I’m Thankful for the Good Days

Pulling into Leo’s school today for morning dropoff, I cautiously peered into my rearview mirror, surveying Leo’s expression. Last week was one of those exceedingly challenging ones for my boy, across all environments: school, home, therapy…

Relief swept over me this past weekend as I’d noticed a transformation back to the joyful boy that I know. I was hoping beyond all measure that this positive swing would transfer to school as well.

Leo appeared calm as I parked, emitting some familiar “coos,” which are generally a sign he is at ease with the situation. His teacher approached our car while I unbuckled him from his seat.

“Come on, baby,” I coaxed, guiding Leo outside, and placing his bookbag onto his shoulders.

“Leo, you’re wearing your Dory shirt!” His teacher sweetly commented.

He smiled, taking her hand and allowing me a kiss before they walked away. I sat in the car for a few moments, watching as they approached the building, stopping along the way so they could work on his greetings.

With prompting, he waved “hi” to another teacher…a classmate. He seemed okay, as I looked on, even after they were out of sight…and holding my breath while I drove away…

When the overwhelmingly challenging days occur for my boy, and string together for any length of time, it feels as if I’m in a constant state of trying to put out the fires…or at the very least contain them.

The question of “why” he’s having such a hard time is not always crystal clear. In fact, there is almost always some level of mystery, or uncertainty surrounding what is causing the new behaviors, added challenges, etc…

I arrived at his school a little earlier than usual this afternoon, eagerly awaiting dismissal.

Leo exited the building holding his teacher’s hand, just as he had when I left him this morning. And as I neared him, I knelt down, kissing his cheek as I had this morning…

“He had a good day.” His teacher spoke, soft yet reassuringly, perhaps aware of my brewing anxiety.

And I exhaled fully for what felt like the first time all day, grateful for this “good day” for my boy, grateful for a teacher who works tirelessly to help him through the difficult days.

There will be more of those to come, of course…

But for tonight, I’m going to (try) to let the worry go.

Because today… Today was a good day.

How Cinderella Made My Autistic Daughter Feel Like a Princess

Birthdays are supposed to be fun and exciting for little kids. I know my six-year-old daughter, Anna, is already planning her next birthday party and theme, and it’s only the night after her sixth party ended…she’s that excited!

Birthdays were always so exciting and fun for me too; so much so that I would have my girls’ parties planned, right down to the decorations, months before the party.

That changed for me a month before my youngest daughter, Zoey, turned 2. That was when she was diagnosed with severe non-verbal autism, global developmental delay, and dyspraxia of speech. She would soon also be diagnosed with extreme ADHD.

I tried to pull myself together enough to plan her birthday party, and do it just like I had done her first birthday party and all six of her older sister’s birthday parties. Her second birthday didn’t go as planned, and I would eventually realize that none of her birthdays would go as planned ever again. I tried though; each year I tried.

Her third birthday party was too loud and sensory overload took over—she couldn’t blow out her candles, and we didn’t sing “Happy Birthday” because she started to cover her ears from the noise. I took some flak from some family members because we didn’t sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but I did what was best for my child and will continue to always do so.

Zoey’s fourth birthday was a beautiful, sunny day, and I invited just small a group of family and friends for an ice cream social. Ice cream is her favorite, so I thought, “why not build-your-own sundaes?”

She saw everyone gathered around and immediately came over to me to escape the small crowd. I knew it was too much; she wasn’t comfortable. She motioned for the two of us to go inside, and I granted her that. After all, it was HER day. While our friends and family gathered outside eating cake and ice cream sundaes, Zoey and I played with some of the very cool sensory toys that she had gotten as gifts.

Being social is very difficult for Zoey. If we have company, she usually retreats to her sensory room for a “break” and I respect her wishes every time.

I had no idea what I was going to do this year for her fifth birthday. I know that 5 is a milestone birthday and, thanks to school and therapy, she had come a long way from years past.

I noticed she was listening to the original Cinderella cartoon songs on her tablet. She would sing along with Cinderella to the song, “Sweet Nightingale,” and watching her sing was beautiful. Soon, she started watching the cartoon and she never shut the TV off, which she usually does—she was actually enjoying it and captivated by it! It made my heart happy to see her enjoy something. Zoey liked Cinderella.

