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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

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!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Who Needs a Negative Nellie?

I don't want to sound really negative in my blog, and it seems like my last few posts have been full of complaints! For real, I like my life right now. I have a teaching job, even if it isn't exactly the one I wanted. I have my own apartment. I have Lily with me, plus three goldfish and a new kitten. I still live only minutes away from Uncle J and Auntie Em, and I have a few really cool friends, including some who run a sanctuary farm (Odd Man Inn) and some who own 11 goats. Well, only 1 owns 11 goats, actually, but still. I can drink all the Dr. Pepper I want and nobody can stop me. Life is good.

But my brother and nephew are 8 hours away by car, and my parents and grandparents and several other family members are 4 hours and hundreds of dollars away by plane. The first year that I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I saw my parents about every 12 weeks, and sometimes less. I spent a week with them in California with my brother that first summer, plus went home for a few weeks at the end of the summer. Then I was home for Thanksgiving, and then I was with my mom and brother in California for Christmas, and then saw my parents and other family members for a week at the end of March.

But after that I didn't get to see them for 8 months! Part of it was because my summer job sucked up my whole summer, and also because my mom was in the hospital for a lot of the time. 8 months away from them left a gaping wound in my heart. I've been back home almost 2 weeks now for winter vacation, and the thing is it was really hard for me to relax, even from the very first day, because I was already panicking about having to leave... because I never know when I'll see them again! Its the same whole frustrating situation where I try to say I plan on coming back here for Spring vacation for sure, and my mom hems and haws and says she might come out by me for a few days, but even if she does, I still want to come home for a while. My grandparents are 84 and 86 years old, and every time I see them I'm afraid it will be my last time. I feel sad for them because all of their older grandchildren, plus their only great-grandchild, live many states away, and they can't really travel anymore due to their health problems.

That's why I am already soaking my pillow with tears every night. Going 12 weeks without seeing my family wouldn't be a huge deal... it would be stressful for me, but I could do it. Little kids who go to summer camp do it. But it feels like instead of 12 weeks it could be 100 weeks or something. My mom was torturing me because when I told my grandparents I would be back for Spring break, she said, "Yeah, but we won't be here, because we'll be in Arizona." Even though we had already talked about when my spring break was and looked up plane tickets and everything. And even though she'd already told me she was going to Arizona in the beginning of March. Of course I started to panic, and then my grandma asked her why she was teasing me, and she said because it was easy, but she never did reassure me that I'd see her for spring break.

I need it signed in blood or something.

I need to know that, as long as I am able to buy a plane ticket and get here for spring break, they'll be here. And even then it would be hard for me to believe it. I'm trying not to be negative here... but in order to enjoy my life in Washington, I need to know that I will still be able to have a time that I canb countdown to where I will be able to come "home" again.

In other news, I've found that taking an extra dose of one of my meds helps keep the anxiety and sadness at bay. The morning that my brother and Squeak left, I woke up early and swallowed my usual pills plus the extra dose of one, then went back to sleep. When I woke up, I was able to have a pretty good morning, eating breakfast and enjoying my last hours with Squeak. I even enjoyed being with him on the way to the airport. And then I was able to enjoy the rest of the day spending time with my parents. I was still sad, but it was bearable. It wasn't physically painful. It didn't bring me to my knees. I was still able to eat, talk about other things, be happy, and just generally function at a reasonable level, Even though I still did feel sad. I wonder if this is how "normal" people experience their emotions?

I've also noticed that I start to get really anxious and sad every day at around 3:30. I have known for a long time that this is my "witching hour" when I am going through a stressful situation. My Auntie Em knows that if she has bad news or if I have to do something unpleasant, she should tell me as soon as I wake up, because that is my good time of day. But lately I've been thinking about it and realizing that the anxiety and sadness shows up every day at 3:30 or 4, on some level, even when I am just going about my normal business. This explains why often if I stop at the grocery store after work, I get a terribly panicked feeling halfway through grocery shopping and feel like I must leave the store immediately. I have to do fast grocery shopping and just grab the necessities, or I start to feel like I am drowning.

I wonder if my meds wear out at that time or something? They are supposed to be the 24 hour kind, but maybe my type of anxiety and depression is so strong that it just busts right through the medication after 10 hours? My medical doctor prescribes my medicine right now, but I think I need to find an actual psychiatrist and ask them if I need a stronger prescription or some sort of booster or something. In DBT I learned skills that are supposed to help me calm myself down, but the thing is, those skills seem to be no match for my emotions when they are at their strongest.

