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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Advice For A Young Girl With Aspergers And Her Family and Friends

Me, age 9, in Chicago. 
Someone I met in one of my Facebook groups, upon finding out that I have autism, told me that she has a 9-year-old family member, a little girl, who has Aspergers.  She wanted to know what advice I could give to her family and what I might say to the little girl herself. I've actually been asked this question before, and I thought I would dedicate a blog post to it.

Its actually hard for me to think what I'd tell a little girl with Aspergers. See, I never even heard of Aspergers or autism until I was an adult. So, at age 9, all I knew was that I didn't quite fit in at school or anywhere else.

People tend to think that kids with autism aren't interested in making friends. For me, the opposite was true. I was just about obsessed with making new friends. When I was 7, we moved to a new town. My brother and I were staying with our grandparents, and they brought us to visit our parents at the house where we'd be moving to. A group of curious neighborhood kids came wandering over. When I spotted them, I started jumping up and down, screaming, "Kids! Kids! Kids!" I grabbed my grandmother's hand and pulled her over towards the kids. In my memory now, I can see that the kids looked startled and sort of taken aback, but at the time I didn't notice the expressions on their faces. I just kept jumping and yelling and waving excitedly as my grandmother asked the kids their names and then introduced them to me. When we eventually moved in, I became part of the neighborhood kids pretty quickly and they were my playmates for many years. Later one of them told my brother that, when they'd first met me, they thought I was "retarded" and they'd been sort of scared.

Actually, I mostly played with the younger kids in the neighborhood. There were a few who were my age or older, but socially I was more at the level of  the kids who were 2 or 3 years younger than me... my younger brother's age. I didn't think of them as younger than me at all. At school, I did have friends. In kindergarten, first and second grade, it was all about playing on the playground and it seemed like everyone was friends with everyone else. You could play on the monkey bars or build a sand castle with someone without even knowing their name. But in 3rd grade, kids were starting to notice who was a little different and who was the most "popular." Girls were already starting to pay attention to clothes and hair styles. When I was invited to sleepover parties, the other girls spent less time playing, and more time gossiping and dancing to music videos. I wanted no part of it. I still just wanted to play. In my neighborhood I played Barbies and My Little Ponies and pretend games like School and House. I had a few weird "special interests" as well... I was obsessed with orphans and orphanages (I used to watch the movie version of the musical "Oliver" over and over) and "olden days" (I loved the Little House On The Prairie books.) I loved playing pretend games that were based on these two subjects. I found one friend who was somehow interested in the same things I was, and we played together constantly. In third and fourth grade I no longer really played with the other kids besides that one friend, although I was in Brownies and considered the other Brownie girls my friends. I was still invited to their birthday parties and things. But these were the grades in which the kids were starting to notice I was different. I also noticed I was different but I sort of blamed it on them. I thought the other kids were trying too hard to be cool and act like teenagers, and I was happy just being a kid. I also did some peculiar things that I had no clue were weird. For one thing, I loved to read, almost to the point of obsession. I hated math and science (although this goes against the stereotype of people with autism) and had a terrible time sitting through these subjects. So I devised a plan. In the morning I would get a book from the bookshelf, and hide it behind the toilet in our classroom bathroom. When it was time for a subject I didn't enjoy, I'd get up and go into the bathroom, where I'd sit on the toilet and read. It never occurred to me that the teacher would notice me disappearing for 20 minutes every time math rolled around. I also amused myself by pouring my Elmer's Glue on my desk, letting it dry, and then scraping it off with my scissors, because for some reason it was a great sensory feeling for me. If you've never scraped dried glue off a desk with scissors, you should try it. But it has to be a thick layer of glue, or else scraping it off the desk will feel more like nails on a chalkboard. But I digress...

Fifth grade was where things got really hard. (Don't worry, I'm not planning to tell you my entire autobiography in this blog post... I'm getting to a certain point.) The school district had built a new school, and many of the kids I'd gone to 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade with were transferred to the new school. This included my one best friend who I played Orphans and Olden Days with, as well as my Brownie friends. At the same time, a lot of kids from other schools in the district were transferred to my school. I had been put into what would now be called Gifted And Talented, which meant I was in a class for "smart" kids. Most of the kids in my 5th grade class had come from other schools. They took one look at me and pegged me as a "nerd." They made fun of me every day. It would have been one thing if they had just ignored and excluded me... that would have been painful enough. But they actively tormented me. A group of them would surround me at recess and start making fun of my clothes, my hair (it was uncontrollably frizzy and wild at the time) and anything I said or did. I had never encountered bullying before. It broke my heart. Our Brownies troop had also been discontinued, because it would have been Girl Scouts at this point and for some reason there was not enough interest to create a group. So I no longer had that built-in social experience. Keep in mind, I was undiagnosed, and had actually been identified as Gifted, so there were no social skills groups or counseling or mentoring or anything else available to me. The teachers seemed to feel sorry for me but felt that it was my fault, really, for not trying harder to fit in. My mom tried to help me by picking out clothes that she thought were fashionable and trying to do my hair, but she, too, grew frustrated with me for not trying harder. I still played with the neighborhood girls after school, but that also irritated my mom because they were younger than me and I "should" have been playing with kids my own age, taking interest in fashion and hair and music and whatever it is girls that age are supposed to find exciting. At the same time, adolescence was starting to get its icy grip around me, which meant even more heartache and pain. I got yelled at for not wearing a bra. (It was so uncomfortable, plus in my mind, in which I tended to have strict categories for things, a bra was something for an adult or teenager, not for a kid, and I still saw myself as a kid.) I got yelled at for not putting on deodorant. (That also fell into my category of teenager and grown up stuff.) My face was starting to break out in acne. My mom made me wash my face with this horrid smelling orange antibacterial soap. It was so harsh, it dried out my skin, leaving white flakes around my nose that gave the kids something else to make fun of me about. It did not get rid of the acne, though, leaving my mom to comment. "Its like you make yourself ugly on purpose!"

