We don't usually do two weeks of VBS in a summer, but the church where the girls do choir, Austin plays/Daddy coaches ball, and all 3 children attend respite was offering a free VBS with free lunch! Since this was Austin's last year of eligibility for VBS, and the church offered special needs classes, I decided to give it a shot. Now, this church is a huge mega-church, which is why they are able to offer all of these wonderful opportunities, but it also presents great challenges, which you will soon read about.
Drop-off and pick up were in the worship center. I decided we would go early so that there would be fewer children, less noise, and I'd have a chance to talk to Reece's teacher. I already knew Austin and Riley's teachers, so I wasn't worried about them. We pulled up to the church to find that everyone had the same idea and it was already quite busy. The entire worship center was full of people! (I had guessed 1000 children, but the final total was closer to 2100 with 600 adult and youth volunteers)
I dropped Riley and Austin off first, then headed to find Reece's group. As soon as I introduced Reece to her teacher, I knew we had a problem. Her teacher promptly dropped to one knee, got in Reece's face, and started firing off the questions. The light bulb went off over my head: she doesn't know Reece has autism! I asked her if she knew and she said no. I asked how much help she had in the classroom and she told me her SIL was helping her. How many children? 25! It was at this point that I burst into tears for the first time that morning. I took Reece by the hand and went to find someone in charge. I had assumed that writing "High Functioning Autism" on her registration form would be enough to get her placed in either a special needs class, or to get her some help in being in the regular class.
I took Reece over to the other building, where the special needs ministry is located. During this walk, Reece was confused and wondering where we were going. She saw all the fun stuff like inflatables, bubble tents, sidewalk chalk, and a video was starting in the worship center when we left and she was afraid to miss it. I waited around the other building for a few minutes before I found the director. She took one look at me, then down to Reece, and said, "I had no idea you were coming!" Long story short, there was no correlation between the registration and the special needs ministry. I cried again. She asked me if I wanted Reece in a special needs class, but by that time Reece was crying that she was missing the video. I told the director that Reece just needed someone to attend the regular class with her. She assured me she would get on it, so I took Reece back to the worship center.
The video was over, it was twice as loud, and Reece refused to go back inside. Again... I cried. I'm not a pretty crier either, my face gets all red and blotchy. Everyone knew I was crying. I was trying to be strong for Reece, but I was thinking it was time to take Reece home with me. The classes dismissed, and so Reece and I walked with her class to the next station which was back in the other building in the gym. Reece found her friend, Hannah, and they took each other's hand and I followed behind. One teacher was leading holding a sign, and the other teacher was bringing up the rear, and the line of 25 rising first-graders was following like ducklings. No way on earth could Reece do that without someone holding her hand and making sure she stayed with her group. There were other classes criss-crossing our class going in different directions. CHAOS!
We got to the gym and there were 5 inflatable things to bounce and slide on. I perked up, knowing she would have fun. Until the teacher said, "Take off your shoes... have fun!" and let the kids run off with the other 4-5 classes of 25-30 children! ACK! Reece could run out the door and nobody would know any different. I just hung out because I could not leave her there alone, and her helper had not arrived yet. The teachers came over to me again and asked how they could make it work. I told them it was beyond their control with that many children and this much noise and people around. Twice I had to stop talking to the teachers to go help Reece in a situation. She was so overwhelmed by noise and commotion! It was time to stop playing in the gym, and it had been an hour since the director had told me she was getting help. I decided to follow Reece's class to the next station (arts and crafts) to get her settled in, and go downstairs to find the director.
I walked back inside the building, and found a friendly face: Reece's teacher from respite. She asked, "Where's Reece?" and I gave her the 2 minute version (started crying again). She said, "OH! Director's name just took my son to go help a Kindergartener... I didn't realize that was Reece! We need to catch her, and send my daughter instead! Reece like girls better!" So we chased down the director, sent the respite teacher's son back to the special needs class, and went to the arts and crafts area to find Reece and take the respite teacher's daughter to her.
Reece was thrilled to see her friend from respite, and I was very relieved! I felt like I could leave, and I did.
