school and what it means for the autistic child

school and what it means for the autistic child
For many of you school has started, and I really hope your child is having a great year. It’s scary sending your child off to a new year, especially if they’re going to a new school, a new class, or have a new teacher or aid.

So many factors play into our children’s lives. Think of all the changes a new school year brings for the autistic child. Oh my, it makes me cringe, literally. Like I wanted to keep Jeremiah at home all day every day, no school, just stay at home and BE. That was my promise if the school year didn’t start off well, I’d give it a week or so and then I’d fire my jet-packs and be outta there! If the new Special Ed teacher wasn’t kind, the doors would swing shut behind us. If he couldn’t handle how much they have to sit and do book-work in Kindergarten we’d say sayonara, and wave the white flag. So many factors. Ugh.

Some parents of autistic children don’t quite understand what their child feels or how their child perceives their space. It’s common because not many autistic adults have their voice broadcast over the airwaves telling us about themselves. This is largely in part because we mostly hear the professionals voices sharing what they think they know about the autistic person. But who better to tell us what our child experiences than those who’ve been there and seen and felt it all?

That’s why I wanted to share this awesome post I came across on Facebook. M. Kelter is the moderator for the Invisible Strings Facebook page. Kelter wrote about her experience in school, and it hit me in the face. This is everyday, every moment, reality for our children:

While going back to school can include some positives for kids on the spectrum, I went into every new year with an overwhelming amount of anxiety. Most of that stress was due to social fears, but there was another factor that was just as problematic and that I didn’t understand until many years later. That is: the sensory onslaught that a new school year represents.

Today, I understand: being at home meant being somewhere so familiar that I had long since acclimated to its sensory peculiarities. The lighting, sounds, tactile variations…my mind was used to it all, and therefore didn’t have to work as hard to process the never-ending stream of incoming data.

Familiar = peaceful. Unfamiliar = the polar opposite; it is mental chaos.
autism - unfamiliar causing mental chaosAnd after spending a summer immersed in the peaceful sensory familiarity of home, school became that polar opposite.

A new school year would mean…not just a different setting, but one that included a huge number of different rooms and activities. The classroom had one set of sensory experiences (sounds from pencil sharpeners, different voices, chair legs scraping floors, etc.)…the hallway had another set…the playground had its own range of sensory experiences, as did the lunchroom, the bathrooms and so on.

It takes my mind quite awhile to acclimate to any new environment. And school was a dozen new environments, all rolled into one.

At the time, I didn’t understand why I found simply being at school to be so overwhelming. Today when I go places, I immediately feel run down and I understand: my mind is just having to sort through a huge number of unfamiliar data points. The lights are different and this can be painful until I acclimate (which can take many months). The sounds are different, which can feel strange, disorienting…again, I need time to get used to that.

If it’s unfamiliar and it filters through one of the five senses, it can take quite a bit of time to acclimate to that newness.

For me, school was just layers and layers of confusing input that shifted throughout the day and intensified as we were shuttled from activity or room to another. It felt like being inside of a giant sensory kaleidoscope that spun too fast…that I had no control over…that never stopped turning.

I mention it now, because at the time, I never had words for any of this. I just stressed and felt overloaded and I couldn’t understand what was happening.

***

I’ve read a lot about autism, I’ve read and listened to autistic adult’s perspectives on autism, I’ve lived with autism, and I’ve written about autism, but there is still so much I’m learning. This is what our kids face, this is why there are meltdowns, chewing on their shirts or anything their teeth can reach, stimming, head banging, grinding of teeth. Oh, noise bothers me, lighting can irritate me, new environments stress me out, but this, this magnitude, I don’t know what I’d do.

I hope this helps you understand and empathize with your child. I hope it encourages you to work with your teachers, special educators, principles, and aids to guide your child through this sensory onslaught.

I am a supporter of inclusive environments for children with special needs, meaning they are part of the general classroom as much as possible. However, we need to be sensitive to their psyche, supporting them and offering alternatives when necessary.

Additional posts that may be helpful in understanding sensory issues and help your child in school:

Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (What it Is)
Sensory Processing Disorder #2 (Does Your Child Have Sensory Issues?)
Sensory Processing Disorder and the Classroom
Transitioning the Special Needs Student to Another Class or School
What to Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher: Autism in the Classroom
Inclusion Vs. Exclusion: Special Needs in the Classroom

 

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what to communicate with your child’s teacher: Autism in the classroom

Tracy Dee Whitt:

I thought the recap below would be beneficial, and for many this is new. I hope you find this helpful. You can also check out Rainbow Kids for my article on Transitioning the Special Needs Student to Another Class or School. Even if you’ve already begun a new school year, there’s some information within the article which will still be advantageous. Have a GREAT school year!

