Friday, September 30, 2011

My Daughter, Darla the Fish Killer


I have a terrible confession to make.  My daughter is like Darla, from Finding Nemo.  Although, we at least realized it early on, so we don't allow the killing to go on.  But yes, Elizabeth has sadly, killed a fishy friend.  She loves fish very much, but we learned the hard way that giving a fish to a six year old for Christmas is a bad idea.

Christmas 2008, Elizabeth had turned six in August and Beka was 20 months old.  Elizabeth had been asking for a fish for quite a while.  Chris and I had not said yes, because we didn't think she was mature enough, but she really, really, really wanted a fish and as Elizabeth would say, "I used my cuteness on you."
Finally, after a lot of talking about what to do, we decided to get her a fish - but a fish that wasn't fragile, which meant a guppy or a beta fish of some sort.  So we slowly purchased (and hid) the fish tank and accessories, because it was her Christmas present.  We were getting excited, we knew she would love a fish and would be thrilled.

Christmas Eve found me at Petco talking to a salesman and requesting ONE fish, not two fish, I didn't want the little suckers multiplying on us.  We barely knew what to do with one fish, I had books I was reading, but mainly I was clueless.  Finally, he helped me pick out a guppy.  I purchased the fish and headed to the car and as I sat there looking at the fish swimming happily I was suddenly overcome by guilt.  This poor innocent fish, I knew Elizabeth wasn't really ready for a fish, but I also knew she wanted one and sadly, I had visions of her torturing the poor animal to death.  I was a bad, bad person.  I was going to hell for fishicide.  And as I drove home I talked to the fish.
"I'm so sorry, it's nothing personal.  You seem like a nice fish and I sincerely hope we are wrong and she doesn't accidentally kill you."   I called a friend and told her I was a monster and she started laughing as I shared my remorse and guilt and how I could see it now, we'd be the people know to pet stores as fish killers if we purchased another fish and another and another.  What were we thinking?  This was a bad idea, no scratch that, it was a terrible idea!!!

I got the fish home, I told Chris the instructions to help the fish make the change for the store tank to our tank.  So what does he do?  He just dumped him into the tank, no slow change.  That poor fish, I was worried about my daughter and should have been more concerned about her father!  AAAAHHHHHH.  . . At this point all I could do was shake my head and wonder, what were we thinking.  He seemed okay - he was swimming.  We set up the tank in Elizabeth's bedroom and turned on the heater to the specified setting given to me and went to bed.

Christmas morning found us waking up to shrieks of delight from Elizabeth.  And she had an excellent Christmas.  That was the year that much to Sarah's displeasure, everyone decided to purchase Elizabeth a Barbie Princess Throne and Princess clothing and shoes - complete with wand and tiara.  Elizabeth was over the moon.  She danced and flitted for us and played happily until about lunch time when she came running down the stairs crying.  Her fishy was dead!!!!!!  The poor guy didn't even make it 24 hours with Elizabeth as his owner.  Sarah came down looking rather disgruntled and explained that she had been stirring the water in the tank . . .with her wand!   In her defense, Elizabeth did have some help killing her fish - Chris did just dump the poor dude into the tank with no regard for slow acclimation.   The poor fish was already in some distress when out of the blue he suddenly finds himself being poked and then swirled into a whirlpool by a long silver wand.  He probably decided it was better to just go towards the light so he could be done.  He knew that staying in our house would mean he'd die sooner rather than later and decided no time like the present.  And we have not purchased a fish since. . . and won't EVER AGAIN!

I wonder if when I get to Heaven if I am going to be judged for being an accomplice to fish killing?   After all, he was only a harmless little guppy, but I knew she wasn't a harmless girl.  At least not when it came to fish.

Elizabeth is much older now, but we still don't have a fish and we won't for a long, long time.  The truth is, Chris and I discovered something.  We are not pet people.  We love animals and think they are great . . . as long as they belong to someone else.  Neither of us have the patience to deal with animals that require maintenance and training, since we have children who require that now.  Someday we might have animals in our home again, but it's doubtful.

I hope you all have a good week.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Importance of Being Your Child's Advocate

I have recently joined and awesome network called MyAutismTeam.  You can visit yourself if you'd like at www.myautismteam.com and if you have a child with Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder I encourage you to visit it and meet other parents struggling the same way you are struggling.
One parent asked a good question -about what we had learned about being involved with our children and what had helped us.  So I figured it's time to write a long overdue blog.  So here it is.  It is vital for your child that you be their voice.  This is more important when they are younger than when they are older sometimes, but I found that being an advocate is vital to helping your child.  This doesn't just encompass your child with special needs, but when your child is ill as well.

Why?  Often when children are young they do not know how to express themselves.  If you are anything like me, you know what your child needs before they need it.  BTW, that sometimes doesn't help them, it's important for them to learn how communicate.   Elizabeth was younger she didn't speak a lot.  She spoke, but most of it was jargon or her own language.  One of the things I figured out quickly was that while the so called "experts" new a lot, they didn't know my daughter.  I found that they often didn't think of all the angles when it came to Elizabeth because while they knew the general information about special needs, they didn't know these facts as they pertained to my daughter.  I found myself at odds with a few specialists who wished to medicate a four year old child who was very small for her age.  I might not have gotten so testy but they acted as if medication was the only option.  I had been prepared for this so I began researching medication and realized quickly that Elizabeth was far too small to take most of those medicines and that they could have serious health risks - something those "experts" probably didn't know because none of them were doctors in medicine or pediatrics.

