I was entertained and encouraged by this blog post this morning.
I was entertained and encouraged by this blog post this morning.
Will collected rocks when he was young. Every time he went outside he came back into the house with his pockets full of rocks. I always checked his pockets for rocks before washing his clothes. Otherwise, the dryer would make quite a racket.
When we went up north to Grandma’s house, he was delighted. The old farm had been tilled over and over to eek a living out of rocky soil; and in the process beautiful rocks had been brought to the surface. Sparkly granite was strewn all about the old garden, petosky stones, pudding rocks, black shiny pebbles, and agates to be split open.
He also collected vehicles. His name for anything with wheels was vehicles. We had to teach him something else beside trucks, which to our alarm, he pronounced with an “f”, so we taught him “vehicle.” Matchbox vehicles, micro machine vehicles, Tonka vehicles. At first, he liked to spin the wheels; but later, he enjoyed lining them up.
We tried to get Mary interested in dolls, thinking she could role play with them, or we attempted to role play with her. No dice. She was only interested in her Little People collection. She made them slide down the slides over and over again. She put them through the doors and out the doors.
Well, it turned out that Will did not cook the ham for our Christmas dinner. All of us went to see the Hobbit, except for Ralph (who was home with the flu). Ralph put the ham in the oven. After the movie, I took the ham out of the oven and prepared the rest of the Christmas Dinner. Then I prepared a plate for Ralph and took it to him in the bedroom. So the main dish was still cooked by a man in our house.
When Ralph and I were first married, I worked at a bookstore. I bought far too many books, most of which have been given away. But we still have the Betty Crocker Christmas Cook Book, printed in 1983. Bright green. We have used this cookbook for every Christmas and Thanksgiving since. Ralph makes the main dish; I bake cookies and desserts from its pages. After 26 years of use, it was starting to get ragged, spilled upon, pages falling out, etc. So I found another copy on eBay (since it has been out of print for years, and most modern BC cookbooks are way too healthy), and gave it to Ralph for Christmas last year. He was delighted, sort of. He is a sentimental kind of guy – and preferred the old cookbook because of all the memories. But to humor me, he accepted the new, unspilled upon cookbook.
Ralph gave the old Betty Crocker Cookbook to Will this Christmas. As I type this post, Will is talking to Ralph on the phone while putting a ham in the oven at his apartment. They are both looking at the same cookbook.
Mary’s first word was “oggie.” Not Mommy or Daddy, “oggie.” From a very early age, she zeroed in on dogs and cats. And the dogs and cats knew it. Wherever Mary went, the pets in any household found her, and she them.
If autistic kids can tolerate them and are not allergic, pets are great first friends for autistic kids. They have been instrumental our kids’ lives. Cats and dogs want to be touched (Will was adverse to touch for a long time). They communicate non-verbally, which works out well for kids who have trouble communicating verbally. I believe that one of Will’s reasons for avoiding eye contact was that processing non-verbal information (facial expression) and verbal information at the same time was difficult. A dog’s desire for a walk is very easy to understand. Will was the dog walker/runner. Both Trixie and Daisy begged Will to take them for a run.
Trixie, our black lab and whatever mix was the dog of our children’s childhoods. She had been abandoned and chained to a tree by her former owner as a puppy. Another person in the apartment house was feeding her, but when he moved away, he called the Humane Society. That is where we found her. She was smart, loving, protective, and deeply attached; as we were to her. I had her put to sleep at 13 years of age due to brain cancer and seizures (12 with us). Will was away at band camp with his dad. I debated whether to tell him while he was there, but his band teacher said that it would help Will to be comforted by his fellow marching band members, and it did help. Will was heartbroken and wept for her. His emotions were always close to the surface. When I asked Mary how she felt, she told me that it was a bad day with flat affect. Sometimes we have a hard time deciphering Mary’s feelings; but she did feel the loss, even though it was hard for her to express it.
I found “Cat” at the Humane Society, as well. Her former owners had to give her up because they had moved to another apartment that didn’t allow pets. They must have had babies, because when we looked for a cat, I took Will at six months old with me to pick her out. As we walked by the cat pens, all the other cats ran away when they saw Will. “Cat” came up to us every time. She loved all our babies until she passed away.
(Daisy – short legs, golden coloring, herding instinct)
Then came Mistletoe and Chris (they joined us at Christmas in 2001). Then Daisy came from the Humane Society at three years of age….a golden/sheltie mix, after Trixie died in 2006. It’s hard to believe she’s been with us six years already. She misses Will. Where is her boy, she says. Then Wendy, Tiger, and Anna joined us. So we have a full house. Fortunately, we have an big, old house. They are all spoiled, and so are we.
I recommend cats and dogs for kids with autism; for any kids really. If it is possible.
How have pets helped your family?
When we parents of children with disabilities meet in doctor’s offices, conferences, workshops, therapy sessions, we frequently share our experiences. The tales of joy and woe come pouring out. We open up about the progress our children have made, the uneasy concerns, set-backs, and our frustrations. We comfort each other. We learn that we are not alone. Our eyes are opened to battles that lie ahead.
During the times that I was fighting my most exasperating battles, I was sure that I would never forget.
However, this morning as I was talking to my youngest daughter, Patty, on the way to college (a daily drive of about 45 minutes five days a week), I realized that I had indeed forgotten one of my war stories.
Eight years ago Mary attended the regional autism program in our county from the fifth grade through high school graduation. She was bused five days a week to the second largest school district in our county. In high school, she was mainstreamed in most of her classes with regular education students, with a one hour class each day for social skills training, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.
In the middle of her junior year in high school, Mary’s guidance counselor told me that Mary would not be able to graduate in with the class of 2005 if she did not take a summer class or a class at the community college. I told her that I was confused. Mary had gone to school 6 hours a day, five days a week since the beginning of high school. She had taken 6 classes every semester.
I talked to our teacher consultant in our home district and she agreed that Mary was not being given credit for all of her classes and she intervened to no avail. The guidance counselor stood her ground and would not budge. She insisted that Mary needed to take an extra class. I went to the school principle to complain about this after getting nowhere with the counselor. My daughter’s autism teacher told me that he was embarrassed that I had gone over the counselor’s head. He was no help at all.
The guidance counselor told us that we had to have Mary take a summer course with them, which would cost over $300. Or Mary could take a college course, which they would pay for if it was a course that they didn’t teach at the high school. I said that they should pay for it regardless because they had messed up her credits.
The summer class was not possible due to Ralph’s work schedule and my work schedule. We tried to find a class at the local community college that was not taught at the high school. However, the high school had 2000 students, and taught a large variety of courses, so that was impossible. We decided along with Mary that it would be a good idea for her to take a night class in Business English, because those credits would also count toward her college degree.
One night a week for 15 weeks, we took Mary to the community college, and waited in the parking lot while she was in class. She passed the class with a B, which was excellent for someone with autism and learning disabilities. At the time, her English teacher in the high school told us that it would be a waste of money for Mary to go to college.
It’s a amazing thing how things look from hindsight. We did not prevail in this long drawn out battle. I was so frustrated. However, it turned out that the counselor was wrong. Mary did not need those extra credits. She had completed two years of a computer accounting class at the county vocational school in one year with A’s and A minuses. She excelled in accounting – it was all numbers. One of the features of autism can be intense focus. While others were socializing, she was working. She received two years worth of credits in that year. In addition, she had the three credit college course that was added to her high school credits because the counselor insisted that Mary required an extra class.
When Mary started her classes at the community college after high school graduation, she was already familiar with the campus and with the pattern of a college class. Even though it seemed unfair and was very inconvenient at the time, it turned out to be a blessing.