First Grade IEP

Click To Tweet“Tell me how I can help you help my kid.”  Leia Holley

I heard this quote at an autism conference.  And it stayed with me.  She ventured that before going into full battle mode at an IEP, she reminds herself that they have gathered to help her child.

If this acronym is unfamiliar, The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is required by United States law for students with disabilities.  Each of my sons has an IEP documenting the services they will receive at school, and it’s updated as they progress.  This is a broad definition and more information is available online.  I describe Taj’s first grade IEP in this post.

On October 24, 2016, the usual suspects attended.  The principal, Taj’s regular ed/math teacher, reading teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, Taj’s case manager, and myself.  Also two newcomers, an autism specialist and Taj’s provider.  The conference room, comfortable, with a shiny table on which to sign several documents.  The atmosphere, calm, accompanied by the awkwardness of people discussing someone they all know, but have only met each other in passing.

How would we navigate today’s IEP?

Academically, Taj knew all of the sight words, consistently scored 8 out of 6 on spelling tests(challenge words)and flew through math.   Given multiple choice questions during Accelerated Reading quizzes in the library, he received high marks.

But when asked a comprehensive story question with his partner, Taj said,  “I don’t know”  repeatedly.  Same with reading homework.  Then one day he whizzed through homework, no problem.  Was saying “I don’t know” a game for him?  Was  it difficulty processing in the class because of distractions? Was he succeeding at home because of  one on one supervision free of other students?

I called the autism specialist to observe Taj because of a behavior calendar that had more yellow days(warning)than purple or green(good)days.  Spitting water out of the fountain, not lining up, running away at recess, cutting his shirt when his para(special education worker that assists students with disabilities) stepped away for a moment in art class.

Taj’s case manager and regular ed teacher brainstormed with the Autism Resource Class teacher.  A reward system was proposed.  When Taj was observed doing something well, he got a toy frog.  When he earned a certain amount of frogs, he’d get playdoh at an allotted time.  If he did something that caused a warning, he lost a frog. The system wasn’t always working.

The autism specialist noted, “consistency is key.”  She observed directions getting fumbled.  For example Taj is told “Go stand in the hall.”  He does but on the wrong side.  The next para says “Thanks for standing, here’s your frog.”   Taj shouldn’t get a frog because he didn’t follow precise directions.  It could be argued that the directions were not clear enough however.  More communication was needed.

Then the occupational therapist suggested that Taj stop OT because his hand writing had progressed.  Taj’s grade card was marked “approaching goal and needs frequent assistance.”  Why take that support away?  I didn’t want regression to occur.

At this point Taj’s case manager took out a copy of his work.   Four questions to answer.   The top 2 answers, large wobbly scrawl with unequal spacing.  The bottom two answers, neatly formed small script with correct spacing.

“Did Taj do this?”  The case manager pointed at the bottom answers, so neat they could have been written by an adult.

Taj’s provider answered, “The top two answers were completed at school, the bottom was completed at home.  When he doesn’t write neatly at home, we erase and start over.  ”

“We’ll have to expect more from Taj’s handwriting, we didn’t think he’d written the bottom 2 answers.”  The case manager smiled.

“I have a question?” Taj’s teacher motioned to the autism specialist. “Taj will say words repeatedly.  How do we change this behavior?”

The autism specialist replied,  “I say, just once, and then ignore it.  Mom and Dad are doing this at home, he then moves on to the next subject.”

I added to the autism specialist’s comment, “You might see an increase in challenging behaviors when you start ignoring this.”

Then the reading teacher talked about the challenge of partnering Taj.

“I put him with someone of his skill set, but Taj was speed reading and skipping words.  Next, I paired him with a child that was sounding out words, then Taj reverted to sounding out words.”

The reading teacher said this because his regular ed/ math teacher  wanted to partner Taj  with someone below his level, to slow him down.  The reading teacher cautioned that this tactic might backfire.  I worried that he’d get frustrated and stop working.  It was decided that Taj would continue to be given work after his classmates finished, stalling boredom, and be pulled out for AR testing during that time.