Originally posted on lovin' adoptin':

communicate with your childs teacher
School is starting soon. I think I just heard YIPEEES!!! from several of you. :) Autism parents might be a tad more excited than the average parent for their child to go back to school after summer break, as that routine and consistency can make a night and day difference for our children.

I don’t know about your child, but most children with Autism are constantly changing. Our son, Jeremiah, gains skills, loses skills, says a word and then we’ll never hear it again, he’s regularly in flux. It’s hard enough to keep up with him at home, but then add school, progress, and regressions and

it can resemble one big spider web.

There’s a solution that greatly helps us traverse that spider web with agility, and helps everyone dive into a new school year with an exceptional start. What can you do to keep positive momentum going at school?

View original 672 more words

the many benefits of swimming for autistic children

the many benefits of swimming for autistic children
Teaching autistic children to swim has numerous benefits, first being that drowning in the NUMBER ONE KILLER of kids who have autism. I’ve written these two posts on swimming and the autistic child:

The first I highly recommend reading, 4 Reasons Why You Should Teach Your Autistic Child to Swim.

Also check out, How to Teach Autistic Children to Swim

I recently came across an excellent article by Vee Cecil on Sacramento Autism Spectrum and Special Needs Alliance’s website listing additional benefits of swimming for children on the autism spectrum. I like Vee’s points because they go beyond safety reasons, and reach into the real heart of the matter, the person, what the autistic person wants and desires, how to meet them where they are.

I can attest to the benefits Vee’s lists because I consistently witness how much Jeremiah loves swimming. During our most recent swimming adventure, he splashed around in water up to his neck.

For him it was freedom, exhilaration, and a sensory-filled universe.

The more Jeremiah learns what his parameters are in the water, the more he’ll realize what is safe and what isn’t (with complete adult supervision, meaning someone VERY close by). We will continue to work on those swimming skills I mentioned in the post listed above. He’s gaining skills, maybe not as quickly as we’d like, but we’re moving forward, and progress with any autistic child is it’s own unique adventure.

Does your child love to swim? Share your experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

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4 tips on finding the right adoption & foster care support group for you

4 tips on finding the right adoption or foster care support group
Adopting and doing foster care can be lonely in the world-at-large. Very few people know what it’s like to adopt, they don’t know about bonding or attachment issues, they don’t know about specific behaviors adopted children can have and why, they don’t understand your concerns as an adoptive parent.

Even fewer people know what it’s like to do foster care, take children to their biological parents, the fear when you want to adopt the child in your care, but you don’t know if they’ll be reunited with their bio family. They don’t understand the pain you see “your” children go through when you take them to their visits, what it’s like when they come back from those visits, suspended between two worlds.

It’s nice to have someone who will listen to what you’re going through, understand how your child feels. Camaraderie, a place to vent, a place to share the wonderful, positive steps everyone around you takes for granted.

A great place to receive this support is an adoption or foster care support group.

My husband and I helped start a foster/adoption support group while we were in the middle of the adoption process. The group began as a very supportive, encouraging place. We felt the support group was a safe place to share what joys families were experiencing, what struggles they were facing, it included everyone, from those interested in adoption and foster care to those who adopted internationally, domestically, and through foster care or were currently fostering.

During the course of the groups development, things changed. One of the core leaders was experiencing issues with her adopted daughter from a third-world country. This was their second international adoption, and in an effort to ignore the issues their first daughter had, which stemmed from the neglect she experienced, they always remained very positive, with an unrealistic view of adoption and the related experiences.

Their second adoption was affecting their life in ways they were unwilling to accept, so they reached out to a therapist that I held in high esteem. However, the therapist had far more “therapy” in her pocket than I was (or am) comfortable with. This therapist blamed the child (in all of her programs I’d watched and listened to, this never came across), instead of understanding what the girl had been through, and essentially coddled the parents, who didn’t want to do the work and necessary life changes needed to care for a hurting child.

Because they were the leaders of the group, the dynamic drastically changed, and was now overburdened with negativity, blame on the children, and a focus on parents, not on the children we had invited into our lives.
benefits of adoption & foster care support groupsBecause of this experience and others asking me about adoption/foster care support groups, I thought I’d give some tips on what to look for in a support group, because the wrong support group can lead us down a path of negativity, not a path of healing for our children.

