I am embarrassed to admit how often I end up yelling at my children. If any of my neighbors walked past my house at 8:30 a.m. any weekday, they would wonder what is going on. We do fine with the morning routine, of course there are reminders to brush teeth and all that, but everyone gets dressed and we theoretically have plenty of time to get Herbie ready for the bus. He'll play happily as he gets ready for his day. The problem starts when I ask him to get his shoes and socks on. I give reminders and tell him only a few more minutes playing, set a timer, etc. But when the time comes, it is complete meltdown time. There's always a bump in the sock that cannot be fixed, the socks go on and off, we try 4 different pairs, and then the bus pulls up. Thankfully, one advantage of riding the mini-bus is that the driver is ready for delays and waits for a few minutes. What on earth would we do if we had to be at the regular bus stop on time??
One day, after all my yelling about putting his socks on and all his yelling about not wanting bumps, the socks and shoes were on and I opened the door and hugged him good bye. Herbie just stood there, not going out to the bus. He took my hand and said, "you walk with me." We walked across the yard, up the bus steps, and he didn't let go of my hand until he sat in his seat. Then he smiled and said good bye.
After all my yelling, he just wanted me to hold his hand to the bus, his way of showing me he wasn't holding it against me, that he still wanted to be with me. When he got home, I gave him a big hug and thanked him for letting me hold his hand in the morning. He just smiled and lingered in the hug. The next morning went a little better, and again he grabbed my hand to walk to the bus. When the bus pulled up at the end of the day, he wasn't getting off, so I walked outside to see what was up. I got on the bus and then he stood up, grabbed my hand, and we walked inside. We have done this a few more times, here and there. It makes me smile, knowing that I always get another chance with him after I mess up, that he still wants to hold my hand.
Right now the Wise Old Owl is in a wheelchair with a broken leg. He is too young to be able to use crutches and needs some way to get around at preschool. It has been interesting to watch the reactions of others when they see him in a wheelchair. Kids always run right up to him and ask what happened. They often want to help him, push the wheelchair for him, etc. There is absolutely no discomfort. He gets lots of loving attention from people everywhere we go. It got me thinking about our comfort level, in general, with people who are disabled. In adults, usually there is some discomfort around an individual who is in a wheelchair or clearly has some sort of developmental disability. I grew up in a school where the special education kids arrived late, stayed out of sight, and left early. So I never learned as a kid how to interact with those who are different, it has come gradually through life experiences. With my kids, I appreciate when people speak to them (instead of me), show respect (instead of pity), and assume they can understand (rather than talking in a sappy voice). I love their inclusion classrooms, where all of the kids are mixed together and taught to get along. There are kids with permanent physical disabilities (unlike my son's temporary wheelchair) and they are part of the class. Young kids don't know any of the labels or medical terms, they just know each kid's name and that is enough. At what point does this acceptance and comfort level go away? Or won't it? I never had this kind of classroom as a child. So is it wishful thinking to hope that the kids who grow up with my kids and the other differently abled kids will just always know them for who they are and not worry about them being different? How wonderful that would be!
One of my favorite foods is pancakes. So I was happy to discover that it is also Nate the Great's favorite food, as the Wise Old Owl and I were reading the first book in the series. As the Owl flipped through the last pages of the book, he discovered a pancake recipe and got excited. It was a standard recipe, calling for such things as all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, and butter, which of course we never use. He wanted to know if we could make the recipe with sorghum flour. Then he scanned through the ingredients to see what else was in them. Sugar, baking powder, salt, all OK. He was sad to see it contained an egg, then remembered he could use an egg replacer. Milk was easy, he requested rice milk. He was stuck on the butter, but I suggested coconut oil and he cheerfully agreed. He really wanted Nate-the-Great pancakes for dinner. Rather than explaining to him why it might not work to drop in substitutes for so many ingredients and how gluten-free recipes need a mix of flours and things like xanthan gum, we just went ahead and made them they way he requested. (I added a scoop of ground chia seeds when he wasn't looking because, well I need to get protein into him somehow!) The first few pancakes were pretty flat, almost like crepes, but he gobbled them up. I added a pinch of baking soda and a splash of apple cider vinegar on the fly to puff them up. Then the rest of the pancakes got nice and bubbly and rose up like normal pancakes. And do you know what? They looked and tasted like regular old pancakes, the ones my dad made on Saturday mornings with all-purpose flour and milk and eggs and butter. The Owl dipped them in maple syrup (a new thing for him!) because Nate the Great likes maple syrup. So not that we were lacking options for pancakes, since I make them at least once a week and we have about a dozen different yummy recipes, but it was a fun little activity for us. I hope I can find a Nate the Great book where he says he likes meat or vegetables....
I had been so looking forward to the first week of school. We had a super fun summer, but it took a ton of energy out of me, and by the end of August, I needed some peace and quiet. Herbie started 1st grade right after Labor Day. He was nervous, he told me, since the kids in his class would be different. It all turned out to be fine, the kids are nice and the staff support is just what he needs. He'll definitely need some time to get used to a full day of school (last year was just mornings), but that will come.
The Wise Old Owl, on the other hand, was practically bursting at the seams with excitement about preschool. It was so fun to see the change from last year when he was very nervous about the kids. Whether it was progress from his therapy, chiropractic care, medication, social skills group, or just growing up, I don't know. I have been seeing such positive changes in him. He loved the first day of school. He didn't talk to the kids, but he also didn't avoid them. He enjoyed all of the activities and couldn't wait to go back. Well, the second day was not such a success. He fell a few feet from the middle of a slide and broke his leg in multiple places.
The pediatrician wanted him to see an orthopedist, so we got an ambulance ride to Children's. I suspect part of their decision to send us in an ambulance was her assessment that I was not emotionally fit to be driving downtown in traffic! Long story short, no surgery was needed, we spent the weekend watching lots of TV (Gilligan's Island is a new favorite around here!), and he got a full-leg cast on Monday.
There is still plenty of discomfort and sleepless nights, and lots of me questioning God as to why He couldn't prevent this from happening to a kid who already has a list of issues a mile long, some of which are going to suffer setbacks due to this cast. But today at preschool drop-off, I saw a glimmer of something positive that may come out of this. As he maneuvered his little wheelchair down the hall and into the classroom, all the kids ran up to him to see the unusual sight. They were asking question after question. And then, I heard him say, "I broke my leg. I fell off of the slide that doesn't have any sides." At pick-up, the teacher said she'd heard more of the same--multiple answers to kids in FULL SENTENCES! The autism specialist at school made a point to come find me to say she was impressed and had alerted the speech therapist to come listen in to him speaking to the other kids in the class.
More words than he probably said in total to all of the kids in his class the entire previous school year!
I get a good laugh every day out of my kids' re-enactments of Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes. Every time we go to the library, they pick 3 or 4 DVDs to check out. Herbie's favorite is "Spinning Things." Why am I not surprised? It's actually pretty hilarious. He has the whole thing memorized. Any time we go somewhere with a revolving door, they have to act out a scene from the DVD. We probably get a few strange looks, but I am laughing too hard to notice.
Do other little kids even know who Bill Nye is? Does anyone besides me get their jokes or understand why they add an enthusiastic "of science!" to the end of everything?
I have seen this quote shared on many blogs, and I'm going to share it here, too, because it is just so awesome.
“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.”
― Jerry Newport, Your Life is Not a Label