“I would like to see Taj interact more with his peers.  Sometimes, they ask a question and he doesn’t speak at all,” remarked Mrs. V, his regular ed/math teacher.

I love that Mrs. V understands beyond the academics, social skills goals need to be listed in Taj’s IEP.  We discussed finding a group of kids to help Taj with social skills after he gets off the bus, before school.

Sadly, not all parents are met with school personnel willing to allow outsiders to observe.  Also, some parents experience a feeling of being rushed, and pressed to sign off on things they don’t agree.  They don’t have to sign the IEP at the meeting, it can be taken at home and examined.  But ours was a open meeting.  Definitely not a battlefield, as all IEP’s should be.

 

 

Curtain Rods No More

I’m so proud of my velcro curtains.

Specifically, I’m proud of the velcro I placed on our curtain and window tops to replace the rods.

Three windows are in our living room.   On two windows, where the curtain rod mounts would be, one mount is missing from each set.   Don’t remember how that happened.  The last window does have both curtain rod mounts.

We used to have blinds.   But the boys played with those until the blinds semi-permanently folded like bendy straws.  If you pulled the strings they always ended up crooked.  We got about 45 degrees of sunlight in the house from those windows and blinds.

The insides of our white window frames are notched from many curtain rods.  Deep light brown grooves stripped of white paint.  With persistence we placed curtain rods in the frames.   And with persistence the boys snatched them down.

Bang!

Then, they took off the rubber tips and chewed them.  Every time we put the curtain rods back up without those tips, a deeper groove formed.  So we bought more curtain rods.   I bought chew tubes for the boys, thinking maybe this would satisfy their need to chew.

But the clattering of  rods continued day and night.  Then we decided, we’ll just skip curtains.   Maybe it’s the banging of the rod noise they like.

I draped a blanket over the curtain rod mounts on one window.   However, since Anwar likes running with blankets on his head that didn’t work.  We’d find him giggling with the blanket over his head,  2 in the morning, street lights glowing through the windows.    I hooked fitted sheets over the curtain rod mounts(because maybe if the sheets weren’t as thick as a blanket Anwar would leave those alone), and it looked silly, but I was beyond the aesthetics of our windows.

Our curtains had been chewed at the bottom.  They had raggedy edges and tears at the top where the curtain rods had been yanked down.   We had heavier burgundy and beige curtains for the winter, and my mom had made us curtains from yellow and then orange fabric for summer.   We didn’t plan on buying anymore curtains; we needed a solution.

Sasha, Taj’s provider, told us of a woman who had the same challenges with her daughter.  This woman had affixed velcro to the top of her window and back of the curtain fabric.

I went to Walmart and got velcro that said it was for fabric, and needed to be washed for the velcro to adhere to the fabric.  I washed the fabric with velcro and put the adjoining side of  velcro on the wall.   But the velcro kept peeling off of the fabric and the velcro on the wall didn’t stay either.

Humph.

I decided to try  “Command” Strips.  Those are used for fabric hangings right?  No luck.

Grrr.

I do not enjoy DIY house projects at all.  So all of this trial and error for already raggedy curtains, for our badly chipped window frames, with duck taped screens on the outside(that’s a story for another day) was really annoying me.

I went to the office section again and got black velcro.  It wasn’t in a continuous roll, like the fabric velcro, but was in pieces like the “Command” Strips.  I put the curtains up against the frame and marked where the velcro would need to go, corresponding to the fabric. And…

It worked!

No more clanging rods, or worrying that someone’s trying to mouth an untipped rod, or grabbing the rod from a child trying to jump off of a table.  I was so relieved.

