Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Social Awareness Can Totally Suck

Social Awareness: understanding how you react to different social situations, and effectively modify your interactions with others so you achieve the best result.

I was going to write about how social awareness really sucks some times, when I noticed I already had a draft saved titled "Social Awareness Sucks" from just over a year ago. Seems we have come full circle. We are at a different level of sucky-ness than when I wrote the first draft. When I wrote the first draft my heart was so broken for Joey, which is why I never finished the post. It still really breaks my heart when I think back to that time.

Let me start by saying that I have always admired Joey's ability to do what he enjoys without fear of what others might think of him. He had always been content to do his own thing even if he was doing it alone. Also, let me say kids can be so mean!

Joey's lack of social awareness was a bittersweet blessing, it protected him from the cruelty of his classmates. While he was content to do his own thing, he wanted nothing more that to have friends and be included. He tried so hard and did everything he should have to make friends, but he was already written off as the "weird kid". He was deemed one of the weird ones because of he couldn't sit still and talked too much, his behavior when he was frustrated with his school work, and because he wrote/colored like a kindergartner (dysgraphia).  Every day he tried to engage his classmates, every day he was rebuffed by them. I was shattered the day he told me about the game he got played with his "friends", it was called "Joey Can't Play". He explained it that he goes to different groups of kids and tries to join whatever game they are playing and they find different ways to make it look like he was playing but he wasn't actually allowed to play. He had the biggest smile on his face when he told me too. To him this was his way to be included. The blessing part of this, he had no idea that kids were being cruel and counted every single kid in his class as his friend. Having to talk to him about how his "friends" weren't really his friends, was one of the more difficult conversations I've had to have with him.

Fast forward a couple months and a new medication change, Joey hits the beginnings of social awareness. He comes home from school with the realization that everyone hates him. He sits by the wall all recess or on the"Buddy Bench" (the bench for when you're looking for someone willing to play with you). His class had instituted "The Joey Touch" and it had started to overflow to the rest of the grade during lunches. Everyone groaned and tried to switch partners when paired up with him. He couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong to make everyone dislike him. The more he tried to act like everyone else the more the pushed him away. They were even setting him up to get in trouble, they would invite him to play tag then tell the recess monitors that he was chasing them (the school social worker was able to actually witness this a few times).

Beginning of 5th grade, we saw the grace of social awareness, although he still struggled to be liked by his peers. He curbed some of his quirky ways while at school. When he talked to peers he stayed mostly on their topic. He focused on finding just one or two kids to be friends with. He stayed away from the kids who were being mean or rude to him. He tried reverse psychology on them per my request just to see what would happen. He stopped chasing the girls at recess when they asked, he'd walk up to a group of kids playing a game ask what they were doing then walk away uninterested. Slowly the kids started noticing that Joey wasn't trying to be included and started finding ways to include themselves in what he was doing. I'm so grateful that worked in our favor, we had a 50/50 shot of that actually working. He was less frustrated with his school work due to finally finding a medication that worked for him. His teacher was awesome and did a lot of class work together; as his peers started realize Joey's really smart and has really good ideas they stopped complaining when they were paired up with him.

That brings us to now, end of 5th grade beginning of 6th grade. He has a pretty good handle on what the social norms are. He still has areas he needs to work on but has made amazing progress, and I'm so proud of him. He has a couple friends and talks at least in passing to most of the kids. He's so afraid to be singled out as the weird kid again. He doesn't want to do anything that might cause his peers to think he's different from them. He doesn't want any accommodations that help him with his school work (like going to the resource room during tests) or teachers checking that he has any homework packed to be taken home. He understands that everything we put in place is to help make life easier on him and is meant to be temporary, but he doesn't want to be different anymore. As of right now we have no modifications or accommodations in place.

His being wary of what being different has overflowed to outside of school also. He doesn't want to take his ADHD medication and refuses to cooperate at occupational therapy. Yesterday I was called back at OT because Joey refused to do any of the exercises and literally had the OT chasing him wall to wall. Once I was back there he stood arms crossed and refused to do what he was asked until I threatened to take one of his privileges away. His reasoning he's not autistic like the other kids who go there (granted majority of the kids who also go the therapy center are more severely autistic), and it makes him feel like we think of him as "autistic like them". I have sat down and talk with Joey about why he needs his medication and therapy many times; he knows he needs both, but doesn't want to need them. He doesn't want to be different anymore.

Monday, September 12, 2016

New School Year, New Beginnings

School this year for us is packed with all sorts of new for us. Starting with the fact I have all 3 boys in 3 different buildings, with 3 different start and end times.

