Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gleaning

Today in Reece's spelling book, she had to fill in spelling words that talked about the story of Naomi and Ruth and gleaning in the fields. Because she didn't have the adequate background knowledge (and mom hadn't taken the time to look in the book to prepare for it @@), she couldn't finish the assignment.

So we talked about what gleaning meant, and how it worked.

Immediately she replied, "So, it's a symbiotic relationship, then??"

Yep, baby girl... totally symbiotic! ;)

(Full disclosure: she learned about symbiotic relationships by watching Wild Kratts on PBS. But, hey, she applied it to something else, right? LOL)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And the results are in...

You may remember that I had the kids' neuropsych testing done a couple of weeks ago. Well, I got the results back on Friday - and had what is without a doubt the best appointment with a medical professional that I have ever had!!

The doctor had nothing but nice things to say about both of the children. About Reece she said that she had never interacted with a child of Reece's diagnosis where she had to focus herself back on the job of testing. "I just wanted to talk to her - she's magnetic!" was how the doctor described her. I think most people who have met her would tend to agree!

The doctor went on to say that it was clear that I know my children very well. She said the way I described their strengths and weaknesses in all of the paperwork that I was required to turn in at the first appointment prepared them for what they might see in the kids - and that was exactly what they saw. That made me feel really good. Sometimes, with Reece especially, I don't feel like I 'know' her as well because she's the youngest and I've always been so busy with the others.

We discussed Reece's results first. This was her first testing and my purpose was to get a baseline for her. She is the same age that Austin was when he had his first testing. I wanted a starting point for her to compare her to because it was around this level of work where Austin really started to show evidence that he was struggling. Also, I wanted a heads-up if there was some sort of underlying issue or LD that I needed to know about. Her results were not surprising at all. She is average on everything except math where she tests low-average. Considering that she is just finishing up what is considered the "second grade" book in RightStart Math and she only tests low-average as a rising fifth grader, I am not displeased at all! She does exhibit the executive functioning problems that are common for children on the autism spectrum, and I was given some suggestions for going ahead and working on those areas now. Mostly it was stuff I have planned to do with Austin, but she thinks I should go ahead and get a start on them with Reece. She said that Reece (and Austin) learns best in the context of story (YAY! CHARLOTTE MASON) and that she does not learn best through rote and drill. She recommended that her math program require her to explain how and why she gets answers - which is exactly what RS math does! It was very encouraging to know that I am already doing many of the things that the doctor recommends for Reece!

Austin's results were a little more complex. During the parent interview, I told the doctor that I am most concerned about Austin's loss of language at times. He will completely lose words. It is frustrating to him and to me. Also, he can wake up some mornings and have lost learning that he had known for a few weeks or months. Quite often it is 'back' the next day, but he is growing concerned over it. What she learned through his testing and comparing it with his previous testing is that there is something going on in the area of his brain where his seizures happen - the frontal lobe. This area controls language and executive function. AHA!! Now, whether the seizures damaged this part of the brain (since we don't know how long he may have been having them before he finally had a big enough one to cause him to lose consciousness) or whether there was something going on in that area of the brain itself that resulted in the seizures we won't be able to determine. But we do know that there is a REASON for the struggles he is having. She even added a new diagnosis to his list called "Cognitive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified." That basically means he has a loss of brain function due to a physiological issue - namely, the seizures. She said that all things considered he is performing marvelously academically, much higher than one would expect if you just look at his test results!! Then she went on to say, "You can take credit for that! Homeschooling is obviously working for him and for Reece!"

She had many practical suggestions for Austin, including some of the same things that were suggested for Reece - for instance, he learns best through story and that he does not work well with rote learning. I learned that what I have been expecting from him with his science program is not appropriate for how his brain works. This is valuable information because he has struggled so much with science and I wasn't sure why. Now I know, and I won't use the same sort of program again next year!! Perhaps the most interesting thing was when she showed me one particular test that he took. He was required to replicate a picture that was made up of various shapes and lines. The picture was right in front of him the entire time. They watched not only the final result but how he went about drawing it. It was fascinating! His planning was completely disorganized! He didn't see the big picture and just saw random lines - no shapes to give it meaning. It is amazing insight into how his brain works!! I'm so glad she shared that with me!

