Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Uninvited Guest

That pesky little stomach flu bug.

I just got rid of him.

Usually I like guests, I really do. But this one was not only uninvited, but overstayed it's non-welcome...almost a week! He had been going around from what I hear, from uninvited place to uninvited place, but my understanding is that he only stayed a day or two...Needless to say, last week, while visiting my little friend Caleb, who is three, he (Caleb) plopped himself right down on my lap to snuggle with me as I met with his family and team of therapists. I was touched. It was sweet. Caleb and I had a strong bond I walways felt, happened. Caleb, threw up everywhere. Including on me (hair and all). I work with children, so this sort of thing has happened to me before. I survived, or so I thought, until the next day when I realized that Caleb had oh-so-generously shared his little visiting flu bug with me and I too was unable to keep anything down (I apologize for sharing) for almost an entire week. This is a long time, or so people kept telling me. Calebs flu came and went in 24 hours, as did nearly everyone else I heard about who "caught" the same bug, but my uninvited guest must have been quite at home because he stayed and kept me on nothing but water for the week.

But now he is gone, THANKFULLY. And I can eat again (Hooray!). I love food, so I am sure it won't take me more than a week to re-find those five pounds I somehow lost while my uninvited guest was here.

It's just nice to have the place back to myself again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Acessing ability

(In addition to Presuming it.)

Our dream lives (or at least my dreams) indicate that there is a lot more information, ideas, worlds, words, complexities in our brains than we can access at anytime. Hidden memories, imaginary (or forgotten) worlds, works of art, poetry among other things often show up in our (again, at least mine) dreams that we don’t seem to have access to when we are awake. I often find that it seems like someone may not know something when the reality of it is that they are simply unable to access it. One of the first things taught when it comes to test-taking strategy is to try whenever possible to take the test the same location you were when you learned the material. I will never forget my college Physics 2000 classroom where I took all of my undergrad science classes due to the size of the class, tests were administered in assigned seating. I remember one particular Chemistry test that I took and it simply felt like I lost most of the information I clearly knew the preceeding weeks, and in fact the night after one of my tests I remember dreaming about the test and realizing that I had gotten some answers wrong, because in my dream I somehow realized the right answers (When I woke up I double checked and realized that I had the correct answers in my dream, but not on the test…sigh.) Needless to say, I thought about this and realized that I always, always, always sat towards the right center of the professor (facing him, he was to my left) in each and every class I had in that room (I really don’t know why, it is just where I liked to sit), but when I took this chemistry test, I was assigned to the left side of the room…and yes, this seems odd to me too, but for some strange reason it makes sense. Needless to say, when I am teaching my students I often think that in addition to teaching (or perhaps instead of), my job is to help my little friends access what is already there. Many parents I work with often tell me that their child knew the information but they seem to have “lost” it. It often seems to me that there is so much that my friends know and understand, yet are either unable to access the information or unable to access the language to communicate to me what they know. That being the case, I think it is my job to provide a variety of stimuli (verbal, visual, tactile, books, songs, stories, pictures) in order to help the my friends to both access what is already there and to find a way to show me what they know. By doing this, I often am pleasantly surprised to find out what one of my students already knows.