  1. How do I find a support group?
    Check online. Type in your city and “adoption/foster care support group” or “adoption/foster care small group”.
    Call local churches and ask if they have anything available for foster or adoptive parents or if they know of a church nearby that does. If a church does have a support group or small group for adoptive families and you don’t attend that church, ask if you may still attend the group. Most churches will welcome you with open arms, but sadly, some will not.
    Check your local Department of Human Services or Child Protective Services, they may have a list of local support groups. Do a search on Facebook for adoption support groups.
    Call and ask your local community center.
  2. What type of support group is it?
    Meaning, do they focus on foster care parents, parents who adopt domestically or internationally, or is everyone accepted? Some groups will have a specific group they are catering to, not necessarily a bad thing, but you may find it beneficial to have people around you who are adopting through the same avenue.
  3. What is the focus of the group?
    This is something you can only know by either talking to others who attend, or trying it out yourself. Does the group allow people to share the tough stuff, or is it all rosy, rainbow-filled feelings? Is any positivity shared, or is it all doom and gloom? Some people will want mostly rosy rainbows, but I prefer a balance. When adoptive families begin focusing on the darkest hours of the days, that negativity goes spinning out of control and doesn’t help anyone in the family, and most importantly won’t help your child heal.
  4. What therapy is being shared?
    If the group leaders have a favorite therapist, there’s a good chance those techniques will be discussed. However, be very aware of what you do with your child, what ideas you implement into your family. Be extremely thoughtful about what you let into your mind and weigh everything heavily through your intuition. I would encourage families to never attend a group that blames children for what they’ve been through.

Do you already attend an adoption or foster care support group? How did you find one and how did you know it was a good fit?

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which foster/adoption agency should you use?

which foster:adoption agency should you use
One of the first questions foster and adoptive parents have is: Which agency do I use? (If you are interested in a child who is available for adoption through the foster system, please don’t miss the end of this post.)

When doing foster care or adopting from foster care, you can use your local DHS (Department of Human Services) or a contracted agency. I strongly urge families to use DHS or CPS (Child Protective Services). The name can vary in each county or state, so for this article, I will exclusively use the term DHS.

Why use the DHS rather than a contracted agency?

I’ve seen so many people use contracted agencies and feel like they’re jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Depending on the contracted agency, they can be excellent for supervising visits with the biological family, but as the main agency, I’ve seen it fail far too often.

When you’re doing foster care, you have what’s called a case manager (the child’s case manager) and you have what some counties call a PRM (Personal Resource Manager). The PRM is the parents go-to person, and the one who makes sure you’re following state guidelines and taking care of the child. Both will be able to find out information for you regarding the biological family, what’s happening in court, and with the case.

When you use an outside agency, communication gets lost, like a sports announcer who can’t see the game through a blizzard. They can’t see anything to relay how the game is going. The “sports announcer” or case manager and PRM need to have first-hand information about the child, the case, and the child’s bio family. With so many contracted agencies I’ve seen, this isn’t the case. There’s a case manager who needs to refer to another case manager, and everything gets muddled.

Not knowing the ins and outs of the case can be detrimental to the kids in your care. You want to know what’s going on. You want a play-by-play, but they don’t have it. You don’t know when visits are canceled, you show up and no one’s there, you don’t know if the children will be reunited until the last minute, giving you no time to prepare the kids, or yourself.

You want case managers who are in court, you want all the information you can get.

When you have direct contact with those who will be speaking on your child’s behalf in court, you become the child’s advocate. This is exactly what the child in your care will need. They don’t have a voice, yours is the only one they have. Speak for your foster child, make known your concerns. Tell them how the child is doing, both while in your home, and before, during, and after visits with their bio family.

If you aren’t connected to those who will represent the child in court or speak on their behalf, communication lines will get crossed and severed.
reasons to use DHS when doing foster care

The training is often superior when you go through DHS. It usually takes longer, but being able to soak in information and grasp what is being taught is essential to the long term care of your foster child. When you pound out training in one or two weekends, important aspects get lost in the rush. This isn’t an adventure to take lightly, you need to know what you’re doing, and training is the first step. Although many will tell you that the training didn’t happen until the child was in their home, the knowledge you gain from case workers and those who’ve been there is still crucial.

With all this talk about court and knowing what’s going on, I suggest foster parents try to make it to as many court hearings as you can. It was invaluable to hear everything the lawyers, bios, social workers, CASA, and the guardian ad litem said.