I did some research and found Precious Parties by Kayla, which does Princess Parties. I got in contact with Kayla and asked if she would come visit Zoey on her birthday, explaining that she has autism and got overwhelmed easily. We booked her: Cinderella was coming to Zoey’s fifth birthday.

Cinderella arrived not long after our guests. All the other children squealed with excitement when Cinderella sat down and gathered the children around her to show them a treasure chest full of trinkets and fairy wings. Then she pulled out a Cinderella book, looked right at Zoey, and pointed to Cinderella on the cover and then at herself. Zoey said, “Cerella.”

Zoey knew that Cinderella was here at our house. It was overwhelming for her and she took many breaks. Cinderella did face painting on all the other kids while Zoey sat on the couch, having me give her deep compression (squeezes) on her legs. My husband came over to us and said, “Cinderella is here for you, baby girl.” Zoey kept taking my hands to do deep compression on her legs, as I looked up at my husband and said, “We tried, we tried.”

Zoey was definitely intrigued by this beautiful Cinderella at our house, and she actually went up and approached her three times. I was moved and close to tears, because no matter what Cinderella was doing—face painting a child, answering a question, whatever it was she was doing—she stopped every time Zoey approached her, and she treated her like the special little princess that she is. That meant everything to me.

We brought out the cake and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Zoey, and it was the first year that she blew out her candles. Cinderella cut her cake, took pictures, signed autographs, and then said her goodbyes, and off she left on her way back to Prince Charming.

Thank you, Cinderella, for making THIS birthday special for my special girl. It went exactly how I had planned.

The Big Little Sister

My son Brody is 5 years old. Cognitively, due to his autism and disabilities, he is around the age of 18 months to 2 years (or less, if you read the last assessment he had of this kind). My daughter Sydney is a neurotypical 2-year-old.

Both are very different. Both are very beautiful. And both are very much loved.

To Syd, Brody is Brody. She accepts him for who is he—her brother. And in a world where we really should just embrace differences and celebrate them, that is a beautiful thing. Because, sadly, this isn’t always the case.

When she was younger, I heard the phrase “big little sister/brother” thrown about by fellow parents of children with disabilities. And now she is a little older, I’ve begun to know exactly what they meant. Because a big little sister is exactly what Syd has become—and an awesome one at that.

The movie star, Sally Phillips, whose eldest son Ollie has Down syndrome, once said something that I love and can relate with:

“The siblings of special needs children are quite special. Absolutely accepting and totally loving, from birth, someone who is different mentally, and has a different way of seeing the world, is a wonderful trait. It’s a trait I wish there was another way of getting, but there isn’t. And it does involve a degree of not having it fantastically easy.”

Because you see, that’s exactly it. Being a big little sister is an amazing thing. But it can’t always be easy.

I imagine that there will be times when she wants to do things and we can’t.

I imagine that there will be times when she’ll see the world treat Brody differently and she’ll struggle to understand and will feel upset and angry.

I imagine that there will come a time why she wonders why they don’t go to the same school.

And I’m waiting for the day she asks why he doesn’t talk back or play with her quite the way a typical child would.

But let me tell you this.

I know that no child will ever “get” Brody more.

I know that no child will quite fight for him like she will.

And I know that no child will love him quite as much for who he is.

Her brother.

Brody.

Whilst she has taught him lots, he is teaching her too and he will help to shape who she becomes.

A caring and accepting person.

What a wonderful gift.

How I See Myself in You

For seven years, I have watched you grow and your personality unfold. Before you arrived, I wondered what life with you would be like. After you arrived, I knew that life was different but didn’t realise how much I would learn from you. Through you, I have learnt what it means to be a mother, understood more about the person I want to be, and discovered new things about who I am.

I love your curiosity and independence, which were both evident from an early age. When faced with a challenge, you will always find a way to get around it. At 2, you used the filing box to help you reach the desktop and use the computer. At 4, you took Dad’s photo on his phone and tried to use it to access the Xbox using the facial recognition login. Recently, you almost worked out the iPad pin code after you set Dad a quiz about everything—from his birthday and favourite colour to his parents’ birth dates.