Joey is my first one out the door to head off to the middle school. He seems to be adjusting to 6th grade, his only complaint is there is a lot of walking in middle school. I think the changing of classes as well as different teachers for each subject is going to be a big help to him, allowing him multiple "movement breaks". His favorite class after just one week is Design and modeling, majority of his assignments will be done on the computer. It sounds like there is a lot of hands-on construction projects and they even get to use the 3D printer. At the end of last year we had his IEP early so we could come up with a plan for accommodations before they needed to be in place. We are taking a wait and see approach, giving Joey a few weeks to show us what he can handle on his own, then if need be we'll implement the necessary accommodations.

Jacob is the next one out the door,  He had been hoping for a specific teacher that specializes in social studies, so he could pick up his grade a bit in the subject. However, I'm thrilled the has the teacher Joey had last year. Once he realized that most of the "popular kids" are also in that class and the teacher doesn't assign homework, he's more excited about his teacher. As the youngest at home, he's loving being one of the oldest kids in the school. He's planning on being on every committee available to the 5th graders,  he's already signed up for safety patrol and recycling. He was very clear that he will NOT be taking band LOL

Jordan's school has been the biggest adjustment for me, he'll be doing online school this year. Which means he'll be home ALL day with me.  Jordan's school year actually won't start for a couple more weeks. Second semester of last year was just crazy for him!! His grades bounced from A's to F's and back or averaging somewhere in between, we were trying to figure out a correct dosage to maintain his ADHD symptoms. At the time online or homeschooling seemed like our best option. We tried homeschooling for the better part of a month, I quickly realized I had no clue what he was learning while in school. Jumping into first time homeschooling in the middle of a high school year wasn't the best plan, we both were so overwhelmed. I was so terrified I was going to mess up something when it came to his transcripts. We were able to find an online school an hour from our house. The online school was able to test him and place him in the appropriate classes. The only problem switching between public school to homeschool then to online classes was he was going to need to recover his second semester credits. Jordan has schooled throughout the summer break and is working on finished up his last two classes. He's in kind of limbo between two different class programs, he may continue with the one he's currently using or the online school may be able to get him into a virtual classroom. If he works his behind off, he'll finish in time to join the virtual classroom.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Just Leave it Out

I have been a parent for almost 16 years and I'm still figuring things out. Ever do something so simple and have it work wonders and think to yourself, why have I never thought of that before? That's what happened today. I'm sure this is something other parents have figured out ages ago, but it just never crossed my mind until today.

My boys are fantastic when it comes to picking out fruits and veggies. They have their favorites but are also willing to try new things. I'm that crazy mom in the produce aisle looking up how to tell if a starfruit is ripe and the best way to use them. We buy loads of fresh produce with ever intention to eat them.

Once home and everything put away, slowly our beloved strawberries we had planned to slice up get pushed back into the back corners of the fridge. Our watermelon we painstaking searched through the bin for becomes overlooked as part of our kitchen decor.

Forget about the vegetable drawer, if it can't be seen then it must not exist. Anything that goes in that drawer doesn't get scooped out in it's half decomposed sate until our next grocery shopping day. Instead that's where I hide the chocolate and sweet treats, it's always a sweet surprise now whenever I get around to open that drawer :)

I have tried reminding my boys "There's fruit in the fridge" and making suggestions "why don't you grab a banana", yet so much goes to waste. I'd get so annoyed, they begged for mangoes and now I'm having to throw them away again. I bought apples, even Joey will eat apples yet here they sit.

I couldn't figure it out, they pig out on fruits and veggies at Grandma's house. Like seriously will eat every piece of fruit she has in her house. I buy the same things she does. I have even gone as far as buying them at the same store she does.

Then it dawned on me, it's gotta be in a bowl!! We often tease my mom about how she always has to present everything in a bowl or on a platter. Bag of potatoes chips on the table, she'll pour them in a bowl. Sliced watermelon it all stacked neatly on a platter.

I'm busy keeping up with 3 boys ( and cleaning up after them) I don't have time for bowls and platters for presentation. They really don't care one way or the other about how food is present as long as there is food. We are all about efficiency. They want chips tear open the bag and count that you still have all your fingers after setting in the mist of all 3 of them. Watermelon, slice it and tell them to grab some if they want it.

Yet Grandma's bowl thing seems to gravitate there hands. So I gave it a shot.

I sliced up some cucumbers, set them on a plate and left them on the counter. Jordan walks through to refill his water bottle and ask who's cucumbers, I replied no one's really. He grabbed 4 slices and walked out. Jacob notices that someone is eating something and being the youngest wants to make sure he gets his share, walks in and takes a handful. Now these are the same cucumbers that have been sitting on counter all week that no one noticed.