Okay. I'm sure this was such an interesting post for you all and your life is better for having read it. I have 2 more days here... Even though I will be happy to see Auntie Em and Uncle J and Roo and my new kitten, I am still dreading that horrid moment when I have to say goodbye to my parents. So... I don't know how to end this post. SQUIRREL!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gonna Miss That Squeak

This is not really me and Squeak. 
For the past 10 days I've been back in Chicago celebrating the holidays with my family. Bro came out here too with Squeak.It has been pretty awesome spending time with Squeak. But unfortunately, tomorrow he and Bro are going back to California. And once again, my heart has a crack right down the middle.

I've really only spent time with Squeak a handful of times since he was born. Each time I see him, it is like he is a new version of himself. There was the 2-week-old Squeak I first visited when my mom and I made a last-minute trip out to California after he was born, the little Squeak who I could hold in my arms while he slept. Then there was the 4-month-old Squeak, a pudgy baby who would belly laugh when I made silly sounds to him, who would smile and kick his legs like crazy when I made the mobile above his bed spin around, who had colic and would cry incessantly while I paced back and forth with him in my arms. I stayed with Bro and his girlfriend Sunny for 2 weeks that time, and really got to know Squeak.

Then there was the 7-month old Squeak who came with his parents to our home in Chicago for his first Christmas... not much different from the 4-month-old Squeak, so I felt like we were still bonded from my visit. And then the 14-month-old Squeak I saw that summer, who had become a tiny athlete, and could hit a ball with a tiny bat, throw a small football with a perfect spiral, and swing a mini golf club like a pro.

This continued on, with my parents and I getting to see Squeak an average of about twice a year, usually in the summer and at Christmas time.  Each time Squeak was about 6 months older. Each time he was this happy, cuddly, loveable little guy. I'd fall in love with him all over again, and then it would be time to leave.

This Christmas I had such a great time playing with the 3 1/2 year old version of Squeak. We played Hi-Ho-Cheerio, watched old He-Man cartoons, went sledding, had slinky races, played makeshift hockey games in the basement using an overturned laundry basket as a goal, visited the children's museum, and read stories together. This Squeak can talk, and will talk your ear off, happily narrating what is going on around him. This Squeak will cheer for you when you beat him at Hi-Ho-Cheerio, whereas many 3-year-olds would throw a fit. This Squeak gives out hugs and snuggles generously. This Squeak laughs and smiles and is just generally happy and excited about life. He is so loveable. And now he is leaving. And it will be a while until I see him again. Maybe not until summer.

When I first decided to move out to the Pacific Northwest, it was because I wanted to be closer to Bro, Sunny and Squeak. Now I am 8 hours away from them... so much closer than Chicago, but too far away to go to regularly, especially considering that I work Monday through Friday. Even if I have a long weekend, I have to drive like a maniac to get there and back, in order to squeeze out the most possible Squeak time. There is a Greyhound bus that will go there, but it takes a frustrating 24 hours, because the only way to get to Bro's remote little town is to go all the way to San Francisco, and then take another long bus ride back up to Northern Cali. An airplane might be quicker, but you still have to fly to San Francisco and then transfer to another plane and fly back up.

Since the time I was about 18, I had a lot of friends whose children called me Auntie. I was a great aunt to them. I would frequently take them to fun places on the weekends, I was at each of their birthday parties, and I saw them all the time. Now that Squeak is my actual nephew, it is frustrating that I can't be that Auntie to him.

I've written about this before. I probably write about this each time I see Squeak and then have to say goodbye. But if you could just see him, when he smiles at you and hugs you, you would understand.

I'm gonna miss that Squeak.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Been There, Done That, Got A T-shirt

Question.
What would you think if you were walking through a public place and saw someone wearing a shirt like one of these?



 Or maybe one of these ones...



Just wondering. Because yesterday Lily and I took a plane to Chicago. For my day of travels, I wore one of my autism T-shirts. The one I wore looks like this
I wore it partly because I just like it, and also because I sometimes have some difficulty in airports, and an airport is not the place that you want to be seen as acting nervous or suspicious. Wearing a T-shirt and letting it be obvious that I have a disability is my way of telling the world, "I'm not freaking out because I have a bomb strapped to the bottom of my shoe! I'm freaking out because I'm not completely sure which line I'm supposed to be in right now!" Another reason is because, since I have Lily with me as a service dog, people sometimes give me those "Oh look someone faking like they have a service dog so they can bring their pet on the plane" faces.