Because we were at every hearing, we knew exactly what was going on as it happened. If the bio mom was asking to have a visit with her daughter on Mother’s Day, we knew immediately. We could hear bio parents talking to lawyers in the gallery before the hearing. We knew what those called to testify were saying about our family and how the child was connecting with us. If someone was wrong, we could contact them afterwards or apprise our case worker.

I know it’s hard to be there, but if you’re a two-parent household, try to split the hearings between the two of you. If you can’t be there, communicate with your case workers and let them know you are interested in what happened in court.

*****

Many people are unaware there are children in foster care who are available for adoption. If you call DHS and state your intentions to adopt a child from foster care, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you they’re not an adoption agency.

Be sure to make it clear exactly what you are looking for, “a child who is available for adoption,” or “a child who needs a forever family.”

DHS’ response, “We are not an adoption agency,” becomes their mantra because so many people want to start fostering with the intent to adopt, and the departments goal is to reunite children with their biological families, so they need to make this clear. They can’t have people sign up as foster parents who only want to adopt because there’s no guarantee a foster child will become available for adoption.

I’m sure there are good contract agencies out there, I just encourage families to go with the main agencies that will handle the majority of the work first-hand. I’ve seen this work best for foster and adoptive families, and especially for the children.

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this IS what I signed up for (autism, adoption, and all of the above)

this IS what I signed up forLast week I shared what fun has been going on here. After sharing this with a friend, she said, “It’s not what you signed up for is it?” (A little background if you haven’t been around for long: Justin and I adopted two children from foster care, Payton is seven, and Jeremiah has non-verbal autism and is five. You can read more about Our Story.)

My friends words broke my heart, and shocked me. The strange thing is I share both the positive and negative with her, and before the last few weeks, Jeremiah and Payton had been doing really well, and most of my complaints center around how much pain I’m in, or how our family isn’t getting support.

What she said was also a reflection of how she feels about her life. Life has disappointed her, and she feels it’s not what she signed up for, but it’s not how I feel. I think she feels that if she isn’t happy with her life, which doesn’t have near the complications mine does (and that’s okay), I couldn’t possibly be happy or satisfied with mine.

However, I do love my life. Yeah there are hard times, but that’s a given with what our family is made of.

So, this IS what I signed up for. I signed up to be a parent. 

I didn’t sign up for the expected, I signed up for the unexpected. Especially when I adopted two children from foster care. But frankly, most of the time life doesn’t go exactly as expected, and if it does, it’s probably fairly boring. Ha, when I hear people complain that their life is boring, I want to yell, “Come visit me! I’ll help you out with your boredom!”
No, not every day is sunshine and snowflakes
I signed up for love, and I got it a million-fold.
Jeremiah was crying last night when Justin put him to bed. He would cry a little and stop, cry a little more. This is odd, he usually stays in his room and plays until he falls asleep, so Justin offered him some crackers and water (that’s normally the only reason Jeremiah cries at bedtime – he needs something else), but he wanted neither. He wanted to watch a movie. Odd.

I asked Jeremiah what he wanted, he went to the movie again and picked it up, I sat it down and told him, “No movie, it’s bedtime.” He cried again. I laid down with him on his bed and held him, but he kept circling in and out of crying. I asked, “Did you have a bad dream last night?” It was the only reason I could think of for him to not want to go to bed. He stopped crying and looked me in the eyes. This is sometimes his way of saying, “Yes.” I responded, “I’m so sorry you had a bad dream or nightmare. I’m here and Daddy’s here, you’re safe.” He wiped his darling eyes and began to drift off into sleep.

I’m so glad I was there for him, even though it might not be what I planned on doing for those twenty-five minutes (I had laundry, and watering to do). Love, I do it because of love, and I loved those moments we had together, when he knew I would keep him safe, I would push away those horrible, scary feelings, the connection when I understood what could not be spoken. 

I signed up for a child who could have a mega-ton more problems than he does. Frankly, we’re lucky he only has autism, it’s nothing compared to what it could’ve been.

I signed up for learning a whole new rulebook on life. 

I signed up for the unexpected challenges that have changed me forever, and hopefully have made me a better person. 

I signed up for really seeing humanity, viewing those people who are different in a whole new way.

So, yeah this IS what I signed up for.

No, not every day is full of sunshine and snowflakes, but without bad days, we wouldn’t appreciate the good. Without hard ones, we wouldn’t appreciate the easy ones (or the laughs). Without struggle, we wouldn’t know the gift of love when it arrives. I wouldn’t know what I do about humanity if it weren’t for what I chose. I chose two kids, I chose what I couldn’t see, but now my eyes have been opened. I choose autism.