However, when it was time to pick up the kids, Reece wasn't with her class. Her teacher told me that the girl took her to special needs because she kept crying. I felt like crying again myself, but I gathered up Austin and Riley and went to get Reece. I asked Austin's teacher if there was a problem with Austin and he said Austin did great. This teacher works in the special needs ministry (he's a young adult male and a great guy), so he knows Austin. But more on Austin later...
Over in the special needs room, the respite teacher said that they had to bring Reece back to them because there were transitions every 30 minutes to a new station and she would break down each time. And the noise level in the rooms was too much for her to handle. I was so sad! It's hard to explain, but I guess it is because of her not being able to handle being in a regular group. They asked me to bring her directly to special needs on Tuesday. I didn't sleep well Monday night. I felt guilty for taking her to special needs, that she wouldn't have fun. I wanted her to be with everyone else, doing what they were doing. I felt like I was selfish because I wanted to be alone to get my stuff done. I decided that if she didn't have fun on Tuesday, I wouldn't take her back again.
Tuesday morning we dropped the big kids off at the worship center and started walking to special needs. Reece stopped me and said, "I don't want to be in there! I want to be in my special needs class!" I figured she had just heard me talking about that, so I asked her where the special needs class was. She said, "It's in my respite room!!" That made me feel a lot better! We walked into the other building and Reece said, "Ahhh, it's so quiet in here, Mommy! Do you hear it? Just a few voices!" She went in with a smile on her face, hugged her youth helpers, and I left.
When I picked her up, I was thrilled to find out that she had done as many of the activities as possible, and some different ones when the other activities weren't possible! She got to bounce in the gym, but just with the special needs class so it was quiet. She got to do arts and crafts! She had snacks and lunch! And best of all... she was happy! She was all smiles when I picked her up, and was anxious to get back to her class each morning! So it may not have been exactly what everyone else was doing, but she had fun anyway! And that's all that really matters. I really appreciate those workers in the special needs ministry... they loved on her all week and made sure she had fun. (Of course, maybe they were afraid I'd start crying again! LOL)
Back to Austin... as soon as I picked him up on Monday, he made it abundantly clear that he had been having to hold everything in all morning long! He started being very hateful to me and his sisters, saying terribly mean things. He was all upset that Reece was in a special needs class and said that she needed to just deal with it and not be a baby. It was very unlike him. I finally asked him to stop talking, and once he calmed down, we would discuss everything at home. He glared around, but was quiet.
Once he had some time to settle down (which was hard b/c his room was all a shambles because I was painting it!), we talked about the morning, and the noise and commotion. I asked him if he realized what he was feeling, and why he had been so angry and mean. He didn't, so I explained further that he was having to hold in his feelings and his behavior to be part of the group. I told him I expected that he would have to "let it all out" afterwards, but that he could not be so mean to use in the process. We want to help him, but we won't be attacked and hurt with his words. He seemed to settle down so much after that. I asked him if he would prefer to be in the special needs class with Reece, but he said no. His buddy from the fishing trip was in the class with him, and he liked spending time with him. Then he added, "Being with Austin (the other boy, same name) makes me more confident for some reason!" What a totally wonderful thing to hear! I told him that he could stay in the regular class if he wanted to, but he should plan to have some quiet time to himself when we get home so that he wouldn't be so upset and mean to us. He agreed, and the rest of the week went smoothly!
I couldn't help but think about how we would go through that every single day if he went to school. It's no wonder to me that sometimes folks who have kids with autism don't enjoy their children. Is this all they see of their children? This angry, mean person who is so overstimulated they can't even think straight? It only lasted about 10 minutes that one day, but he was so not the pleasant young man that I'm used to! That would be very hard to deal with, especially if you're having to get homework done during that time! I shudder just thinking about it! LOL
I haven't told much about Riley, so in the interest of fairness, I will give you a brief synopsis: she loved every minute of it! It was noisy, fast-paced, tons of kids, nonstop running around, busy, busy, busy! She made new friends, played with friends from choir and dance, and had a generally fantastic time! She would come home every day still full of energy and excitement! LOL She hadn't really wanted to go the first day, and ended up being so sad that it was over!
So that's the last VBS of the summer! Austin and Reece are done with their summer classes. Riley has drama camp next week, and art camp in July. We weren't able to let her do that last summer b/c of learning RDI, so I promised her she could do it this summer! She's very excited!
It's already been a really nice summer! I think we're going to try to go swimming this coming week!