Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring, catch it while it lasts!

Well, here it is, May. May? May. In Duluth these things can creep up on you. In some ways it feels like it has not been Spring at all. Winter seemed to hang in forever, and then we didn't get Spring, just mud. I have not gotten out to play, and instead have let many things consume me, such as Autism, work, deaths, business, home, and Alex's future.

The worst thing, perhaps, has been the decision of where to send Alex for school. So many options floated around. Local school, or "special" school, half day or full day, school district or charter, regular curriculum or "basics" curriculum. The school district has it's ideas, which seem to be all kids with autism need the same level of support. Meaning a mostly separate classroom, with some inclusion, maybe. We had clarified that since mainstreaming in preschool was going very well we did NOT want that option. "Awwh, really?" was the response, even after a long clarification of the benefits of mainstreaming and the stellar progress Alex has made this year. The icing on the cake was hearing second hand that my IEP manager thought that I simply did not want my son labeled. Good thing my philosophy is that success is the best revenge, otherwise my spring may have been filled with psychotic retaliation. Into this morass enter a serendipitous trip to beauty salon. No really, it's true, I got a hot tip on the best elementary school ever from the wonderful woman that cuts my hair. The North Shore Elementary School is north of Duluth by 6 miles. It is in the woods. It has 40 acres, that include trails, ponds, skating rinks (2), gardens, and a straw-bale greenhouse. It is Environmental Education based (my first college degree), they have Outside time (beyond recess) every day, they are sponsored by the Wolf Ridge Environmental center of Northern Minnesota, they will not be closing, moving, or remodeling like ALL of Duluth's schools, their staff will not be shuffled around like cards (again like all of Duluth schools), and best of all, their principal is PUMPED to have Alex in the school. She has worked with many autistic kids in her previous job and she said the magic words, "You and Kevin know your son best and we want your complete input in all aspects of teaching him." Including requirements for his aide, and any and all necessary accommodations. Hallelujah. We did not jump immediately, but as I considered more and more how frustrated we have been for the last three years with the Duluth school district I knew it was likely we would go. We searched our personal network for information on the new school and heard 95% glowing reports. The other 5% we can deal with. I could go on and on, but will stop here. Needless to say, we jumped. We jumped from the giant ship of Duluth, to the tiny sailboat of NSCS. It is it's own charter school, and is run by it's teachers. Oh, we are so ready. This past year at a private preschool has been delightful and Alex continues to grow in so many ways. He is charming these days, and we are having so much fun with games and language and explorations. We can hardly wait to see what next year will bring.

So, things are looking up. Yes, there will be a lot of work yet to get Alex's new education plan on track, but it is all very exciting. Plus it is full on Spring now, green grass, leaves popping, blue skies, the works. I am off to a slalom kayak race this weekend and will pick up the greatest family toy... an inflaitable kayak so that we can take Alex on many a river adventure. And non-boating friends too. I competed in my first 5 km of the season last weekend and didn't die or anything. Mother's Day was a blast. And we are getting our camping plan together for the summer. And the garden plan too. Warm weather may be in short supply up North, but we use it to it's full advantage. Yes, things are looking up, and I may even blog more than once every two months too.

Why I Love my job/ Why I Hate my job

I have just gotten off my seven day stretch at work. I work on a locked behavioral health hospital unit for children and teens. These thoughts were rolling around in my head as I ran through the woods on a much needed workout.

I love my job because I am active. I could never sit in one spot all day, I would go nuts for sure. I learn something new every day; about my kids, myself, mental illness, living fully, or the realities of life. I am privy to extremely confidential information and try very hard to keep that trust. I am challenged every day to keep positive, keep learning, keep hope, and keep giving...without being sucked dry. I work with some of the most amazing people on the planet. All of our kids are brave and scared and tough and have huge problems, but also amazing strengths.

I hate my job because I see a slice of life that can be very depressing. There are many wars going on and my unit is on the front lines of all of them. The war on drugs, the war on alcohol abuse, the war on sexual abuse, the war on hopelessness, the war on wasted potential, the war on ignorance, the war on untreated and misunderstood mental illness, the war on criminal activity, the war on selfishness, the war on prejudice. I am sure there is more but that is what pops to mind. And in all these wars there are victims, and they come through our doors. Their stories are often terribly sad, and their behaviors can be quite disturbing. What they have come through they take on themselves. Seven year old perps, eleven year old criminals, and teenagers who will spend their entire lives in and out of hospitals and institution. One gets tired of being lied to, shut out, ignored, needled, degraded, yelled at, spit at, kicked, and attacked. Especially when the staff really just wants to help.