William always serves as my biggest reminder of the knowledge that exists inside, yet is not demonstrated perhaps due to a lack of resources. His IEP and all of his reports indicated that he was non-verbal, unable to identify numbers, letters, shapes, colors…to be completely honest, according to his reports there was very little that William actually was able to do. Yet when I was able to tune my ears to his previously seeming indiscriminate noises and sounds, I realized that William actually was using words, not just verbally stimming “jiipppaaawwwabbaabbbdddeellllllleeddeebbeaaaabbbbaabbaaddabbblle” noises…When calling him over to Circle time one morning, as he walked in circles with one hand to his chest and my aides were telling him to “come sit down” William, I suddenly “heard” William. “Stop” I told my aides. By this time, William had stopped his babbling and I looked at him and said “William, I pledge allegiance…” and he proceeded to finish the entire pledge and this time we all “heard” it with our newly tuned ears. The interesting thing is that my class never recited the Pledge of Allegiance so I had to make the assumption that it was something that had been done in his previous classroom…a classroom which according to the reports, IEP and consultant who came to visit us periodically in our classroom, he had never participated in, but stayed to himself to play with dry rice and farm animals and chew his blue chewy tube. Somehow, he managed to “learn” the pledge, as well as many other skills he demonstrated to us later, even when he didn’t appear to be learning or participating. In addition, it seemed like the more we “heard” William, the more he “spoke” to us. I remember the day we had a sub for his 1:1 aide he was speaking to the aide and I turned toward her and said, “He wants to play with the animals and the ABC puzzle. He likes to spell out the names of the animals”, and the aide looked at me and asked me how on earth I knew that…well he had just said it. It was clear as day to me. But the confused look of doubt on the aides face made me realize that William’s speech might not have been getting clearer as I had previously thought, but my listening had certainly improved. And as my and the classroom aides listening improved, we would remind each other to provide more and more opportunities to help our students access information and communicate what they already knew. In addition, it was our job to “listen” to the language and behavior that served as communication in order to help them communicate their more complex thoughts and feelings that they may not have the access to particular words to do so for themselves quite yet. So farm animals paired with magnetic letters showed us William knew how to spell (his low tone made it hard for him to write out legible letters, but he was working on it!). Big books and stories (and better ears) showed us that William could sight read many words. Green clay rolled out into long thin snakes showed us that he could manipulate them into letters and that he knew all the letters of the alphabet and in which order. And the day his regular aide Amy was out sick, and he grabbed my hand and told me “Iwwaaehbesez” (I want ABC’s, meaning I want the green clay that I make ABC’s with) and he spelled out “AMY” instead of his usual “ABCDE...”, my new and improved listening (courtesy of my teacher William) heard him telling me “I love Amy and I miss her. She does this with me and this is something we enjoy doing together. Amy is my friend and I wish she was here today. Where is Amy today SquareGirl?” Of course William could’ve just told me “Iwaaahehmee”, but really…what would I have learned about William, of what he is capable of, of what he is really trying to tell me about his dear friend Amy, and how would I continue to improve my own listening skills if he had just told me that? My little friends, especially my sweet red-headed, buck toothed, freckle faced William, are much to profound and poetic for that

Monday, April 17, 2006

Learning to Fib


Oh, excuse me, that was just the sound of me jumping on the Fibbery Bandwagon. And while I don’t make it a personal habit to go bandwagon jumping in general, we’re talking about Poetry AND Numbers here, and as you might imagine, we Squares LOVE those numbers…in fact I read an article where J.J. Abrams says the numbers from his show LOST don’t mean anything and I’m still determined to figure out their significance. How’s that for perseveration er, I mean persistence?

And the fibonnaci sequence, I mean who isn’t completely fascinated by it? Oh…just me again?

So after learning about fibs and GottaBook from Kristina who writes a fib about Charlie, I decided to get on board and make up my own fibs…and you know what? It’s actuall kinda fun to fib…so to quote one of my favorite doctors and authors:

“Try it, try it and you may! Try it and you may, I say!”

My First Fib,
by Square Girl

This could last for hours.
Such entertainment for a Square.

Friday, April 14, 2006


My newest superpower seems to be on the blink. I't raining again.

And I didn't even wash the Civic.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Welcome to Finland?

The Autism Perspective is a magazine which intends to present treatments, perspectives, sevice options and personal stories without taking any sides. My favorite aspect to the magazine are the articles written by individuals with autism, and there are many. Two of the regular contributors are Donna Williams and Temple Grandin, who in the most recent addition talked about her life summarized what “helped make her successful” which were:

1. Mother’s great early education program
2. Talents were nurtured and developed
3. Mentors I had in high school
4. The right medications in my early 30’s. Not all people need medication.

In addition to this article by Dr. Grandin I enjoyed several others, but the one I found the most intriguing was written my a man with ASD named Stephen Shore, who travels worldwide, to consult and present at conferences about autism, all while observing and writing about the way different cultures seem to view and treat individuals with Autism. His latest article featured China, Finland and England. I must admit I know very little about Finland and it’s culture, but after reading about Stephen’s experiences there, I have taken more of an interest in the country…Here’s how he describes his experiences:

What I found most striking about the community was that people with autism were accepted and integrated into the fabric of life just like everyone else. For example, here in the United states, it is seen as a rare exception that someone like me, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at two-and-a-half, could be finishing a doctoral dissertation and having a successful career and marriage. In many other cultures, even these accomplishements are just not possible. However, in Finland, I met one person with Aspberger Syndrome who has started a doctoral degree, another who is a psychologist, as well as many others who lead fulfilling and productive lives. For the people of Finland, and for what I gather in Scandanavia in general, the idea of autism and Aspberger Syndrome preventing people from gainful employment and true inclusion in society is as ludicrous as the need for glasses eliminationg the choice of becoming a teacher in the United Sates.

