Zone out

Last night as I was talking to him, Ben’s eyes started to twitch, then he bugged his eyes open real wide, closed them, then stared in my direction.  I asked him if he was okay, he looked like he was going to faint.

He said, “I was using all my powers of concentration not to zone out on you.”

We both just stood there.

He said sorry and I said thank you at the same time.

The Cricket in Times Square

One of my favourite books as a kid was The Cricket in Times Square by George Sheldon.  The story-line goes something like this:

There is a little cricket named Chester who lives in the countryside of Connecticut.  He gets caught on a subway train heading for New York City and ends up in Times Square where he feels overwhelmed and scared.  Luckily, he’s found by a boy named Mario Bellini who helps his parents, Mama Bellini and Papa Bellini, run a struggling to be profitable newsstand.  Mario keeps the cricket, and they make a trip to China Town in search of the perfect little house for Chester to sleep in at night in the newsstand.  Chester also makes friends with Tucker mouse and Harry the cat, and the three of them have adventures in the train station when everyone has gone home.

When Chester eats a precious $2 bill and later accidentally sets fire to the newsstand, you can understand why Mama Bellini is angry and ready to blow her stack.  Just then, Chester chirps Mama’s favourite song, and she begins to sing along, to her own, and everyone’s surprise.  They then realize Chester has a perfect memory for classical music, and the sweet and beautiful little concerts he give to the commuters who stop their rushing to listen, increases the sales for the newsstand and brings calm moments to a bustling and loud station.

Chester begins to miss his home in the country, and although everyone will miss him, they all agree that he must do what makes him the most happy.  Tucker and Harry wish him good luck as they say good-bye at Grand Central Station and Mario is glad to know his cricket friend is on his way back to Connecticut and hopes to visit him there someday.                  ________________________________________________________________________

Life has its chaotic, loud and rushed times,  not unlike the train station at Times Square, and what people say and do can be confusing and unnerving, especially if you have Aspergers… there is also a lovely and calm simplicity if we take the time to recognize the charming unique gifts in each other.   We each have in us a friendly virtuoso cricket, but sometimes we really do need to STOP and make the effort to listen.  Also, because this blog is mainly about focusing on the intention behind behaviour, the analogy of how amazing it would be to find cricket song in Times Square train station works – it would take some searching, and maybe unconventional listening, but definitely worth it.   It could change your perspective, and add a layer of appreciation for the enormity of activities going on at the same time.  And, ultimately we are all happy in possibly very different environments, doing very different things… and that’s okay.  Some of us like Connecticut, and some of us like Times Square.  It’s all good.

Hot ear

So, I have a question.  It is about ears.
I can now tell the emotional state of my sons based on the colour of their ears.  And I have even found myself giving other people the inside scoop on ear reading.  This feels very strange.
First of all, Ben and Davis feel the heat of summer most acutely in the, mostly upper, cartilage of their ears.  This is excruciatingly annoying and intolerable to them.  Hot ear is bad.
Secondly, when they are anxious or massively bored, their ears get hot.  Hot ear is bad.  Hot ear dilemma  trumps all others, and the original stress trigger trades place with this hot ear stressor.  Hot ear = red ear.
Therefore, slightly pink ear is low agitation; deeper the shade of red, the more intense the feelings of frustration and anxiety.  Or, just plain hell hot weather; we live in Vancouver, but their ears say we live in the deserts of Australia.
Tonight Davis and I were at a class, one that, I grant, can be boring and thank goodness is almost done.  He’d had a long day at school and while most Tuesdays he can tolerate the additional school-like environment, tonight was too much.  It was also warm today, and he is always warm, even on cool days. He’s the little furnace that warms my hands before bed with his hands.  So does Ben.  And my hands cool theirs – mutually agreeable arrangement.  I like holding their hands because Moms just like that, temperature unrelated.
So, Davis scooted around on his chair with wheels (either a really smart or really dumb chair to give a kid, I don’t know) and tried to cool himself down by licking the back of his hand and rubbing the spit on his bright red burning hot ears.  Priority one now became finding an ear cooling strategy.  Part way into the class his ears were so hot that an increase of spit wasn’t working one bit.  I suggested we go to the washroom and cool those ears.  No, he was sure it was too far and the effort would only make him hotter.  Finally, after a discussion of how spit is body temperature and therefore would be unlikely to effectively cool an ear in a non-air circulating room; even if his chair has wheels, the highest velocity he could achieve safely would not suffice in counter balancing the intensity of ear on fire.  And it’s gross.  That part he didn’t either get or care about, but he agreed that the puddle of spit in the palm of his hand wasn’t working.  Everyone around us was pretending they were so interested in the topic of healthy snacks they didn’t even notice. On the way down the hall we found a water cooler with super cold water.  In the washroom he cooled his ears and feet and hands and face. He calmed.  We returned, with a cup of cold water as back up.  Later he apologized to the teacher for breaking his pencil and trying to flee on a wheely chair in hot ear frustration.  She smiled.
This all consuming hot ear problem sure does effect behaviour as I have seen on many warm days leading to sleepless nights, or stressful situations that hit the hot ear switch.  So, a cold pack under a pillow slip is a life saver, and guess what Davis’ favourite Christmas present was – an awesome purple hand-held fan from ToysRus that sprays cool mist from the little ice cube tray in the base.  Oh, the joy.