Now,the boys are content to leave the curtains up with the velcro.   And if they do take them down, the ripping of velcro is less jarring than the sound of banging rods.   We do have one window that we leave open.  No matter what we do Anwar takes it down.  In fact, the first night we didn’t have the rods, Anwar was confused and led me to the place in the closet where we usually kept the rods.  He wrote in his communication device,

“Curtains.”  He meant the curtain rods, but he’s gotten used to the velcro in their absence.  And for anyone suffering from the banging of curtain rods…

I highly recommend velcro.

 

 

Quilts at Bedtime

A year ago, I started a structured bedtime routine that finally worked.  I had tried many methods.   Savion spun endlessly, Anwar would start singing at 3 am in the morning and Taj would cry because he was trying to sleep.  Currently:

  1. all screens turned off an hour before bedtime at 8pm
  2. Pandora Relaxation music turned on
  3. bath time
  4. tooth brushing
  5. drawing or play-doh time at table
  6. reading books at beds
  7.  books to book shelf
  8. pillows come out
  9. after lying down, quilts
  10. stuffed animals are given out
  11. storytime
  12. good night song
  13. Lights out, sleep

We give baths every other day, depending on the days’ activities.   I’m not always home at night; so we have a notebook with velcro strips that laminated cards attach to, telling the boys what comes next.   When the boys exhibit negative behaviors, night time privileges, such as drawing or play-doh are taken away.

We make sure that if it is a sensory need(someone needs to bounce before going to sleep) we provide a support(a mini trampoline, for example) that they use before bed.

Last night was challenging.  I gave the warning at 7:30pm that we would go to bed soon.  I was reading with Anwar and Savion and Taj was with the provider, Sasha.  I had taken away Savion’s Ipad and he was upset that he couldn’t watch “Rio,” the movie we had rented when I ordered pizza.

“I WANT MY IPAD!!”  Savion yelled.

“Yell again, and you will lose your pen privileges,” I said.

“NOOO!”  he stomped and ran into the wall.

“No pen and paper tonight Savion, I am not yelling, use your inside voice please.”

“I CANNOT HAVE IT?  I LOST MY PRIVILEGES? NO IPAD FOR SAVION!”

“No books tonight Savion, go sit in the chair behind the red line( There is an area in our house where I have a red line.  A social story on the wall has a picture of a boy sitting calmly)take deep breaths and relax, imagine you’re a balloon.”  At school they do breathing exercises, they pretend they are balloons and inflate as their hands go up, and then deflate, releasing their arms down as they relax.

“NO IPAD, NO BOOKS, I HAVE NOTHING.”  Savion started hitting and kicking the wall while in the chair.

Meanwhile Anwar, dressed in his pajamas, was sitting patiently at the table.  The timer had gone off for Anwar to put down his pen and he got a book.  Taj was with his provider, Sasha, and Taj was upset about putting day clothes in the hamper after pajamas.

“Alright Savion, now you lose your animals.”

He started to pick at the wall and eat the drywall, then picking things off the floor(dust, sand,) and eat it.  Sasha told me this later, which she stopped.  As I was going through the bedtime routine, I knew Savion was seeking attention, so while he kicked, stomped and yelled I brought out the quilts and animals.

“Savion, please get up calmly and walk to the bathroom so you can brush your teeth.”  Savion protested and, as he walked by Taj’s bed he swung his arms at Taj, who was sleeping.

“Now you lose your quilt, and will have to use a plain blanket.”  This surprised Savion.  Savion has a beautiful peacock quilt that was made by my mom.  “After brushing your teeth you will have to go to your chair and sit during the bedtime story and song.”

This was the farthest I had ever gone, taking away the special nighttime quilt and replacing it with a plain blue one.  Also making him sit in the chair while I read the story and sang the bedtime song.

“Awww, whined Savion, I will have to sleep in the chair.”  And he crossed his legs in the chair placed his hands in his lap and started breathing normally.

“You may now go to your bed Savion.”  He walked to the bed and got under the covers.

“I know you don’t want to hear this right now, said Sasha, but you did a good job.”

