Tuesday, April 24, 2012

'It's About Dignity': Dad Goes Public With Audio of Son Being Bullied By Teacher, Aides

I don't usually double-post things to Strollerderby and my blog, but this story is important, and word needs to get out. As parents and as human beings, we simply cannot tolerate bullying by educators.

When single dad Stuart Chaifetz started getting reports that his son Akian was being violent in school, he knew something was wrong. Akian, a 10-year-old boy with autism, had always been very gentle. After six months of meetings with school staff with no change in Akian’s behavior, this Cherry Hill, NJ dad made a decision. One morning, he slipped a digital audio recording device in his son’s pocket, and sent him to school.

He was shocked by what he heard.

Over the course of six and a half hours of audio tape, Akian’s teacher and classroom aides can be heard discussing their use of alcohol, joking about lying to parents, colluding to thwart the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), complaining about their husbands, and making fun of students.

In one particularly crushing clip, a teacher calls Akian “a bastard” after making him cry.

For my interview with Stuart Chaifetz, his eloquent video, and a petition asking New Jersey lawmakers to enact "zero tolerance" legislation for teachers who bully, click here to see my post on Strollerderby.

After you read it? Please share it. And sign the petition.

Because as Mr. Chaifetz said to me,
“The guilt here is not just the actions taken, but the inaction by people who could have done something. If you watch someone get bullied and do nothing, you’re just as guilty.”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

This is not the parent you're looking for.

Work from home? Blog? Just want a couple of minutes to stare at the wall? I have something for you.

I made this handy sign to put on my bedroom door so I could get some writing done, because apparently my kids can't remember the whole "let's pretend Mommy's not even here" concept. As soon as I made it I realized I had to share it with you.

Of course, I've got plenty of writer friends who are dads, so they might need this:

And then I realized that this could be even more useful:

Because of course you can't just say that Mommy and Daddy are busy. Because then they'll totally want to know, busy with what. Although you could explain exactly what kind of busy you are, and they'll be so freaked out they'll never come in your room again, which would also be a win. (This is, in fact, how I finally got my older two to stop asking to sleep in our bed.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

We Will Never Lose Our Marbles Because They All Have Names

One of the common bonds of many autistic kids is the sheer joy they take in lining things up. From the time Little Dude could wrap his chubby baby fingers around a rubber ducky, he made them face the same way. Little cars had to all be "parked" before we could even consider leaving the house.

Now, lots of kids like doing this. In a disorderly world, organizing things gives you at least the impression of order. When I was a kid, one of my favorite activities was alphabetizing the spice cabinet. (Foreshadowing my word-nerdiness.) The difference here is that, as a neurotypical kid, I wasn't compelled to do this. I could leave the house and not worry that the cinnamon had somehow scooched behind the cloves.

All four of my kids -- the two with Asperger and the two who are (apparently) neurotypical -- really enjoy lining things up. Cookie, while not on the spectrum, has a lot of anxiety, and organizing things definitely soothes her. The Peanut Butter Kid, also not on the spectrum, is pretty much willing to do anything her big sisters are doing, so she's also game for lining stuff up.

But Little Dude and the Pork Lo Maniac? Excel at this. Looking back, I see all kinds of things in the Pork Lo Maniac's history that are Asperger-y. Her official diagnosis wasn't until she was 10, but, yeah, it was there all along. (Hindsight is 20-20, isn't it?)

A while back, in a post presciently called "Not So Neurotypical," I showed you some photos of our Littlest Pet Shop critters lined up. And named. And with gifts for each other. And holiday cards. That handwriting is all the Pork Lo Maniac. She will hyperfocus on that kind of activity for hours.

This past weekend, the Easter Bunny happened to bring Little Dude a bag of marbles, which were promptly employed in sliding down the ramp in our plastic Little Tykes car garage.

Then, because obviously, the Pork Lo Maniac started naming the marbles. Which led to the marbles needing to be labeled. With their names. And ages. And when a list needed to be made keeping track of all the marbles different personalities, Cookie was right on top of that. Because lists are her raison d'etre.

An entire afternoon later, all 44 marbles were ready for "school." The big shooter marble, Mrs. Marble, is the principal. The kids got up early and got dressed for school quickly this morning so they would have time to play with Jeff, Keke, Carlos, and the rest of the gang.

Each marble is labeled with its name and age.
Also, I really want you to know that my carpet is not actually sparkly. I swear that's just the flash.

Each of the 44 marbles was given at least two descriptors, plus a favorite thing.
So yeah. This is totally normal, at least in our house.  On top of the Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety, the PLM was also officially diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder recently, and frankly I'll take the lining up of toys any day over her more disturbing and self-injurious behaviors. In fact, maybe I'll just buy her more little things to name and line up.