And I wear glasses.

Finland huh? I never would have thought to look there.
But then, it seems the best things and places I find are the ones I’m not looking for.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Accepting the Messenger

The Hidden Messages of Autism

I tend to believe that autism is here with a message. Perhaps it is to make the environment and society, cleaner, kinder, less superficial, more authentic, less judgemental and more loving. I tend to think it’s biggest message is acceptance. Let’s set aside this talk about “causes”, “labels”, “cures”, “treatments”, “wars” and meet on a common ground where what we want for our children and students: Acceptance.

I have the opportunity to work with parents and to witness their journey as they go through stages of denial, outrage, grief, suffering, anger, acceptance and love in varying degrees and in varying order. I have learned the importance of meeting each parent where they are at on their path and accepting exactly where they are right now. In fact, I often apply this principal to the children when a parent asks me if they will “talk more” or “get better” or “learn new skills” or “have friends”, etc. and I tell them, “We are trying to help (your child) reach his/her maximum potential…there is so much in there, but we have to remember to love him/her exactly as s/he is right now. The more you concentrate on the perfection of your child and the wonderful things s/he is doing, the more you will see.” And my point is that on this journey, acceptance is key to growth. And I need to accept the parent exactly where they are at on their journey. Without judgement.

My own parents worked at a nonprofit: A church/school/sports organization for children with the motto “Their Future is Now” that my grandfather founded. Everyone who worked there made a very small stipened and were expected to volunteer nearly all of their time, including free time at the many, many events and activities (afterall, they were helping tomorrow’s youth). My mom, the most giving and kind person I’ve ever known, would back out of many of these volunteering opportunities despite pressure from the many of the other employees there and when I became an adult, she explained to me that she couldn’t imagine teaching other people’s children if she couldn’t even be there for her own. “Charity really does begin in the home”, she would tell me…meaning that people needed to teach morals and values to their own children first if they want to make a difference.

When I think of the maxim “Charity begins in the home”, I can’t help but be reminded that Ghandi told us to “Be the change you seek in the world.” And I realize that when I criticize society for not being accepting, it is MY responsibility to create change within myself. And when I look at the autism community, including parents, (some) teacher’s, adults with (insert word of choice here), I can’t help but think the one thing we all have in common is a desire for acceptance of diversity within society. But is it possible that we need to “be the change”? Is it possible that we are alienating people on their own journey of self-acceptance by judging them for being angry or sad or still looking for an answer, a solution a (gasp) cure? I have received several personal e-mails from parents who feel like they are being criticized and judged because they are trying a therapy that seems to be working, yet others insist that it means they are trying to “change” their child, and not accept them for who they are (ah, the irony). The e-mails I have received have mostly been parents of newly diagnosed children and they feel hurt and rejected by a blogging community that they had hoped to find support from.

I look at a teacher (in and out of the classroom), like Kristina, who really seem to accept each and every person where they are at on their journey and I can see that this change, this charity, this acceptance really did begin in the home. Perhaps, if a message of autism is acceptance, we need to focus not only on accepting those with a diagnosis of autism or those that consider themselves to be neurodiverse, but of accepting one another. Wherever we all are on our journey.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Shoelace Tying Teacher...

perhaps that should be what I should say I am.