How did I help Elizabeth?  First, I spent time praying for wisdom and guidance from the Lord.  I asked his guidance in choosing a good magnet school (preferably with smaller classrooms) for Lizzie.  I asked him to help us when we realized what we were facing.  Second, I made sure that the school had all of the information they needed when it came to Elizabeth's home life, diagnosis, things I'd observed at home.  Third, I often dropped by for "surprise" inspections or visits.  I found that if I slipped in quietly that I got a more accurate gauge of what was really happening in the classroom.  At Spaght, they liked and welcomed that - not so much at Madison.  They said they welcomed it, but when I would stop by unexpectedly it always seemed as if I was a pain, or they wished I wouldn't come and surprise them.  The point in doing this though was to give me a true idea of what happened during the day (I also stopped by at different times of the days to keep them on their toes) and to see how well Elizabeth was adjusting to a change in teacher, classroom, new students, etc. . .  This established early on, that 1. I wasn't just a parent who saw school as free child care.  2. I would be watching.  3.  I cared, and would ask questions and also answer them when they had some questions for me.  Fourth, I made it a point to answer questions, offer any help and offered to back them up when they needed to discipline Elizabeth.  I have a two for one special at my house - if you get in trouble at school you are in trouble when you get home.  It established that I was there to be their partner, not just some schlub who needed free babysitting.

What is very important to help you in your journey?  A good special needs team is very important.  I know with every fiber of my being that Mrs. Silveous, Mrs. Holle, & Mr. George as well as Mr. Wade (second year Kindergarten teacher), Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Baker (her regular classroom teachers) that Elizabeth would not be where she is if not for them.

Why is being an advocate important?  Often times children (special needs and non-special needs) cannot express themselves or explain what is going on with them.  Sometimes your child is too afraid to stand up for themselves.  Sometimes, they are unconscious and lying in a hospital - a voice is needed.  My mom was that voice for my brother after he and our sister and grandmother were in a terrible accident.  My mom is one of the most non-confrontational people I've ever met, but she went to war for my brother when the doctors attempted to give up on him.  Let me tell you sometimes there is nothing a doctor fears more than a woman fighting for her child.  And in the process of fighting for your child, it helps cement your bond with them, your love for them in their minds (providing they know you are in there fighting for them -sometimes it is also important to move behind the scenes so they don't know).  It also helps you remember what is important.
Elizabeth is much more verbal these days, but being only 10 years old doesn't have the life experience I do or the experience fighting the system on her behalf.  As she matures and grows more responsible it will be important that I allow her fight more and more of her own battles, but when it comes to her education that time hasn't come yet.

I also learned a few things about myself.  I learned that while I will go to war for my children, I tend to hesitate more when I have to fight for myself.  Of course, I also tend to eat healthier for my children than I do for myself these days as well.  I've learned there is a fine line between losing ones temper and saying the thing that needs to be said to address an elephant in the room. And that it is important to address the problem at hand before you lose your temper or there is a whole other elephant in the room.
I also learned it is very important to keep the school, your pediatrician, specialists and everyone in the loop as to any changes going on in your home.  This was very important when we faced Chris' second deployment in 2009-2010.  I knew months in advance so we were able to sit down and create a plan to help Elizabeth deal with missing her Daddy, deal with the higher stress level at home, and to help her cope in school.  There was definitely a difference in how well she coped or didn't cope at times, but because we all knew what was going on and were all on the same page, it helped us all to help Elizabeth.  

I hope this blog helped a bit.  I hope it helped answer some questions if you are starting your journey with Autism or ASD.  One last lesson - I learned that a good support system is crucial to making it on this journey.  A good support system will help you see the humor in the daily things and help you when your heart is breaking for your child.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Monday, September 26, 2011

