the journey continues

I’m happy to say that things have been going pretty well over here. Jake has finished his first 9 weeks of 3rd grade and did well. Third grade has been a little challenging, academically. It’s been an adjustment for us having two teachers, harder assignments where things don’t come as easy to him and having to actually study for quizzes and tests. Grades don’t mean much to Jake, he knows that 100 is good and a 69 isn’t but that’s about all he knows from what I can tell. If he sees he failed a test or a quiz he might make a sad face but overall, it doesn’t upset him. He wants to do his best but helping him understand the grading system and the importance of it has been challenging. Jake seems to excel in science and social studies, math is coming along but language arts is proving to be harder for him. He has to critically think; something he hasn’t really had to do before. Answers just don’t come to him in this area, taking time to think things through isn’t something that comes naturally. For typical kids this can be hard but when you have a processing disorder like autism it can be extremely difficult getting the thought from his brain to pencil and then to paper. But I have to say he is doing better; I am already seeing critical thinking play a part in other areas.

One thing we’ve seen in Jake is his ability to be more flexible. This is a really big concept for him to understand and something we’ve been working on for a couple of years now; to see him trying to be more flexible is really neat and rewarding. Over the past several months John’s family, from NY, have come down to visit and stay here with us. Jake’s routine has been disrupted and he has had to be more flexible with a variety of things and he is learning to how to cope much better. 

Social skills play a huge part in all of this. One thing I’ve learned from having Jake attend his weekly social skills group is how much it helps everything come together. I used to think social skills was just interacting with others but it really isn’t just that. It helps Jake learn how to critically think. It helps him to stop, look and listen to what is going on around him and helps him process it all a little better. Social skills teach him how to be more flexible, how to engage in his environment and is helping him to be more versatile. Social skills have helped to teach Jake how to manage his emotions when things get hard and gives him the tools to find his calm and move past those difficult situations.

All of this to say, Jake is doing great and we are all so proud of this kid. His conversational skills have improved over the past few months. To hear him talk to his sister, aunts and uncles has made my heart smile so big! Jake talks to John and me but we are around him the majority of the time. To hear him hold conversations with others is really exciting! Allie recently moved out, she’s renting a house close to campus, and hasn’t seen much of this side of Jake. Yesterday she stopped by to drop off some things and Jake walked up to her as asked her what she doing. Sounds small and insignificant but it wasn’t and isn’t. He is verbalizing what he is seeing and asking questions without being prompted. Love seeing this side of Jake!

Life with autism isn’t easy, by a long shot. We have our daily struggles with food, behaviors and a variety of other things that I’ll focus on more in the coming weeks. Just because something works today doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. We’ve been on this journey for 6 1/2 years and although some things have gotten easier there is always a new “thing” that leaves me scratching my head.

This boy makes everything worthwhile though!


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It’s nice to take a break…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update; just thought I would take some time off. Jake’s been doing great! We had a great summer with lots of swimming and a little bit of therapy. It was really nice and relaxing!

One of the best things that Jake has learned over the summer is how to dress himself with no help from me! Oh my, how I’ve waited for this day! Up until about 4 weeks ago I had to help him with his clothes. I was getting frustrated thinking, he’s 8 he should be able to do this now. But like everything else it takes time. One day after swimming I told him we needed to get changed and he said “I think I can do it by myself”. He ran upstairs and was up there about 20 minutes. The look on his face when he came out of his room was priceless…he yells “I DID IT!!!”. This was HUGE!! We’ve been working on this skill since he was 3; that’s 5 years! It is SO nice for him to be able to dress himself! Now I can send him upstairs and in about 5 minutes he’s dressed and ready for school!

Jake also learned to swim! He was very reluctant at first and I didn’t think he would do it this year. We took swim lessons at the beginning of summer and let’s just say it was trying for his swim instructor. She showed him the basics but he wouldn’t really even try with her. When we would go swimming Jake wouldn’t put his face in the water, he cried when I tried to help him swim and wouldn’t jump in the pool. About two weeks after his lessons he started working on his own and then overnight, he was swimming, going under water and jumping in the pool. 