She also included some accommodations in his report that would assist him if he chooses to make an attempt at college. Also, she moved his primary diagnosis to Epilepsy instead of Asperger's. She said that, right now, the effects of the seizures are what is causing him the most trouble. So his diagnoses in order of importance are Epilepsy - Asperger's - Cognitive Disorder NOS. She said that he will be able to get services in college through an Office of Disability Services. She thinks he will be able to attend college under the right circumstances: determining what he wants to do (that doesn't require much math LOL), and finding a college that is small and willing to work with him.

All of this wonderful and valuable information is only part of what I got from this appointment. I also got much-needed validation and encouragement. She told me what a great job I am doing and how pleasant my children are to be around. When I told her that I was nervous that she would see two homeschooled children who are "behind" and assume that we don't work hard on our lessons. She said that nothing could be further from the truth - they never once thought that. She said that she looked into RDI and is impressed with it and suggested that we continue. She did suggest that I look into the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia which is something I hadn't really considered. Since we have achieved good seizure control, I have sort of felt like we didn't really qualify for needing a support group. But I think I will look into it now.

For the first time since the word "autism" entered our vocabulary, I left a doctor's appointment for one of my children feeling encouraged and supported. I am excited that the path that we were led to several years ago with Charlotte Mason is the right one for my children - it's scientifically and medically documented! LOL Most importantly, I no longer feel like I am doing the kids a disservice by homeschooling them. I have always been afraid that they would be better off at school with a professional who is trained to work with them. But it appears that in trusting God and prayerfully considering the best approaches year-to-year, that I have been able to give them what they need! That's all I ever wanted - to give them what they need! And now I have the confidence to move forward and that feels SO AMAZING!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

VBX Success!

My family has participated in a "VBX" (fancy name for Vacation Bible School) at a local church for the last 13 years. This isn't even our home church! Austin attended for the first time as a four year old when a friend of his from playgroup (who was a member at this church) invited him. He attended until he was a rising 6th grader, which is the oldest age. Riley started attended when she was 4 and on up until 6th grade, and the last two years she has volunteered in the music department. Reece also started when she was 4. This is the same church where she attended preschool, so they were familiar with her needs.

But it was hard for her! This VBX usually has around 250 children in attendance and it can get loud and sort of crazy. It was hard on her sensory system. They started offering a Special Needs class several years ago and it was an answer to prayer. And she found a special young lady who has always volunteered to be her special helper. This young lady has always been so patient with Reece, but has determined to try to integrate Reece into the 'typical' activities as much as possible. I remember one year she and Reece sat in the balcony of the sanctuary during the closing ceremonies every day because the noise and people didn't bother her as much up there.

This year is Reece's second-to-last year that she can attend VBX as a kid. The rising 6th graders -which she will be next year (GASP!) - spend each day doing service projects in the community. I have been wondering how that might work. And I got the greatest news from her helper! She and Reece are going to go together with the 6th graders next year and do the projects! I couldn't be more excited - not only because they want to include her, and they think she's ready - but that this young lady has already been thinking of it! She even told me on the last day that she thinks Reece could have done the regular class this year, with her assistance - which wouldn't have looked odd at all because there are tons of youth helpers in every class! I can't begin to describe how excited I was, and so proud of Reece for how far she has come. Her helper said several times during the week how different she is this year.

It is so awesome to know how much my girls are loved and wanted at this church. The lady who is in charge of the music - who just so happens to be the mother of Reece's helper - told me they tried to take Riley from her and put her into another area to help, but she told them they couldn't have her! LOL It's nice to feel like Riley is wanted, despite (or maybe because of) her exuberant personality. And it's nice that they are so welcoming to Reece and want to do whatever they can to make sure she has fun, while also getting her as integrated as possible. I really hope that one day, when everyone is a bit older, I am able to do the same sort of thing at our home church!


My VBX girls!

I love that Riley loves to give back her time! She did this for 3 hours in the morning, then in the evenings went to our own church and led the music at VBS there, too!

