation component this year), lots of reading, and journaling.  We're trying block scheduling for History, Science, and Art.  I'm working on building some social skills lessons that we can start on soon.  Beyond that, we're looking for community learning activities, hoping to get more involved with our local homeschoolers, and working on practical life skills. 

All in all, I'd say we have a pretty full schedule.  I'm excited to see what the year brings, and hopeful that devoting the 'first and best' part of my day to Chico's learning will bring big results for him.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Big Girls Do Cry, Just Not Forever

The Four Seasons had it all wrong.  It turns out that big girls do cry.  They cry until they are clinically dehydrated and their long-suffering husbands have run out of comforting words and have taken to patting them on the back and repeating "It's going to be okay," like a mantra.

Thankfully, I'm past the worst of the grief, and I'm trying very hard to embrace this season of life.  Logical soul that he is, Q pointed out that I've long said that I wished I could just focus on homeschooling, and this is my chance.  He's right of course, only I forgot to expound my wish to include no loss of income, retirement benefits, or employer-paid health insurance. 

What's done is done though, and we can't go back anytime soon, and so we will press forward and embrace our life as it is now. As hard as these changes have been, I at least have the confidence that I've acted in obedience to God, maybe for the first time in my adult life.  I've felt a conviction of the spirit to stay home with Chico in the past, but the fear of financial loss, and my justification that I carried his health insurance always led me away from that.  This time though, circumstances just compounded to the point that there was no other alternative.  So, I will walk through this time in my life, and try to learn the lessons that God has for me. I will use this season, however long it may be, to rededicate my focus on C's education, to teach him life skills that will hopefully allow him to live independently as an adult, and to support Q in his work and here at home.

It is so much easier to have faith in God's providence when things are going well; I'm sad to say that I have had a much harder time proclaiming my trust in Him through this storm.  I hope to use this time to grow in faith as well, as it is clear to me that I have a long way to go.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paused

Things continue to change in my world, and I continue to try and keep up. 

The last three weeks have been the most trying and painful in recent memory.  I have cried nearly daily, and if I don't stay busy and distracted, the tears creep back in before I can stop them.

I've managed to hold on to a few hours at work.  I'm making a third of my old salary and I've lost every last benefit, but it's something.  Now my family adapts yet again as we change our schedule and tag team child care in the early afternoon.  I wish so much that we had some support nearby, some form of community to link arms with, but we don't. Shyness mixed with reticence mixed with a need for solitude to recharge have all lead us here. I'm mourning the absence of what we don't have and trying to see a way to establish it. So far, I've come up empty.

I've applied for every form of aid I can think of, trying to offset C's medical expenses, looking into any way to become a paid caregiver for him.  What I'm finding is a broken system, where children, and especially Autistic children, are not only overlooked, but never even considered.  I keep coming back to disbelief that our family is the only one in this boat.  We can't be the only ones who were failed by the public school system, who need to homeschool to keep their child safe and unbroken, and who need some acknowledgement that this work we do is worth something.  And I mean that kind of something that is green and pays the bills, not just the "bless your heart" comments I get as I'm told we don't qualify for yet another program.

I've fought so hard to stay out of this place.  I read articles every single day of C's life that told me how disadvantaged we were as a family with a chronically ill child, and then as a family of an Autistic child.  I read those and I prayed my thanks that we were not that family, that I had a good job and heath benefits and could teach my child and keep him safe. I had it all, until I didn't. 

I'm down now, but I won't stay here.  I'll floundering now, but I'm reaching for new things.  I'll find a job I can do in these new circumstances, and one day I'll be able to wake up without this knot in my stomach.  I'll get there, I know, I just wish I knew when.


In a Sea of Uncertainty

It's been a tough couple of weeks.  I don't talk about my job much here because, well, duh... but it's a really great place to work.  I'm good at what I do, and our little group is a great thing to be part of.

And now I'm leaving, and I'm just so sad.

It would be so much easier if I hated my job.  Nearly everyone I know would dance right out of their place of employment without a second thought except for maybe, "Finally!".  Not me, though.  I love that place.  It's somewhere that I can go to do a job I enjoy, and be well compensated for it.  It's a small oasis of quiet (something I need desperately every day) in a life that is overflowing with noise and chatter.  It's my only social outlet, and even though I don't hang out with work people after hours, it's wonderful for me to have adults to talk to for a few hours a day.

I'm leaving to stay home with Chico, which is great.  It's also another guilt inducer right now.  I feel like a jerk for crying over this job when I'm leaving for such a good reason.  I know it's the right thing to do, and C will benefit from it. I just can't help feeling the loss of a good thing, even if it's for the best thing.