So you see, it is hard for me to think of what I might tell a 9-year-old girl with Aspergers, because my own experience sucked. There was one thing that helped me get through fifth and sixth grades. At my school there was a special education class. Most of the kids in the class were younger than me. I don't know if that was just a coincidence, or if they just didn't offer special education beyond fourth grade at that school. Somehow or another, a few of the little girls in the special ed class befriended me. I was always alone at recess, either just wandering around or sitting on the concrete reading a book, and one day they just walked up and started talking to me. I remember being a little nervous at first... but then realizing that they were not much different from other kids. They behaved like much younger children even though they were just a few years younger than me, but they were friendly, and playful, and funny. I became somewhat like a big sister to them. I played outside with them every day, helped them stay out of trouble, and defended them from the other kids' teasing. I loved them.

My parents hated that I had found these new friends. They tried to discourage me from playing with them. They couldn't come out and say, "You can't play with the special ed kids," but they just said things like, "Why don't you hang out with the girls in your class," and "Other kids will think you are weird" (which they already did anyways," and "If you spend time with those kids you'll become more like them." Maybe what they noticed was that I was like "those kids" in many ways, and they didn't understand it. One time I gave the girls my phone number and told them they could call me. When one of the girls called while I wasn't home, my mom took the message. She told me. "If that is one of your special ed friends, don't call her back. Don't get that started."

At school though I was encouraged to keep up being friends with the girls. The teachers thought it was nice that I'd befriended them and that I took care of them and played with them. One of my proudest moments ever came one day in the sixth grade. The school was starting a recycling program, and sixth graders were supposed to go to the other classes around the school and explain the recycling program to them. I offered to go to the special ed class where my friends were. When I walked into their classroom, my friends shouted greetings to me. Their teacher said, "It's Angel! One of our favorite people!" I was bursting with pride and I remembered it for the rest of my life.

What would I say to the family of a girl (or any kid, I suppose) with autism or Aspergers? I might say , don't put too much time and effort into trying to get them to look and act like everyone else. If you work too hard at making an autistic child "indistinguishable from their peers", you risk turning them into a shadow of themselves. I would ask adults in the child's family to focus on bringing out the child's personality and strengths. The most important thing might be to make home, and family, a haven for the child. As they grow up, in life, they will face situations where they may feel like they don't fit in or they may be nervous about doing the right thing. Home and family can be a place of true acceptance and love. Of course you still want to teach your child manners, social skills, and life skills, and don't just let them do whatever they want. But avoid shaming them for things like stimming, or not participating in the things their peers enjoy. Let them be who they are. Encourage strong relationships with other relatives and family members who are accepting of them. A positive home and family can make a huge difference.

Also, help them find their community, their "tribe." I still struggle with this as an adult. In my late teens and early twenties, trying to find a place to belong and be accepted led me into all sorts of hazardous situations. Helping your child find their place in the world might involve figuring out their interests and strengths and then running with those. If she loves to read, the local library could be an awesome resource... she could join book clubs, or be a volunteer. This would help her to form more positive relationships, with peers as well as with caring adults. This may also involve looking outside of her chronological age group. If she is happiest talking with adults, then having an adult mentor through a local organization, having a volunteer job where she can have safe and positive adults around her, or "adopting" an elderly person at the nursing home, may be very fulfilling for her. The important part is that she feels like she is part of something and she feels accepted and important. On the other hand, if she seems to really long for more friendships with kids her own age, then you might want to spend more time helping her find those friendships. There are now play groups and social groups for kids on the autism spectrum. Activities outside of school might also help. If she loves physical activity, joining a gymnastics class can help her make friendships that are based on that shared interest, putting less focus on the things that are different.

I should also point out that schools are (hopefully, at least) different now. Teachers are more aware of bullying and of ways to make their classrooms safe and accepting environments. Teachers should be focusing on teaching all of the students to be kind and respectful of one another, and to appreciate differences. One of the things I hated most in school was when the teacher said, "Find a partner," and all of the other kids hurried to be with their friends. I was left standing awkwardly alone, to be placed with whoever else was leftover or to be put into a group of three. Teachers can pre-choose partners and groups based on who might work well together, or encourage kids to meet others by having them randomly choose a shape or bracelet out of a bag and then find others with the same shape or bracelet.

To sum it all up, the most important advice I'd give to parents, teachers, and other family members, is to give the child with autism or Aspergers that place to belong. Help them find their strengths and interests. Build upon their personality instead of trying to get them to tone it down enough to blend in. A feeling that they are loved and appreciated, that they have a place where they belong, and having a positive self image, are the best things you can give any kid. These gifts can go along way in helping a kid with Aspergers as they go out into the world.