Like you, I enjoy the challenge of working things out and finding answers. Puzzle solving is a big part of my job. There is nothing more exciting than a problem to be solved, even if it does take a while. When faced with a challenge I can become wrapped up in it for hours and days, oblivious to the world around me until I have completed the task. This is so similar to the way you can get lost in a world of your own and spend hours working on your Lego masterpieces.

Life is the biggest puzzle facing us both, as we attempt to navigate through the twists and turns of what can often be a confusing world.

School turned out to be a bit of a surprise for us all. The demands of lessons and lunchtimes were overwhelming, and you often clashed with your classmates. As your refusal to participate in lessons and emotional outbursts increased, we realised that you couldn’t cope. Your anxiety was at an all-time high, and our hearts broke to see you struggle so much when we didn’t know how to help you.

While you struggled at school, I struggled at work. I have often been called out for being challenging, abrasive, inflexible, or inconsiderate of others. The reason is that I also struggle when there is uncertainty, an unexpected change, or when everyone has a different view about how to get things done. I don’t mean to be difficult—I just want to make sure that I get the job done on time to a high standard, and it sometimes takes me a while to get my head around different points of view. After years of conflict, and many unsuccessful attempts to change, my own anxiety has rocketed as I struggle to be the person they wanted me to be and take the next step in my career.

Things have started to change for us, as you have found the support you need at school and I am learning how to bring about the changes I need at work.

Even with these changes, life can be pretty exhausting at times. It is not always easy dealing with things that are beyond your control or don’t make sense. I have learnt to tell when things are getting too much for you—your voice becomes louder, your actions and language become repetitive and restricted, and your mood becomes more volatile. Signs that you could be headed for a meltdown and need some downtime, distraction, or support to allow you the time and space to deal with things before they get too much to cope with.

I understand how you feel. I often have moments when it all gets too much for me, too. Times when I need to work hard to keep things together, struggle to cope with even the simplest of demands, and need to escape. In supporting you, I have learnt how to identify my own triggers and manage my own stress levels without feeling guilty about the need to take some time out for me.

Together we are learning about self-regulation, and how to keep ourselves on a more even keel.

At night, I love to watch you sleeping, tightly wrapped up in your duvet cocoon. I think about the joy that you bring into my world. How you love to share your knowledge of facts with anyone who will listen, and enjoy using big words and quirky phrases you have heard. How you see life from a different perspective to most people and take great happiness from simple pleasures. How you always say exactly what you are thinking and don’t worry about what other people think.  How loyal you are to the people you have connected with, and how much you enjoy making people laugh.

As I watch you, I think about your spirit and approach to life and how similar it is to my own. We are different. We are the same. Reflections of each other, moving through life along intertwined paths.

Through watching and understanding you, I have discovered that I, too, have autism. In you, I see me and a future where we both can find our place in the world. A world where our differences are celebrated and our struggles are understood.

The Day I Lost My Autistic Child at the Mall

What sort of mother loses her own child?

What sort of mother loses her non-verbal autistic child in a shopping center on a busy Saturday afternoon?

This mother.

It was all a big misunderstanding. I had to take my other child to the bathroom, so I told the other adult with me where I was going and where I would meet him. He either never heard me or never understood, and I never thought to check as I had to get my other child to the bathroom quickly. In hindsight, I should have checked.

I dealt with the other child and made my way to the agreed meet-up place. Before we even got there, I could tell something wasn’t right. I heard screaming and crying and there were crowds at the doorway of the store I was going to. Mother’s intuition hit me right there. I had that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that somehow this was about my son.

I know my son’s scream and those were HIS screams I was hearing. He had someone with him though, right? Except the closer to the noise I got, the better I could see my child lashing out and attacking — through sheer panic — the very people who were clearly trying to help him. I ran over. I can’t run very fast, but adrenaline carried me to my baby.

The noise of the adults shouting, firing off questions and more questions; the piercing of my son’s screams; the blasting of the shop’s music – it was all too much, even for me, let alone my terrified little boy. I grabbed him from the security guard and held him tight. He sobbed and sobbed, more than I had ever known him do before in his life.