I nodded.  At least everyone was lying down.  And thankfully, Anwar and Taj had not become too agitated by Savion’s behavior.    At one point, Anwar did start biting his hands, but before I could get to him he stopped biting.

“Goodnight, Sasha.”  And I closed the door.

I do hope tonight is better.

 

 

 

Scheduling Summer

School has started.  But before I start writing of our school adventures…I should update you about our summer.

Near the end of the school year 2016, I learned that Taj had been accepted into the Flint Hills Summer Fun Camp in Manhattan, KS.   A camp geared towards kids on the spectrum with peer models.  He would have academics in the morning at a Manhattan school and then field trips in the afternoon.  The camp was thorough, they requested school IEPs when considering placement.  In summer 2015 I had applied for the boys.  However their needs were considered too severe, and without having myself or a provider to supervise, we weren’t accepted.   But this year, with Taj having a provider through the Kansas Autism Waiver Program, Taj was accepted for June and July 2016.   Anwar and Savion weren’t.  I alternated between excitement for Taj and disappointment for Anwar and Savion.

I worried about Anwar and Savion seeing him get ready every morning while they stayed home.  Taj would be picked up at 7:30 am and returned at 5:30 pm.  For the month of June it would be okay, since Anwar and Savion would be going to summer school.  But July?  I would have to plan activities for them to go out also.

What I had not thought about, was how much easier it would be to take the boys out with only two.  Summer 2016 was the first time since Anwar was 3 years old, that I wasn’t basically housebound.  Those past summer days were long.  We were usually up by 5:00 am and I’d take them for a drive,  do floor time play, eat meals, exercise and play in the yard.    There wasn’t a park close by at that time, and even if there had been, I couldn’t trust them not to run into the street.  But this summer was different.  Everyday didn’t blend into the next.

This summer, Anwar, Savion and I walked to free lunch at the local elementary school from June-July.  In August, I  drove them to the 12th Street Center(recreation center) for the free hot lunch.  They also took a free art class and played in the gym at the 12th Street Center.   I would not have been able to do that all three boys.

I got to take them to the tennis courts, try the reduced rates kids movies and drive to Manhattan for the Discovery Center, Splash Park, Mall and then Library.  The entire time I gripped their hands, but we did it!

I know next summer will be even better.

3 Junior Groomsmen: Part 5

Morning.  Originally my parents wanted to leave early and skip the farewell breakfast, but that didn’t feel right.   We decided to stay.  My dad and Sakai, my younger brother, helped transfer our suitcases to the car.

I put the boys in their “Autism Awareness” t-shirts, and caught the elevator downstairs.   It was a breakfast buffet at the hotel restaurant next to the lobby.  With my right hand over Savion and Taj’s joined hands and my left hand grasping Anwar’s, we walked in. Specifically, Savion skipped, Anwar tried to run, and Taj decided to squat.  I stopped, arms stretched and lifted my right hand to get Taj up, keeping a steady grip on Savion, while my left hand caught Anwar’s forearm and pulled him back.   Then, we walked in.

Family and friends gathered at a long table to say their good-byes.  Yannic and Ashly hadn’t arrived yet, nor had my parents or the boys’ Uncle Sakai.   Anwar went to a family member of Ashly’s and sat in her lap.

“Say hug please, Anwar”  I reminded him.

“ug pleez!”

I was relieved when my parents and Sakai arrived.  I needed another pair of eyes.  After preventing Taj from sinking under the table, Savion hopping out of the restaurant, and Anwar sitting inappropriately in stranger’s laps I was a little frayed.

The newlyweds appeared and the boys ate.   Savion yelled, “Bye!  See ya later!” to Ashly and Yannic, and we headed back to Junction City after an unforgettable weekend.13406948_1094246140614500_8574651360851812955_n

 

The boys are with their Uncles Yannic and Sakai in this picture, shortly before the wedding ceremony.