I'm sure(ish) that this will turn out just fine.  I hope that sometime soon I'll look back at this and see how it was the thing that needed to happen to make room for something even better.  Now though, I'm just lost and floundering and wondering what comes next for me.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Eleven

Dear Chico,

Today is your 11th birthday.  You’re officially into your second decade of bringing outrageous joy* into our family.  In a little while you’ll be awake for the day. Every morning when you wake up, you pad out of your room in bare feet, with your old red blanket “Buster” over your shoulder.  He getting more and more threadbare, but you still love having carrying him wherever you go.  That I said “him” instead of “it” shows how much a part of our family culture he’s become. You’ll take your morning medicine, and sip a cup of warm milk.  Those things haven’t changed.  What has is that you take care of the rest of your morning routine on your own.  I still set out clothes, but the rest is all you.  Well… except for the hair combing part.  You’ve got a ton (like me), and it’s quite unruly (like mine), so you still prefer for me to fix it in the morning.

I’m sure that after you get going for the day, you’ll have your notebook on the table and pen in hand before too long. You’ve discovered the Uncle Grandpa cartoon, and so you’ve spent the last couple of months drawing the characters and their environment. You’ve recently mastered the “freeze frame” command on our television; all the better to capture your favorite scenes on the screen so you can draw them yourself.

In terms of activities, drawing is still on the top of your list, but you’ve really enjoyed basketball and badminton this spring, too.  You’re quite proud of your ability to run and dribble at the same time, since last summer dribbling on its own was still a challenge.  I bought some decent badminton racquets to replace our dollar store specials, and I was surprised to see how quickly your skills took off.  You’re enjoying the outdoors after a long winter cooped up, and learning to cope with the bother of buzzing insects (earplugs are helping this along).  Most afternoons find us outside, cars parked in the street, and the driveway converted into our own private half court.

You’re still a movie buff, and you never turn down an invitation to the MegaPlex.  You had your first Dbox experience with The Lego Movie, and you loved it.  You’ve been asking for a repeat ever since, so I’m hoping that a good action-type movie will come out soon.

You’ve bloomed so much as a person this year.   You’ve shown yourself to be a kind and helpful young man.  Whenever we ask for your assistance, whether by putting things away, running the vacuum, or whatever little task needs doing, you are always genuinely happy to help.  You’re not one to scrape by or take the easy way to rush through a job. You take pride in doing a job well, and I’m very proud of you for that.

The best thing that’s happened this year has been with your communication.  The gates have opened a bit more, and I feel like we’re seeing some of your personality that we haven’t before. You share more of your own insights; words that we were not sure we’d ever get to hear.  You’ve begun to experiment with joking and making funny comments, and the give and take in conversation with you has developed more and more.  You’ve even begun a bit of sassing back, not that I encourage such things (of wait, yeah I do), but exciting nonetheless.  I may get after you for bad attitude once in a while, but I really hope you only speak up for yourself more and more as you get older.  It took me decades to be able to do that, and I hope you’ll get there quicker than I did.

Ten has been a great year, Chico.  I can’t wait to see what eleven brings.

Love,

Mom

*That came of  nowhere but as I think about it, that’s a perfect description of how you live.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

It's Good Friday, and we have not done one single Holy week or Resurrection study. Back in March, I'd dutifully Pinned and planned a few fun and meaningful activities, and chosen appropriate verses of  Scripture for reading and copy work. I then failed to purchase supplies and print things out in a timely manner. So here we are, and the most Easter-y thing we've done this week is watch an Angry Birds video wherein the pigs dress up in ears and whiskers for their egg-stealing foray.

We took a de facto Spring Break this week, even though I'd planned to work through until our trip next month.  Fence repairs took precedence over our study of Thomas Jefferson, and we squeaked by with a bare bones 3R's study this week.  Our daily math fact drills are showing their effectiveness, and Chico's Xtra Math scores are consistently climbing, hallelujah! Right now I'm debating the merits of one more meager study day vs. bagging the week and just starting over on Monday.

In lieu of an egg hunt, I have a treasure hunt all planned out for C.  The clues are all written up, and I'm giddy with the thought that he'll be able to read them on his own.  C's not a huge candy fiend, but I've ordered a toy and video that he's been after, and I'm sure he'd be glad to accept a pack of Twizzlers and a couple Ring Pops. Here's hoping that Amazon and FedEx will cooperate, since the bulk of his basket stash is still in their hands.