For years I feel like speech therapists have been telling me to work on greetings with the Owl. Say hello when you see him in the morning, say good bye when you go upstairs for a minute, intentionally greet everyone you interact with all day, prompt him to say these things, too, or at a minimum to wave. I went through spurts of heeding this advice. It gets old, so I admit that I'd given up on it lately because there are plenty of other things to think about. But all of the sudden, he is saying good-bye to everyone. His teachers at school, his buddies from social skills group, the receptionist at the OT clinic, even me when I just go upstairs for a minute. And it's not just one good bye, it's 7 or 8 in a row. It is super cute and made me stop to realize what a great achievement that is for him, especially after I had let it slide to the bottom of his list of goals. We still need to get him to say hello without maximum prompts, but I am inspired to really work on that again!
So after my last post about the horse therapy, I have been mulling over my thoughts and ideas on lessons learned. But that needs a little (well maybe a lot) more editing. So instead, here is something more positive, an excellent IEP meeting.

As luck would have it, the Wise Old Owl's IEP transition meeting was postponed from early May until late May, scheduled for 2 days after a parents' food allergy support group meeting that I attended. What a great meeting to attend, it was all about preparing for the next school year. So I walked away with a folder full of handouts and sample 504 plan accommodations. (I'll put a few links at the bottom of this post for anyone interested in similar resources.)

The Wise Old Owl will be in his second year of preschool, which will meet at the primary school site, rather than at the early childhood facility where he was this past year. I met with his IEP team to discuss his speech and anxiety issues as well as modifications for his food allergies. (Often, allergy accommodations are in a 504 plan, but since he already had an IEP, the modifications are part of that.)

Anyway, it was fantastic to walk into the meeting and to see that the school nurse had made it. She was able to tell me all kinds of helpful things about the school policies and made me feel like she truly understood the life-threatening nature of food allergies and the worries that I deal with. I handed out several informative flyers I had received at the recent allergy group meeting. The teachers and nurse said, "thanks" enthusiastically, not the polite thanks with an eye-roll that I had been worried about, but a real thanks for the info, we are always learning. We talked through my suggested accommodations and they were on board with almost all of them. (The procedures for the bus were scrapped due to lack of a bus service rep at the meeting, and I still need to call the bus service to find out more about that, but really, if I end up driving him to preschool that is definitely not a problem.)

My favorite accommodation is the one that says the teacher will not include any food items in lesson plans. She was completely on board with that and so in it went!!! What a relief for next year AND down the road it cannot be easily taken out unless there is a good reason. It is a legal document, superseding any elementary school teacher's plans for a gingerbread house. I think my stress level went down about a thousand percent!

Overall, we had lots of great discussion about allergies and how it affects my son's learning in the classroom, how it goes hand in hand with his anxieties. There were certainly a million more things that I would have loved to put in the IEP, but I picked my battles and felt like I needed to put my top priorities on the table first, leave the rest for later to improve my chances of getting the really important ones.

We wrapped up the allergy portion of the meeting, the nurse left, and we then moved on to the rest of the IEP goals. His new SLP will continue the articulation and social language goals, of course. But now that I am a bit wiser, I laid out on the table my expectations for the classroom in general. How I hoped that the general ed teachers would really take the lead and not rely on the SLP so that my son would trust them to help with social interactions. We talked about staff acting as an intermediary since they are more approachable for him, and how they can re-direct his conversation to the kids, recognizing his anxieties and stepping in to help him work through them, helping him with transition to play time with specific suggestions, and just generally playing with kids on the floor (something that surprisingly seemed to never happen in preschool this past year...). Again, it was a great conversation. The lead teacher actual looked a little surprised that I would request some of these things, she commented something to the effect that those were generally things that any preschool teacher should do with any kid. And again, my stress level went down and I breathed a little more easily.

Now it is summer and I am taking a big break from worrying about preschool. When ESY comes along in July, he'll be with the same amazing and trustworthy special ed staff that he has known from the past year. And I am feeling optimistic about his fall classroom. For the moment, it is time to relax, bake some allergen-free cookies, and play at the playground!

For anyone wanting some information on how to communicate with your child's school about allergies and sample accommodations for an IEP or 504 plan, here are a few helpful links that I have found.

Lots of tips, FAQs, and handouts from Kids with Food Allergies (KFA)
Downloadable school guidelines from FAAN
Sample 504 plan
The role of school nurses

We have had a tough few weeks with our once beloved horse therapy facility. I am really at a loss to understand why this happened.

