this boy loves preschool

As many of you know, Jake loves going to school.  Everyday he wakes up and says “Jake go to school today?”  I tell him what day of the week it is and if it is Monday-Friday he lights up and says “Jake go to school today!”  He now understands (to a point) that Saturday and Sunday are not school days but nevertheless he still says he wants to go to school.  He absolutely loves it there.

This past Friday I had the opportunity to volunteer in Jake’s classroom. I have been in Jake’s classroom before for parties or special events; but this is the first year we have been able to actually go in to the classroom on a typical day of school. Because of the varying degrees of special needs, the staff at Jake’s school abide by HIPPA laws and are extremely protective of who visits this classroom. But as a parent we want to do typical things with our kids, the principal understands this and allowed parents to participate more in the classroom. It was fun to sit back for a minute and just watch these little loves play, dance, sing, listen to stories etc. The teachers, one lead teacher, Ms. J and 3 assistants, they don’t stop moving. They are constantly working with a child whether it is to help them go to the bathroom, assist a child that might need that extra hug, reading a story etc. They are a unified team, they meet the needs of each child and they do it with a smile on their face and with a warmness that can’t really be described. They love their jobs, they love these kids. There is no quiet in this room. There is constant noise, constant movement but along with that there are constant smiles! I think that was the best part of being in the classroom; watching these kids just smile. They are genuinely happy! I wish I could describe the looks on these little faces but content is the best word that comes to my mind. I wish I could show you pictures of each child — oh my gosh your heart would melt. They are cared for as if they belong to each of these teachers, they are constantly being encouraged but most of all they are loved each and every day. I bet each of these children wake up and want to go to school just like Jake. I bet they wake up with a smile on their face and say “I want to go to school today”. Who doesn’t want to be in a place where you feel safe, a place where you are cared for, a place where you are encouraged to make good choices,  and most of all a place where you feel loved. It is no wonder why Jake loves being in school. I know I have said this countless times before but after being able to spend time with Jake, his peers and with his teacher’s, we are blessed. Blessed that there is a place for him where he can go and learn in every aspect, not just school stuff but he learns how to be caring, how to be loving and how to be the best Jake he can be. These teachers teach from 9-4, no matter what they are doing they are teaching and if you were able to sit and observe them and their little ones you would understand what a blessing they are not only to the kids but to parents like me as well. I will forever be thankful for what they do each day. Jake is an extremely happy little boy and they deserve some of the credit as to why he is so happy.

Today when Jake gets up he will ask me “Today Jake go to school?” I will say “Today is Sunday” and Jake will say “Monday is school day” and I will be even happier to respond “Yes!  Tomorrow is school!”

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love that smile

On Friday I volunteered at Jake’s school for a fundraising event; I just love being at school with him and seeing him with his peers.  When I go to see Jake at school, I try to go with little to no expectations.  He isn’t like typical kids who love to see their mom at school and run over to give their mom a hug and a kiss.  Jake usually hides from me, he usually won’t come see me and if he does it is right at the end of my time there.  But that is all okay, I have gotten used to this behavior.  But on this particular day Jake didn’t hide when he saw me; he smiled.  He didn’t come over to me, instead he went about his normal routine but I would see him look for me and when he spotted me he would flash me this incredible smile.  When it was time to line up for the event he got in line with his peers and walked down the hall holding the rope they use to keep track of all the little ones.  He would occasionally look back to make sure I was there and smile.  That is all I needed.  Jake has this infectious smile that I cannot describe, his whole body lights up and his eyes shine with this brightness that makes me want to just squeeze him.  I can’t ever get enough of his smiles!  As we walked outside different people who work at the school said “Hi, Jake”, it was strange for me in a way, because adults I don’t even know knew my child.  When they would say his name he would flash them that smile.  People seem to be drawn to him.  I watched as the volunteers and other employees of the school watched him, they had a big day ahead of them but you could see their facial expression change once they saw his smile.  I know I am a little biased because hey, this is my kid but I am serious when I tell you that the stressed out look on these teachers and volunteers faces changed once they saw Jake.  It reminded me of lyrics to a song “when you smile, the whole word stops and stares for a while, ’cause you’re amazing, just the way you are”.  When Jake smiles people don’t see that he is autistic, they don’t see all the things he struggles with every day, but what they see is this little boy with eyes that light up, a little boy that is genuinely happy.  My heart melts over the reaction I see from strangers but it truly melts when he sees me and smiles….something I will never ever get tired of seeing.