People have different opinions about me wearing a shirt like this. Some have suggested that it is a way of trying to get sympathy from people. Others have suggested I wear it to get attention. My dad says, "Autism is not something you should be embarrassed about, but...." (But what? I have when people don't finish their sentences! He never told me but what. If I had to fill in the blanks myself, my guess would be, "...you don't have to tell EVERYONE! Its not everyone's business!")

I could say this blog post is about explaining that NOTHING is EVERYONE's business, but sometimes people like to display certain information about themselves on a T-shirt; for instance if you love horses, you might wear an "I love horses" T-shirt, and it could be asked, "Is it anyone else's business that you love horses?" and obviously it isn't, but that is a part of you that you decided, that day, to show the world. I would probably point out that, while the horse lover doesn't always preface every conversation with, "By the way... I love horses," they might find themselves bringing up horses in various conversations, or at least chiming in when conversations come up that are about horses. Or maybe loving horses would be a bad metaphor because a person could say, "But horses are something I enjoy, and autism is something you ARE/" So maybe, if you were from Greece. You might wear a shirt that says "I love Greece," and you might bring up, "Back when I was a kid growing up in Greece..." into random conversations, and that would be a part of you that you were sharing with others, despite it technically being nobody's business. 

But actually this blog post is about how, later on as I got on the plane, I thought, "What if this shirt makes people automatically not like me?" They might think, "Oh jeez, obviously there is something wrong with that person, so I hope she doesn't sit by me!"

Here is a scenario. Imagine you are at the airport waiting for your flight. You see a person with a service dog walking through the area. The person goes up to one of the airport staff and asks if she is supposed to stand in a separate line for people with disabilities so she can pre-board. She is told where to stand, but when it is her turn to get on, the employee taking the tickets questions her about her service dog. Apparently someone didn't enter something on some computer and the person's ticket doesn't say anything about a dog. The person appears to be getting flustered as she tries to explain, "No, she's not an emotional support animal, she's a service dog, for autism." You can tell there is something "wrong" with her... of course, she has the service dog, but some people have service dogs for diabetes or epilepsy, and this person seems more... mentally afflicted. 

The employees send the person over to another desk, where she begins to try to explain. They tell her that she was supposed to handle this when she checked in, in the airport lobby. She says she tried to, they told her she didn't need anything, usually they check her doctor letter and they write "SA" on her ticket, but today they didn't, they said she didn't need anything, and even security was different because they didn't swipe her hands, and the dog is a service dog, for autism and anxiety... She is beginning to stutter, her sentences choking off halfway out of her mouth, one hand holding her dog's leash and the other hand rubbing her head, her face starting to flush. The airport employee finally tells her she can go get onto the plane. She goes, and as she walks by you you can see her eyes were starting to get teary, she seems a little shaky. She might just blow. 

She gets on, just a little ahead of the rest of the people, and then they call your boarding group. You get on the plane, patiently inch your way down the narrow aisle to your cheap airline seat, 23E... and there, in the window seat right next to your seat, is the person and her service dog. 

What do you feel? Annoyed, the way some people might feel when they realize they're going to spend their plane ride next to an exhausted 2-year-old with an earache? Afraid, because you don't know what to expect? Are you determined to not stare at the person, and you avoid even glancing in their direction? Would it make a huge difference to you if the person is wearing a T-shirt proclaiming their autism?

I thought about this as I was sitting in my plane seat, having narrowly avoided the oncoming meltdown described above (no, that wasn't a hypothetical story) and now feeling short of breath because I just realized that my headphones weren't working and that instead of passing my plane ride watching videos and listening to music on my Kindle, I'd now be sitting in quiet contemplation for the next 4 hours. I was probably rocking a little. Ever since I moved to Washington, I've flown by myself (well, usually with Lily, actually) a whole bunch of times, and most of the time I've had friendly seatmates. I have told some of them about my autism, mostly because they'd ask about Lily. One time there was a girl who wanted to switch seats because she was afraid of dogs, but they wouldn't let her switch, and I tried to reassure her by explaining to her all about Lily and how she's not a dangerous dog at all, how she'd just be calm and sit with me for the whole plane ride, and we ended up talking for most of the ride. 