All that being said, I think I've led an awesome life so far, in many ways. My childhood was rougher than it should have been. But because I was used to having to work a little harder than other people in order to accomplish things, and because I was used to dealing with anxiety to get through so many parts of everyday life, I've become stronger than many adults I've known. When I was in high school, I still hadn't been diagnosed with autism, but I'd been put in special education and my mother had been told by the psychologists that they thought I might have "some sort of retardation." They told my mom I would never learn to drive, never get a job, never go to college, and never live independently. Well, I've done all that and more! It took me until I was 23 to get my driver's license, but now I drive everywhere. It took me until I was 25 to start college, but I got a Bachelor's degree. Last year I got my first full time teaching job, and moved into my first apartment, where I live alone. I have a service dog that helps me with some of my social anxiety issues, and I have a kitten that I found last fall under a building at work. Animals are one of my special interests, and I volunteer at an awesome rescue farm, where I get to spend time cuddling with goats and geese and pigs and sheep. I've gotten to have some cool adventures over the years, such as taking several cross-country trips by Greyhound bus or by Amtrak train (which sounds like torture to many people but it was a lot of fun for me) and spending a year in AmeriCorps working with at-risk children. Whenever I think of something I'd like to do, I do some research and find a way to do it

So, to the kid with Aspergers... I don't really know how valuable my advice is, but after some thought, here is what I would say: This is not something you need to hide, or overcome. You can learn about your Aspergers and figure out the tools that can help you to do your best. You may meet some rude people along the way, but the friends you do make will be the "diamonds in the rough," the really amazing and good-hearted people that you'll feel so lucky to know. You may have some hard times in your future, but you can also have some awesome experiences if you look for them.

Finally, you may sometimes wish you could be an ordinary kid. But what you have is an extraordinary brain, and with it you can lead an extraordinary life. That is something special.


A few resources I thought I'd share, while we're on the topic...

Emerging From Autism - Website/blog by a woman who is a writer, teacher, and a mother of a girl with Aspergers. 

Asperkids - A website for kids with Aspergers or autism and their families and teachers. They sell some very cool books geared towards kids and teenagers to help them learn about their Aspergers. They also sell a neat, sort of "welcome kit" for kids with Aspergers, called Congratulations! You're An Aspie! I've always wanted to order one, but unfortunately I'm not a kid. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Here We Are In Chicago!

Me and Lily chilling in the grass. She
didn't come to Milwaukee with me because
I felt like she needed a break after our
beach trip... so when I got to Chicago she
was so excited to see me and wouldn't
let me out of her sight! 
Gosh, I suck at thinking of titles for my posts, don't I?

Well, anyways, Lily and I have been in Chicago for almost 4 days now. We've been doing a lot of resting and recovering. I have, anyway. I don't think Lily has that much to recover from. But this past school year really kicked my butt. It broke my spirit and left me, as I told a friend not long ago, feeling like a shadow of myself. Now I often find it hard to focus on anything or really care about many tasks. That is why I haven't blogged in so long... I just didn't have the heart for it. Since I'm blogging now, I guess I'm starting to recover!

Lily is barking out the window and now I've forgotten what I was supposed to be writing about.

Oh yeah... so the autism conference left me with a new sense of ownership for my autism. I don't know if that is a good word for it. If Lily would stop barking I could probably think of a better word. When I was first moving to the Portland area, I was originally moving to Eugene, and I had found this organization called KindTree. They have this camp in the summer called Friends And Family camp that is for people with autism and their friends and family. I remember when I emailed them about it years ago, they said it was for everyone, including adults, wherever you are on the "spectrum" of autism. I really wanted to go to it, but because of my summer jobs or for whatever reason, I ended up not going. Now I think I want to go this year. It wouldn't be too hard to drive down there for the weekend. I think you share a cabin or something with other people... I'm not sure... but that would be okay. They have all sorts of cool camp activities. Should I go? Vote Y or N. Its at the end of August.

I will probably end this post for now because my dad got home and we are going to work on a Sudoku. My dad always does the newspaper Sudokus but he doesn't exactly grasp the concept of how to do them. He just sort of guesses at the numbers. I keep trying to explain to him that you can't just guess at them all, you need to have proof before you put in a number. I can do the 1 star ones in the newspaper pretty quickly but I have failed at the 2, 3 and 4 star ones. My dad, randomly guessing, gets almost to the end but realizes he has at least one mistake in every row. Today we're going to make a copy of the newspaper one and then we'll both do it separately and see who wins.

Yeah, I know, Chicago is WILD, man!


Friday, July 14, 2017

My Thoughts After the Second Day Of The Autism Conference

One of the freebies I got from the exhibit hall was this poop
pillow! Coolest thing I ever owned! It was from Lovebug
Probiotics. They also gave me two bottles of probiotic pills.
(The lady gave me an extra bottle when I told her I have IBS!)
Today was the second day of the autism conference. It was a nice day. In the interest of being true to myself, I decided to go mostly to sessions about being autistic rather than sessions geared towards teachers. I am going to 1 or 2 for teachers tomorrow that I think will be helpful for my future classroom, though.

I grew used to being around other autistic people and I enjoyed talking to people. I guess that counts as networking, right? I formed the sort of temporary friendships that you make when you're at a conference like this.