Figuring Out Curriculum

So since I have opted to not use Washington Virtual Academy, I am back to the drawing board and looking at different curriculum.  So this is what I have discovered.  As a Christian, I have several options for curriculum but I am hitting a few road blocks with each one.
Alpha Omega Publications was fine for Sarah, but it uses the King James Version.  There is nothing wrong with the King James Version except this.  I am a smart, college educated woman and sometimes I am a little befuddled when reading it. Sarah as well, struggled a bit with Switched on Schoolhouse Bible, because it only uses the King James Version, so if we are struggling with it, I don't think Elizabeth would do well with Alpha Omega stuff.  So back to the drawing board I went.
I looked at Bob Jones University - TALK ABOUT EXPENSIVE!!!!  I hear good things about it though, so I am still searching.  I am mainly looking for Science and History - I have Reading, Writing and Spelling covered, but wow, BJU is costly.  Amazon.com has some of their stuff on there, but it isn't really explained very well, so I am kind of looking around and working to find different things on different websites and hoping to find it for a cheaper price.  I also would prefer to have the new science books, and I'm a little concerned by some of the early stuff that says they don't know where electricity comes from?  Hmmm. . .
Saxon, so far, I have found very little wrong with Saxon.  Many of the reviews I have read only speak positively for it, so I am strongly considering using it or Science and Math. 
A Beka - A Beka would be good for Beka.  I used it when I was a little girl going to private school and I like that they use phonics and teach cursive writing which I can use for Elizabeth as well as Beka.   However, I also read that it is a lot of busy work and workbooks - not a good fit for Elizabeth.  We are already struggling with book work for school now, so anything that is going to make her more frustrated can't be too good and would be counterproductive to the idea of home school - enjoying learning, one on one and helping Elizabeth enjoy her school experience. 
Then I looked at Sonlight and the price alone cancelled it out of the running.   I am also looking at Hooked on Phonics for Beka and Elizabeth - they have a Mastery Reader program that I thought might help her out quite a bit, so it's something to consider.  Then there is the fact that if I buy something for Elizabeth I will more than likely hold on to it so I can use it for Beka later on as she grows older. 
Mainly I am thinking out loud here. This is where we stand. 
I have curriculum to use for Elizabeth for reading, writing and spelling - THANK YOU MOM and Mrs. Silveous.  :D
I have a few ideas for social studies, but I have to find something more concrete, so I am strongly thinking of A Beka for Social Studies for Elizabeth even.
I know what I want for Math and I am pretty sure for Science as well. 
Bible - I have tons of resources to use to teach the Bible and for memory verse ideas.  :D  So actually we are looking a little better than I thought we were.  I wish we could do LifePac, but I don't want to make Elizabeth frustrated or to feel stupid and I think that is what would happen with her.
I hope you all have a good day, now back to school - we're reading David and Goliath today!  We even did a coloring page that I found.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Potty Training: The Differences in Training an ASD child and a Non-ASD Child.

Potty Training can be a daunting task - especially if you have a child with and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  At this point after potty training two girls, I have to be honest. . . I AM NOT A PRO!  I faced each experience with a little bit of fear and concern. 
Elizabeth was 2 years old when I started trying to potty train her.  In hindsight, I wish I had waited a year before starting to potty train.  But you know what they say about hindsight - it's 20/20.  My mom lived with us and we started working with her.  Our plan was to take her into the bathroom with us when we would go potty or poop and go often with her and let her sit on the potty.  After one of us finished using the bathroom we would clap and exclaim, "YEA, for the potty girl!"  As she got a little more into it, we would go potty - EVERYWHERE!!!  Public restrooms, home, other friends houses, you name it, she had to try it.  And she would do this with some success, we eventually got her to poop as well, only we called it pwew!  I would ask her, "Do you need to go pwewy on the potty?"  Sometimes she would and sometimes she had zero interest in it and of course, during all of this began the fecal art phase of our journey with Elizabeth.  That finally ended when Daddy came home and it happened again.  I'm still unsure what Chris did with her or said to her, but after that, she never painted with her feces again.  Slowly as we got closer to the time when Daddy was supposed to be home, I came to this conclusion.  When Chris came home one of two things was going to happen with Elizabeth - she was either going to poop and potty on the potty because she was waiting for Daddy to come home, OR she just wasn't ready and Chris being home would make no difference and we would wait a little bit before trying again.  So I kept investing in pull-ups and the day came for us.  We drove to Junction City, KS and picked up Chris - Daddy was home!!!  It was a good day and we came home.  Shortly after returning home, Chris went into the bathroom and was going potty when Lizzie came into the bathroom and watched him, just fascinated.  He finished and she began clapping and calling out, "Yeah for the potty girl!"  LOL!  The look on his face was priceless!  I explained it was about giving positive reinforcement and to please go with it.  He did and the next week, Lizzie got up in the morning and announced, "Mommy, I need to pwewy on the potty!"  She marched into the bathroom and proceeded to poop like a big girl then ask for help wiping.  Chris was happy to oblige and as he walks into the room, looks at me with a mischevious smirk and says, "I don't know what you are griping about, potty training is easy?!"  I almost killed them both right then and there!  6-9 months of attempting to get her to poop and potty on the potty and she does it one week after Daddy gets home!  I was a little annoyed, now I could care less, but then I wanted to throttle them both.
Now Beka, well Beka was interesting to say the least.  First, she didn't turn three until a couple of months after Chris came home from Kuwait & Iraq (he was deployed to both the second time).  Shortly after her third birthday the lady in charge of the nursery asked me when I was going to potty train her?  When, not until her Dad comes home and she shows an interest - which she didn't until AFTER Chris was home. Besides, Chris wasn't home to potty train Sarah or Elizabeth and I was determined he was going to help potty train at least one of his daughters!   Let me tell you, it's amazing how many people think they have a right to tell you what to do with your child - it's really annoying and highly dangerous when annoying a woman who has three children and a husband overseas.  So Chris comes home and Beka goes to Preschool and her teacher and I had our conference and she told me,  Beka is ready.  So we discussed it and when I came home, I made a plan with Chris.  We set a date for when school would be out and we had one potty cover seat upstairs and a potty chair downstairs for her.  I put her in panties and a t-shirt and the weekend before that weekend we decided to start introducing it.    So here we went, neither of us knowing what to expect and I set a timer, so every 20 minutes we would sit with her on the potty and she could read a book or watch a tv show, but she had to sit there for 5 minutes to see if we could make it happen.  I remember when it started to take.  She came to see me and was jabbering to me and suddenly she started crying and so quickly moved her to the potty chair and we praised her for going potty on the potty and didn't yell at her for her accident on the floor.  We had a few more of those before it was all over and we had to do a few trips at night to the bathroom between Chris and I for a few weeks to get her fully night trained.  However, it took us maybe one to two days, but once she put two and two together, she had it down. 