First, a little history. We found out through a teacher about a horse therapy program about 30 minutes away from our house. I read about equine therapy and about this particular farm and was so excited for the potential. We got on the wait list and in March 2011 got a call that we could start lessons. It was completely amazing. I watched the Wise Old Owl go from signing commands to whispering to audibly giving the horse commands. That was a huge deal! I was excited about what good core strengthening exercise it was for him. I loved seeing Herbie paying attention, following multi-step directions, getting lots of good sensory input as he groomed the horse, and grinning from ear to ear when he got to trot. I raved about the place to everyone I knew and made monetary donations beyond the very expensive riding fees. Fast forward a year. We had not been there for a few months for the winter. I was itching to get them back in the saddle. At the first ride, both kids rocked, they did everything perfectly including SMILING AND WAVING TO THE OTHER TWO KIDS IN THE LESSON!!! That was new from last year and I was so amazed. We had a few weeks in a row of awesome rides.

Then the Wise Old Owl actually started saying "hi" to the other kids, and the instructor decided that waving was not enough for Herbie. He needed to say "hi" as well. She prompted him several times and he could not do it. She asked why he would not say "hi" to his friend and he answered that she wasn't his friend. In hindsight, I don't think that was his reason, but her use of the word friend probably made him think to say that. So at home we we talked about how we define a friend and different types of friends and being friendly, etc. I encouraged him to continue smiling and waving. The next week was similar, with much prompting and no greeting. The following week, our babysitter took the kids and the Wise Old Owl was SO excited to show her around the place. However, it was not such a great time for Herbie. He was prompted again to say "hi," and apparently after a long time of awkward discussion he was told the next week he could not ride if he did not cooperate. I spoke on the phone with the instructor, asking her if he could whisper or mouth the words as a first step and she was of the opinion that he was being obstinate and did not budge in her position. She also made some comments about how he got too rowdy with his reigns and he was "pushing her buttons," I sensed a lot of anger, something I had never detected in her before. We were not getting anywhere discussing it over the phone so I ended the conversation.

For several days I tried role playing with Herbie but his anxiety was so evident that I decided not to push it. He stayed home and I took the Owl to the next lesson. I spoke with the instructor in person and tried to plead his case, pointing out that it is in fact incredibly common for kids with autism to have trouble greeting their peers! She kept saying that we just needed to push him, she was clearly not considering his point of view and I was incredibly frustrated. I suggested rewinding, perhaps introducing the idea of doing greetings on the ground (rather than mounted on the horses) and giving him some time to warm up to the idea. She agreed to the on the ground part, but still insisted that he audibly say "hi."

Herbie had been sick all week (painfully constipated, very unusual for him since he eats way more than the recommended 5 servings of fruits & veggies a day) and it all seemed to be stress related. This was the biggest stress for him, so we decided to end it. I felt sad going from absolutely loving the place and envisioning my kids attending there for years to suddenly leaving, especially since the Owl loved it so much. But it needed to be done. So I wrote a letter and after multiple edits to take out my real feelings, sent an email stating that the Owl would come for one more lesson so he could have closure and then we'd be done.

I second-guessed myself a million times. But then the next day, the instructor called, we had a very unpleasant conversation, and it confirmed my decision entirely. I went ahead and sent the Owl with the babysitter for his last lesson, at which they skipped the greetings altogether (to spite me??) and then trotted (Herbie's favorite activity) much much more than usual. The Owl came home practically in tears because he was so sore!! Usually the kids trot two lengths of the arena, and after the first, he will ask not to do the second and she will grant that request. His low muscle tone makes it so hard for him to control his body when he is bouncing up and down on a horse. But apparently this day, she denied his request to walk rather than trot and kept going multiple times around the arena. With his voice cracking, he told me, "Susie made me keep trotting and my butt hurts." The only positive thing to come of that is he no longer is sad to discontinue his lessons, he does not want to go back. Fortunately after 4 days of using the heating pad, he seems to be fine, but my brain is still going a mile a minute thinking of all the things I want to say to her! I am writing this epic blog post instead...