 

3 Junior Groomsmen: Part 4

At our reception table were three large blue gift bags.  One for each child.   The mother of the bride, Tess, had helped plan this.   I think Tess could write a book entitled:

“Autism, Kids and Weddings: A How To Guide”

The bags had wonderful fidgets and toys to keep the boys inside the room, happy and engaged.  Let’s face it,wedding receptions are  a lot to ask little bodies to handle, by the time you’re finished with the toasts, cake-cutting, etc… Inside the bags were:

  • Coloring books and crayons
  • slinky toys
  • day glow glasses, bracelets and necklaces
  • cars
  • legos
  • playing cards, old maid and go fish children’s sets
  • sticker books
  • and much more…

With the help of Anthony, Sasha and the goody bags; my parents and I were able to go out on the dance floor throughout the evening.  Which was awesome, because my family loves to dance.  We alternated who stayed at the table, who took the boys to the bathroom, and who followed the boys if they started to roam, they wanted to touch everything.

The boys were shy about going on the dance floor.  They’d gone to school dances before, with lights and smoke machines, still they were overwhelmed.  Only briefly though.

Because suddenly, Anwar ran to the dance floor, shaking his arms and legs, giggling uncontrollably.  Savion skipped up and spun in circles, jumping between turns.  Taj said,“Slide, clap! Slide Clap!” He’d follow his directions, walk, squat down, get back up and yell, “Slide, Clap!”  Savion danced with the ring bearer and flower girl.   Anwar got the general idea of line dancing.   And Taj chased the reflecting lights on the floor.

They had untucked their shirts, but it wasn’t a big deal.  This was a party!

As the thumping music lowered, Taj walked up to Sasha and said,”Sasha’s lap.”  He then fell asleep.  Anwar and Savion were also slowing down.   I nodded at Sasha and Anthony to help ready the boys to leave.   Just as we were about to exit though, pizza was served.  Well you know what happened then.  Anwar and Savion wanted a slice.  After that we gathered everyone to the elevators.  My parents stayed and that room was still rocking with energy when we left.

By the time we got upstairs, it was past 10 pm.   Sasha and Anthony helped dress the boys in pj’s, and they helped me put up the day clothes, hanging the shirts and pants, lining up the shoes neatly.   It was time for Anthony and Sasha to drive back to Junction City.

After bidding them good-bye.  I stayed up for a bit.  I was excited about the fun stories I would share with Victor when we got back home.  One more event remained of this wedding weekend before we left.

The farewell breakfast.

3 Junior Groomsmen: Part 3

Wedding day.  Our two providers arrived at 9am; ready for a day with the boys.  I was having make-up done with the bridal party, Victor was working and my parents had an errands checklist.  I put each child in an autism awareness t-shirt.   The providers had researched places to go in Wichita, and knew the boys’ favorite place to go was Sonic with the adjoining playground.

None of the Sonics in Wichita had an adjoining playground. Where to go now?  Sasha and Anthony(our providers) found a Burger King and play place.   Taj ate a cheeseburger, though he never eats those at home.   The next destination was a kid’s art place, but it was an off day.  Anthony and Sasha discovered a walkway that described the different types of fish in Kansas waterways, which the boys liked.  Soon it was time to meet me back in the hotel.

I was worried about the bow ties.  We had practiced the wedding walk in our shoes and shirts, but the bow ties and socks were new.

 They kept them on. Yay!

However, right before Taj walked out, he untucked his shirt.   One of the groom’s party quickly stuffed Taj’s shirt in the pants.

At the end of the wedding procession, Sasha and Anthony met the boys where the seating was at and walked them to their seats.  The ceremony was short and all the guests got a pair of lime green sunglasses on their seats that said  “Ashly and Yannic.”  Anwar still wears those sunglasses when we go out.

Pictures with the children were taken first.  Which was interesting.

In every picture with the groom’s party and family, someone is reaching for Savion to prevent him from running.   Or he’s limp and someone’s holding him up.  Anwar looked everywhere but at the camera in several photos(the flash might have bothered his eyes), and Taj was also trying to get away in certain pics.  We made the photo session as quick as possible.  After, there was a huge garden with pathways for the boys to release some energy.