Either way, the girls got it down.  Slowly but surely Elizabeth has made gains, she has had one or two accidents since potty training, but most of them are because the bathroom isn't free in time, not due to a control issue. Beka digressed a little when we moved to Washington, but it wasn't unexpected and I had purchased pull-ups to take on the road with us so if she had an accident it wouldn't be a huge problem.   She did need a dose of tough love because she wanted to play more than stop and use the bathroom and so I had to tell her only big girls who went potty on the potty got to play outside.  So if she pottied her pants, then I would make her spend the rest of the day inside, it took three or four times of this happening and it seemed to nip it in the bud.  The same went for Elizabeth - although not on all things.  Sometimes she gets it quicker than others.  Sometimes it take 20 times and others it take 3 or 4 times for her to get it.
I hope you all have a good weekend.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

The Purpose Driven What?????

As we gear up for the school season and I start the ball rolling, I was reading through some of my books or teens and found an interesting one by Chuck Colson and the first thing he talked about was the fact that teens need to know they have a purpose.  This got me to thinking and of course, my next thought was RICK WARREN!  So I scrambled up from the table and grabbed my copy of The Purpose Driven Life  written by Pastor Warren and I realized something - the days are broken into small segments so they are perfect for Sunday School or youth devotionals.  AND I can tackle the question a lot of young people struggle with, "Why am I here, what is my purpose?  Was I an accident?"  These are important questions and I agree with Mr. Colson - it's important to not shut the teen down but to answer them honestly and let them know God made them for a reason.
This week we are going into Day 2 and I had originally contemplated adding Day 3 into the lesson, however, as I read the Day, I realized that this was a lesson too important to join with another day.  While it may not seem terribly important if you were raised in a two parent home and you don't have anyone in your family who was pregnant before marriage.  However, several of my teens were born earlier than their parents got married or their parents were pregnant when they married (I have two such children in my home).    And the truth is there are times when parents become very frustrated with their children and while most parents (I hope) would not tell their children they were accidents or mistakes, there are a lot of teens who have heard words indicating just that.  This can seriously mess with a child - making them wonder why they were even created by our Maker.  So I opted to stick to only Day 2, it's very possible that down the line we'll find days we can skip over or combine because together they are important for the teens but at this time, I suddenly saw an answer to a problem plaguing many teens today - feeling that they are worthless and no one cares.
I hope you all have a good weekend. 

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Autism: Manners and Their Importance

I opted to write this blog after reading the therapy plan a fellow Autism parent has for their children and one of the goals on there was to teach her son, how to say, "Trick or Treat."    So I thought I'd share a little bit about our experience with teaching speech and what stuck.

Before Elizabeth was born I knew I felt that manners were very important and I wanted to make sure that each of the children learned how to use their manners.  For those unfamiliar with manners and what they are, I am discussing using "Please and Thank You."  "Yes Please, or No thank you."  I'm discussing learning how to speak appropriately to other people even when they annoy you and giving them courtesy and respect.

But for the time being lets stick with using the words please and thank you.  So when each of the two younger girls first began to make small noises and as they began to move around the house more I used these moments as opportunities to teach them how to say those words.  When one of the children would crawl around and take something they shouldn't have (because all babies do these things - it's how they learn), I would kindly ask, "May Mommy have that please?"  Then while gently removing it from their hands, I would reply with "Thank you."  I often said Thank you in a sing song voice and didn't even realize it until I heard them parrot it back to me the same way I would say it.

Elizabeth picked it up pretty fast and so did Beka, but we ran into a few snags as Lizzie got older.  She would want something and instead of asking by using "Please" she would ask, "What do you say?" Or she would thank herself or even say "You're Welcome" to herself before I had a chance.  It was cute but it also meant I needed to be a little more creative with her.

October 2004 we were facing Halloween and Elizabeth was finally old enough to go trick or treating.  So started trying to teach her how to say, "Trick or Treat".  We never did quite master it, however, I didn't need to worry.  A friend of ours loaned us one of her children's red Teletubby costume and I got her a bucket to carry.  She has always been small for her age, and this year she was almost run over by some of the other children, but Mom and I were determined to let her have a good time and so Mom followed us in the car and we would walk through the neighborhood we had chosen.  Lizzie would go up to the stairs, but couldn't quite say Trick or Treat, so she would hold up her bag with her big brown eyes and her adorable costume and she would say, Pease, pweetty pease.  That alone earned her more candy than all of the other children who kept racing in front of her.  At one house we had to ask for a napkin though because she couldn't resist the suckers, and again she used her good manners. 