Yesterday, while eating a sandwich at the park in front of my local library I watched the children on their bicycles across the street and the dogs that were with their owners in the park and I must have been smiling. Everyone walking past me said “hello” and I remember thinking how lovely people are. A grown man who was chronically about forty years old, but developmentally quite younger passed me by and I said “hello” and then walked perhaps fifty yards or so, passing several other people along the way, before turning around, walking back to me and asked me “can you tie my knots?” “Sure” I told him as I noticed that one of his shoelaces was rather long and coming untied, so as I bent down to retie his shoelaces for him, I asked him who tied them for him when he put them on “I did” he told me. The knots on both of his shoes were rather interesting, as was the was the laces had been thread through the holes of the shoes, randomly looped through different holes, and tied with several loops on each shoe. I double tied him per his requested and suggested that if he gets another pair of shoes anytime, he might consider getting something that had Velcro or he could slip on the next time. “Yes”, he told me. Then he asked me to show him how to unite the knots, so I demonstrated where to pull in order to untie the shoe. He then asked me how to get his foot out, so I asked him if he wore these shoes often and he told me that he did “just on the weekends”. So I showed him how to loosen the laces so that he could pull his foot out, before retying his shoe yet again. “How do I get my foot out?” He asked. “Can you show me one more time?” “You know what,” I told him “I bet you can do it. Why don’t you try it once while I’m here so that you can be sure you will know how to do it when you get home?” He sat down next to me and I talked him through untying his shoe and loosening his laces and then prompted him to push down on the back of his shoe and pull his foot out, which he did. W He put his shoe back on with verbal instructions and I retied it, in the exact same why I had tied it earlier in order to insure that he would be able to untie it when he got home…which he told me was near there. “When do I take off the shoe?” He asked me. “Whenever you would like when you get home.” I told him. “How long do I have to push on the back of the shoe?” he asked me. I told him that until the his foot was loose enough to come out of the shoe. “You can do it…if you have trouble you can come back to the library and find someone who can help you, but I’m sure you’ll be able to do it.” “Thank you” he told me. “Nice to see you”, I told him.

And after he left, I began to think about why, among the several people he passed on his way from the library to his home, he asked me? I have taught many of my students how to tie, put on and take off their shoes. I am sure the man knew how, but judging by the way he carefully studied the way I tied and untied the laces, and the way the lace was tied, triple looped and uneven on his other shoe (perhaps I should have helped him with that one now that I think about it), it was a skill that he was not confident using on the weekends when he wore his shoes with laces. Was I somehow unknowingly wearing a special “teacher’s uniform”? Was there something about me that said, “this woman has taught many people how to tie their shoes, so ask her”? And clearly he must not have known about my controversial “ABA consultant” title, as I am sure that if he had, he would have ran away from me as fast as he could for fear that I might try to “change” him…

I have been to workshops and seminars on assertiveness training courses where they teach you how not to look like a “victim”. I have never been a “victim” or in any position where I feared being a “victim” and I have certainly walked on a street or in a parking lot alone, more than I perhaps should. I don’t think I look like a “victim” and I certainly don’t walk around being fearful…much to the dismay of people who wished I exhibited a little more caution. So is it possible that there could be something in someone’s demeanor that makes them look like a “teacher”? Is there something about me that looks like I might be a good person to ask to help them do or learn something? I mean this was not an exclusive event. It happens to me a lot, and quite often by small children or those that are “differently abled”. It’s as if I’m singled out by them as one who knows how to help them with whatever they need help with, and they are usually right. I usually not only know how to help, but am rather willing to do so. So what is it about ones expression, demeanor, posture, facial expressions that make others intuitively understand whether or not you look like a “victim” or a “teacher” or a “willing helper” or (fill-in-the blank here)?

The interesting thing is that I was going to the library to check out a book by A.H. Maslow titled “The Farthest Reaches of Human Nature”, in which he talks about the advancement of technology and how we are so concerned on improving technology, which is happening so quickly, yet we are forgetting to focus on creating better people whom will have access to that technology. I’ve read the book before and like to re-read it anytime I am tempted to get caught up in the whole “better” services, treatments, teaching, (fill-in-the blank here), as I have in the past, but usually try to avoid them altogether, because I believe, similar to Maslow’s feelings about technology, that it is a waste of time to focus on, develop, start a new, research or “improve” services, treatment and teaching for children with ASD if we are forgetting about the part where we need to focus on creating more kind, loving, compassionate, creative, open-minded people to “treat”, “teach” or “serve” children. Our focus turns away from developing a more loving and inclusive society to blaming or hating a “treatment”. As Maslow hypothesizes about Hitler having access to the technology that exists today, noting that we spend all ofour energy, time, research and study into technology, yet are not worrying about creating better people (Of course the term “better” people is subjective, but Maslow defines his definition of “better people” with more concrete terms, which I encourage everyone to research if interested). We have a tendency to blame a particular treatment, creating an alternatively labeled treatment, leading to more contravery, all the while ignoring the fact that we are focusing on the wrong things. If it is about “teaching”, then who is going to “teach”? Shouldn’t we stop putting time, energy, money and argument into what service or treatment is bad or doesn’t work and more time and energy into teaching the communities around us to be more loving, accepting, open and kind towards one another? Perhaps we need to look within. Perhaps society is not at the place where complete inclusion, integration and acceptance is the norm. Perhaps we should all begin to put our focus on teaching these things. Perhaps we should start with ourselves.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Winds of Change