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the truth

I have been debating since last night (Monday) whether to post this or not…but I am trying to be open and honest here and therefore I need to post the bad as well as the good…

Today I took Jake to see the neuropsychologist or as we call her our autism doctor for his reevaluation. And even though I knew what we would be doing might be hard and even though I knew it might be difficult for my kid it was so much harder than I thought possible. I can tell myself there is progress and I can see the progress and I know we have come a long way; it does little to help me overcome this feeling I have in my chest. It grips to the point where I can barely breathe at times and today was one of those days where the tightness wouldn’t go away. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that we are progressing, that he is making great strides or to put is simply,  Jake is doing great. The tightness becomes unbearable.  I know these things but when you see that your kid cannot answer questions without being prompted or without visual aids it hurts.  When you search your child’s eyes to see if he is grasping what is being asked and the eyes are vacant the tightness intensifies.  When you see your kid has had enough and has a meltdown and you can do nothing to bring him back that tightness is nearly unbearable. And when your kid laughs uncontrollably at nothing and you are asked is this typical and you look at him and back at her and say yes. And you just don’t get it either…you look at this little boy and think why?? The feeling I have is pretty much indescribable.  I know autism isn’t the absolute worse thing that could have happened to him. I know there are others with more severe diagnosis. But when something, no matter how little or how big happens to your child it is the absolute worst. Because you see your child struggling to answer simple questions and in the next breath read a 2nd grade sentence it leaves you with questions — why?? How is it possible that he struggles with so much but is advanced in other areas? I hate the tightness, I hate the struggle but I especially hate autism right now. Autism is what makes Jake, Jake but right now, for tonight I really hate it. It sucks!

Fall Break :)

Fall break went by way too fast!  I know I’ve talked about this before but I really love the lack of schedule, I love how we can do just about whatever we want to for the day.  Jake doesn’t care for the no schedule routine, he needs to know what is next.  But thankfully he understands the “first and then” concept.  First we will eat breakfast then we will go outside.  He will repeat it over and over and over again, enough to drive me crazy but hey, at least he gets it now!

On Monday we went to Jake’s therapies.  We hadn’t seen them in a couple of weeks and I was excited for them to see all of the progress Jake is making.  Since we have been following Jake’s sensory diet he has become a better listener, he follows directions so much better now and we have fewer meltdowns.  When Jake was finished his therapists came to talk to me about what they worked on during their sessions and the first word out of their mouths was how well he did.  All three of them couldn’t say enough good things about how well he followed directions how well he did with all of the tasks asked of him etc.  It was so refreshing and it made my heart smile.  Typically after his sessions the therapists look worn out and they usually tell me how difficult Jake was to work with that particular day.  They were all so proud of him and so proud of the all the progress he is making.  Jake is talking more and his words are becoming easier to understand, Jake can sit longer at a table to complete a task, Jake is listening better and understanding more and more each day.  Even though I can see it daily, it is nice when others see it as well.  It sort of confirms that he is progressing and it is not all in my mind 🙂