The thing about teaching manners whether to a child with Autism/an Austism Spectrum Disorder is, it's all about repetition and setting a good example.  If you talk to people as if they are bugs, your children will learn to speak to others in the same way.  If you speak to people with kindness and are thoughtful and considerate, your children will learn to speak that way to people.  A lot of it is a question of "What type of parent do you want to be to your child?" 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Evaluation: Then & Now



We are beginning the process of re-evaluation this week for Elizabeth.  And as we work on it, it's always interesting to me to look back on how far we've come from where we were and how far we have to go still.
When we first started this journey it was with great hesitation on my part.  People had been trying to tell me that they thought something might be wrong with Elizabeth.  Finally, to stop them talking and harping on me I took her to Screen 4 Success a program in Kansas that works with Rainbows - an organization that helps disabled children and children with delays.  I took her not know what to expect but with a little worry nagging me in the back of my head and Elizabeth failed.   Let me rephrase that - Elizabeth BOMBED!!!! the tests.  At this point, I got a "counseling" from some young woman who proceeded to tell me what I needed to do to discipline Elizabeth.  I was already feeling crappy at this point, so that pretty much finished me off.  I looked at her sheet and let her finish, and then I not so politely finished her off.  I wasn't some uneducated, uninformed and not involved or engaged parent.  I had a college degree and I did have rules, structure and boundaries, but they seemed to fall on Elizabeth's seemingly deaf ears.  So we got things set up to meet with the social worker at Irving Elementary School and begin testing Elizabeth to find out how delayed she was.  I have never wanted to smack my own mother so badly in my life - especially since it was her idea to get her tested.  Why couldn't she have left me alone and let me live in denial a little longer?  NOOOOOOO she had to harp on and on - at least that was what was running through my head on the drive home from the Screen 4 Success.  Now I know she only had good intentions and I wasn't really upset at her, I was mad at me.  Although, in hindsight it might have been better for her to be so pushy AFTER my husband came home for Iraq and in one piece.  
So we started the evaluation process and they kept pushing to go forward and I finally was blunt with the.  "Look, my husband is overseas and I'm already overwhelmed as it is with everything else going on so we need to wait until Chris comes home.  I can face then when Chris comes home, not before then."  What I was asking was this, "Please stop, I'm drowning already and I need you to go away for a little while so I have my support system back before I face the reality that something is wrong with my daughter."  So we shut the house up and locked ourselves in and rode out the rest of the deployment and he came home.  He was safe and home and we were happy to have him back and September came way to quickly.  I couldn't put it off anymore, but more importantly I didn't feel the need to put it off.  I had Chris at home to help me go through this, so I wasn't alone anymore.  More importantly, I wasn't as overwhelmed by everything that a deployment requires of  spouse of a deployed soldier.   
September 2005 we resumed testing on Elizabeth and I let our pediatrician know that she had failed the testing at Screen 4 Success and she made a few phone calls and got us in to see Dr. Valerie Kerschon  in March.  Dr. Kerschon works at HeartSpring and organization started by actress Susan Dey (think Partridge Family and L.A. Law and that's her) to help children who were disabled.  She is a behavioral pediatrician who works there and we met with her and she played with Elizabeth.   

January 2006 saw us sitting in our first ever IEP/Individual Education Plan for Elizabeth.  We left feeling as if all the air had been let out of sails.  It was terrible and disheartening, because the initial IEP is always the one where they discuss where your child needs help and how poorly they are doing.  It's heartbreaking to sit there and feel as if they are tearing your baby to shreds with a microscope.  In some ways it felt as if they were judging me as a parent.  I was devastated and depressed.  The plan was to put her in afternoon school at Little Early Childhood School - it a school in Wichita designed to help children with special needs and delays.  So we started with a bus, Elizabeth loved it and loved her teacher Mrs. Tripoli and they fed her lunch, which she thought was great and would have loved even more if she had actually eaten food like a normal kid (what can I say, Elizabeth likes Elizabeth likes).  

In came March 2006 and it saw us meeting Dr. Kerschon and saying some goodbyes and preparing for me to have gastric bypass.  By May surgery was done, we had the video tape for Dr. Kerschon and I was positive I knew what the diagnosis would be. . . Autism.   Everything I had read in the assessment forms I had filled out and that I saw while making the tape of Elizabeth in Preschool class showed me what I hadn't wanted to see for a long time.  My daughter was autistic.  But until I heard it come out of the doctor's mouth I didn't process it completely.  It is one thing to know in your heart but to hear someone actually say it out loud.  Someone who has the power to put it on paper and make people pay attention - there is usually a glimmer of hope.  As reality began to sink in, I internally flogged myself.  I had failed my daughter, if I had quit my job when Chris deployed, if I hadn't eaten tuna when pregnant, if only's ran through my head.  But that was then and this is now. 