Yes, we're working on addressing the stress and anxiety that triggers the OCD, but the reality is she needs replacement activities. So far, besides lining up and naming stuff, she likes plucking/pulling activities, like with those kneadable artist's erasers. Because of the ADHD, we have fidget toys out the wazoo, but we need repetitive actions for her hands, I think. Bear in mind that she does struggle with fine motor skills, so knitting and crochet are out, unfortunately.

What do your kids like to line up? If your or your kiddos have OCD behaviors, what kind of safe/healthy/productive activities have you come up with to replace the troubling ones?

Taking all suggestions!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

SRMM Goes to China (Kind Of)

Do any of you guys remember when I got the best email in the whole history of ever? A young woman with an autism spectrum disorder wrote to me to tell me to keep on keepin' on with what I was doing, because her parents made her the success that she is. For the sake of her privacy, I refer to her on my blog as "Kim."
I just wanted you (and by extension, the other moms with non-neurotypical kids) to know that we can be successful.
We can go to college and live away from home.We can go backpacking.We can ace tests.We can write 20 page papers and turn them in on time.We can play sports. (Just usually not the ones involving tackling or balls.)We can learn to talk to people.We can make friends.
What you're doing makes a difference in the lives of your children.
(Her full letter is here.)

Kim and I have kept in touch. She's been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the one-year course of the Pork Lo Maniac's Asperger evaluation and diagnosis. As a small thank-you, I sent her a stark. raving. mad. mommy. mug.

These days, Kim is travelling the world--literally. And because she is unbelievably awesome, and she knows of the Pork Lo Maniac's love of all things Asian, she took the mug with her to Central Asia.

She emailed me these photos of the SRMM mug on the Great Wall of China, for me to share with the Pork Lo Maniac. She also said I could share them here.

In return, the Pork Lo Maniac sent Kim this photo of her favorite Lego person, next to some miniature pork lo mein made out of Play-Doh:

The PLM also sent Kim a photo of herself up in a tree. Tree-climbing is kind of her thing, and she's awesome at it. Last week, some "popular" girls made a comment about it being "creepy" that she was up in a tree on the playground after school.  Kim told the PLM that it was probably because they were jealous that the PLM was cool enough the climb a tree, and they aren't. She also told the PLM that the popular girl who tormented her in school was later kicked out of her sorority in college.

Today's just one of those days where I'm super-grateful for all the wonderful people this blog has brought me in touch with.

Kim's brilliant, heartfelt and brutally honest blog is Diary of a Non-Neurotypical.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Moms Give Us an Inside Look at Autism and Elopement

IAN2 292x300 Autistic Kids Who Wander: Amazing Technology Alleviates Parents Worst Fears
Ian, safe at home.

The wandering started when Ian was three years old. He slipped out of the house in the middle of the night, in 40 degree weather, in the rain.
“Luckily, we woke up because the dog started whining. We found him, naked, on the swing set,” said Marj Hatzell, Ian’s mom. Ian, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and is non-verbal, is now a well-known escape artist in his neighborhood.
When you hear the word elopement, you probably think of weddings in Vegas. But to parents of autistic kids, it means something entirely different: escaping, wandering, running away. Although no formal data exists, a 2007 informal online survey showed that 92 percent of parents of autistic children said their child had a tendency to wander. But “tendency to wander” does not describe the experience of a number of parents whose kids frequently escape from home or school.
Despite living in homes likened to Fort Knox, replete with alarms, gates, multiple keyed locks and deadbolts, these kids escape. And disappear. There are parents who live with terror, every day, that in the time it takes to go to the bathroom, their child will go missing. This stress takes immense toll on parents.
“It is literally the most stressful thing I’ve ever endured in my life,” said Ms. Hatzell.
Please read the rest of Marj's story, and the amazing technology that's bringing her some peace of mind, at Strollerderby.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Happy Autism Awareness Month!

Ah, April. Time to tweak everyone's allergy medicines, work on next year's IEP, and celebrate Autism Awareness Month.

After being told for the zillionth time that my kids don't "look autistic," I asked you guys to send me photos so I could make a video of what autism really looks like.

You guys totally delivered. I received photos from adults with autism, and parents of kids on the spectrum. And all of these photos are beautiful and amazing.

Here's the final cut. I hope I didn't miss anyone. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing these photos of your families. I hope this spreads even a tiny bit of awareness of what autism really looks like.

I would especially like to thank The Eli Story for graciously allowing me to use their song Titles We Hold for the video! You can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and find their music on iTunes! (On iTunes, search for "The Eli Story.") They have a new album out this month, and if you're in the Chicago area, they're playing at the March of Dimes Walk at Grant Park on April 29.

Um, yeah. How much do I love a band with the tagline "Quirky. Nerdy. Fun."?
The Eli Story, in superhero mode.
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