This past week we only had one big battle.  That in itself is HUGE!  Jake needed to go potty, I went with him and when we got to the bathroom he told me he didn’t need to go potty.  I knew he needed to go so I told him to go potty, he looked at me with this look that said ‘I am going to see if she’ll make me’ kind of look.  He promptly and defiantly said “no”.  This is what gets my blood boiling in less than 10 seconds, I knew I was going to win this battle!  He wasn’t about to give me a defiant no!  So I told Jake he would sit in time-out because we don’t tell mommy no.  He looks at me again and says “NO”.  So I put him in time-out and go about folding the laundry etc.  He is getting angry now, he starts crying; actually is more of that annoying whine than a cry.  I start singing and doing my own thing and he proceeds to get louder and louder with his whine.  I tell him he will sit there until he goes potty like a big boy.  That usually works because Jake is all about being a big boy these days.  Well, it doesn’t work.  Jake continues to whine, he continues to whine and cry for 30 minutes!  I told Allie, I am not giving in, “I AM GOING TO WIN!”  She looks at me like I’m crazy but hey, I had it in me at the time to wait to it out.  And I waited him out until he finally said “Jakey go potty”.  So I said “ok, let’s go”.  He went potty and the rest of the day was great!  The next day I went to help him go potty and he looked at me with that defiant look and said “no, Jake not go potty”.  So I told him he would sit in time-out.  He looked at me as if remembering how long it took the day before and then he said “Jakey is a big boy and Jakey go potty.  Jakey not tell mommy no!”  So he went potty and that was that!  This was a big deal on many levels!!  Jake was trying me to see what I would do, he saw I wasn’t going to give in to his tears and Jake understood the next day that if he tells me no that he will go to time-out.  This is really bigger than big!!  In the past we would have done this several times in a row, either because he is strong-willed or because he just couldn’t grasp the concept of right behavior vs. the wrong behavior.  Either way, he understands it now.  You can see it in his eyes he is thinking, he is remembering and he is making a good choice!!

We had a lot of fun this past week and although I love having no routine, I think we all will welcome going to school and being back on a schedule.

empathy at its best

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

But empathy is a complicated construct.  There is cognitive empathy, the ability to read other people’s feelings, but there is also affective empathy, the ability to share other people’s feelings.  Just because you don’t have the social/cognitive skill to read someone else’s feelings doesn’t mean you can’t feel someone else’s pain.  While it’s true that autistic people often have a harder time reading social cues, it is quite a leap — and a dangerous one — to assume that a person’s inability to interpret nonverbal cues means he doesn’t care and has no empathy.    Liane Carter

I had the flu all week.  I have never had the flu and let’s just say it was awful.  Trying to keep Jake away from me proved to be challenging in itself.  He didn’t understand why he couldn’t sit with mommy.  I told Jake that I was sick and I didn’t want him to get sick.  He stopped and stared at me, as if he was thinking and studying me trying to understand what I just said.  I know I don’t really know what he was thinking but after I said I was sick, his eyebrows raised and he said “Jakey not sick” and I said “no, and I don’t want you to get sick”.  He seemed happy with that explanation and moved on to playing.  Later that same night I was coughing.  He stopped what he was doing and ran over to me and asked “Are you okay?”  I was surprised by this because I was told that autistic kids aren’t supposed to show empathy to others.  I said to Jake “yes baby, mommy’s fine”.  He ran to his room and brought me his favorite blue blankie and said “is that better mommy?”  I told him he just made me feel SO much better.  He smiled this smile that said I did it, I made mommy okay!! 

In the very beginning I was told Jake would never show signs of empathy.  Jake would never understand how to appropriately read social cues from others.  I didn’t really believe the person who told me this; frankly because I was brand new to the term autism and I honestly didn’t know what to believe.  But more than anything I knew Jake could do these things.  We had already began working with Jake before his diagnosis.  At 19 months old we worked on eye contact, social skills and I knew we had a chance to help him learn.  I had already seen changes and growth and therefore I knew Jake was capable of learning.  Isn’t that the job of any parent?  We work with our kids and give them the tools they need so when they are grown they will be able to succeed.  It is no different with Jake.

Empathy and autism aren’t supposed to go together; an article I read described this as a myth.  I would have to agree.  It isn’t that an autistic person doesn’t have empathy it is their inability to interpret nonverbal cues.  Like anything with Jake we have to teach him.  We have to show him over and over and over again.  Social skills/social cues is one of the areas we work on diligently.  We don’t force eye contact but we encourage it.  We tell Jake to look at mommy when you say ‘hi mommy’.  Look at daddy when he is talking to you.  Because as we all know if you look at someone you will see their facial expression and then it gives you the social cues on how to respond.  I know with Jake he doesn’t want to make eye contact, he would rather look down, at a wall or anywhere other than at someone’s face.  But we will continue to encourage eye contact, we will continue to work on his social skills.  We have already seen all of this coming together and I have not doubt he will continue to learn and grow into a child full of empathy and affection for others.

I have no clue what the future holds for Jake but I will do everything in my power to give him the tools needed!

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