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Sunday, December 15, 2013

...taking a break from writing...

I have reached a point in my story that is delicate and difficult to write about so I have am taking a very long break.

All is going well otherwise! Sean is now 23 (edited in 2018) and is in a residential program with The Arc of Jefferson. I still have a lot to write about especially the puberty years. Much has happened between 2nd grade till now, but it takes time to gather my memories and thoughts and write about them with an understanding, forgiving, and caring spirit. Thanks for reading. See ya soon.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

94. The First of Many

At the close of his first grade school year, Sean was still on the attention seeking tantrum track. Day after day the journal entries between Ms. Wright and I were all about time-outs, grunting and his lack of compliance. Early on I was hopeful - looking for answers, making suggestions, trying to find the answer hidden between each behavior. In my later entries, I often wrote, "I don't know what to do anymore. I'm all out of answers!" As if I really had any to begin with. Honestly, I was just going through the motions to keep my head above water. I felt discouraged.

It was suggested by the school that Glenwood, an autism behavior health center in Birmingham, be contacted and that is what I did. Glenwood came to my apartment for an intake on May 8, 2002 to discuss their First Program which was designed to give the family in-home support and provide services such as respite and classes to help with the management of autism and I suppose life in general - basic coping skills.

Journal entries:
May, 9, 2002

Glenwood and the FIRST Program are just what we need! We've been assigned a case worker and she can begin as soon as I can get some classes in. They will help w/psychotherapy, behavior, stress & anger management - Anna (case worker) will assist at school then transition him to home if we want her to. She will sort of be the "glue" b/tween school & home. The person to help us stay (or get) on the same page. She will come to his IEP and discuss where she can fill in. I think this is the answer to many problems. Sean will be far more independent. The in-home visits are 6 hrs/wk for 4 mos. Then, the follow-up lasts one year. Awesome! Anna is (seems) right for Sean! They were here two hours doing intake. Anna and Cindy...

May 17, 2002

... I had an interesting anger management meeting and discovered some of my own attention-seeking behaviors - mirrior mirrior! I'll explain more later. This program should help us ALL maybe focusing on me initially...

I was super psyched that we had some outside support and that it focused on the family as a whole. I didn't expect that but was open to anything. I felt encouraged again.

"Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up, if only you try!" ~Dr. Seuss

Sunday, July 14, 2013

93. Big as Life

Sean's Life Size Human Body
2nd grade

92. A Peek Inside

Sean's love for visual dictionaries continued to grow. When it came to books, he was strictly into non-fiction. When he got the "Scholastic Visual Dictionary" in second grade, his focus shifted from animals to exotic fruits and vegetables, orchestral placement - this is when he began to compare big and little. He was into drum sets (high hat symbol) and the human body.

I was thrilled to have "conversations" with him about all of these things.

The pages with the produce had cross sectioned fruits and vegetables. With whatever veggies and fruits I had, I'd cut them in half and he would lay one side face down and the other face up. He learned about cherimoya and lychee, all of the squashes and melons. He didn't want to eat them, he just wanted to look at them.

If Sean acted up in Walmart I'd day, "If you want to see the produce, you'd better straighten up right now!" Produce as collateral, who knew?!

His fascination with fruits and veggies quickly changed to the human body. Before long he was drawing organs, meissner's corpuscle and the brain. With each obsession, I was getting more of a glimpse of how his worked.

Friday, July 12, 2013

91. Can or Can't?

The IEP meeting for Sean moving into Ms. Tuck's second grade class was held on May 14, 2002  before school dismissed for the summer. The most obvious task was to get Sean to express his needs and desires through language or other civil means. His fits were a huge problem.

   "Sean is a six year old student in Sandra Lee's first grade class. Sean and his family moved to Mountain Brook in April 2001. While in school in Texas, Sean was diagnosed with autism.

    Sean had great difficulty making the transition to Mountain Brook Elementary School last year. His inability to communicate his needs and desires led to frequent tantrums. His behavior had improved greatly this year until December. He had many school days that were filled with frustration until just recently. A couple of weeks ago, around the end of April, 2002, Sean has seemed much happier and more compliant.

    The characteristics of Sean's autism cause many problems in he school environment. His language skills are severely impaired. Sean's vocabulary is developing, and he is learning to use many words appropriately. He combines words, gestures, and pointing to convey meaning. Most of his communication is requesting, commenting, and rote greetings. His imitative skills are good which aid his development of vocabulary. His behavior problems seem to be due to his lack of language skills and from his need for attention.

      Sean has shown the greatest improvement in the area of language development. At times he is able to communicate his needs quite effectively. However, at other times, this continues to be a major cause of frustration. He is using "yes" and "no" fairly consistently. This helps the teachers question him until they can determine what he is trying to say. Also, he is putting together 2 and 3 words. His vocabulary has increased greatly with the addition of body parts to his vast knowledge of animals! His use of opposites, prepositions and adjectives has contributed to his ability to string words together.

     Sean has a difficult time staying on task until it is completed. He is easily distracted, and often abandons the required activity in order to do something else. It is sometimes hard to tell if Sean is unable, or unwilling, to do an activity.

     Sean was able to spend most of the day in the class during the fall. However, as his behavior became more unmanageable and disruptive to the class, he began spending more time in the resource room. He seeks the teacher's undivided attention, and the requirements of the classroom may have been too much for him at that time.