The conference ended at 4:15 today, though. I had sort of been excited about taking the time to explore the neighborhood. But it turns out that Milwaukee is sort of a ghost town... at least the area that I am in! It feels like someone took Milwaukee, turned it upside down, shook it until all of the people and stores and restaurants fell out, and then set it back upright like nothing happened. I went into a weirdly empty mall... it looked like it must have been an awesome mall at some point. But now the entire ground floor had been turned into a giant TJ Maxx, and the other floors were empty. The lights were still on and there was still music being piped in, and people were walking around like it was an ordinary mall. But they weren't shopping because there were no stores. It was creepy, so I left.

I came back to my hotel room, and found myself with the familiar sad, achy, lonely feeling in my stomach. Have you ever felt it? Its this feeling like you actually want to be around people, and there are people near by, but you are in a bubble. All the people from the conference had gone their own separate ways. I ended up ordering room service, and then taking a nap for an hour.

Now that I am awake and it is 10:24 pm, I thought I'd mention some of my thoughts about the conference overall.

First of all my mom is a meeting planner, and I am familiar with her telling me about the meetings she's run, so I had high expectations for this conference... and some of them weren't met. For instance, at most conferences, during the breaks they will bring out carts with snacks,,, sometimes really fun things like cotton candy and pretzels, but most meeting spaces have choices that the meeting planner gets to decide on. I was excited about that... but there were no snacks. Booo! I know, if I want to get a pretzel I should just go by a pretzel... but where? Milwaukee is a ghost town, remember?

Another thing... they had two social events set up. One was at the Harley Davidson museum last night, and tonight there was a Milwaukee Brewer's game. I expected that there would be transportation provided, like a shuttle or something. Instead, for the museum they just gave us a map. It was less than a mile walk, but you have to go over a really long bridge. It wasn't a big deal when I walked it in the early evening when the sun was still out. But I wasn't feeling good about having to walk back to my hotel in the dark. Especially since the streets are pretty empty at night around here. It isn't like downtown Chicago where the streets are still bustling at 10 pm! I ended up being offered a ride home from a lady who was the mother of someone in the band. She thought it was too dangerous for me to walk home. For the baseball game, we were actually given change and told to take the city bus to the game! This really freaked me out... I think it would have been doable in the early evening, but again, I wouldn't have liked trying to make my way back at night after a ball game. I ended up feeling so unsafe about it that I just didn't go... which is how I ended up alone in my hotel room instead. I hope that next time they will provide transportation to the events!

On that note, the social events didn't seem completely autism friendly. The Harley Davidson museum had a noisy band. I wore my headphones, but some people just didn't want to go at all. They were also hosting a motorcycle show the same night, so outside there was a big crowd with lots of engines revving and people speaking over bullhorns and all sorts of things breaking my ear drums left and right. I would like it if they hosted at least one event that was especially geared towards people on the spectrum. Every single day we go to places and situations where we just have to find ways to cope with the harshness while neurotypical people around us are calmly enjoying themselves. While we could go to the museum and the baseball game if we used lots of coping skills and what have you, it would be awesome to have an event that was specifically for us. Like someone thought to themselves, "What would people with autism enjoy doing?" Maybe some sort of museum trip that doesn't involve a band or motorcycles, with lots of interactive exhibits. Or give us some choices ahead of time and let us vote on one. That would also give autistic people more chances to socialize with each other. Sometimes it seems like these conferences are mostly set up for parents and professionals, and autistic people are really just there to help educate the parents and professionals, rather than to benefit for themselves.

Plus... I was sort of surprised that there were no children there! I've worked for child care companies at a lot of events that were conferences for certain disabilities, and they always involved kids. The parents had the option of paying for child care for their kids, those who had a disability and also the siblings. That way, parents at least have the option of bringing their children with on the trip, rather than trying to find someone to provide respite care for multiple days. They actually had Julia, the new Sesame Street muppet with autism, at the conference. It was a little odd since there were no children there. Julia was just walking around in the general population without anyone really noticing her. Poor Julia! (Although, I have to say, I've always been confused when they have character visits, because the characters are usually WAY BIGGER than you would have imagined them. Except for once when I took a friend's child to see Dora The Explorer in the mall, and I assumed it would be a costumed character, and it sort of was, but it was more Disney Princess style instead of Mickey Mouse style. It was an adult woman wearing a tiny Dora backpack and an outfit that resembled Dora's, The kid I brought was like, "That isn't Dora, that is just some lady!" But I digress...)

It may sound like I'm complaining, but I really did enjoy being at the conference, and I hope to come back next year. It is going to be in Washington DC next year! That sounds really fun!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

At The Autism Conference!

Just a random picture of me since you
haven't seen me in a while! 
Hi everyone!

Right now I am at the Autism Society's National Conference! (#nationalconferance . Yes, they spelled their hashtag wrong. It is annoying me terribly.) My nightmarish former employer actually paid for me to come here! Every teacher is allotted a certain amount of money each year to spend on things for their classroom or professional development. I decided to use mine on professional development... because from early on I had a feeling I wouldn't be sticking around, so I wanted to at least get something positive from it. If I had used the money to buy things for my classroom, I would have had to leave it all there when I left. Instead, I spent my own money on things for my classroom, so I could take it with me, and I spent my allotted money on this conference because they can't really take an experience away from me, can they?