“Yes, he’s mine.”

“No, I was not aware he was on his own.”

“Yes, of course I am sorry he was hitting you.”

I fell to my knees with one of my children standing beside me, wondering what this was all about, and the other in a heap on my knee still yelling and crying for all he was worth.

The tears welled up in my eyes and I could not control them falling down my face.

“He’s autistic,” I sniffled softly. “He can’t speak.”

The tuts and stares were so powerful they were like nails piercing right through me.

Finally, the crowd dissipated and only the security guard remained. By this time, the other adult appeared and the reality of what had happened finally hit me. My non-verbal 9-year-old with severe autism had been alone and lost in a busy shopping mall on a busy Saturday afternoon.

It doesn’t matter who was to “blame.” The fact was that it happened.

You can judge me all you like, but every day there are autistic children getting lost because they wander or get attracted to sensory stimuli and they have little or no understanding of danger. My son was found because he was watching the automatic doors open and close, and he was screaming. When the security guard noticed he was alone, he physically stopped him.

My son was not crying because he realized he was lost or because he missed me. He has no concept of what lost even means.

I have to live with what happened today. I have to find a way to keep him safe even when there are other adults with me. It should never have happened, but it did.

Please don’t be too quick to judge me.

Please be aware that children with autism are especially vulnerable. Be aware that not every child can even tell you their name or where they live. Be aware that, in seconds, a child can wander.

Be aware than even good parents like me can lose their autistic child, and we have to live with that for the rest of our lives. No judgment from anyone else will be greater than the guilt I have to live with now.

My story ended well. Not every story like mine will.

Losing your non-verbal autistic child: there is nothing more terrifying in the whole wide world.

I’m Autistic: Please Don’t Normalize Me

Understanding me is hard because communication in general is hard for me. I struggle with social skills and facial expressions that come so naturally to a large majority of the population. So, when people deal with me, they often treat me like they would any other person. That would be fine if I wasn’t Autistic.

As a child, I was told to pay attention quite a lot. But honestly, that phrase confused me. I was paying attention—to the thing that distracted me from what they wanted me to focus on. It had my full attention, in fact. But apparently, that was wrong.

This is my perspective. This is the reason I used to give a blank expression back when people got frustrated with me. I simply couldn’t process what they were telling me. To this day, vague comments really confuse me. I’m not sure why exactly, but it really helps when someone explains what they want me to do instead of a hint or frustrated quip.

Please be specific. Tell me, “I’ll be there at six to pick you up,” or “Make sure you have all the materials with you for D&D today.” That structure is important to me.

So, why then is it surprising when I get distracted? “Please focus back on the book.” Oh, yes, there is a book I need to pay attention to. Sure, I can do that. Instead of just, “Pay attention.”

Sometimes, my mind wanders again because of a sound, or because my clothes are itchy. “Can you focus back on the book?” Honestly, it’s times like this that I need to get up and do things, but I never tell anyone because I think everyone feels that way… How can anyone just sit still that long? Thankfully, when I was younger some people understood that and I was able to do jumping jacks between lessons or take a break. Even now,as an adult, I dance to music or watch a show while I do chores.

If I ever focus too much on one task I start getting overstimulated. I don’t know if it’s because of my ADD, autism, anxiety… But I do know when I’m struggling with focus and I need to expel that extra energy. If I don’t, my anxiety does take over.

So, I change my main focus to what they find so important for me to focus on. This gets me questioning why is this so important. I don’t find it important. There must be something wrong with me.  My self-doubt sneaks in. If I don’t understand and they keep saying the same thing, it spirals. I feel like I’m dumb and in the wrong, and I start getting depressed. I figure, I can’t do anything right, and then my anxiety kicks in and I sound aggressive. People who don’t know me well enough think I’m a bully.

To help combat some of the more common things that happen with me, I compiled a list. While these hints may not help every Aspie, I’m hoping they can be of some help.

Please never give me too many choices.

Never ask me what do I want to do today without having an idea of your own. Because if I don’t have any ideas, I will need some from you. It is easier for me to pick between choices then it is to think of every single thing I want to do that day, especially if I’m having a bad day.