The guy who sat down next to me this time seemed to be a "trying hard not to stare at you" person. He didn't say hello or smile or even look at me when he sat down. (I didn't either, of course, now that I think back on it. I'm not very good at being the first to say hello or smile at someone I don't know.) He didn't look at me during the whole flight. He didn't ask about the elephant in the room small dog in my lap. 

It was a rough plane trip for me without my headphones... plus it was the smallest possible plane seat, and it was really, really hot on the plane. I had a horrid time and couldn't sit still. On one hand Lily was helping me because I could pet her and smell her and talk to her to help me feel calm and less like jumping out of my body, but on the other hand it was so hot on the plane and having a 102 degree ball of fur in your lap is not the most comfortable thing in that situation. Also did you know that most dogs are about 102 degrees at all times? Fun fact.

And... this is one of those times when I don't know how to neatly tie this whole blog post up and end it. So... uh... did you know have a kitten now? ::drops mic::


Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Day In The Life

Hi everyone! Still struggling to have time to update this blog as much as I used to, but I thought you might be interested in exactly WHAT keeps me so busy! And so, today I bring you... A Day In The Life Of A Learning And Behavior Resource Teacher!

5:45 am - All of the ordinary getting ready things. My new kitten (more about that later) kept me awake all night, so I am exhausted, oversleep, and don't have time to take a shower. I wash up quickly, feed breakfast to Lily and the yet-unnamed kitten, grab some leftovers for my lunch, shepherd Lily outside to go potty, drop her off at Auntie M's for doggie daycare, and head to work.

7:25 - Arrive at work, 10 minutes late, partly because I got stuck behind a school bus on the way there. It is technically okay, since I usually get to work early. I have a lot of things to print off and get ready for the day, but I forgot about the Friday morning meeting I am required to attend. Today they're talking about a computer program we're required to use. Since we've been required to use it since the beginning of the school year, I already had a co-worker teach me how to use it, but I sit through the meeting anyways. As soon as it is over, I rush to get my things ready for the day,

8:15 - I've almost got everything ready for my daily groups, when "Douglas" storms in. A third grader with autism and an Emotional/Behavior Disability, he is angry because something he saved on his iPad yesterday has disappeared. He stomps around describing how he got so angry that he said "the P word." I'm still not quite sure what that is. I try to coach him through calming himself down.

8:25 - "Linden" comes in with his 1:1 para to take his first morning break. He's a first grader with an EBD who takes breaks in my room throughout the day. So far he's having an awesome day today... but he's only been in school for 20 minutes!

8:30 - The office calls and asks me to come down. They have one of my kids, a 2nd grader, in the nurse's office vomiting,and want to send him home, but when they called home a man answered. The child's father has just gotten out of prison and is not supposed to have any contact with the child. The office is worried about who the man is who answered the phone. I ask Linden's para to keep an eye on Douglas, while I go down to the office, talk to the child (who I know lives with his mother and grandparents) and discover that the man who answered the phone is his grandfather. Then the receptionist tells me that she was wrong, the man is on the emergency contacts list, and can pick up the child. Meanwhile, the child tells me that he will be visiting his dad's house over the weekend. That is a little confusing, but I will ask the psychologist or social worker about it later. I tell the child I hope he feels better, and go back to my class.

8:40 - A teacher from the art room calls. "Ash," a 1st grader who homeschools but comes to our school for music, art and PE, is in his art class. He's supposed to have a para with him when he comes. He used to share a para with another first grader, but that student moved away and her para was reassigned, so for a month now Ash has been without a para. The special ed director has refused to hire anyone, and there are NO extra paras available. The art teacher now demands that I send someone down to work with Ash. I have my 1st grade reading group coming in 5 minutes, plus I still have Douglas needing my assistance, but I ask Linden's para to keep an eye on Douglas while I go down and check on Ash. As I walk, I shoot off a somewhat irritable text to the special ed director explaining that Ash is AGAIN without a para and nobody is available.

8:45 - I get to art and check in on Ash, who is doing okay so far.

8:50 - The school psychologist comes in. The special ed director has dispatched her to come work with Ash. It is a solution that is not going to work on a long term basis, and I doubt the special ed director will offer up anything else, but I am glad at least that I can go back and take care of the kids in my room for now.