3 P.S. PoEmS for Mothers Day to Me from Me

When someone with Aspergers
feels misinterpreted,
or embarrassed, or wrong, 
or right, or or tired, or hungry, 
or alive…
They can argue their point
to enlighten you
and won’t stop
until they will.

ps. don’t respond with any emotion.  
only logic will soothe the thirst of a marathon dispenser of logic and reason and scientific analysis and… Thank God For, and Curse You :Google!
ps. I silently cheer for myself when my cleverness, or silence, stops the verbal flow from overpowering, because I have been polishing my Shield of Smarts and my Armour of It’s Not Personal.  Plus, I am being frank about explaining how being right is not always the most important part of a relationship, or living in a family unit. Hmmmm, they say.  They are considering it, and I see them trying to understand there are times when graceful concessions are beautiful offerings of caring.  Gosh, it’s gorgeous when they do it.
ps. and that has happened at an increasing rate!  Happy Mothers Day Me!

When someone with Aspergers
wants to show they care
they change the operating system 
on your computer as a surprise,
or follow you around the house 
singing the numerical sign of pi, 
or having seen you laugh at a scene 
from the IT Crowd
that you showed them bits of
because it is a possible flash of their future 
and hilarious,
they then repeat it over and over
and over and over and over
and over and over and over and over
finding it equally funny every time,
so of course you will too!  
because you laughed!

ps.  it was the scene from the IT Crowd where Moss sings the new Emergency Number 0118999881999119725 3, and it was the fun of the day to memorize for the boys.
ps.  I now know the number too, from shear osmotic repetition.  Happy Mothers Day Me!

When you want to laugh and melt 
because you love someone with Aspergers,
think of the sweetest thing about them,
adorable and fantastic in their singular way.

ps.  like yesterday, Davis went to a birthday party.  Which is rare.  So it was important.  To me.
He asked if he could make something on the stove.  I assumed he meant for himself.  I said, “Sure, what?”  “I don’t know yet”, he said. 
He figured it out.  He mixed bacon bits and BBQ sauce in a pot, simmering gently.  When I came back into the kitchen he had put it into a round plastic container with a green lid.  He was pleased with his birthday present for his friend’s 10th birthday.  Because, you see, Davis loves to cook.  He loves to eat.  He shows he cares by making things for you that he likes.  And he likes bacon.  And BBQ.  (We were obviously low on groceries and time)  We also bought his friend a gift certificate for EB Games, so we put both in the colourful Happy Birthday bag.  At the party Davis was sure to intensely explain the possible ways to prepare and eat the well intentioned brown bumpy sludge – cold or hot, on pasta or rice, or on its own….. 
The birthday boy’s family are long time friends of ours; it was all quite sweet, and absurdly memorable.
ps. and I smiled with crinkly eyes.  Because the pure kindness of Davis at his core is clear and true, and hard to see sometimes… and I can be blind… 
And I am I ever lucky.  Happy Mothers Day Me!

Heritage Fair

When I picked up Ben from school today, Jack, the SSA (Student Support Worker) told me Ben had “been very studious today”.  He waited for me to realize he was joking.  Jack’s a great guy, and we are glad he works in Ben’s class.  “But only I knew how to read his work,” he laughed.  He is also the unofficial I.T. guy for the school, which is a good match for our computer smartie, Ben. This also means Jack easily recognized Ben’s attempt at “latin” today.

Ben had been working on the second part of his Heritage Fair Project, (the Reflection piece).
By answering the questions in Lorem Ipsum.  I learned today, that is a way of injecting nonsensical words that look like readable latin in a text format as filler.  When the teacher came over to check out his answers with a quizzical look, Ben told her he had written it in latin.  So, she asked him to translate it.  Then came the argument… why had she told him that he was all done the Heritage Fair, to then give him more unexpected Heritage Fair work?  She shook her head.  She is a lovely teacher, actually. 

Grades 4 to 7 curriculum includes choosing a topic in Canadian History and doing a presentation, ultimately judged by judges that come to the school on a certain date who chose the best ones to go on to the next round of competition for prizes etc.  Parents buy the big poster boards and kids decorate them with information and pictures etc.  The students are required to include 5 “products” such as maps, timelines, fact files, pictures, 3D models etc. chosen from a list of at least 30 possibilities.  