Jake started 3rd grade two weeks ago and for the most part it’s been going well. He’s had to adjust to a lot of changes which has been the hardest part for him (and me). Going from the lazy days of summer to a stricter routine and then having two teachers instead of one as well as getting to know new kids in his class, is a lot for Jake. In my opinion, the hardest part of the new school year is more is expected from him. He’s older now and as many of us know or may remember third grade is difficult for most any child and having autism makes things a bit more difficult. But Jake’s learning the new rules, mostly the hard way. He has learned not to write that his teacher is mean, not to cheat on a test, not to yell no to his teacher and is learning how to work with a team. He’s adjusting as best he can but it’s a struggle. It’s been a struggle for me as well, I pray every day that he is a good listener and is following the rules. We are fortunate to have two outstanding teachers this year that are challenging him and working with him to find his strengths and help him with the areas of weakness. I really do believe it will be a great year for our boy!

Currently, Jake is interested  in logos for things like NBC and comparing them to their original logo and telling me how and when it originated and then showing me what the logo looks like today. I honestly never cared and never thought about different television logos or movie logos or toy logos but now I find it interesting. The best part is Jake is initiating conversations. He has found something he enjoys researching and wants to share it with me. And I love this!!

We’ve walked this autism journey for a little over 6 years now. The biggest and smallest tasks take a lot of time. Much of the time I want to rush it but it always backfires on me when I do this with him! As he gets older things change and I am constantly trying to figure what will work this time to help things click. I can go from feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and angry to feeling great pride all within a minute, at times. But it’s all worth it to see him succeed! And he’s doing just that. He’s growing and learning and talking with us more and more each day. 

 

Summer Fun

 

2nd grade wrap-up

It is hard to believe Jake has only a week left in the 2nd grade! In some ways it feels like this school year has been long but mostly it feels like it flew by.

Jake has an amazing teacher and advancing to 3rd grade is very bittersweet! The first day we met Mrs. Hansen, Jake was drawn to her and responded to her quickly. She wasn’t all gushy and sweet and over-the-top nice. That sounds a little strange, but Jake doesn’t need that or want that all the time especially meeting someone for the first time. She was extremely nice and kind but her tone let Jake know she was his teacher and he would follow her rules. He quickly fell in love with her; wanting to make her proud and to show her he could do anything she asked of him. Jake had some rough days but overall he has absolutely loved being in her classroom and told me just a couple of nights ago that he wanted Mrs. Hansen to be his teacher forever. That says something about a teacher when you’re child doesn’t want to leave their classroom.

 

 

One of the things I love the most about Jake’s teacher is she not only teaches the required subjects but also teaches respect for others, kindness and the inclusion of others. And in return, from what I’ve seen when I’ve been in the classroom, the kids show her as well as their classmate’s kindness, respect and are always including each other in different activities. As a mom of a child who is autistic this means so much! I know this is only 2nd grade but this is where and when our kids learn this stuff and hopefully take that with them as they go through life. Jake has always been welcomed and cheered on and made to feel important by his peers. Even when Jake is having a rough time I have heard encouragement from his friends trying to help him get back on track.

 

 

Jake loves being a part of his classroom and doing what the other kids are doing as well! Last week the 2nd graders had their spring musical where they had to dress up as a classic storybook character. We chose Tom Sawyer. At first, Jake wasn’t sure about this as he isn’t a fan of wearing anything except his normal clothes. But he wanted to do it! He asked me several times if he wore his costume would he would still be Jake? He wanted to make sure people wouldn’t forget he was Jake; this made me smile! He wore his costume with pride and I have to say he was such a cute Tom Sawyer!! He put aside his anxiety and for this kid, that is HUGE!!

 

 

The progress we’ve seen with Jake this year has been fantastic! He has learned to speak up for himself, he’s become much more independent and able to initiate small conversations with us at home. One of the best things I’ve personally seen is his ability to carry information that he has learned during the school day over to home. Most of the time what he learns at school, stays at school. And what he learns at home, stays at home. But I’m seeing that he is able to make the connection now and do the things he is able to do at school at home and vice versa. He will also remember things Mrs. Hansen wants him to tell me and many times he will make me repeat to him what he said so he knows I get it (something we do with him all the time). Jake is also learning to be proud of himself and his accomplishments. He may have always been proud but hearing him verbalize it is so cool! Recently we were talking and I asked him “Who is proud of you?” and he said “Mommy, Daddy, Sissy and Mrs. Hansen!” I asked him “Who else is proud of Jake?” He thought for a moment and said with a huge smile “I’m proud of Jake! I am proud of me!”