8:51 - My first grade reading group has assembled. Linden's para is reading them a story, attempting to look after them, Linden, and Douglas, all at once. I take over so the para can bring Linden back to class. I coach Douglas to take a 5 minute calming break and then go back to class, while I start work with my first graders. Luckily, they are a happy and hard-working bunch!

9:00 - Douglas has opted to take out a game from the cabinet and play with it. I pause every few minutes to remind him that calming breaks are not "play" breaks... Play breaks are earned by doing work and earning points. Douglas seems calm now and should be going back to class, but he ignores my requests and keeps on setting up the game. I need to direct my attention to my reading group, and Douglas's ignoring me is just a minor behavior, so I let it go.

9:05 - The first graders have earned their play break. Douglas announces that he wasn't actually playing with the game he took out, but just trying to help out by setting it up for the first graders to play.

9:10 - I dispatch some of my first graders back to their classes, but keep one to work on some writing to make up for minutes he will be missing later in the day, since he has a special activity with his gen ed class.  Douglas's reading group will be starting in 10 minutes and it would be a waste of time to make him walk back to class and then turn around and come back, so I let him do some learning games on the iPad.

9:20 - The other member of my 3rd grade reading group, Aspen, shows up. I settle him and Douglas down. We are working on reading Sideways Stories From Wayside School, a book that I loved as a kid. It cracks these boys up. We are working on comprehension skills, so before reading we use an online dictionary, projected on the overhead screen, to look up some vocabulary words from the book, Then we read the chapters and complete story maps on them. It is going very well.

9:50 - We are halfway through our hour long session. Cypress, a 4th grader who also has autism and an EBD, stomps in and hands me a note from his teacher. It says he was kicking a drain pipe and needs a safe place to cool off. I tell Cypress he can choose a 5 minute break to cool off, and remind him it is a calming break and not a play break. I will check in with him in a few minutes once my 3rd grade reading boys start their own break. However, Cypress responds by picking up a chair and throwing it. I send the 3rd graders into the next room... the rest of the lesson will have to be cancelled. The para in the next room gives them iPads to play with while I work on calming Cypress.

9:55 - It is a relatively short meltdown for Cypress, but pretty eventful. He throws all of the chairs, picks them up and throws them some more, and overturns our mini-trampoline... and then, in a never-before-seen act, he overturns a table! He then walks over to the reading area and sits down on a bean bag chair.
Sensing he may be ready to talk, I casually walk past him, pretending to be looking at something else. When a kid is still mad, sometimes it is better not to feel a lot of pressure on them. I ask him if he wants to talk or would rather be alone for a few minutes. When he doesn't answer, I sit down near him and say, "I think when I told you you couldn't take a play break, you started feeling even madder." He nods. We talk about finding a different way to let me know he is mad at me, without throwing things. We talk about making a compromise... we can have a box of choices he could play with to help him calm down when he is that upset, and he'd have 5 minutes to play with them while calming down... but it is important for the kids to realize that, for the most part, they can't just come in and play with their favorite toys every time they get mad and throw things. A calming break is supposed to be something to help them calm down, find a solution to their problem, and move on with their day. I tell Cypress he can have 5 minutes to play with the shape tiles while we work through a problem solving worksheet together. I say, "But first..."
Cypress interrupts me to say, "I know, I know." He gets up and calmly resets everything he threw around in the room. I have to help him pick up the table because it is heavy. I'm surprised he had the strength to knock it over!

10:10 - Cypress plays with the shape tiles while I coach him through the problem solving worksheet. He tells me about the cycle of things that made him mad already that morning, beginning with some kids accusing him of cheating at a game on the playground, and another kid imitating the way he was stomping his feet when he started to get angry. Like Douglas, he often perceives that everyone around him is against him, and he struggles to understand that his reactions to things make the situations worse instead of better. We work out what choices he could have made when he was angry... kicking the drainpipe was one choice, which resulted in him getting in trouble and being sent to my room. Another choice would have been to ask the teacher for help, which would either have resulted in her stopping the kid from imitating him (the thing that was currently agitating him when he kicked the drainpipe) or with the kid continuing to imitate him anyways. A third choice would have been to ask to come to my room for a calming break before he got to the point of needing to kick things and knock things over. We decide that next time, Cypress will start with asking the teacher for help, and if that doesn't work, he'll ask to come down to my room for a break. I write down our plan to help Cypress remember it. I am not sure he will.