Well, we certainly learned a lot of lessons, which will be another post. Thankfully the end of May was capped off by a fantastic IEP meeting and a lovely Memorial Day weekend.
Today Herbie came home from school and excitedly reported that his classmate, S, told him he was his best friend! It was so fun to hear! This particular little boy also has some special needs, but my impression is that his needs are pretty much the opposite of Herbie's needs. He is polite and sweet, listens and follows rules and directions, but struggles mightily with academic subjects and sounds like he has some articulation difficulties. They ride the same bus and for several weeks have been working through Highlights Puzzle Buzz magazines on their way to school. We met up with S and his parents at a playground the other day and had a fun time getting to know them. Then we had S over for lunch after school and I took him home after they boys played for awhile. Herbie has not stopped talking about it, and apparently S can't wait for the next time either.
Herbie asks questions about why S likes him, so that makes for a good discussion starter about how people like you if you are kind, and other qualities of friendship. It is nice to have a basis for discussion finally, rather than it being so abstract about why he should be nice to people and how they feel when you treat them well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he can maintain this friendship through the summer and hoping they are assigned to the same classroom next year.
Our school district has a break this week for three days. Somehow I managed to fill up the kids' schedule with extra doctors' appointments, so no big fun activities were planned. However, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well the first two days of no school have gone.
Of course we've had the usual tantrums and fits and messes. But there have been some huge bright spots that I have to brag about! Wednesday in particular was a wonderful day. After breakfast, Owl had an OT appointment, and Herbie, being out of school, had to come along. Herbie began building a block tower in the waiting area, and pretty soon another child came and knocked it over. I assured him we'd be able to rebuild it, and as the mother was trying to get the child to apologize, Herbie told him, "It's OK, I forgive you." Of course it was prompted by me, but he said it on the first prompting in a totally audible voice! OK, that was huge! As we continued working on the tower, a girl came over and joined the fun. Herbie didn't flinch when she started building with him and suggesting her ideas of how to do things. Wow! In fact, he thought it was fun to have her play along, and when they completed the tower they jumped around together cheering. The various staff members in the office know Herbie (he also gets OT there) and were cheering for him. He was so pumped up about how he built that tower with another child.
Later that day we had an appointment with Herbie's developmental pediatrician. He sat so well for this appointment, and even answered a couple of questions. We talked about his progress and the supports and interventions in place. Some days I get so caught up in how busy we are with therapy and how stressful it is to deal with behaviors. But today, the doctor reminded me of how Herbie had behaved when he last saw him 6 months ago, and it made me stop and realize how much progress has been made. I briefly started to feel sorry for myself that I had to celebrate such victories when my neighbors were celebrating things like their kindergartener playing hockey, but then Herbie pulled me out of it with his joyous retelling of the very, very, very tall tower he had built that morning. We spent the rest of the day playing and laughing and smiling. There was more happiness at our house than usual. Even after an impressive bedtime meltdown, Herbie came back to his tower story and fell asleep smiling.
Today was another good day, nothing as dramatic as yesterday, but sunny enough to stop at a playground on our way home from appointments, and plenty of smiles to go around. After dreading 3 days of no school, this has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. An answer to a prayer that I forgot to pray, but Someone knew just what we needed.

This week, we had a few friends over to play. I am so thankful that we have found a couple of families who I feel comfortable around. They don't express surprise at my kids' behaviors and don't offer parenting advice! It's so refreshing.

So anyway, the first playdate was with a boy, A, who is in the grade level between Herbie and Owl, so that works out nicely. He is by all appearances a typical kid, and very accepting of others. He doesn't seem to worry much about the different ways that my kids play or Herbie's outbursts and meltdowns. His mom is great to talk to and we have a lot of fun. The whole playdate, though, takes a lot of energy in terms of helping the kids play together and take turns, explaining to Herbie that he doesn't get to make all the rules, that some of the rules he makes are just not going to work, etc. Herbie never talks directly to A, but will convey his thoughts to me or to A's mom.  Basically a lot of intervention is needed, but we make it through the playdate and the kids are so happy their friend came over.

The second playdate was with twin boys who are in kindergarten, one is on the spectrum and the other is not. This playdate was night and day from the first. The boys arrive and rush into the house, yelling to Herbie and Owl that they want to play in the basement. Owl is way too slow to keep up with them as they run from the basement to the main level to the upstairs bedroom, repeat, repeat, repeat. They gather the toys and accessories they want to use for some made-up game, they laugh as they agree on the rules, and look at each other and talk about the progress of the game! The game involves lots of throwing plastic balls and other somewhat soft items at each other while they jump off of the cabinets in the basement. (Yes, I let them jump off of the shelf on top of the built-in's too hard to stop them and they need their exercise, right?) Their mom smiles and is not bothered by my lack of rules (or if she is, she does a great job hiding it from me).

Somehow with these twin boys, Herbie is totally at ease and willing to allow others to make up rules for games. I have never seen him like this with any other child. The closest we've come is with A, where he will painfully agree to modify his rules because he does truly want to play with his friend. Most other kids aren't worth the effort in his opinion. So I'm wondering how it is that Herbie is SO at ease with the twins. It's fun to watch them laughing hysterically and not needing much help at all, just some reminders not to throw the blocks or legos. How can I help him to generalize this skill to other children? For now, I'm savoring the memory of him laughing and engaging in actual conversation with other children. This week is going well!