 

 

What I want to tell the person who called my son weird!!

I heard what you said when you thought no one was listening. You called my son a name; you said he was weird!  It wasn’t said in a joking way it was said with disgust. It hurts my heart for Jake and I pray he wasn’t nearby when you said what you said. He knows what weird means and has been called this before. He tells me from to time he is weird and I have worked hard trying to get this label out of his head.

Just so you know, we are all a little weird in our own ways. I don’t think there is one human on the planet that doesn’t have their own quirks or something that others think is different. I mean, God created each one of us as individuals and no two people are alike. We all have similarities and differences, that’s what makes us all unique; in my opinion. It’s a sad world when someone feels he or she needs to point this difference out in a child to make themselves feel better especially when this child has special needs!

I’m sure you said this because he makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to talk or relate to him. Try treating him with respect and he will open up to you! Please know that I do everything in my power to keep him calm and help him try to have conversations. Jake needs help talking to people, he is still learning social skills and needs someone who will respect his autism and to be patient.

Jake is autistic and if that makes him weird then I have some books I want to share with you or we can have a conversation or two; if that would help. Jake did not choose to be autistic nor did he ask to be called names by adults or anyone else. Jake is different. I love this about him! He is smart and is developing a sense of humor. It may not be what you might expect or understand but he is pretty funny. Jake is developmentally delayed which means he isn’t like other children you may know who are 7 years old. Jake’s autism is a processing disorder which means when you talk to him he may not fully understand and might need a minute or need you to repeat the question so he can process the information. It isn’t because he is weird; he is autistic!

Before you judge my child or any other child think about this; what entitles you to call anyone, especially a child, a name?

I also want you to stop and think about all the hard work and time that we have given Jake, as well as all the hard work Jake has completed to get where he is today. We have spent countless hours and not to mention thousands of dollars over the past 6 years to help him to be able to do what he does today. But I’m sure you don’t think about these things because you’re too annoyed that Jake doesn’t talk to you or seem interested in you. Jake is interested, and although you think he isn’t paying attention; he is! He watches every move you make and hears every word that comes out of your mouth. I will say this again, he just needs someone who will approach him, treat him with respect and to be patient!

Jake is awesome and yes, I’m his mom so I’m biased, but he works every minute of every day learning to accomplish new things. There are a lot of people who see the strides he’s made and see the possibilities that await him in the future. I’m just asking you to take a moment when you are with my son and give him a chance before the name calling begins. When given the opportunity he will change how you view autism and all kids with special needs.

Sincerely,

Jake’s Mom ~ the one person you don’t want to mess with when it comes to my son who is autistic!

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Jake doing what he loves best; iPad on his exercise ball 🙂

the first time…

The past few weeks we have seen a lot of growth in Jake. These weeks have been full of many “firsts”. These warm my heart and make those very long day’s worth ever second. For those with children on the spectrum, no matter where they fall, persistence pays off. The hours of tantrums, tears and emotional break downs, both the child and the parent, there is light. It might not be this huge TA-DA moment but they are there. Keep hoping and doing what you do. Even if your child is not on the spectrum but you find this parenting thing so hard; there is always that light and the hope for what will be in the future!

Here are a few things Jake has been up too lately:

  • Jake told me he loved me! I didn’t say it first. He called my name and said “I love you!” I honestly, had sort of given up expecting to ever hear him say these words to me without me saying them first.
  • Jake has been talking nonstop. Less than a year ago I wondered if we would ever have any type of real conversation. His conversational speech has improved just over the past couple of weeks. He is always telling me something he has read or seen or something he thinks is interesting. He wants to make sure I am listening and asks questions and we go back and forth. Ask him anything about Transformers and he will tell you! This is the majority of our conversations but hey, I’ll take it! I always wanted to know the history of Optimus Prime – ha!
  • Loud noises have always bothered my boy. He will cover his ears, fall to the floor, curl up in a ball and cry. Jake used to do this with all loud noises but lately if they are expected they don’t seem to bother him in the slightest. This past Friday we attended the school’s annual fundraising race. The music was really loud, the kids were even louder and Jake didn’t seem to mind how loud it was. I was watching him to see if he needed my help but he did not! He danced, cheered and shouted with his friends!
  • Jake ate a lollipop. He doesn’t eat and won’t try any type of candy. He had gotten one at school one day for being a good helper or something, got in the car opened it and started sucking on it! What?!?! He didn’t eat the whole thing but he tried something new!
  • Jake tried a popsicle. He hates cold things and has been offered popsicle’s many times but this past Friday he decided to try one. He might have licked it once but he held onto that thing like it was a prized possession!
  • Jake allowed his hand to be written on with a sharpie, something for school, and didn’t hate it.
  • Jake got a temporary tattoo at school. Now this one was a little harder for him, he really wanted it because it was part of the race day. After I put it on him he wanted it off. He hid his arm and wouldn’t let anyone see it. He picked at it, licked it and did everything he could to get it off. BUT he didn’t cry or freak out; huge moment here!
  • Jake will say hi and wave to people he knows and responds when someone says hi to him. This has been a long long work in progress and one of the biggest moments thus far in our journey. It is almost strange for me to hear a child say hi to Jake and he responds with hi. I really couldn’t believe it when this happened the other day! (Thanks Dr. Allison!!)

Jake wouldn’t be where he is without the many wonderful therapists (I’ll write more about them later) that have helped Jake. Right now he has this amazing teacher. She treats him with respect and pushes him just enough. Jake trusts her, he loves her, he respects her and because of this he feels secure to try many new things.  Jake had the best 1st grade teacher and I didn’t think he would be lucky enough to have another great teacher but we do; Jake is blessed!

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So you can see, anything is possible! Keep encouraging, offering and keep moving each day. You just never know when your child will do something that you didn’t think he would ever do! Jake may never get his hands super messy finger painting, he may never run through a sprinkler, write without a struggle or try unfamiliar foods. But just because he refuses something today doesn’t mean he will always refuse. There is this hope that I have and with that hope I am certain he will do many more things that today he doesn’t!

 

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iep and social interactions

Two weeks ago we had Jake’s annual IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting. It went well which is no big surprise. For those that aren’t familiar with IEP meetings, this is where we go over goals, review how the child is doing in school and look at what can be improved to make the child’s day at school more productive. Jake is doing really well, meeting his goals and overall being a good student. Since starting at this school the day after Jake turned 3 his IEP has shrunk in size. Jake’s binder was enormous with all of his goals, progress reports from different therapists and doctors etc. I don’t need to carry the binder anymore, which is a good thing!

One of the main things we discussed was whether he needed an aide. Prior to the meeting, Jake’s aide spent about 3 hours with him each day. Jake’s teacher felt that Jake didn’t need an aide except for about 15-30 minutes each day and this was for extra help during music and art and to take Jake to the sensory gym for a break each day. This made me incredibly proud, happy, scared….so many emotions; but Jake is ready. For the past two weeks Jake has done really well without his aide. We have also been going through the regular car line in the mornings versus the special needs car line. We started this the first day of school and Jake loves it. He still prefers to have someone walk with him inside the building but usually by the time he gets halfway down the hall he walks to class, with no help, like the rest of the kids. He said he felt like a big kid! Makes this momma’s heart happy happy!

Jake is continuing to attend the weekly social skills playgroup which he loves. This is one of the most challenging areas for Jake. Like many kids on the spectrum he doesn’t know how to interact and honestly doesn’t want too. He is happiest playing or being by himself. But I feel it is important for Jake to learn how to interact with others as well as how to have friends. This is a hard concept for Jake. In today’s society we have interactions with people each and every day. We may smile at someone and they might look away, grumpy. I myself might think, ‘wow, they have an attitude’ but maybe they don’t know what to do when someone smiles at them. Jake doesn’t a lot of the time. You might smile at him and he might just stare back at you or look away. He isn’t being rude he is still learning how to read expressions when there are no words spoken. This is the sort of stuff I want Jake to learn. The last thing I want is for someone to walk away from him thinking he is a rude kid.