Look, Reece is right up at the front and doing all the dance moves!! Her sweet helper is right there with her!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The roads will never be the same!

Sorry for disappearing this last week but we've had a crazy busy time! It was VBX week for Reece and Riley, and VBS week for Riley and Austin. More on that in another post coming tomorrow. This post is all about what Austin and I did this week while the girls were out of the house having fun!

Austin got his learner's permit!!

I took him a week ago Friday to take the written test, which has two parts: a road rules test and a road signs test. Honestly, I was just planning for this first time to be a "trial run". I was hoping he would see the process, get experience taking the computer-based test (he hates using the computer), and get accustomed to the sensory overload that is the Department of Driver Services in Georgia. I was determined that this needed to be his show. He was going to have to do "his own appraisal and thinking" to borrow some RDI terms. We walked in the building and his first task was to tell the receptionist what he was there for, and to get the paperwork and a number. Not fun to find out there were 22 people ahead of us just to get permits. Yikes, this was going to be a long day. We sat down in the very hard chairs and he took a look at the paperwork to fill out. I'm pretty sure this was his first time to fill out a form! It was slow going, but that wasn't a problem considering the wait we had ahead of us.

While he was filling out the form, I did look over it to make sure he was doing it correctly. Some of the questions were new to him... but I looked around me and saw lots of parents assisting with the paperwork so I felt a little freedom to help out a bit. I'm sure he wasn't the only one filling out his first form that day. When he got to the question asking if he ever had seizures, etc. he got upset and said we should just leave. @@ I said that we could do that if he wanted to, but he said no. He checked the "yes" box and filled in the required information about his last episode and his doctor's name. The paperwork was complete and we still had 15 numbers ahead of us. (For the record they never even mentioned the seizures part!)

The sensory overload was bad, even for me. There was the noise of people talking. There was the noise of the numbers being called out by a computerized voice: "Now serving number D624 at counter number 3." The florescent light behind us was making a hideous buzz. I kept reminding myself that this was just a practice run and tried to stay light-hearted. But I was getting concerned as I could see Austin's anxiety level increasing.

Then God sent us a little relief. Austin said, "Hey! Look who's here!" I turned around and there was Austin's drum teacher/mentor standing at the reception desk. We went over to say hello and asked him to come sit with us. He was there to renew his license, so we talked for a few minutes. When he realized the wait was going to be longer than he could be away at work, he decided to leave and come back another time and as we said goodbye, Austin's number was called.

It was so hard at the counter to let this be Austin's job. I kept wanting to say, "Austin are you paying attention?" or to answer for him when the guy was asking him questions. I could have used a muzzle and straight jacket! LOL When he told Austin which computer station to go to, I wanted to say, "Did you pay attention? Do you remember what number? Do you know how to find it?" but I just kept quiet. If Austin forgot the number or didn't know how to find it, he would have to step up and ask. 

He took off for the computer room and I sat down and tried to read. That didn't work. So I started to pray. LOL All I wanted was for this to remain a positive experience for Austin. I already knew we would come back the following week. I just didn't want him to be overwhelmed and bomb everything and be discouraged. Imagine my surprise when he passed the road rules test with an 85% but failed the road signs test by only one question. Then I was in even more surprise when the guy said that he would only have to retake the one test when we came back in! Austin was thrilled and I was proud of him. He wasn't showing any signs of stress. In fact, he was laughing because he felt that he could have passed the test but he clicked a wrong button on one question and didn't realize he could go back and change the answer. And enough of his friends didn't pass the first time to where he didn't feel like a failure. He took it all in stride.

Fast forward to this past Thursday. We dropped the girls off at VBS and went straight to DDS. This time he walked in like he owned the place. There were only 5 numbers ahead of his this time and we didn't have nearly as long of a wait. He was called up and was at a computer before long. I went over to buy a transmitter to use the toll lanes going into and out of Atlanta to use the next two weeks while Riley has a summer intensive at Atlanta Ballet. I got up from doing that and took a seat to wait for Austin. I turned on my Kindle to try to read, and I looked up and saw Austin back in line. I was worried because it hadn't been long enough. What could be wrong?!