10:25 - My writing group, which consists of Cypress and Douglas, begins. They both have similar special needs, and have some of the same strong interests. They are the best of friends and the worst of enemies. Sometimes they get along wonderfully, and other times they threaten to kill each other. Sometimes they are amazingly therapeutic for each other. Today they do well together. Cypress often refuses to do work in class, but I get him and Douglas to work together on writing a story about one of their shared interests, and they spend the session planning out what they will write. They both earn a play break at the end.

10:55 - My math group is beginning. Third graders "Cedar" and "Chestnut" arrive. Douglas is also in that group, so I prompt him to put away his toys and come to the table. Cypress is supposed to work independently on some reading assignments during this time, but he continues to play with the shape tiles. I tell him that if he goes to do his work, we can leave the tiles where they are so that he can go back to them when his work is done... but if he keeps playing with them, we will have to put them all away.
Chestnut, who only comes to my room for academic services and supposedly does not have any behavioral issues, has developed an interest in seeing if he can upset Cypress and Douglas. As he sits down at the table, he immediately starts to talk about how dumb he thinks one of their special interests... an online role-playing video game... is. Douglas takes the bait and starts to get aggravated, stomping away from the table and saying he will not do math work if Chestnut is there. We're joined by a  para for this group, and the two of us coach Douglas to talk to Chestnut about what is upsetting him. We get Chestnut to agree not to speak about the video game... it is okay not to like it, but he needs to stop talking about it when Douglas is there. Chestnut agrees, although he keeps saying he was just making "friendly conversation." It turns out he does not even know what the game is, and only knows the name of it because of hearing Douglas talk about it, which helps confirm to me that Chestnut is just saying it is dumb in order to get a reaction from Douglas.

11:05 - During all of this time, Cypress has still been playing with the shape tiles instead of doing his work. The school psychologist, who shares a room with me, walks over and starts to put the tiles away. Cypress overturns the table, wedging the psychologist between the table and the wall. He then starts to throw chairs. We order the 3rd graders to go into the next room. The para stays behind to help the psychologist with Cypress, while I try to keep teaching math. First we have to talk a little about why Cypress overturned the table. I try to explain that for some kids, controlling their bodies when they are angry is hard to do.

11:10 - I planned to start teaching them about subtraction with regrouping, using Base Ten blocks. I'm hoping to get at least a little done. But while Cedar is sitting attentively waiting, Chestnut is now whining loudly about the shape tiles, and Chestnut keeps picking the Base Ten blocks up off the table and tossing them. He is smiling, watching for a reaction from me. I'm having a little trouble keeping my patience, but I remind them that to earn their play break, they need to earn their points for getting down to work, following directions, being respectful, and being safe... and right now only Cedar is earning points!

11:15 - I start to demonstrate how to do a subtraction problem... 256 - 188. I write it on the white board, and then have them help me demonstrate it with Base Ten blocks. Douglas is upset because he insists that the smaller digit should always be subtracted from the larger digit... so the first step, in his mind, would be 8-6. I try to explain that the digits are only parts of the whole numbers, and that 256 cannot be subtracted from 188. Chestnut and Cedar show that they understand and continue helping me to solve the problem, but Douglas whines more and more loudly about how I am doing it wrong. "It's not right!" he yells. The teacher from the room we've moved into is trying to work with another group, and she's giving me exasperated looks.  I remind Douglas about his points, and that to be respectful he needs to be quiet so that the other kids in the room can learn.

11:20 - It is time for the kids who have earned their breaks to take one. Cedar has earned a break, and Chestnut... having gotten down to work for the second half of the group... has earned half of a break. Douglas has not earned one, and starts to cry and yell. I remind him about the points, tell him he can choose a calming break instead, and tell him that he'll have another chance to earn a break after lunch.

11:25 - Chestnut and Cedar go back to class, just as my 2nd grade reading group comes in. Douglas refuses to leave, still talking about his break. I settle my 2nd graders in and have them vote on a Mo Willems book to read. I read it aloud to them. Usually on Fridays we do cooking activities, which are a way to make reading more relevant, but it has been such a hectic week that we are just going to have a read-aloud day instead. I include Douglas in the group by showing him the pictures and including him on the conversation about the story, and he seems to calm down. Eventually he leaves to go back to class... I think.