With the cucumbers gone, I start pulling more stuff out of the fridge. Rinse some grapes and place them in a bowl on the kitchen table. I cut up the watermelon leaving the bowl on the opposite side of the kitchen. I broke out out "Garlic, Garlic dip" peeled some carrots and broke up some broccoli, those went on the picnic table.

As I stood there mindlessly eating grapes I watched my boys grab some of everything that was placed out.  Before the night was through they had eaten  two stalks of broccoli, a bag of carrots, a whole watermelon and a bag of grapes. Okay I have joined in with grabbing some of this and a little of that as I passed by. Even the neighbor kids asked for toothpicks to snack on some watermelon when playing in our yard.

When it's in a bowl they know it's washed and ready to eat. Also I have taken the "work" out eating them. I have them washed, sliced, cut, peeled, and presented. Also many of us are accustomed to mindless eating when we see food sitting in front of us.

So this was my "DUH" moment for the day. So simple, yet it never dawned on me. With this system in place we'll actually need to visit our Farmer's Market on Saturday morning.

Monday, May 2, 2016

1000 Hours Challenge- How well did we do?

Having children you tend to find yourself outside a lot. With all that energy they have being outside seems like the easiest way for them to expel it. Even if you're not a fan of spending time outside, you sit at a bench with a book while your kiddo runs mad circles around the playground. So when you hear a challenge called 1000 Hours Outside, you snicker and think to yourself "We spend at least that much time being outdoors!". That's exactly what I thought we took the challenge in October 2013. Once we started tracking our hours I learned it only seems like we spent tons of time outside. In actuality we were out on average only an hour or two a day, even on the weekends. In the spirit of a challenge we stepped up our effort to get outside. While we were giving it our best shot, Mother Nature gave us her best shot to keep us inside that winter with double digit negative temperatures. We didn't reach the goal of 1000 Hours, ending 218 hours short. The affect of the challenge had us getting creative about ways to spend just a few more hours outside. We made so many memories during the challenge and learned there were some activities we really enjoyed that we hadn't thought of, geocaching is still a favorite as well as walking/hiking different nature trails. I thought my boys would be bored to tears having to walk miles of trails with no electrical outlets to recharge their devices and only our own company. They surprised me and become so animated being away from all constant stimulation. I have their undivided attention, other than taking in our surroundings we talk about everything and anything. Their curiosity is peaked every time, more often than not when we get home they want to research the plants, trees, birds, and especial the snakes. Even my more cautious child, Jacob, will have us venturing off on different trails just to see where they go.

While we did not reaching the goal, I consider our first attempt a success. When I mentioned attempting the challenge again last April my boys were all for it, they started making lists of places to visit and favorite trails to revisit. We started off strong as summer was just around the corner and nice weather makes us itch to get outside. We were averaging 28 hours a week in the beginning, then around then end of November we got busy with school routine and just kind of stopped going outside. After Christmas it was near impossible to pull the boys away from the tablets they got as gifts. Finally around the end of February we started get outside for a few hours here and there. With the end of the "Challenge" quickly approaching their competitive nature showed through and as they tried cramming in as many hours as we could spare. Yesterday was the last day for our second attempt and we again fell short, not even reaching our total from before. We only managed 754 hours.

We're going to give it one more go, third times the charm. I believe it is important for children of all ages to get outside, but I've noticed that as they get older it can be more challenging to actually get them outside. I follow 1000 Hours Outside both on Facebook and Instagram, they have encouraged so many families to get the kiddos out and unplugged from the electronics. I also noticed that most of those families have young children, preschool/ early elementary age. When my boys were younger it was so much easier to get them outside, I almost never had to ask them. They would be out there from sun up to sun down and be filthy from head to toe. Now we have more things pulling at their attention, I lose 7 hours a day to get them outside due to them being in school. There is also the time spent on homework, after school activities, weekly appointments for occupational therapy, and time spent at friends' houses (which is usually indoors playing video games). I'm set to prove that although my boys are older (15, 11, and 10) that the goal of 1000 hours can be reached. Some days I have begged, pleaded, bribed, and drugged them outside. I have told them to get in the car we were leaving without telling them our destination, only for them to enjoy themselves once at the nature trail. I don't have the playground for them to burn off energy at anymore as they are "too grown" for that; we have gotten some looks at the squirt zone when my 6 ft 15 year old is running around with his brothers. We get creative. We try to keep things are low cost (free whenever possible ) and we try to mix it up so they don't get bored or things begin to feel routine.

While I have "big kids" they are still kids and enjoy being outside. They still like to be goofy and aren't afraid of looking ridiculous. Here's a review of how we've spent some of our 754 hours.