     Sean is a precious child! He has a wonderful smile, and he is very loving. He enjoys laughing and playing games. His motor skills are excellent and he loves to play outside on the playground."

I was really glad that Sean's teachers agreed that it was hard to tell if Sean was unable or unwilling at times. Not knowing which, it was hard for me to parent him appropriately. -inmyopinion- I had to guess at which one it was and oftentimes, something would later indicate that I was wrong.

When I read about him putting 2 and 3 words together I remembered that he had already learned to do that when he was a little bitty guy. He would say, "want juice" or "watch Pooh" and then the thief in the night came and took his speech away and replaced it with nothing but a blank stare. It wasn't so abrupt as that, but it may as well have been. It would have been easier to see when it all began. I still want to know. When your child reaches a milestone you don't expect it to be taken away from him. Aside from all that, I was grateful for the dedicated teachers who were determined to teach him how to speak again - to calm down enough and use his words to get what he wanted and needed. Luckily Sean's smile had to ability to erase the memory of the severity his meltdowns.

90. The Shortest Distance

I was so burnt out on test results - graphs and number charts - that I began to look at them as if they were just another piece of junk mail. Between Savannah and Sean's documents, my files were getting thicker by the week. I took the results as seriously as I knew how,  but every time I was forced to read and sign them, I felt defeated. Thankfully they didn't report life vs. death in the physical sense. Upon reading them they sure reminded me that I was emotionally vulnerable. I could blaze through the meetings and talk about the goals and proactive measures to close the gap between typical and atypical behavior, but at the end of the day I felt so small and inadequate. It hurt a lot to feel small. In spite of this hurt, I had to push through it. There was no way around it. My work was the most important of all. My heart had to get over it.

 "The best way out is always through." ~ Robert Frost

Sunday, January 20, 2013

89. A Tall Tale

It was clearly noted in the testing that Savannah was creative. The creative part of her brain was her safe place. She enjoyed every chance she could get to show her creativity, so when Mrs. Dyess assigned a reading project, Savannah was all over it. I had a way of nosing in on projects because I just wanted her to get them done in a timely manner but with this one, she was assertive and polite and all but said, "Back off, Mom!" She did me proud. Meet Princess Culacina!

by Savannah Lee Owen
Third Grade - age 8

88. Confessions from a Third Grader

Conditions of Testing and Behavioral Observations:
"Savannah seemed to easily adjust to the one-to-one testing session. She was able to direct her attention well to testing tasks, and results appear to be valid.

In talking informally with Savannah about coming to Mountain Brook Elementary, Savannah explained, "We got divorced. My daddy lives in Oklahoma and my grandmother in Montgomery." When asked who she lived with, Savannah said her mommy, and her brother, Sean. She then asked, "Have you heard about Sean? He's autistic. He sometimes screams. He loves to watch 'Eyewitness' movies on rocks, minerals, and animals." 

When asked about her interests, she said her favorite sport was swimming which she did in Texas when it was warm. When asked about other interests, she said that she also likes to watch 'Eyewitness' for nature and science. She then volunteered that her favorite drink is water because it is healthier than milk because most of your body is water.

When asked about school, Savannah said that her least favorite subject was math, commenting, "I really hate it, but I'm good at it." 

Savannah said that she likes art and music. When asked about reading she said, "The least favorite part is writing definitions. I don't like to write, but I love to draw. We have to do DOL (Daily Oral Language) in cursive. It gets boring writing in cursive. Writing is the same as math. I don't like it, but I'm good at it."

Savannah felt that she had several friends in class. She said she likes snack time and recess. She doesn't like P.E. because of running laps, commenting, "I walk laps. I don't like to run laps." 

When asked about listening, Savannah said, "Sometimes I have a hard time staying focused. Sometimes I forget some of my homework. I think I got all my worries off. I get afraid and I tell mom to let it all out."


It must have been this time in Savannah's life when she went through her "confession" phase. She began telling me e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g she had locked away in her guilt-ridden conscious. She would call me to her side and agonize over whether to tell me something. I had to pull it out of her all the while thinking the worst. What on earth had she done?

After l-o-n-g hesitations and me reassuring her, "it's okay, Honey, you can do it" she would confess her "crimes" which were no worse than this: 
"I was in P.E. once back in first grade and I told the coach that I couldn't walk or run because my foot hurt. And it didn't. I lied."

I wanted to strangle the poor child. I thought, "That's it? For real?" I expected a shoplifting tale, or a story about how she took a girl's Fritos at snack time on the playground and ate them in front of her - no wait, that was me - or that she busted a window with a ball! 

With each confession I reassured Savannah that she had been forgiven for all of those things. I reminded her that she was a good girl and more importantly, my girl and that I was super blessed to have her. Lying to her teacher or to anyone was very wrong and I was glad she thought so too. 

Besides Savannah needing to clear her conscious, I look at her confession phase as a way of quietly demanding my attention. It did take me awhile to pull them out of her. I was glad I was patient. I was happy that I didn't blow it.

Footnote: I was reading this entry to Savannah last night - July 13, 2013. Her version goes like this:

"I waited to do yet another project at the very last minute and we were scrambling to get it done. I had lied to you about having to get it done and you said, with a ruler in your hand, 'If you lie to me ever again, I will spank you with this ruler!'" So, she apparently decided to come clean about everything to cover her bases! Hahaha!

My response was this: "At least you learned your lesson and I didn't have to use it! Too, several years earlier it could've been mean ol Mister Spoon in my hand!" I like my version better!