The same thing with, “What do you want to eat? What do you want to drink? What do you want to wear?” It’s so much easier for me to answer that I want “that one” versus all of the choices that I have. So, “Would you like almond milk or regular milk?” It’s a simple question and I can answer because you know I like both. “Which would you like to do, go to the park or go swimming?” If I have something different in mind that’s not in the choices, I will tell you. For instance, I will say, “Can we do a walk instead?”

Please never mock or laugh or tease me when I’m wrong. Even if it is meant to be In good humor, I don’t understand and it simply aggravates my anxiety. When I don’t know proper facts, just gently explain how I am misinformed. But be ready for a debate because I am autistic and change is hard. And that includes change of information. Instead of yelling or being mad that I am debating with you, you’re going to have to be ready for it and explain the facts in a way that makes sense. I’m sorry my brain can’t always process the things you say.

Sometimes, I AM the one who is right. For instance, one time I got into a debate with a woman who insisted dogs were not mammals. Anyone who knows science knows she’s wrong. It is really hard for me not to come across as rude or arrogant, but to me a lot of my knowledge seems to be common sense. So, it confuses me when people don’t know the same facts as I do.

If I am rude, I really am sorry. I really mean no harm. I am honestly just not able to understand your point of view. When I chuckle or roll my eyes, that is literally me processing a foreign perspective. It’s not usually a personal attack, but it is often misinterpreted that way. I’m just trying to comprehend someone who is able to think of something so different from my way of thinking.

When I’m having a bad day… usually staff and family members are the first to notice. But sometimes their good intentions can make things worse. During days like this, please give me space. Instead of bombarding me with questions like, “Do I want…,” let my brain process what’s going on and don’t give me things that I already struggle with. Let me do things that I find easy and fun. That way, I won’t struggle with something new because I’m already struggling with something else.

Make simple choices for me. Put on music, or the TV. Or let me play a game. Put food by me, or water. As an adult, I like being asked if I ate already, rather than what do I want. It might just be that I forgot to eat, and I don’t feel well. It happens when I am stressed about something.

The problem is, I don’t often know I am stressed. I just know something feels wrong, which often makes everything feel wrong. I live alone, so my cat is the best therapy. He simply snuggles, and purrs away my bad mood. I then calm down and realize what was bothering me… though some days I never know what was wrong. Patience, unfortunately, is one of the only suggestions I have for this situation.

Please use your “I feel” sentences. Even when we’re young. We really can’t put ourselves in your shoes, without a whole lot of training and understanding. So, when you get upset at us for things, our first reaction is to wonder what we did. But if you say, “I feel frustrated when you break your new toys,” instead of “Why did you do that?” we can apologize and understand why you’re mad.

Also, please accept our apologies and tell us you understand that we didn’t mean to do it and that we’re not bad. Sometimes we don’t know our own strength. Things break because we don’t know how to play with things. Sometimes we get curious and learn the hard way that the doll’s head does not turn that way.

Honestly, observation is key. If you notice we seem surprised or scared, it really was an accident and we just need to be taught how to play with the item. But if it’s done out of anger from your perspective, it could be due to a lot of different reasons. First, anxiety is often mistaken as aggression. Second, why are we angry?

As an adult, I no longer break items because I learned to be gentle, but I sometimes hold things too hard or get upset because they’re not working the way I want them to. Because I don’t process things properly or filter things properly, it really is a split-second between “This is not working” and “I hate it!”

I had to be taught to pause and calm myself when things don’t work. I had to learn that I cannot control everything. I had to learn that the only thing I can control is myself and my own reactions. And honestly, that is a comfort. Even though it’s confusing when things don’t work the way I want them to, I no longer throw things or break things because of it.

And finally, please stop trying to normalize me. I’m autistic, I will not ever be “average.” I may be learning social skills… a lot of them make no sense to me and they will never come naturally. Be patient, and understanding with that fact. My needs will always be my first thought; my disability will never be “fixed.” And that’s NOT a bad thing.