One area had butterfly chairs and insect play equipment.   Large chimes, surrounded by flowers, could be played on.  There was a large grate that coins could be dropped in to make music, Anwar loved this.  A wet grotto could have been explored, but we decided not to press our luck with the lure of water.  A model train set and city fascinated Taj.

“I wasn’t sure about Savion’s shoes but he kept them on,” my mom said.  She spoke to soon. 

Walking back to van we discovered that Savion had one shoe on and one shoe off.

How long has he been walking like that, was he uncomfortable?  But Savion was laughing.  Anwar, frustrated with our slow progress, was trying to lead us to the car.  Taj was taking small and slow steps.  Anthony went with Savion to retrace his steps and found the shoe. Now it was time for the next part of the evening.

The reception.

 

 

3 Junior Groomsmen: Part 2

The hotel, for the boys, was a vacation in itself.  Two large fluffy beds, a goodies tray between, and tall windows they could stand in.   The sliding doors of the walk-in bathroom were delightful, too.  I gave the condiment tray to my mother, $3.00 for each snack would rack up a bill.  I gave the boys books and went to the bathroom.   If only I hadn’t forgot that hotels usually have cabinets stocked with beverages…

In a cabinet under the tv was a cache of drinks.   I heard the familiar  ‘pop’ of a soda can as I washed my face and rushed out.  Two cans of soda were on the cabinet, a shelf was open underneath, and beside that shelf an open door.  In the shelf someone had poured out soda, it was still fizzing.  I got a towel and soaked up the excess.  Behind the cabinet door was a fridge, where someone had unscrewed bottles.  The drinks were full, but we’d have to pay for them.

I knew better than to ask Savion,  gleefully bouncing on the bed, or Anwar, giggling underneath two comforters, nor would Taj answer my questions, so absorbed in drawing he was.

I clapped my hands, saying, “Time to clean up!” and called housekeeping.  My dad stopped by.   Mounds of sugar were beneath the coffee pot and table, two little wastebaskets overflowed with soda cans and bottles, comforters and sheets were strewn across the floor.

“It looks like a rock band’s been sleeping here,” he remarked wryly.

And we’ve only just begun, I thought.  I focused on our next task, the “wedding walk.”

The wedding coordinator suggested that the boys practice being” junior groomsmen” before the rehearsal dinner that night.   The rehearsal was not being held at the venue(Botanica Gardens in Wichita, KS), but at the hotel and dinner would follow.   The boys,  mom, dad and me( Victor had to work) met my brother and a bridal party member at the Gardens.  Each child would walk with one bridal party member.  Savion counted steps from the garden entrance to the circular grassy field where the ceremony would be held. Forty-seven.   Anwar walked cautiously with hands over his eyes.   And Taj.  He fell on the floor, arced his back, and buckled his knees when we tried to stand him up.

Sensory overload, stubborn,fatigued?  Savion chose this precise moment to try and jump in the fountain behind the ceremony area. We caught him just in time.   Taj was still protesting as we left.   Anwar,distressed at Taj’s behavior, was stomping his feet.  Savion, sad about not going to the garden bookstore, perked up when I said we’d see Aunt Ashly(my future sister-in-law) soon.

Two instrumentalists were at the rehearsal.   The room filled with family and wedding party members.   Everyone lined up outside to practice walking in with music, and I was tense.

Will Taj refuse to move?  Will Anwar start flailing his arms?  Will Savion dance away?  Am I being unfair to their needs by asking them to participate?  I didn’t need to worry.   Taj blew a raspberry at the maid of honor when she said, “Hi, ” but other than that it was smooth. Time to test our skills of sitting and eating.  Dinner.

They sat with some fidgeting, but did well, and were given backpacks at the meal.   Navy blue cloth bags with their names in green and gray drawstrings.   Each bag had a water bottle with a food container on top, plus another gift.   Taj’s gift was a car, which he rolled over Uncle Yannic’s head like a racetrack.   Savion got a kid’s introduction to French book, and Anwar received a yo-yo.  The night was not devoid of of antics though.