In sixth grade I remember that two boys in my class got into a fist fight. Being a private school where morals and values were a priority and taught at every opportunity (quite often to our repressed grumbles), our teacher, after breaking up the fight brought us ALL (again, more repressed grumbling) into the classroom to discuss what had happened. “He pushed me first” said one boy, “He made me angry” was the boys explanation at which point our teacher made the boys stop talking about it as he methodically finished his tea, place several pieces of folded paper into the cup and asked us what we saw…”er, a cup?” “Okay”, he said, “so what you see, what you will see most of the time is a cup…Now what happens if something like wind blows it over or someone knocks it down?” (He knocks it over and the paper comes out). “Stuff comes out?” (or something like that…it’s been a while, forgive me). “Okay, so if it’s knocked over something will come out and what comes out is going to be what’s inside” (well, duh, is what I am sure I was thinking at this point). He then held up the paper and said, “so if this is 'anger' and 'bitterness', and it comes out, the 'anger' and 'bitterness' were already there. The wind didn’t cause the anger…it just brought it out for us all to see. But if what is in the cup is only ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘compassion’ and ‘patience’ those are the things that will come out when the wind comes.”

And I admit it. I got what he was saying all the while thinking it was complete waste of my time. After all, I had net been in the fistfight. I could almost guarantee you that I would never ever get into an actual fistfight. Yes, I saw it, but am certain I could not have stopped it if I tried, so why was he wasting my time? Why was he wasting the entire classes snack time no less…why did we have to be punished when we did nothing wrong?

I understood what he was saying, but it wasn’t until many years later that I got it. I got it when I realized that I had some of that icky stuff in my cup. That just because I wouldn’t get into a fistfight, didn’t mean that there wasn’t anger or inflexibility or pride in my cup…it just meant that these may just look a little different when the wind knocked me over.

Autism, and everything about it has been my biggest wind. The children and parents and professionals I have spent time with have challenged and continue to challenge me in everyway. And when I used to think these “challenges” were something “they” were doing, my job seemed hard, but it was when I realized the “challenges” that were imposed we’re simply a challenge to improve my character…to see what was in my cup, I realized that no one is causing me to be frustrated or anxious or inflexible or stubborn, but that these things had already existed that my job became the most meaningful, edifying and rewarding job in the world…and when in fact I actually recognized the things in myself and was able to work on change. I realized how I was evolving by letting my students teach me how to be a better me, rather than thinking that it is they who need to be fixed. It is when I feel a stir of frustration, when I want to point the finger at the “ignorance” or “stubbornness” or “judgement” of someone who is pointing the finger at an “ideology”, “semantics”, or "someone else" that I remember that it is I who need to point my own finger inward and recognize what it is within myself that is creating the dissonance. We are all on our own journey and everyone is exactly where they should be. Learning the things they are supposed to learn, otherwise being presented with that same lesson with a different mask over and over again. I realize that I am not here to change others opinions of me or what I do, and if that becomes my focus, I lose focus on my own journey. On the fact that autism has been a blessing in my life for all that is has taught me. It is now when I meet a child for the first time who I am told has “severe behaviors” and I either don’t notice them as being “severe”, or they are not “severe” when I am around, I realize how far I have come on this journey, yet recognize that like the horizon that continues to seem further away as you move towards it, I will never reach a "there" as there is no "there". It is when I recognize that my reaction to others is simply a reminder to see what it is within myslef that I need to change, that I see what I have learned from autism…the great magnifier as I have come to call it.

If it is anger or hatred or bitterness or dissonance within our society because of the wind of autism, it is because those things were already in there, masked by the niceties that society tries to put forth, but autism could care less about. Autism looks beyond titles and credentials and appearance and looks at what is deep within us all and brings it to the surface, until we begin to recognize that it wasn’t the wind that “caused” these things, that “brought” these things to our society. All it did was reveal what was already there.