Then Elizabeth was barely verbal and used a lot of jargon (or what I called gobbledygoop) to talk.  I was her translator and even I struggled to understand her sometimes.  Now Elizabeth can talk the hind leg off of a mule.  Then Elizabeth would only willingly let Chris and I hug on her and love her.  Now she loves to get hugs, snuggles and love from her grandparents and others.  Then eye contact didn't really exist, now she needs some prompting, but is making better strides.  Then social skills didn't exist - she was left out of class activities by her peers because she didn't know how to ask to join in play.  Now there are some children she plays with regularly in our apartment complex.  Granted they tend to end the day fighting, but the fights must not be too bad, since the kids come back and ask if she can play daily.  Then food was picked over and sometimes she would plainly refuse to eat.  Now she eats, she may not like what she eats, but she realizes there is nothing else, so she better eat what we fix and make the most of it. 

We still have a long way to go and some things we face may always be a challenge.  Sitting in the music portion of church may always be a challenge (the voices that don't sing on the same pitch are a lot for Elizabeth's ears to take).  We may never fully tackle and conquer all of the social situations.   She may possibly ever only have two volumes, loud and louder, but looking at where we started from and where we are now, I don't count anything out.     And as for blaming myself - no, not anymore.  I came to a point where I realized that what was done, was done and that I could not wallow in guilt because it wouldn't help me or Elizabeth.  It took a while, but as she began to improve, I realized that I hadn't messed her up beyond help and that if she could move forward then so could I.

I hope you all have a good week.  It's going to be a busy week for us with Re-evaluations at hand and regular every day things going on, but for now life is good and I hope it's good for all of you too.
In Christ,
Maureen

Monday, September 19, 2011

Signs It Might Be Fall

 Fall has arrived in Washington and it's a bit different from Fall in KS so far as I can tell.  I'll keep a watchful eye and let you know for certain once I am positive. But it got me thinking:  What are your typical signs that it is Fall?
 

 So here it is, my list:  Signs It Might Be Fall
1. The temperatures that used to roast you alive (especially in KS and the southern region of the country) are now chilling you.  For us here in Washington it means I have needed to turn on my heater.
2. You find you need to trade your shorts in for long pants; sandals are traded for socks and sneakers (or rain boots in some areas); and sleeping in your underwear because of the heat is no longer a problem.
3. You trade ice cold lemonade to help you stay cool, in for a nice cup of hot tea/coffee (whichever you prefer) to help ward off the chill.


4. School supplies are on sale, and school has already begun.
5. You cannot go swimming outdoors anymore, now you require access to an indoor swimming pool if you want to pull out your swimming suit.
6. You start thinking dreamy thoughts of blankets and hot chocolate WITH MARSHMALLOWS of course, or hot apple cider.
7. Pumpkins AND Christmas decorations start coming out AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!
8.  You go to the grocery store and begin thinking about actually purchasing pumpkins to help the children decorate them for Halloween.
9. Sweatshirts become the staple of your wardrobe - and of course, sweaters as well.
10.  You trade in your beach gear for your child's backpack.
11.  Driving is needed to go anywhere, but it's not to keep you cool, it's to keep you warm or because if you live in Washington and Oregon, it's raining. . . again.

I hope you all have a good week.
In Christ,
Maureen

Friday, September 16, 2011

Special Bonds



As you can see from my pictures, Beka and Sarah are pretty tight.  How can you not love a cute little blond hair, blue-eyed imp who makes you laugh constantly with her funny saying or who loves to snuggle with you.  However, Sarah and Beka have a pretty special bond, which I know they both love. 
While Sarah and Elizabeth love each other, it's not always easy for them to live together since Elizabeth had Mom and Dad to herself until she was four years old when Sarah came to live with us.  So there is a bit of rivalry there, since Elizabeth is Chris and I's first born together and Sarah is our first born from his first marriage.  Two oldest children living under one roof doesn't make it easy.  Add to that Elizabeth's challenges and her age and it usually means lots of tears and fighting between the two older sisters.

However, when it comes to Sarah, Beka thinks the world of her.  She used to cry when we would take Sarah to teens or drop her off for a function/friends/pretty much anything that meant we left Sarah and she, Beka didn't get to go. 

Sarah patiently plays with Beka and tickles her.  She snuggles her, and talks about the cute and funny things she says (she talks about Elizabeth and the funny thing she says too, but they aren't bonded like Sarah and Beka).  I'm not sure, who needs who more, Sarah or Beka. 

Sarah patiently shoo's any bugs or rodents that scare Beka, she would always pick her up and snuggle her when the tornado siren would go off once she was home for home schooling.  She plays games with both girls and one of our favorite sounds at our house through the years have been those moments when all three girls are playing nicely in one room and you can hear them laughing and giggling. 

I know Sarah gets tired of being the oldest sister sometimes, but she's mainly ever kind and nice to the girls.  Our biggest challenge has been getting her to back off and let us be the parents.  While she and Elizabeth do butt heads from time to time, I think as they both grow older, they will become friends.  Beka on the other hand, is going to be devastated when Sarah finally leaves home.  I'm not sure that she will quite know what to do without Sarah there to snuggle her, read to her, or play games with her.  Because somehow just as it's special to Beka when Mommy & Daddy do those things, it's always just a little bit better when it's your oldest sister doing them. 