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orphanages in America & 5 things you can do to help

orphanages in AmericaAmerican’s don’t think orphanages exist in the USA, I mean in 2015 how could they? Sadly there are orphanages in America, they’re simply called “group homes.”

Children in Arizona are being placed in group homes because there aren’t enough foster homes or kinship placement options. Maricopa County is only one county in the U.S. that’s seeing a tremendous influx of children entering foster care. Mary Jo Pitzl of The Arizona Republic says, “More than one out of every five children removed from their family home because of abuse or neglect is sent to a group home.”

In Arizona, specifically Maricopa County, 17,000 kids in foster care are in need of a home, many of that number are available for adoption. “The numbers show a steady increase in the number of children in out-of-home care — 71 percent higher than five years ago,” says Pitzl. With these numbers I can imagine the group homes are far surpassing their allotted number of ten children per home.

Here we are in the twenty-first century with orphanages in the United States.

Usually group homes are considered the alternative for children who have issues stemming from their neglect and abuse (a foster home cannot or will not care for them), or for people who are disabled or elderly. Neither is the case for group homes that are rising up around the U.S. amid the recent influx of foster children.

Children who can, and should be, given the chance to thrive in a foster home don’t have that opportunity. The inability to provide a loving and caring home to these children after they are removed from abusive and neglectful situations is exacerbating the likelihood that they will have even greater attachment and trauma based issues. It is proven that traumatized children need a family environment to heal.

It’s not helpful to only state the problem, so here are some ways to help:

  1. Share this article. The more awareness, the better. The more good foster homes, the better. Maybe some of those 17,000 children in Maricopa County can find a family who will care for them, maybe a child in another state will find a forever-family because this article was read by someone, somewhere.
  2. Foster. You read the statistic above. 17,000 children in need of a foster home in Maricopa County, Arizona alone. People are scared of fostering because they’ll get too close, and that child may be reunited with their biological parents. This deserves a much longer post that I haven’t written yet, but here’s the truth, this child has one chance at love, to know what a family is supposed to be, and you might be that one person to give it to them.
    Here are some articles and books about foster care:
    Tips on Bonding with an Adopted or Foster Child (Lovin’ Adoptin’)
    The Beauty and Brokenness of Foster Care
    Ready or Not by Pam Parish is an essential read for any prospective foster or adoptive parent.
  3. Adopt. Many Americans don’t realize there are children waiting for forever-families in the U.S. Children right now, in foster homes, waiting. Children who are two-years-old and kids who are eighteen are available for adoption. Infants are even in need of forever homes, and often have an older sibling who needs adopted along with them.
  4. Support foster parents. If we had received adequate support when our youngest son came to us (came to us through foster care), I believe we would have strongly considered adding a third child to our family. Support is needed. One family showed up with items we needed when our son came to us. One family. We had many friends, and family lives near us, but only one family gave us physical support. No one offered to clean the house, make meals, date nights when we needed it, or run to the store when either of our children arrived. Yet, this is done for many families who birth children. I don’t quite get it. Show support for foster families by offering to do these things. Give specifics, say, “Can I mow your grass, when would you like me to come over?” instead of asking, “Do you need anything?” When you ask this, the foster parents feels guilty for saying yes and dumping something on you.
  5. Support families who are struggling so their children aren’t removed. Support young parents by volunteering as a mentor. Help educate parents on how to care for infants and children. Help counsel parents, sometimes they need a little guidance in the right direction. Give them financial assistance, food assistance, and offer transportation.

children available for adoption in the USIf you do consider adoption or foster care, be patient, as the news recently released this information and CPS/DHS may be flooded with people who are exploring the option of becoming foster parents or forever-families to these children. Also, remember that just because families are inquiring about children does not mean they will follow through, or they will be approved as foster or adoptive homes.

Children are being failed all over the U.S. (and world) every day. According to the latest report from the North American Counsel on Adoptable Children, in 2012, 23,395 youth aged out of the foster care system. These teens were forced out of foster care without a family to call their own. No forever-family to return to on their birthday, Christmas, or Thanksgiving.

If you would like to do something to help foster children in Arizona, please visit AASK, this section of the website features children who are available for adoption. You can also financially support organizations if you are unable to foster or adopt.

“Celebrate the opportunity to open your homes to kids in need, knowing that if it be for just a few days or an entire lifetime, you’ve been given the unique opportunity to offer them something special – love.” Jason Johnson

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you are on a mobile device, this may need to be done on the web version. You can “like” my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.