When I walked up to see what was going on, the worker said, "I think that was a record time!" I said, "Did you pass?" and Austin beamed, "100%!"  I was shocked! Way to go, Coop! I told him how proud I was of him for studying hard this week and really learning the signs. He got his paper permit (the hard copy will come in a few weeks), and we set out to a church parking lot to practice for the first time. About 5 minutes later he said, "Mom, I need to tell you something. I didn't study at all." @@ Figures.

So here we are at the church parking lot... and my not-so-little-boy in the driver's seat:
He was so excited to drive for the first time!
I kept calm, as I always do:
Honestly, he did a very good job for his first time. The hardest part was that it felt like he was FLYING down the road and when I told him to slow down he said, "Mom, we're only going 10 mile an hour!" ROFL Oops. It sure felt a lot faster from the passenger seat! ;)

He had a second lesson yesterday in the same parking lot and as I type this he is out driving in the neighborhood with his dad in the truck. I won't pretend I'm not nervous... that truck is a monster and I don't think it's easy to drive! LOL We have been holding on to the van for Austin to drive, but haven't had the chance to get the air conditioning fixed yet. Once we get that fixed then he can drive the van most of the time. I'm also going to call a driving school to get him signed up for official lessons. I have no doubt that Russ and I could teach him how to drive just fine, but because of his 'issues' I would like a professional opinion about his ability to drive. I think it will be worth the high cost of the class.

Getting a driver's license will make such a difference in Austin's ability to be independent as an adult. This permit is good for 2 years, so even if it takes quite a while for him to be comfortable driving, he has plenty of time! I feel like we are one step closer to independence for Austin! :)

***Edited to add: They just got back! Russ took him out of the neighborhood and onto the roads near our neighborhood! ACK!! LOL Austin said that he doesn't like driving the truck as well... can't say that I blame him!)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The End of an Era

The year was 2004. Austin was 7, almost 8 years old. And Austin wanted to play baseball. We didn't want him playing at the local park where they are known for yelling and screaming at the kids, so we signed him up for baseball through the megachurch in our area. And thus we became a baseball family. He looked so little out on the field! But he liked it and wanted to keep going.
Austin didn't play especially well at first, be he has a daddy who really loves baseball - and loves his son - and they would go to the ball fields and practice every spare minute they had. Sometimes, Austin would come home from these sessions in tears, and I have to admit I was mad. But we didn't know what we were dealing with at the time, and Russ did what he thought was best, just like I did. So we both made mistakes. Luckily, Austin has forgiven us for those mistakes. Surprisingly enough, Austin continued to want to play ball anyway. LOL Russ would be "Dugout Dad" whenever he could.
The age cutoff was really weird back then. You had to play in the spring (March-May) on a team based on the age you would be on August 15th (2 months after the season ended). And the fall league (August-October) played on a team based on how old you would be in August of the following year. So that meant that in Austin's second season, when he had turned 8 only 2 months before, he had to play on a team with 9-10 year olds. That's a huge difference. And it was a pitching league, and quite honestly, 9 year old boys don't have a lot of control. So Austin got hit - a lot. He still didn't want to quit.

After a season or two more (my husband can tell you not only precisely how many seasons it was, but which particular team it was and every team in between), Russ came to me to propose something very serious. He wanted to coach Austin's team. He believed that Austin was really developing well as a player, but that his strange behavior (which we still didn't know was Aspergers) was making the coaches not take him seriously. So he was at the end of the batting order and he was out in right field (baseball no-mans'-land for little boys) if he played at all. Russ wanted to coach JUST ONE SEASON so he could play Austin in the proper places and see if he could shine. The reason this was so serious was because we had a 3 year old Reece and a 6 year old Riley at the time - and Reece did not do well at the ball field. She still doesn't. My husband and I used to take turns watching the girls at the games. With Russ coaching, I would no longer be able to watch any of the games. But it was JUST ONE SEASON, and then he promised me he would take care of Reece for every single game the following season so I could watch. I agreed.