For that I am grateful.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On teaching, learning and how we confuse the two

Me: Hi, I’m Square Girl and I’m an ABA consultant.

Everyone: Hi Square Girl

Whew. Now that we got that out of the way, I feel a lot better. Well, actually I’d feel much better if I talked about it a little more. To me, “autism” is not just a word, a field, a job or a career. To me, “autism” is more like a teacher, a guide, and a journey. When it comes to knowledge of the field, I am quite aware of all the controversy surrounding, well, just about EVERYTHING. Semantics are controversial, as are “Causes”, “Cures”, “Treatments”, “Acceptance”, “Epidemic” etc. but I will not go on with this ever expanding list of items…and it is. Ever expanding. Which is why I woke up in the middle of the night last year and had a Jerry Maguire moment of seemingly temporary insanity and wrote this essay on why there is so much anger, animosity and distrust in this field, which is ultimately one reason: Fear. And of course the only antidote to fear is Love. So while I will save all of that for another post, when another wave of “clarity” or “temporary insanity” (feel free to chose your own semantic in this case, and trust that I will not be offended) overcomes me, I will share a little about my experience and exposure to teaching (ABA or not…why does everything have to be about semantics).

When ABA became a heated issue…oh wait, it always has been. When I realized ABA was a heated issue, I began to question if it was the right approach and received training in all other types of therapies including in Pivotal Response Training, Natural Language Paradigm and RDI (RDI from Dr. Greenspan ala Big Brother Style). For those of you who don’t know, Greenspan doesn’t travel, so you either have to go to Washington to get trained or receive training via a big gigantic screen where he demonstrates that he can see everyone in the room by describing what various people in the room are wearing and doing. It was actually kinda creepy if you ask me. It was after this, that I realized that what it all boils down to is teaching and the fact that the children I worked with ran to the door to greet me and seemed to love learning and all the other fun stuff we did (singing, piggy back rides, chasing, engaging, etc.) what I was doing…my adapted version of ABA wasn’t as tortuous as some would have people believe. And in contemplating teachers, styles, methodologies, etc. I thought about my own childhood teachers and my feelings about each of them.

I went to a very small private school. It was not a special ed. school, and being a private school there was no such thing as “Special ed.”, but in retrospect, I am certain that several of the children there would be in “Special Ed.” if they had attended a public school. Our classes were small and the school truly operated on a no child left behind spirit and methodology. My brother-in-law began going to school there in sixth grade leaving a public school still not being able to read, yet after a year of his teacher staying after school with him to teach him, he learned. That is the kind of school I attended. My Kindergarten teacher was and continues to be one of the most wonderful teachers I have ever met, and every child I have ever spoken to who has been a student of hers says the same. Every parent of every child who was a student of hers agrees as well. She is and was, loud, a little bit nutty and most importantly creative…she used to read Amelia Bedilia and Mrs. Pigglesworth to us and I thought they were both like her. No child has ever left her classroom not reading, she told me once, and I am certain that she is not exaggerating. It is hard to pinpoint what made her so amazing, but her enthusiasm for teaching and flair for drama played a role, I’m certain. I remember that every day we would all recite this poem about Astro’s (Astro the Astronaut) bag and what was inside…something like “Astro left a BIG surprise, let’s look in his bag to see what’s inside”…it was always very exciting and what he left inside was always…Homework!!! Yes, she had us very all excited about our homework…afterall it was a “surprise” from Astro the Astronaut! (Apparently she understood the importance of semantics). My first grade teacher was pretty good. I liked her. But following the most-amazing-fun-creative-disciplined-silly-wonderful teacher in the world is hard to do. And the fact that she did follow quite well speaks volumes. Now my second grade teacher was just, well, mean. She was. When I became and adult, I second-guessed my assessment of her as “mean” because I thought I was just comparing her to my previous teachers. But then she called me a couple years ago to ask me to help her out with a student she had who was possibly on the spectrum, named Davis. I went and observed and realized that what she wanted was not “help”, but rather a confirmation that her suspicion was correct. I observed their music lesson and when the instruments were handed in, I was horrified when she loudly announced. “Children…EVERYBODY stop what you are doing! Davis has lost one of his cymbols again! We must all stop what we are doing to look for Davis’s cymbol’s!” and I thought “Yup. My assessment was right. She was (and is) mean.” My memories of teacher’s after that are minimal and intermittent, showing me that our values and experiences (well at least mine) are strongly shaped when we are young. It also made it that much more important that I wasn’t causing detriment to the children I taught, as the one thing I can always guarantee that I brought to the table (literally and figuratively) is LOVE.