It is interesting being here. There are a lot of parents and professionals, and also some people with autism. We are the minority, but I can definitely spot some autistic people walking around. At first it actually made me feel vaguely uncomfortable to be around lots of adults with autism. I couldn't figure out why. After all, I am an adult with autism, and I have always been on a never-ending quest to meet others like me!

But then I realized... it is because I am not used to being around adults with autism. I am used to being the autistic person in a group of neurotypicals. I'm used to being super aware of myself being the odd person in the group. I'm also used to sort of depending on the neurotypical people around me for guidance and cues. Being around other people with autism was like having reflections of myself all over the place.

There was also the added fact that my mom had been pressuring me to talk to other special ed teachers and "network" with them. I'm in a weird position because I am here as an individual with autism and also as a teacher. But obviously I am myself first and a teacher second. It is hard to try to balance that line... on one hand this is an autism conference and it is acceptable to just be yourself. For instance there was a blues band tonight, and I actually went to it and enjoyed the music while wearing soundblocking headphones, which made it pretty obvious that I was autistic but also made the event accessible to me. If I had been concentrating on being a professional, the expectation would have been to maybe do something less obvious, such as use ear plugs, which just don't work for me as well as headphones. Does this make sense to you?

Also... not sure if this will make sense either... but I kind of hate telling people I meet that I am a special ed teacher. Here's why. Lets say you are a random neurotypical person. Lets say you know me, and when you see me your impressions of me are that I act much younger than my age and seem like a young teenager. You see me fidgetting and pacing a lot, you note that when I talk my conversations can be sort of halting, you realize that I am wearing socks that don't match. You can tell that I have some sort of disability. Then I tell you that I'm a teacher. Your initial reaction may be, "How can she be a teacher?" Seriously. I am not being oversensitive. I know for a fact that a lot of people who meet me are surprised to find out that I can drive, live independently, and have a job at all. I do not match the average person's idea of a teacher. I know that what would be awesome is for me to use my position to educate others about autism, and about the fact that the diagnosis is not automatically limiting. Many people with autism do go to college and have careers and everything. But the thing is, I am not always in the mood to provide strangers with a learning experience.

So instead I keep it vague. If they ask what I do for a living, I say, "I work with children with special needs."

(If I am at some sort of conference specifically for teachers, then I admit that I am a teacher, but in those circumstances I am trying so hard to act "professional" and it is exhausting and emotionally draining.)

When I tell people I work with kids with special needs, they seem to accept that a lot more easily than when I tell them I'm a teacher. However, today I met a young man who also has autism. We were making small talk. I hate small talk, but I've found that many autistic adults try to practice their small talk at events like this. Small talk is dreadful. Anyways, he asked me what I did for a living, and I said, "I work with kids with special needs," and his automatic reply was, "Oh, are you a teacher?" Even seeing me with my autism hanging out, he assumed that I was capable of being a teacher.  There is some sort of lesson in that.

I have many more things on my mind about my experiences at this autism conference, but I will write more later. I'm going to try to start blogging more frequently again now that my soul-crushing job is finished. So, stay tuned!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Take This Job And Shove It

Hmm, long time no see! Where have you been? Haha, just kidding. I'm sure you've all been eagerly checking my blog each day, hoping for an update. Well, here one is!

Last August I started my first teaching job. Ever since then, I haven't been blogging much. In fact, I haven't been doing much of anything I enjoy! I haven't been reading books, reading blogs, doing arts and crafts, going outdoors, or even spending much time with animals. I barely have time to take care of my own pets! This job has sucked the life out of me.

I will give you a timeline of how this so-called teaching job has gone...

September - December: I started out enjoying my job, which entailed teaching small groups of children with learning disabilities, ADHD or autism. I was frustrated, though, because I was also the behavior resource teacher. In most cases, a behavior resource teacher works with students who have behavior disorders but are functioning well enough to be successful in a general education class for most of the day. You're really just there to support them. In special ed they talk about the least restrictive environment, and it is sort of judged by how much time they get to be with their typically developing peers. For a student with an emotional/behavioral disorder, the most restrictive environment would probably be a residential treatment center where they would live year-round and get intensive mental health treatment as well as education. The second most restrictive environment might be a therapeutic day school, where children attend school during the day but go home after school and in some cases can attend extracurricular activities with typical peers. Following that might be spending all day in a self-contained classroom in a regular school, followed by being in a self-contained classroom but spending a certain percentage of time in a general education class. For a kid with an emotional/behavioral disorder, behavior resource would be the LEAST restrictive environment possible.

Except that, at my school, there are no other options available. You either stay in a general education class for most of the day, or the school has to pay to send you to a therapeutic day school in another district. Which they generally try to avoid. Needless to say, there are many kids at the school who are in general ed and just not being successful. They need something more. Some of them would have an assistant teacher with them in their gen ed class... sort of like how I used to be with Tizzy. But if a kid started having a meltdown, I was called to come and try to calm them down. Either that, or someone would bring them to my room and toss them in. When this happened, all of the kids who I was teaching reading, writing and math to were sent back to class. It could be the middle of a lesson, but I had to drop everything and deal with the kids with behavior/emotional disorders. I wouldn't have minded, except that it was happening every day, even multiple times per day. I had two jobs to do... teach the academic groups, and manage the kids with EBDs, and I couldn't do my best for either one of them.