I hope you all have a good weekend.
In Christ,
Maureen

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Do-It-Yourself Trick for Clogged Sinks

A few years ago, Sarah's mom, Kate shared a magazine with me and it had a great trick to unclog your sink without using expensive clog relievers.  The nice thing is, the items are easy to find, inexpensive and may be in your kitchen already. 

Baking soda, vinegar, and water; honest it's that simple and it's worked amazing wonders for me with clogged sinks in the kitchen and the bathroom. 

1.  Boil a small to medium sized pot of water - you will need this for the final step.
2. 1/2 cup baking soda
3. 1/2 - 1 Cup white vinegar.  The amount you need will depend on how badly your sink is clogged.
4.  You may want to keep a plunger with you as well - I found it is sometimes needed to help the mixture work through the clog.


Directions:
Sprinkle the 1/2 cup baking soda around your drain.  Follow this with your vinegar - start with 1/2 cup first then add more as needed.  Allow mixture to sit as long as you can still hear it fizzing.  For especially stubborn clogs, I add a little more vinegar, because sometimes the baking soda clots and it needs a little more help.  Once you no longer hear the fizzling down in your drain, chase with boiling hot water.  Plunge if necessary to help the mixture work it's way into the drain and to the extent of your clog.

So next time you have a clogged drain, don't call your landlord or a plumber, give this a try first.  I just finished using it on my bathroom sink and I've used it numerous times to help my friends and family when their drains won't drain like they need and it works great as long as your clog is hair or small things like that. 

I hope you all have a great day and a good weekend, but now I need to go do my weekly laundry run.

In Christ,
Maureen

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Challenges with Autism


When Elizabeth was diagnose as Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) we weren't certain what it would mean for us.  And the truth is, taking care of Elizabeth isn't always easy.  She shares the same dentist with all of us finally, and she shares the same pediatrician as her sisters, but dealing with her main issues requires a few extra doctors.  First, she has Amblyopia, this means that she used to see significantly better out of her right eye than her left eye.  In fact, she was slowly going blind in her left eye - we discovered this at age 4 and we've been patching and doing glasses since then.  Second, she has allergies and they trigger Asthma.  The technical term is Allergy Induced Asthma, so we need an Allergy and Asthma specialist for that because when it's cold and flu season if she catches it, it goes straight into her chest.  This also means that everyone except Sarah gets a flu shot every year.  Sarah is excepted because the flu shot makes her very sick and she sometimes ends up with pneumonia.  Finally, we have a specialist who is good at the diagnosing the Brain and who specializes in Pediatrics too.  In Kansas we went to see Dr. Valerie Kerschon every two years so she could check on Elizabeth's progress and she is the one who made the original diagnosis.  At the time Elizabeth was only four so she was too young to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) so we'll be getting that checked out as soon as we are able to tag our minivan with Washington plates.

I don't know if all other parents deal with these issues, but these are some of the problems we deal with in our family.  We also had to decide whether or not to medicate Elizabeth.  At the time of her first official Individual Education Plan (IEP) they started talking medication and I stopped them cold.  It wasn't that I was opposed to medication, I was opposed to medicating Elizabeth when she was the size of a two year old and so small for her age.  By first grade though we'd exhausted all non-medical options and she had had time to grow and in truth had gained quite a bit of height and weight, so we sat down with our pediatrician and discussed medication options.  Dr. Harrington chose Strattera because it did not affect appetite and it should cause any more delays in her growth cycles - all of which are very important since Elizabeth is very small for her age.  She is 10 years old now and her friend at our apartment complex who just turned 8 years old is as tall as she is - so I think you understand our concern - she's very small.  

We are now facing the fourth grade and she is acting like a typical fourth grader.  She squirms in her seat when she should be working, she isn't quite ready to accept responsibility for her actions - all of these I recognize because we struggled with Sarah in the same areas when she was a year older.  We also faced the dilemma of whether or not to keep her in public school.  After a lot of though and careful prayer I opted to keep her out of public school in a sense.  We are preparing to get everything rolling on Washington Virtual Academy - all of the paperwork has gone in and today when I checked it out, I saw the word PENDING on the last few items that needed to be sent in.  This means sometime in the next week or so we should be receiving books and materials from the school.  I am thrilled.  I think it would be better for Elizabeth and for myself to have a teacher to keep us both accountable - it provides a little more structure for her and for me and I don't have to grade her work, a teacher does that.  It will help keep a line between me being Mommy and not being her primary teacher.  She misses her friends and she does get somewhat lonely, but she isn't  completely burned out by the end of the day now.  The nice thing about a good public school that has a good special needs team like when we lived in Kansas and she attended Spaght is that they can do some pretty awesome things with your child, the key is finding just the right school.  I spent days praying before I went to the Choices Fair in 2006 to pick a school for Elizabeth.  By then we knew something was wrong but we didn't have an official diagnosis yet and it was in a few minutes of speaking to Mrs. Silveous and Mrs. Hall that I knew it was the right choice of school for Elizabeth.    As it turned out it was the perfect school for Elizabeth.   Now that we've moved though I don't feel like Madison is a good school for her.  It isn't that I don't think the teachers can help her, it's just too much for Elizabeth.  She had a terrible time making friends, making the adjustment to being in Washington, and she digressed quite a bit and I felt as if I wasn't listened too.  We also have found other options for socialization for her.  We are going to enroll her in Camp Fire Girls this year and there is also a Junior ROTC program we found out about that is only $10 a month and it's a structured setting and it would teach her how to work as a team and with others.  So social skills are not going to fall to the wayside and since she won't be so overstimulated it should go much more smoothly than before when we tried.