That season was so different for Austin. He started hitting the ball. He started pitching, and was really good, though he would get easily stressed out on the mound. Russ could calm him down with some words or motions, or even a look. It worked out so great and Austin's self-esteem grew. The new season rolled around and Austin said, "Dad, will you be my coach again??" What's a mom to do? It would be 2011 before I got to sit down and watch a game in peace and quiet! LOL Oh well, I have to say it was worth it.

Austin's development as a baseball player was amazing. He isn't a big guy but he has some power behind his bat and he can read the ball very well. When he is 'on' he is really on. He has hit several home runs in his career and has been selected for the All-Star Team many times. He even tried a season of "travel ball" but it was too stressful for any of us to want to continue.

A few years ago, the age cutoff changed in Austin's favor. Now you played on a team with the age you were on April 30th. That means that Austin got to be the oldest, even in the first year in a new league. If the league was 11-12 year olds, he was almost 12 by the time the season started, and the next spring, he would be almost 13 but would still be in that league. It was absolutely PERFECT for a smaller kid who is a little developmentally behind the other guys.

But all good things must come to an end.

Austin has been playing in the 13-15 year old league now for several years, and he just turned 16. Sometimes the church fields a 16-18 year old league, but Austin decided that he is going to hang up his cleats. He is still such a small guy and he doesn't have as much velocity on his pitches as he would like to be successful. And he wants to focus on his drumming and his music now.

I attended as many games as I was able to this year, with Riley at home babysitting Reece. The girls each came to see Austin play one last time this season. But mostly I was selfish and left them home so I could enjoy watching having the most fun of his life. That's not to say that this season was easy, either. The team started out 0-5. One of the boys lost his father to cancer, and the day after the funeral, this amazing young man pitched a complete game and won for his dad - and let me assure you there was not a dry eye anywhere at the ball fields that day! Austin told me it was his honor to be a part of that day and he would remember it forever. I know I won't soon forget.

The boys came back at the end of the season and finished with a .500 record. But mostly, they had a blast. One of the young men who Russ coached 2 years ago came back and coached with Russ this year! (You see, my husband is one HECK of an amazing coach and he touches so many lives - as evidenced by how many of his former players are his friends on FB and send him messages keeping him updated on their baseball careers playing high school ball).

Here is a picture of Coach Dad and Coop (Austin's nickname on the ball field) from right before the last game:
Austin pitched his last game in his second-to-last game. They were playing a double-header so here is Austin saying goodbye to the pitching mound.
Here is a picture of Austin's last at-bat. The reason it is so fuzzy is that I saw this pitch coming and I knew he was going to crush it, so I was already jumping up and down. I had promised Coop $100 if he hit a home run, and I really thought I'd be paying out. Alas, it was "only" a triple. Many folks suggested that I should pay out $75, but I do not prorate! ;)
The last game was incredible. So much fun for everyone involved, and it was hard to be sad. I was expecting to be bawling like a baby, but it had just been so wonderful. I couldn't have asked for a better time for my boys!

The team ended their season with a party at the Gwinnett Braves minor league game. The boys really enjoyed some fun time together, and it was the perfect end to a season to remember.
If I could have asked for a way for baseball to end for Austin, I could not have written the script so perfectly. Austin has been such a blessing for Austin, as well as a gift. It gave him something that he could feel good about. It gave him a social outlet, too. And when you're a good ball player on your team, the kids like you and they will forgive some of your social faux pas! LOL He also learned a lot about losing with a good attitude, winning with grace and compassion, and how to persevere on the pitcher's mound when you want to give up. It gave Russ a way to initiate an "apprentice" relationship with Austin so we could work on some RDI goals without it seeming like therapy (which Austin has never been keen on). It has given Austin a full arsenal of "epsodic memories" to refer to when he needs to encourage himself to press on.

I sure will miss the baseball field each spring and fall (well, maybe after a year or two... I have to admit to being a little excited about not losing my boys for 6 months each year as they headed to the field and I managed getting the girls to their activities! LOL). Austin has indicated that he would enjoy coaching some younger boys, with his Dad, of course. I think that would be a wonderful way for them to give back to the sport that has given our family so much! So I don't think our family will be gone from baseball for long anyway... Coach Russ and Coach Coop are as inevitable on a ball field as "hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet"! And Double Bubble bubble gum.