11:45 - We're in the middle of our second read aloud when the school psychologist comes into the room with Douglas. Somehow he wound up in the office... either he was sent there by his classroom teacher or he went on his own... and was being disruptive. He is still upset about missing his break. I
remind him again that he can earn a break by doing work in his class, but that right now being disruptive is not helping him with that. The psychologist ushers him back into my room for a calming break.

11:55 - I send most of my second graders back, but I still have to do reading with one of them... Hickory... for a half hour. Except now the psychologist tells me that Ash is in the office waiting to come to his Social Skills group, and she needs me to go retrieve him. I bring Hickory with me to get Ash.

12:00 - We return to the classroom with Ash in tow, in time to see the psychologist run out the door. I go inside and find a para trying to manage the social skills group, which consists of some wiley first graders. The para tells me that Douglas ran out the door, which is why the psychologist also ran out the door. Meanwhile, Cypress seems to be doing some reading work at the next table. I leave Ash with the para and bring Hickory back into the other room, hoping to get a little work done with him.

12:25 - I send Hickory back to his class, escort Ash back to his mother who is waiting for him in the office, go back to my classroom, and hurriedly heat up my lunch. It looks like today I might be able to take a lunch break!

12:40 - Having finished lunch (I rarely manage to get a whole break... and my union has even started to try to help me with this, because by union rules we are entitled to 35 minutes) I start getting the Woodcock-Johnson test ready. The (really poorly named) test is something we use to assess kids who are being evaluated for special ed. I have an evaluation due on a kindergartner next Wednesday, and it has been taking forever to assess him, partly because I rarely have any time in the day, and partly because his attention span is very tiny.

12:50 - I go to Hazel's classroom to collect him, but find that the speech pathologist is already working with him. Everyone is scrambling to get their parts of the evaluation finished by next week. She says she will be done in ten minutes and will bring him to my room.

1:00 - A para comes in with a screaming Linden in tow. He has punched someone on the playground, apparently unprovoked, and the para has to go check on the other child. I sigh... my next group starts in 40 minutes. Maybe I can get a para to take that group, and still have time to assess Hazel.

1:40 - Linden is still up in arms, and we are getting no where. His parents will have to be called because it won't be safe to put him on the bus. He is full of anger, and does not understand why it is not okay that he punched someone in the face, because he doesn't like the kid he punched. The kid he punched is dumb and babyish. The kid he punched deserved to be punched. We are trying to get him, if not to understand the other kid's perspective, at least to understand that it isn't okay to hurt others. But his brothers hit him all the time, he says, and he doesn't care because he is tough. The kid he punched must be fragile, a dumb, fragile baby. This goes on and on and on. I will not be managing to do Hazel's assessment today!

2:00 - I call Linden's parents to come get him. It is almost the end of the school day. Linden begins to get more somber as he realizes his parents were called. His father will be angry, he says, and his mother will cry in her bed. I explain to him that we don't keep secrets from parents... they need to know what is going on with their kids. It is not to "get him in trouble," but because they need to know. The psychologist and I are trying to find different ways of telling him, It isn't okay to punch people. If someone punched him, we would also be talking to them and calling their parents. But Linden says he wouldn't care if someone punched him, because he is tough. And on and on.

2:10 -  The psychologist goes to meet the parents in the office. I think I find a way to get through to Linden... he has a baby brother he loves. I ask him if he's going to teach his baby brother lots of things. I ask him how he might feel if he found out someone punched his brother. He explains how he would be sad and how he would protect his brother. I ask what will happen if someday his baby brother is in preschool or kindergarten, and the teacher says, "Landen, your brother punched someone on the playground today." I ask him if he'd be happy or sad about his brother punching someone on the playground and getting in trouble for it. He says he'd be sad and that he'd want to teach his brother to make better choices. "That is what the grown ups here are trying to help teach you," I say.

2:30 - The psychologist comes back with Linden's mother. We talk about Linden's behavior, and what he is learning with his private counseling sessions after school.

2:45 - Our contracted day is over... it should be time to go home. But I still have several hour's worth of work to do. I work for an hour on IEPs and progress reports, make phone calls home to several students' parents, and then decide to pack up my stuff and head home. I will be doing a lot of work over the weekend... again!

THE END