Having been a teacher (I prefer this title to ABA therapist/supervisor/consultant, etc.) for more than twelve years, I am looking forward to hearing more and more feedback from my former students (or teachers as I have come to know them as). Last year, I visited my very first client, Jamie, whom you can learn more about here and here (I have changed the settings and names in my stories, but nothing more) and when I came inside his house, he threw his arms up into the air and shouted gleefully “Square Girl! Your back!” and we had conversations about school, his upcoming talent show, his dogs, my family (who he had met several times) and I realized that perhaps ABA (or my own watered down version of it) isn’t so detrimental at all…assuming it is administered with creativity and love. Oh, and Jamie called me several weeks ago…his mom said he requested to do so. He called my parents house (an interesting phone call and perhaps another post) to get my new info. Our conversation went something like this:

Jamie: Square Girl, I called you, but you weren’t there.
SG: I know Jamie. That’s because I moved.
Jamie: Oh. Did you have a sign that said “for sale” and “sold” on it.
SG: No, but that’s because I live in an apartment.
Jamie: Ohhhhhh, an apartment! Do you have Goldie?
SG: Well Jamie, no. Goldie is er, gone…I don’t have her anymore.
Jamie: Oh. I have a new dog. Here’s my mom.
So in my assessment of how I measure up as a teacher I have feedback from one of my little friends thus far, and I can pretty safely say that he was not traumatized by me. One down, a hundred or more so to go.

I’ll let you know what they have to say. And I’ll do so honestly. Yet let me share my suspicions…it is not the “type” of therapy or ideology or brand. It is not the ideology that are ultimately the most important. It is (and I know I say this at the risk of sounding crazy) the compassion, creativity and LOVE that you bring to your students (who by the way are not actually students, but your teachers if you haven’t yet figured it out).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Three the magic number.

Yes it is.

I simply LOVE the Jack Johnson and Friends Curious George soundtrack and think that it is a must have for kids and kids at heart. My favorite songs are "With my own Two Hands" and "Upside Down", which has been playing on the radio, but I love it all the more after reading the lyrics.

And in case you haven't heard Jack Johnsons adaptation of "Three is the Magic Number", I'll share with you why it's three that is the magic number...

Because 2 times 3 is six. And six times three is eighteen. And the eighteenth letter of the alphabet is "r". (Stay with me here, I am going somewhere with this).

And the three "R's" to remember are:

Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Which is why three is the magic number.

Yes it is.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Perception and Perspective