Why do I keep coming back?? Well, after getting past the nasty behaviors and disturbing stories, you find the kids. They are real. They are multi-dimensional. And they are not hopeless. They respond amazingly to respect, consistencey, education, caring, and safety. I find, in every single kid that comes through, something that I can like, admire, relate to, or understand. They can be fun and funny, sweet and creative, deep and inspiring. They all have families, and friends, and people rooting for them. Some we even help while they stay with us, and that is enormously satisfying. Others we just hope and pray that the seeds we plant will take root some day.

I am sure there are more reasons I love and hate my job, let's just say it is an education of the most interesting kind.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Welcome to Planet Jellybean

First off I have to say that Planet Jellybean is a cozy place. It is comfortable and familiar. It is populated by beloved characters and much happiness. It is where Alex spends a fair amount of time, and Kevin and I get to visit often. On Planet Jellybean the street signs are friendly and many ordinary things in our world take on great importance. The inhabitants of Planet Jellybean change over time, and that is part of it's charm. We read a story about it's most famous inhabitants just before bedtime tonight. Wall-E is a very nice robot trash compactor, and if you have not seen his movie you must. We read his book and Alex vibrated with excitement and was again thrilled with the story end. We have Wall-E toys, a Wall-E book, and the movie. We have learned that we cannot watch favorite movies endlessly, so they are limited to about once a month. This month we will visit the DVD on March 17, a very important day as it is a national holiday, and also Grandma Wahly's birthday.

If we watch a particular movie too much we get into trouble, which leads me to the second most popular set of celebrities currently on the planet. Alex has a new set of friends that includes a lion, a zebra, a hippo, some penguins, and a best friend, a giraffe named Melman. A hypochondriac giraffe, at that. He talks about Melman, he talks to Melman, and currently has 3/4 of Melman's dialog in Madagascar memorized. Yes, we have watched it too often in this cabin fever time of winter. I think both Kevin and I showed it on the sly to the boy, for some extra exciting time (or to get him to tolerate a haircut) and now we are paying for it. I will take it as a compliment that Alex called to me today, saying, "Melman. Melman!!" I said, "I am not Melman!". He replied, "Melman Mama, come here!!!".

We drive a lot on Planet Jelly Bean. Alex sits in the back and makes his fists into a steering wheel, and gives me a running commentary on driving. It is so pleasant to hear, because we learned last year that early on, when a child with autism is silent, it is not because they are thinking deep thoughts. It is because they have no thoughts at all, that they are not 'saying' anything inside their own head. First children have to talk out their thoughts, then they internalize that voice later on. Well, we are talking out now, and that is just fine. We talk about driving, we talk about the street signs, we talk about what has happened, and we talk a little bit about what is going to happen. Talk of the past is a very recent thing, and I am grateful for it. In my younger days I was all about living in the moment, being fully present in the present, and damn the past and future. This is still all zen and good, but. But if all you have is the present... you are quite limited. Anyone seen 50 First Dates? I have read other accounts of people with no memory and no planning ability and it is not cute, it is scary. We are building that frame work for Alex right now. He is just getting how the past works, and how to talk about the past. We started learning in a consistent way with street signs. Consistent, predictable, and repeatable. Especially in our neighborhood and on common routes. It is coming along. As for the future (tense that is), well it remains quite anxiety provoking. I suspect it is a vast ocean for our Jelly Bean inhabitant, so we need to start building some boats and sailing them. But for now we are just looking out from shore.

So, what else is happening on Planet Jelly Bean? Well, all the street signs are familiar, and Alex gets to drive well before his next eleven birthdays go by. There are many trains, and many more railroad crossing signs, all with bells, lights, and gates. Every body of water has a Lift Bridge. The foods are all carbs and mostly crunchy, the drinks are milk or apple jucie. No dreaded "Just water". Jack puppy and Lucky dog play all day, and Alex can drag Beeswax around any which way without getting into trouble. There are ball pits, gym mats, and zip lines galore. All the ski hills have Magic Carpets, and he never has to turn. Tricycles are everywhere and the sidewalks are all flat. There are zero entry warm pools in every neighborhood, and the exciting fountains and water mushrooms are a safe distance away. Books abound and he never has to take his favorites back to the library. He gets to go to friends houses to play every day, but can go home anytime. There is a birthday party every week for someone. It's not such a bad place, this planet. I will be sure to give you updates from time to time. We certainly spend enough time there.

PS Kevin came up with the name... of course.