The other day while I was at school having lunch with Jake one of his classmates asked me why Jake named him as his sidekick. I said “I think Jake likes you and thinks you’re his friend” and the child responded by saying “I don’t even know him; I don’t know his last name. When anyone calls him by his name I think, who are they talking about?” So, I’ve obsessed about this a little; okay a lot. Is this how the kids think of Jake, as some boy in their class that they don’t know or don’t care to know? Is he just another body in the class that no one pays much attention too? I’ve been told this isn’t true, there are some kids in Jake’s class that play with him and help him out along the way. But this very short conversation is sticking with me. I had thought I might not continue the social group, mainly because it is extremely expensive, but after praying about it I knew Jake needed it and was glad I re-enrolled him especially after what his classmate said to me.

Jake appears to be oblivious to others around him and what they are saying to him or about him. I use the word appears because he doesn’t seem to take notice and goes on being this happy smiling kid. But I wonder if he knows he is different, does he hear or see what the kids are saying and doing around him? I’ve tried talking to him about his autism and what it all means but he doesn’t appear to grasp it but that doesn’t mean anything. Jake hears and sees all but I’m not sure he knows how to process it all. Anyway, this is a work in progress and one day he will be able to verbalize to me all of this information he is storing up in his beautiful brain!

Overall, Jake is making a lot of progress! I couldn’t be happier. So for today, we will celebrate those progressions and keep working on social stuff in hope that one day it all clicks and we have another box to check, complete 🙂

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off to a great start

Here we are nearly a month into the second grade and Jake has had a fabulous start! I almost don’t want to write that so I don’t jinx anything but honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more! Jake is doing extremely well and has adjusted, mostly, to his new aides and loves his teacher! Jake had the best first grade teacher and in all honesty I didn’t think his second grade teacher would measure up. Thankfully I was wrong! Mrs. H. is the perfect fit for Jake. I shouldn’t ever worry because the staff at Jake’s school takes extreme care in placing those with special needs, all kids really, with a teacher that they will have a connection with. As in the past, Jake is excited about school and seems to have a sweet bunch of friends. I almost don’t want to breath or say anymore…it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. But all of that to say, I am beyond thrilled.

Jake has also been attending a social skills playgroup each week. The first couple of sessions were hard, although he was with kids he knew it was loud and he was having a hard time responding and connecting with the group. Fortunately, his therapist has another group so we tried that one and even though Jake doesn’t know anyone he is responding so much better! We are seeing his lessons carried over into the home and at school.

One-day last week Jake’s school had a lock-down drill. Although Jake was warned what was going to happen he was still nervous and was having a difficult time. One of Jake’s classmates, a boy from his 1st grade class, went to the teacher and said “Jake is really worried, I am going to help him”. Jake accepted his help and seemed to calm down! First, the mother of this little boy needs a pat on the back for raising a child that has such compassion! And second, Jake accepted his help. There have been times when he doesn’t want anyone near him and gets frustrated when he is in a situation like this. The next day the class was instructed to put their things away and as Jake walked by the little boy’s desk that helped him he took his things. Mrs. H. asked him if he was being silly or being nice and Jake looked at her and said, get ready because this is a big deal, “He helped me yesterday and I wanted to help him today”. Later that night, as I was tucking Jake into bed, I asked him about what he did and why he wanted to help his friend. Jake pauses and I repeat my questions and he looks at me and said “It is nice to help your friend’s and I am proud I thought of my friends feelings”.

Therapy is very expensive and many are not covered by insurance. I struggle every session, thinking that maybe we could skip one and it will be okay. But after seeing the breakthroughs and all that it does to help my boy, it is worth every penny! Like most parents in my situation we have to pick and choose therapies and we hope we pick the right one to help our kids. But I look at the big picture and think of how I want to see my boy in 5 years, 10 years and so on and that makes it a little easier to make these tough decisions.

I couldn’t be more proud of my boy and the fact that he is proud of himself is just the icing on the cake!

 

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IMG_9531 Artwork he completed on his own 🙂
Jake will play anywhere 🙂

 

 

P.S. Allie has completed her 2nd week at college. She is doing well, it is hard for her but I’m proud of her for living in the dorm, getting to class and her job on time. Rush starts this week and am praying she is surround by sweet friends and that she is protected from the people that will try to persuade her to go against what is right.