Learn the Love

The 5 Don’ts of IEP Meetings

Whether a veteran or amateur special needs parent, we all get that “deer in the headlights” look as our child’s IEP meeting approaches. From the moment you walk through the door to your child’s IEP meeting, a tower of paperwork containing all of your child’s struggles, delays, and symptoms quietly awaits you. All of the fears that you have buried deep-down in the belly of your subconscious are suddenly summoned out into the open, to be confronted and discussed among a group of professional strangers. If that’s not a recipe for an emotional overload, I don’t know what is.

While there is no question that IEP meetings are emotionally heavy experiences, I’m here to tell you that it is possible for you to leave your child’s IEP meeting a little lighter than you walked in. And it’s really not that complicated. The best advice for mastering the fine art of negotiation is not found in written law or college textbooks, but rooted in the same logic taught in kindergarten. When in doubt, always go back to the basics.

Don’t Bring Your Baggage

For the IEP veterans, maybe you’ve got it all down by now, or maybe past experiences have left a bad taste in your mouth. If you’re a newbie, you’ve heard the horror stories and you’ve read the articles. I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of these three little letters myself until I walked into my first IEP meeting.

Whether it’s your first or umpteenth IEP rodeo, the most fundamental aspect of success in the IEP process is your attitude. I once read an article offering IEP advice that suggested parents wear sunglasses to their child’s IEP meeting so that the other members of the IEP team couldn’t see them rolling their eyes. While this is obviously a joke, it represents an attitude that needs to be checked at the door.

You wouldn’t want your child’s IEP team to take out the frustrations of their previous IEP meeting on your child’s case. So why would you take your newfound apprehensions or deeply rooted disappointments out on your child’s current IEP team? Even if the same players from a past IEP are involved, it’s a new game and an even score. Walk into your child’s IEP meeting a blank slate, with an open mind and an equally open heart.

Don’t Be a Hero

You’ve done your research and you know your child’s needs better than anyone. Why would you ever need the assistance of a child advocate? And who’s got money for that?! These are good points, but they aren’t actually mutually exclusive to going to your child’s IEP meeting alone.

While you clearly know the particular needs of your child like the back of your hand, unless you’re an attorney, you don’t know the ins and outs of the IEP world. Heck, even if you are an attorney, unless you work within your child’s school district, chances are you still don’t have the advantage that a child advocate does. There is no question that there are relationships at play in the special education field, as there are in any line of work. When you are working with someone who knows these dynamics, it can only help you.

You may have the perfect speech planned, complete with solid facts and a tiny violin to accompany them, but with a child advocate representing you and your child, you probably won’t need to resort to your epic monologue. The reality is that sometimes–a lot of times–the simple recognition of small technicalities or report errors can ultimately get you further in negotiations than any crowd-pleasing performance. We know our children; we don’t know the red tape and we don’t want to. Some things are best left to the professionals. 

Even if you think you can’t afford a child advocate to represent your child, most child advocates–dare I say all the good ones–offer free consultations in which they will review your child’s case and offer you their advice and how they would approach your child’s case. It’s free, take it. Don’t be a hero.

Don’t Settle for Less

When it comes to your child’s education, aim high. Don’t think anything is off the table in an IEP meeting because, really, nothing is. The IEP team may tell you that what you’re hoping for is not feasible, but if you’re not comfortable with the one-size-fits-all menu being offered, pleasantly ask to speak to the manager. In other words, move up to the next level in your district’s authoritative ladder.

While mediation, a state complaint, or due process can seem like a lot of extra work and stress, it’s even more of a pain for your school district. Half the time, they are eager to rid themselves of you, so occasionally they’ll throw you a bone and accept their losses. Shoot for the moon and even if you don’t quite make it, you’ll land among the stars. 

Don’t Jump the Gun

Even if the terms reached at your child’s IEP meeting seem like a great fit for your child, there is no reason for you to feel pressure at the end of the IEP meeting to formally agree or sign the IEP plan. Most states that require a parent’s signature (of agreement, not of attendance) allow parents 30 days to sign and return their child’s IEP plan. States that do not require a parent signature on an IEP plan have designated waiting periods before a child’s IEP is implemented, giving parents ample opportunity to file a formal dispute. In either case, you should never feel obligated to sign or agree to an IEP plan at the IEP meeting.