One time I even had to have a substitute teach my groups for a week, because the special ed director wanted me to be 1:1 for a child who was, at that point, having 24/7 meltdowns in her gen ed class. She was not being successful there, so the only other choice was to have her with me all day, which meant I couldn't teach any other kids, and she couldn't be around any peers. So... yeah. I thought that was ridiculous. That student moved away, and life went sort of back to normal.

Another note... we were always supposed to get a half hour lunch and a half hour of "planning time" each day, with no students. Because my students' needs were always ongoing, I very rarely got that half hour of planning time or lunch. More often than not, I'd be just about to take a bite of my lunch, and I'd be called down to deal with some student who was melting down somewhere in the building. I talked to the special ed director about it, and she said I should just ask another teacher to give me a break IF I FELT LIKE I NEEDED ONE. Except there was never anyone available unless THEY were on THEIR lunch or planning time! I couldn't ask them to give up their lunch or planning time to give me a break! I talked about it with the principal, and he told me to talk about it with the special ed director. I talked about it with the HR people, and they told me to talk about it with the special ed director. I talked about it with the union, they called the special ed director and told her I needed to have breaks, and the special ed director came and told me again to just ask people on my team to give me a break IF I FELT LIKE I NEEDED ONE.

January - The special ed director told me that we were getting a new girl with very severe mental health diagnoses. So severe that she couldn't be in general ed at all, at least in the beginning. Not even for recess, lunch, art, music, PE, etc. At first the special ed director said that all three of the resource teachers at the school (me and two others) plus the school psychologist, would take shifts working with the girl. But a few days later, she informed me that only I would be working with the girl, My academic groups would be taken over by substitutes... usually a different substitute each day. I would have to write full, detailed sub plans each day, and then spend my days alone in a classroom with this girl.  To sweeten the deal, another kid from our school had pretty much been kicked out of his classroom, so he would also be in there with me. I was told to create a daily schedule and run the classroom for these two students. I would not do any academic teaching... they would receive work from their gen ed teachers. I just had to oversee them while they did it, and basically try to keep them from destroying the school or killing anyone.
I still had to do all the planning for the academic kids, plus do all the IEP stuff and contend with the other EBD kids who were in gen ed, but since I didn't have planning time during the day, I had to either stay late each day, or bring my work home with me. Usually I did both. This meant I had NO more time for anything fun or relaxing. I got home, ate dinner while watching TV (my one bit of "fun" during the day), got on my computer and work until bed time, and then went to bed. Weekends were also filled with work.

February - The special ed director and principal told me they wanted to meet with me, and that I should bring a union rep. I was shaking in my boots. I asked them what it was about, and they wouldn't tell me. It turned out that one of the academic kids' parents had complained that she didn't want her child in the academic resource groups because he was with children with "ADHD and behavioral problems" and that they were disturbing to their child. The special ed director accused me of telling that parent that the other kids in the group had ADHD and behavior problems, at a meeting I'd had with the parents. I recounted everything that I had said at the meeting. The parents had mentioned that their son was anxious about coming to the resource room and they wanted to know if the other kids were scaring him. I had said no, but that it was a group of 6 and 7 year old boys and they could definitely be noisy and squirelly. I thought maybe their son, who was very shy and quiet, was just overwhelmed by their activity. I'd offered to switch their son to a group of slightly older and less wiggly kids. The special ed director told me that I should not mention other kids in the group at all, and further more, the parents thought my classroom was "unwelcoming." (Remember I'd taken out anything fun and inviting because of the three kids I was now in charge of.)
Later that month, at the student's IEP, his parents mentioned that their son had told them stories of the other kids in his groups, and that was how they had come to the conclusion, on their own, that those kids had ADHD and behavior disorders. (Those particular kids actually don't, by the way... they are just particularly rambunctious little boys!)

March - I was told that another student would be coming in, twice a day for half an hour each time, for social skills instruction. I would have to balance him with the other two. That went along for a few days, and then they told me he would also need to eat lunch in my room because he was having trouble in the cafeteria. Then they told me he was going to be in my classroom full time for a few days while the powers that be decided how to handle him. And then they told me that he was going to be in my classroom indefinitely. All three of these kids were prone to outbursts where they'd overturn tables, desks and chairs, rip stuff up, throw stuff, kick holes in walls and doors, etc. And all three of them usually refused to do work. I was told by the special ed director and the psychologist that I had to clear everything interesting, fun or welcoming out of my room, because they would either destroy it or play with it instead of doing school work.
The principal came to observe me a few times. All new teachers have to go through these observations, where the principal watches you and critiques your work. When he came in, I was usually struggling to get the kids to do work, or guarding a door to keep one from running into the other room and trying to kill another kid who had somehow angered him, or just standing back and watching calmly while one trashed the room. The principal wrote on my review, "Teacher does not post learning targets."
Learning targets? Really?
Once I found this graphic novel, and started reading it with the kids. They each wanted to be a character in the novel, and they would read it like a play, making the different voices for the characters and everything. We read from this book each day. It was one thing we did that calmed everyone down and got them to work together. The principal observed one day. I was proud that the students were calm, focused, and actually reading. The principal wrote in my review, "Activity does not match what students would be doing in their gen ed classes."
The principal called me in for a meeting and told me that, because he was not seeing "evidence of student growth," he would not recommend renewing my contract for the next year. He also mentioned in his review that I had talked to parents about other students... bringing up the whole thing about those parents who were worried about the kids in their son's groups. He said there was time, I had until May, to try to show some evidence of student growth. I was supposed to post things on this online portfolio thing. All the teachers had to do it, but so far none of the other resource teachers had done it because they didn't know how. I ended up teaching them how to do it.