In the past, we tried to do Caravans with our church.  The teachers were lovely women, but they didn't know what to do with Elizabeth and by the time Elizabeth would come home from school she was pretty much spent.  So doing another activity that required she sit still was not really an option - at least not a good one for her.  Now I can tell that she isn't as overstimulated.  She is able to play with her friends by the end of the day with hardly any meltdowns and that is only after the first week of schooling at home.  I have high hopes for Elizabeth to do well this year and I think the one on one with me at home will be good for her and enable her to make more academic strides.  But I have to say, this wouldn't have been an option without an awesome special needs team at Spagth Elementary School.

I hope you all have a good rest of the week.

In Christ,
Maureen



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Challenges and Changes

One of the challenges I faced in the beginning of life after Elizabeth's Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis was wondering what to expect and what would she understand.   Never have I been reminded of those beginning days as much as this week while teaching Elizabeth and Beka the story of Creation.

What seems like a simple idea, is a challenge to explain to Elizabeth.  I have been trying to explain that God created day and night, but there were no stars, no sun, no moon, no land, nothing was there, just light and night.   This was especially difficult because a part of her assignment wasn't just to read about the 1st day but to paint a picture.  One side was yellow for the light and one side was black for night.  She kept wanting to add stars and a moon, or the sun.  After several attempts I found success in explaining, No honey, there was nothing, no sun, no moon, no land, nothing it was all dark and without form.  There was NOTHING.

So today we once again had to go through this explaining, that no, there was not land, just the sea, the sky, day and night, that was all.  It took a little less time this time, but she got it and so we had one side of the paper painted blue for the ocean and the other half yellow for the sky, because it was just light, God hasn't created the sun yet or the moon, that comes in a day or so.

 As I look back on the beginning of our journey with and ASD, I thank God for how far Elizabeth has come.  The child who used to barely speak now cannot stop talking and she is always so excited.  I think our biggest challenges in speech are still, gender confusion and volume control, but I fight that same battle with Beka.

The days of major meltdowns are slowly becoming a thing of the past, they haven't gone completely but in comparison to where we were in the beginning.  There no more large bruises on her forehead because she no longer needs to bang her head when she becomes frustrated since she can talk to me about what is bothering her.  The days of waiting for a phone call from the school to tell me to come pick her up because she has struck another child or an adult in frustration are dissipating.  We still have our moments in which she needs to go to her room to quiet herself down but for the most part she is good at using her words.

I hope this offers some encouragement for those of you starting on your journey with your child who has an ASD.  Each diagnosis is different and so is each child and there will be some challenges along the way, but it isn't the end of the world or your dreams, it's just a matter of changing perspectives.

Have a good week.
In Christ,
Maureen

Monday, September 12, 2011

A New Game Idea to Try

As a homeschooling mom I am always searching for something new to help Elizabeth.  Actually, before I decided to home school I was looking for ways to help Elizabeth learn to read and do better in school.  Games, books, different websites to help her gain more ground on the field of academics.

So last week as I was wondering how to help her learn to do addition and math without using her fingers to count, I came up with the idea to create a memory game for her.  The game is easy to create at home yourself. Here is all you need:
1. Two sets of index cards.  Lined cards are better than the plain ones because it makes it tougher for the children to cheat by looking through the cards to see what they want to see.
2. One ball point pen.
3. A working knowledge of your addition facts.

We've started with Addition from the 1 to the 4's.  You can include the zero's addition tables, but you are already going to need a good deal of space on your floor for the game, so it isn't recommended.   On the index cards you write out your addition facts (you need to write them out twice so you can create pairs for your child to hunt out and find).  You can even add on as your child's working knowledge of math improves.  Hint: Cut the cards in half, to help save space and to make the most out of your index cards.  I thought of this AFTER I had already created our game. 
RULES:
Create multiple rows of addition/multiplication facts after shuffling the cards well.  Place cards face down and then you and your child can take turns trying to find matches.
When you turn over one card you need to be able to answer the math fact.  For example: 2 + 2 = 4.  The cards must match perfectly.  Don't mix and match the pairs, for example you do not pair up  3 + 4 = 7 and 4 + 3 = 7.  Those are not considered a match.
Play until you have found all of the pairs and whoever has the most pairs in the winner.

The game serves several purposes.  First, it helps your child learn their addition (and later you could make a game for multiplication facts if it works for your child very well) facts and learn how to do it without using their fingers.  Second, it improves their memory and yours since they need to remember where they saw the card matches.

You can also do this with the alphabet, shapes and colors.  It's pretty cheap to create on your own so you don't have to spend a fortune on flash cards.

I hope you enjoy and have a good week.
Love in Christ,
Maureen