Last Friday, I accompanied a friend of mine and her two toddlers to an indoor playground. Nicky, the older of the two at three years old, had been diagnosed with ASD nearly a year ago, and over that time we found our own friendship becoming stronger. Needless to say, this indoor playground housed all kinds of equipment, such as slides, a play kitchen, small cars, and a bouncer. Nicky has been gaining more confidence in his motor skills over the last six months and having more and more positive experiences enjoying slides, swings, ladders and other various equipment. A few months ago, while at a birthday party, he took an interest in the bouncer there, but was not interested in going inside, so when he and his 18 month old brother, Evan showed an interest in joining the somewhat bigger, laughing, screaming kids, his mother and I looked on as we saw them both smiling as they attempted to maintain their balance as the larger kids jumped near them, ready to leap into the bouncer, should there be a need to do so (i.e. Nicky or Evan falling over near a much larger jumping child, oblivious to a toddler lying where they were about to jump). As we, along with several other mothers sat at the opening of the bouncer, a woman flew right passed us screaming at us all for just standing there. As I continued to look at her, I realized that one of the older boys (her son) had climbed up on the side plastic wall of the bouncer and had seemingly gotten trapped somehow. We had all been oblivious to his screaming for help, as the bouncer was pretty much full of screaming children and it was most likely that everyone watching was distracted by the one or two children we had been protectively watching. The mother turned in the direction of everyone outside of the bouncer and shouted, “I can’t get him! I need help!” I ran into the bouncer, while my friend (perhaps having been the only one to have accurately assess what was actually happening to the boy) ran around to the back of the bouncer. When I reached the boy, I realized that he was not simply stuck between the plastic wall and netting like I had originally perceived, but he was stuck in an opening in the plastic, with only his arms and head sticking out. As I reached to help him, his mother let go, which is not what I was anticipating, but I was able to reach under his arms before he slipped even further and as I did so, the mother began screaming (I apologize for using the word “screaming” as it is not a word I particularly like, but it is really the best way to describe it) at the children who were all still jumping happily in the bouncer. “Get out! Get out!” she shouted as she started shoving children out of the opening of the bouncer and I remember thinking for a split second Oh no. Nicky, hates yelling, he hates being rushed, he is going to have a meltdown because a lady he doesn’t even know is shouting at him and shoving him out of a bouncer and neither myself nor his mother will be there when he (and not to mention his 18 month old brother) get out. But then I realized that I was hanging on to a terrified little guy and as I looked heard him screaming “help me!” and saw the panic in his eyes, I found the necessary surge of strength to pull him out...By this point he was sobbing and I handed him to his mother who kept thanking me and insist the boy thank me as well, while I looked around and saw both Nicky and Evan safely reunited with their mother, and apparently completely un-phased about being thrown out of the bouncer. One of the other mothers had gotten the woman who ran the playground to tell her what was going on and the woman turned toward the group of mothers who had gathered during this event and pointed to the corner on the opposite side of the bouncer and told us all that there was no hole and it was impossible for any child to fall through before walking away. I actually found this to be quite amusing as at least twelve grown adults and several children had just seen the whole event and clearly, there was a hole, and clearly a child could fall through (this is not to say the equipment was dangerous, as I am quite certain that anything can be dangerous when used improperly). My friend and I stayed another forty minutes or so and during this time, the boys mother came to thank me at least eight times. She explained to me that she had thought that her son was slipping out of her hands and literally falling into the bouncer and she imagined him suffocating, which is why she tried to get all of the children out of there. Her plan, she told me, was to get the children out of there so she could unplug the bouncer to let the air out and prevent her son from suffocating. She told me that her son kept telling her that he thought he was dying. I told her that I was sure that he was going to recover much more quickly than she was over the whole incident (she was quite shaken up). The boy was not going to fall into the bouncer, and in fact the worst that could’ve happened is that he fall about eight feet or so onto the floor of the outside of the bouncer and perhaps sprained an ankle or a wrist. The event was pretty quickly forgotten by my friend and I (hey, if you want a scary, hazardous story, I’ve got a few ones that can top that easily, but I see no reason to share them). Before the boy left, he ran up to me to thank me again and give me a hug (it was really sweet actually). A couple days later, I thought about this event and was able to process it, as it had all happened so quickly and what occurred to me is this:

1. Somehow Nicky and Evan got out safely from the bouncer seemingly without getting upset about a woman they did not know screaming at them and shoving them out to a group of children and other women that they didn’t know. It was almost as if Nicky, knew that something bigger was going on. That something was happening and being shouted at and shoved out of a bouncer by a stranger was appropriate at this time.
2. Each one of our experiences and perspectives shaped each of our perception of the situation. I thought the boy was trapped, but not falling, the mother thought he was falling into a bouncer and would suffocate in it, my friend realized he was falling through the back and ran around to help, the boy didn’t know what was happening, just that he was falling and “gonna die” and the woman who worked there denied the possibility of the event even happening. I missed the reactions, experiences of the children and gathering mothers, but am certain, each of their perceptions and experiences was different. This one event was experienced differently, based on each individuals perspective and perception of it. In addition, each individual reacted differently to the situation based on their perceptions and past experiences.

Again, this to me was an unremarkable event, other than that this time there was a crowd who witnessed it. I have had many similar experiences (although none in a bouncer) during my career, which I have chosen not yet to highlight here thus far. What I did get out of it however, is to further realize how people react differently when presented with the same exact situation. The same event can mean entirely different things to different people. Understanding where people are coming from allows us to understand others reactions more appropriately. I will not expound further, as this post was basically an exercise in sharing a part of what I learned from last Friday’s visit to the indoor playground. However, this lesson in perspective indeed came at an interesting time in my life…but enough about what I is actually after all, only one perspective.