Over a month ago the teacher gave Ben the long list of products he could show and reminded him about the project very often.  As the weeks went by, she was getting a bit frustrated that he hadn’t begun.  Good timing was that teacher-parent conferences came up and I brought Ben.  We helped him narrow it down to 5 components and scheduled a calendar that home and school could work in tandem with.  
The best thing lately has been that we bought him a portable scanner so paper is less of a big deal – (worksheets were getting lost, assignments got missed)  So, now he scans his work, texts etc. and e-mails them to an account that he, school and home can access anytime.  Progress:)

Anyway, back to the Heritage Fair.  He put a lot of effort into his final presentation on the topic of The War of 1812, specifically Laura Secord.  He did research and learned how to do a bibliography.  Finally the day came for the presentation.  The best motivation seemed to be the box of Laura Secord chocolates that we agreed he could have after the judging.  It was a three day process.  The kids presented to their classmates, and other Grade students cycled through, hearing their verbal reports, which they had to hone and perfect for the final presentation to the judges.  Day 1, he was so exhausted and overwhelmed after that he couldn’t sleep.  Day 2 he took the morning off, stayed for afternoon presentations -got through it…  and Day 3 he was so DONE!  Chocolates… chocolates…. just think of chocolates…. he said to himself the whole time.  He even sent me a video text of him smiling and eating a chocolate to “tide him over” during the last hour.  
So, when it was all done, we all celebrated the effort and learning, and that it was OVER:)  

When he was handed the blue paper with new homework about the Fair, he was not excited.  And then he read the questions:

                                  My Reflection on the BC Heritage Fair Project

Excellent work on your projects!  Everyone should be very proud of their accomplishment.

A final assignment:
You are to provide a one-page typed reflection on your Heritage Fair project.
You are to include the following components:
–  Introduce your topic and question.
–  How could this project be described as a turning point in your learning this year?
–  What new skills did you acquire over the course of this project of which you are most   
   proud of?
–  How has this project changed your thinking on the topic?
–  What would you have done differently?  (Are there any other products you would have chosen instead?)

Ben’s e-mailed assignment sent in tonight:

                                      My Reflection on The BC Heritage Fair Project:

My topic was Laura Secord. My question was, “Was Laura Secord A Heroine?”.  I think she was. 
According to the definition of turning point, which is a follows;
turning point



a point at which a decisive change takes place; critical point; crisis.


a point at which something changes direction, especially a high or low point on a graph.

I would not categorize this project as a turning point in my learning this year, unless we recognize that it did have some striking resemblance to a crisis because it was very stressful. And it interrupted my sleeping patterns.

The new skills I acquired over the course of this project (of which I am most proud of) are:

                       I learned to use a hot glue gun.

                       I learned that hot gluing can be somewhat dangerous.

                       I learned where the War of 1812 museum was.

                       I learned how to make a map on the computer.

                       I found my new favourite font.

This project did not change my thinking on the topic as I had never thought of it before.

I would not have done anything differently and there are not any other products I would have chosen instead.

I put a lot of effort into this project, and I am proud of myself.

I learned a lot of interesting things about Laura Secord. I admire her for her courage. And I like Laura Secord chocolates.

Here is Ben’s project, and him dancing after it was finished, and him smiling at the park.

It is easy to forget that executive functioning skills are learned and some kids need extra help breaking tasks down into manageable chunks – and that most kids are very capable once expectations are clear and assignments are well defined, and sometimes adapted.  Asking ambiguous questions can lead to confusion, and resistance.  What I love about Ben and Davis is, they are honest, logical… and bring lots of opportunities to not take ourselves too seriously.

I appreciate being reminded that some of what we ask of kids at school is hoop jumping, and I think it’s okay to be open with them that a part of school is tolerating boring busy work at a prescribed pace, rarely based on their personal preferences or needs. And that sucks. I’m not saying that’s okay, I’m saying kids keeping a strong sense of self while changing a fractured system from the inside is another way to make it better.  There are many angles to take.  Sometimes Ian and I find it hard to balance supporting the learning outcomes stipulated by the public school system, and clearly respecting the individuality of our kids, and we are lucky to have a few staff  (not all, believe me) in Ben’s life who allow him room to express himself and make use of helpful adaptations, like taking math tests orally, as one small example of many.  Great things happen at school because of great people.

We care about his personal progress.  That’s it.  We believe it’s important for him to do his best in the present, be proud of successes and recognize that school is a place where information and learning opportunities are offered, but certainly not the place that has any power to define who he is as a person, or what qualifies as a turning point in his learning.  He holds all the power to do that.

There are so many opportunities to broaden the educational horizons for our kids and stand by them when school tries to box them in too hard, while still maintaining and building good relationships with the adults who work with them. This is also progress:)  And a fine balance. We’ve seen the best outcomes when everyone sets aside ego and focuses on common ground – the best interest of the child.   I always believe this is possible, until it is proved that it is not.  And we have had times where it was not possible, and that is very disappointing.  But that is not the case so far this year with the staff who work with Ben; while we are not always on the same page, we are in the same book – Inclusive Education.  And we are not the only family trying really hard to collaboratively improve educational experiences for all our awesome kids!  I salute you.  

And, I salute Ben:)  Well done.