April - The principal called me in yet again, with my union rep. He told me that there had been a meeting with him, the special ed director, the superintendent, and other officials, and that they had decided to not renew my contract. They weren't even going to wait until my annual review in May. They had made up their minds. I needed to decide if I wanted to resign to avoid being nonrenewed, or just get nonrenewed.
The union rep was outraged and said I was being railroaded. I'd been switched to a different job than what I'd applied for, I'd been given no resources to do the job correctly, I'd been given no extra training, and the principal couldn't even tell me anything specific that I'd done wrong to make them decide not to keep me on.
Didn't matter anyway. By then I'd already decided that I wanted out of there as soon as possible.

So anyways... I will be looking for a teaching job yet again. I am terrified that I won't find one. My mom told me not to renew my lease until I know I have a job. Do you know what that would mean? I'd lose my apartment and be back where I started! Except even less than where I started, because I can't live with my aunt and uncle again since they turned my room into an office, plus now I have a kitten. I could lose everything.

And that is why I haven't been blogging. My union rep told me to just enjoy the rest of the year, quit working so long and so hard, because I don't owe anyone anything anymore. But I still have responsibilities to the kids, so I still have to put in a certain amount of work. I should have a little extra free time now, though. And maybe I will start blogging again.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Weird Way To Fall Asleep

I've been having some weird insomnia issues lately. Basically I've been going through some sort of low-grade depression ever since returning from Chicago, probably triggered by homesickness and exacerbated by a whole bunch of "ice days," most of which required me to stay in my apartment because it was too icy even to make the 6 minute drive to see my aunt and uncle and them. Sitting indoors day in and day out with not much natural light or fresh air resulted in my spending most of my time huddled in a pile of blankets with my dog and kitten, somewhat watching TV, sleeping or dozing the days away, and then having difficulty getting to sleep at night. This should have been my best few weeks ever, with plenty of time to just do art projects, blog, write, etc... but unfortunately my low-grade depression  took away any motivation I had to do anything other than sit on the floor with my animals. Exacerbating this further was the fact that I got sick on Friday and had even less energy than before.

The main reason I'm telling you all that is because I wondered if you'd heard of ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a relaxation technique that seems to work for some people. It is kind of hard to explain. but I will try. See if you can relate to this at all.

For as long as I can remember, I've had strong reactions to certain sounds, There are some sounds that I've always hated, to the point where I'd have to cover my ears or even get angry at the person making them. In the past few years I've learned that this is an actual condition, called misophonia. That basically means that certain norma, everyday sounds trigger an unpleasant emotional reaction. The site I linked to above, Misophonia.com, lists tons of common triggers that different people have reported. One of my biggest triggers has always been mouth sounds. For instance, people chewing with their mouths open, talking with their mouths full, "plopping" their lips (I don't know if there is an actual word for it but I could demonstrate it for you if you were here) biting their nails, sucking on candy, loud kissing (like movie kissing), or using a toothpick. All of those might mildly annoy many people, but I literally have to cover my ears or I get a strong emotional and physically uncomfortable feeling. My mom and brother were huge offenders when I was a kid, and it used to make me get angry at them, but eventually I realized it was easier to just plug my ears or cover my head. The sound and sight of people brushing their teeth is also a huge trigger for me. Why do all TV shows have to show people brushing their teeth and talking to each other? Can't we just assume they brushed their teeth at some point? I cannot converse with, or even be in the same room as, a person who is brushing their teeth, Even brushing my own teeth is unpleasant. I need some sort of background noise, like a bathroom fan or water running at full force, to distract me. Sometimes people's voices, or the way they pronounce words and sounds, is a trigger. For instance some people say their "P" sounds really juicily, and it makes me want to rip my ears off and throw them as far away from myself as I can. Sometimes people breathing noisily or with stuffy noises bothers me terribly. People with very soft voices bother me terribly. I don't mean normal quiet voices, but for instance when I was younger I had this case worker whose voice was so soft, she sometimes literally whispered. It made me want to raise my own voice to almost a yelling level to balance it out! It turns out, misophonia is pretty common for people with autism or ADHD.

On the other hand, some weird everyday sounds have always given me a very pleasant, calm feeling. Many of my family members remember how, when I was little, I was always begging people to take me for a walk. I would either walk along in the stones that bordered the road (they didn't have sidewalks where my grandparents lived) or in the piles of dried leaves that gathered along the edges of the sidewalk and roads in the fall. The reason was because I loved the crunching sound my feet made while walking on these surfaces. LOVED it. I could have walked all day and all night listening to those lovely sounds. Another sound I can think of is book pages. When I read, I tend to sort of wiggle the page I'm on, to hear the crunchy sound. Some books also make a pleasant sound when you open them wide enough that their spines bend a little. The sound of typing or of buttons being clicked has always been a favorite of mine, but only when I'm not trying to concentrate on something else. It gives me such a strong reaction that, if I am trying to do school work or something, I cannot stand to hear other people typing... but if I'm just sitting there doing nothing, it is a very pleasant sound to me.