The doors were closed after Savion ran out the room.    Taj darted over and grinned as he turned off the lights.  I captured Taj, and Savion started laps around the table.   Anwar got upset at their behavior and tried to bite his hand, which I soothed with deep pressure around his body(a hug).   But everyone was understanding.

The attendees allowed the boys, the flower girl, and ring bearer to be children.   If they wanted to sit on the carpeted floor and play with their toys, after dinner, it was ok.

Victor came when dessert was served. The boys were winding down, but got excited again when they saw Daddy.   It was bedtime.   Victor went downstairs to the bar to “Toast the Couple.”  I went upstairs to the room with the boys and they immediately fell asleep.

What adventures will we have tomorrow?  I fell asleep.

3 Junior Groomsmen: Part 1

My 3 sons attended and participated in a wedding!  Not only that, but our family enjoyed the full wedding weekend in Wichita, KS.  Hotel room, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, wedding reception and all.  We started prepping the boys a month in advance before my brother’s wedding on 5/21/2016.   I made a mental checklist of what we would work on:

1. Sitting at the table.  We practiced waiting until everyone had finished eating to leave the table.  We practiced sitting nicely and not pretending to fall out of our chairs(Taj), or take bites of food while spinning in circles(Savion),  or pressing the lettuce leaves up against our faces(Anwar).  The wall next to our dining table has a picture with eating icons and text.  “Use fork, ” “pass the pitcher” and “more”  are a few,  they help foster speech and manners.  I  used the icons often as we prepared for the wedding.

2. The “wedding walk.” We emphasized that in a wedding we would walk slowly.  We walked from room to room, usually before dinner, at a  measured pace.  Taj thought it was funny and took tiny snail steps at first.   Savion would take a step, run in place and flap his arms, take a step, and say “oh boy, oh boy oh boy!” Anwar looked at me perplexed, as if to say, “Why in the world are we walking from room to room holding hands? We hold hands outside, on the sidewalk.”  It was a good thing that we started practicing early.

3. Our providers looked for footage of a simple wedding ceremony online.   One was found to their liking, but the entire bridal party was crying.  Scratch that idea.  We didn’t want the boys to associate weddings solely with tears.   They did find a nice social story with pictures of a bride and groom during a ceremony, also other members of the ceremonial party.

4. I looked for social stories on the specific topics of “keeping our hands out of our pants,” and “fingers out of our nose.”   There were printables online and I downloaded a kindle book.  But in the end, I took one of their composition books and drew simple stick figures with text the boys could understand.

5.  I looked for fidgets(manipulatives that can be used when children are sitting or waiting to keep them busy).  Playdoh, pipe cleaners, books, etc..The providers took notice of things that calmed the boys when anxious or overwhelmed.

However it was not just the preparation that allowed the family to stay and enjoy the weekend.   It was also the people who came to assist us and the way the ceremony and reception were organized.  To be continued…

He Wandered Away

Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday, a boy from Savion’s class in the Autism Resource classroom, eloped from home. It was early morning and by late afternoon, he had been found by the police a mile away from home.

A year ago from yesterday, 5/22/2015, Taj wandered away from home…and then the police came and took our three boys away from us.

I had gone to my mom’s to get a cake pan. Earlier that morning I had bought bright blue frosting, confetti cake mix, and candy letters for a fun baking experience.  I was discussing how best to remove cake from a pan without crumbling when I got a call from Victor.

“Is Taj with you?”
“No. I left him with you and the boys.”
“He’s not with me!”

I shuddered and my heart started beating faster. I would have to call 911. Again. My mom overhearing said, “I’ll go to the house.” Victor would start driving in the neighborhood, so I ran outside and started yelling.