The stress inevitably induced by an IEP meeting can make it difficult for you to discern between a premature desire to complete the process and a true satisfaction with the proposed terms of the IEP plan. However, as you know, agreeing to an IEP plan is not a decision to be made lightly. With the exception of a formal amendment, the specifications agreed upon in your child’s IEP meeting will define their educational experience over the next year.

It’s not a blowout furniture sale; there is no bonus prize offered for signing on the spot. There is also no shame in taking a few days to let it all sink in. Talk to your family and friends, get a good night’s sleep, and agree to the terms of your child’s IEP when you are clear-headed and confident in your decision.

Don’t Be a Jerk

People so often underestimate the “human factor” when it comes to the intricate nature of negotiation. You can prove valid points that support your agenda all day long, but a sincere smile can get you further than any fact can. People are people, and at the end of the day we all want to be treated with respect. Be someone who you would want to work with.

Remember that the faces on the other side of the table belong to real people. While they have budgets and quotas to adhere to, they are also educators and parents themselves, and they likely got into this line of work because they care about children. Until they prove you wrong, try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your child’s IEP team will be far more eager to accommodate your vision when you are pleasant, receptive, and respectful. The grace and dignity in your heart will prove far more valuable than the case studies and scholarly journals in your briefcase. Be confident and bold. Be your child’s fiercest advocate. Don’t settle and don’t act with haste. But above all this, be kind. You will be opening more than the lines of communication; you will be opening the door to your child’s brightest future.

School Creates a Beach for Autistic Students

A school in Devon, U.K., recently converted its unused outdoor space into a beach. While there’s no ocean, the courtyard has been filled in with 23 tons of beach sand and populated with pails, shovels, and beach balls. Like a giant sandbox, the space also includes a couple of seated child-size diggers. There’s also a trampoline.

Staff at the Longcause Community Special School in Plympton wanted to create a space for their students—who have autism or other complex learning challenges—to learn and play. Although they’re not located very far from the actual beach, few of their students ever go there, due to a variety of logistical and/or other issues. So, teachers and teaching assistants, along with some student and parent volunteers, worked over the summer holiday to ensure the sensory-friendly environment would be ready for the new school year.

The children are already enjoying it. Teacher Toby Clark told the Plymouth Herald that the sensory area isn’t just letting the kids get outside; it also presents many learning opportunities. This includes working with shapes and writing in the sand. Many children also find it soothing to walk in the sand or simply let it sift through their fingers.

He went on to say, “This is a really unique feature and we are really pleased with it…It is great to see the kids enjoying it too. It was a gamble and we are so thankful it has paid off.”

 

Asda Introduces ‘Helper’ Shopping List for Kids With Autism

Food shopping with kids in tow is typically not easy, and if those kids are prone to sensory overload or meltdowns, it’s all that much harder. Many supermarkets and grocery store chains have rolled out “quiet hours” in the last few years to help those with special needs shop in a less-challenging environment, but the hours don’t always coincide with times of day or days of the week that families can actually get out and shop.

Asda is one of those chains that trialed a “quiet hour,” but only in some of its stores. Now Asda is rolling out something new to all of its locations—Handy Little Helpers shopping lists.

The lists were designed by Jenny Barnett, an employee at Asda’s Middlesbrough store. Jenny’s five-year-old son, Charlie, has non-verbal autism, and his school uses symbols and pictures to help him communicate. This inspired Jenny to come up with grocery shopping lists that used symbols and pictures to keep children engaged while their parent or caretaker shopped with them.

The Middlesbrough location successfully trialed the Handy Little Helper lists, and Asda decided to stock them at all of their supercenters and superstores (more than 300 locations). Each store carries 10 of the reusable lists—which also feature a clip to secure them to the shopping cart—and they can be found at the Customer Service desk. Although they were originally designed for children with autism, anybody can use them.

As for Jenny, she’s absolutely thrilled that her idea will help other children like her son. “It’s such a nice feeling that I can walk into an Asda miles away from Middlesbrough and see another child benefitting from my idea—it’s going to help so many children, which is great.”