When I was little and I'd go to sleepover parties, I'd often be one of the first kids to decide to go to bed. I'd lay there listening to the other kids whispering, and it would make me feel so calm and relaxed that I'd be able to lay perfectly still and I'd drift off to sleep. Throughout my life there have been many other times when I'd be sleeping in a room, and I'd wake up because some other people came into the room, but, not knowing I was awake, they'd start whispering to each other. Listening to their whispered voices would put me right back to sleep. I detest the 700 Club, but I've been known to turn it on when I'm trying to sleep, because the way he pronounces his P sounds... which is the exact same thing that drives me crazy usually... actually relaxes me sometimes when I'm not trying to do something else. Other sounds I can think of include the teacher writing with chalk or erasing the blackboard when I was a kid (white boards just don't have the same effect.)

So. The other night, I couldn't sleep, and I  was having such restless leg issues that I imagined, if I cut my legs off with an axe, they'd continue to run around on their own because they just had so much energy and movement in them. I decided to use my phone to look for a video of the 700 Club dude, to see if it could put me to sleep. I also thought of looking for a video of people whispering. That search is what led me to learn about Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Almost the exact opposite of misophonia, ASMR is when certain sounds give you a pleasant, tingling feeling and make you very relaxed. There are people who actually make series of videos of themselves whispering or making other common ASMR noises, and others watch or listen to these to fall asleep. Apparently some of them have a cult-like following! If you do a video search for ASMR, you will find a ton of these videos.

If you have both misophonia and ASMR, as I apparently do, it can be hard to find a video that relaxes you and doesn't drive you crazy. The reason is that a lot of people's ASMR "triggers" are also misophonia "triggers" for others. For instance, some people love mouth sounds, and there are whole videos where people just eat loudly in front of a microphone. That would be like torture to me. I found some, though, that are just whispering. When I put those on my phone, I fall deeply asleep very quickly. Its weird. Here is one I found that is of someone reading a story in a whisper. This wasn't quite as easy to fall asleep to, because I really liked the story and was paying attention to it, but it was still very relaxing and helped my restless legs to chill out.

I just felt like some of you guys out there might be interested in this. I was surprised when I learned that misophonia was a thing and not just my own weird quirk, and now I've been surprised to learn that ASMR is also a thing!

I suck at ending blog posts. So here, for no real reason, is a very cute picture of Lily and Yoshi!

Friday, December 30, 2016

State of the Alien

Hi everyone! Does it seem like I blog more frequently when I am upset? It is because I have to purge my brain. It is sort of like vomiting when you have food poisoning to get all the poison out!

Today I was talking to my mom and I was telling her that when I am worried or upset about something, it just stays in my mind at ALL times. For instance, for the past few days I've been feeling sad about leaving, and it is there in my head every single minute. I try all of my skills, like distracting myself with happier things (which does work to keep me from crying and help me stay a little more even) but in the background my brain is still thinking about it. I try to do self-coaching and think positive thoughts, but the sad thoughts are still there. They NEVER GO AWAY. It is like having a headache that you can't get rid of... you can ignore it for a while but it is still there, sometimes a huge pounding headache and sometimes just a little nagging pain, but always there with you, even while you're sleeping. My emotions also do come with physical pain... at their worst, I feel like my skin is burning and my chest is being stabbed with a knife. When they're weaker, it just feels like butterflies in my stomach and my heart pounding and having trouble breathing.

 I always thought that everyone is like that, but my mom says she isn't. My mom said she can stop worrying or thinking about something. If she is sad about something she can just decide not to think about it.

I wondered how many people are like me and cannot stop thinking about something, and how many people are like my mom and can just put their worries aside when they want to.

This morning I just took my regular dose of medication when I got up, and I was fine until the Witching Hour... that's when I started feeling short of breath and panicky. I took another dose of my one medicine then, and I seemed to be okay for a while... I watched "Saw" with my parents and then two more movies with my mom. I also saw a movie at the theater today, which means I saw a total of 4 movies today! Anyway the extra dose worked for about 6 hours, but then as soon as my mom went to bed and I went upstairs, it came back on a medium level. I had done my laundry and was putting it away in my suitcase and then I just felt like my insides shattered like ice and I was crying, but I was crying silently so my parents wouldn't hear me and get annoyed. I am pretty good at crying silently and can make almost zero noise, but when it gets to its worse I can't control it at all.

Tomorrow is New Years Eve, which you obviously know and if you don't you will see it on Facebook and Google tomorrow. I want it to be a fun day because it will be my last day here, but I am worried my insides will be pouring out all day.

I think I will try my trick of taking my double dose first thing in the morning. But last time it still started to wear off at around 4, so I wonder if I could take a 3rd dose then. You can't really overdose on my kind of medicine. I mean you'd have to take a whole, whole, whole lot of it for it to make you sick or die or anything. It still isn't particularly a good thing to do because you're messing with your brain chemicals, but I have to weigh the pros and cons... if taking extra doses once in a while can help me survive my worst days, then it is worth it to me. If it means I don't have to feel like THIS.

It is also worth noting that even when my meds are working and I'm calm, the sad thoughts are still there, popping up every few seconds. I wish I could put them on mute!

I am looking forward to going back to Washington to see my aunt and uncle and Phylis and my kitten and Roo and Odie. If I did decide to not go back, then I would be sobbing because I miss THEM! It seems to be a no-win situation!