“Taj! Taji! Where are you Taj?!” Come to me Taj!” Victor saw me running on foot while he was driving and we went back to the house.   Mom was on the front porch, with policemen standing close by and in the front yard.   Three police cars were in front. I dreaded what was coming. The last time one of my boys had run away I had been told, “This can’t keep happening, ” by a police officer. Was Taj ok? Were my children about to be taken away?

I stepped out. In the front yard a woman came up to me with Taj.

“My husband was biking and we thought he looked familiar, we brought him to the police. He’s been so good.” She handed him to me and Taj grinned, grasping a bag of Fritos.

“We have to look out for the kids..” I heard one police officer say to Victor. Anwar was bewildered, standing next to my mom, Savion hopped from one foot to the other and Taj munched his Fritos. I knew then. They were taking my boys away.

I pinned my hands to my sides and took deep breaths. I didn’t want to be seen as unhinged or emotional, I was already seen as a negligent parent. I turned my back though, when I realized I was glaring.  I then sank down on the front porch and started to cry. My mom put her hands around me.

We were told to get a bag together for the children. Victor’s voice started to raise in agitation in response to a police officer’s question.

“Calm down honey, please,”I said.
“You don’t tell me what to do, I’m an adult!” I knew that his anger wasn’t at me, but at the helplessness of being in the situation we were in, but it still hurt.

I wiped my face with my hands and smiled at the boys. What to say?

“Mommy is going to pack your bags and you are going for a ride with the police officers.” I smiled. Pretending. Victor and I didn’t know where they were being taken. Topeka? Manhattan? Lawrence? Would the caretakers know about children with autism? We were told to go to the police station for further information.

At the station, we were told that the Department of Children and Families would be in contact with us. I thought, “My children are well-fed, we don’t beat them, we love them…but it’s not enough.” We got a call from the DCF, and it was decided that while our case was being decided the boys could stay with my parents, but no visits or phone calls. I made sure to give my mom the cake mix, frosting, and candy letters that the boys had been so excited to make.

My mom told me later that the first night, Anwar sat at the table and sobbed. He knew something was wrong, even if he couldn’t understand it.  Savion kept asking, “What happened to my house? Is it gone?” Taj, surrounded by his grandparents and brothers, was happily unaware of what was going on.  Victor and I got a lawyer to represent us.

I was instructed by the lawyer to draw up a resume.   I listed autism conferences I had attended, my participation in the autism support group, and parenting classes I had taken.   Second to that I listed my degree and community involvement.  I needed to get across that I was aware and trying my hardest keep my children safe.  Victor also provided a resume.  It was a long, lonely and sad birthday weekend.  I was comforted in knowing that the boys were safe with my parents, and making the cake they had been so excited about.

The boys had to stay with my parents during half of the next week, so a babysitter had to be found.  Luckily, a paraprofessional that had taken care of them before was available.

A DCF worker came out to visit Victor and I and asked,
“Why do you think this keeps happening?” I was frustrated with this question. Didn’t she know about the diagnosis of autism and the behaviors prevalent in those children diagnosed?  I politely answered with my explanation asd and what it looked like in our family.

The day of court, Victor and I dressed nicely and went up to the lawyer’s office. Victor and I didn’t even make it to the court house. The prosecuter said our case never even should have gone so far, given the boys’ diagnosis. That same day, we went to my parents house to pick up the boys.

“Mommy, you came back!” shouted Savion.
“Mommy, home?” Taj giggled. Anwar came and pressed his forehead to my mine, as I squatted down to give them hugs. The baby-sitter was just as excited to see that we were together. The DCF worker came to inspect the changes that had been made to the house and found them satisfactory. Alarms on every door going outside, doors that unlocked only with a key and a fence between the front and back yard. The DCF worker also gave me the name of a hospital, that made visits to children’s schools, to help develop plans of action to quell negative behavior.

So, a year later, I am thankful that my boys are still with me. Thankful that the little boy from Savion’s class was found safe yesterday. And yes, I’m thankful to the police, for every time they have brought them back to me.