Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude Quirky Style

Photo by C1.

Holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are often stressful. This is especially true for families who have one or more members with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Things change. Expectations may or may not be met. Chaos prevails. So instead of doing a traditional gratitude post, I'm going to try and lighten up a bit. Hopefully my list things to be grateful for will at least make you smile. Anyway, here it goes. I'm grateful that...

The boys no longer play Humpty Dumpty in the house--with eggs from the refrigerator.

I don't have to capture renegade crickets (toad food) with bare hands very often.

The little frog I accidentally sat on last summer survived, and that I didn't traumatize my pint-size animal lovers.

Our six year old once mistakenly called a tuxedo a "torpedo.

Our 11 year old with ASD put an old fashioned metal vegetable strainer on his head today and called himself "the Tinman."

I didn't break or even hurt a toe when I knocked over a heavy, folded up card table in the basement this morning.

I can appreciate my husband's fascination for all things Sasquatch.

I didn't feel too dumb when my older son was right about that red thing under a turkey's chin being called a wattle and not a "gobbler" as I once thought.

I don't have to try and pass off processed turkey loaf because other much appreciated relatives will be doing most of the cooking.

My husband is good at calling out Bingo numbers for my side of the family's annual game--complete with small wrapped prizes for the winners.

We know better than to give our elderly cat tuna or any kind of fish. Don't ask why or you'll be sorry!!! If she's lucky, she'll get a can of turkey cat food.

I have extra special friends that I can laugh with through life. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Essay: Levels of Autism Knowledge Acknowledged at START

At one of the first sessions of START, our presenter acknowledged that attendees had different levels of knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To make us all aware (I guess), one of the first slides had these three words: "novice," "intermediate," and "advanced."

Knowing who all was attending, I figured this to be true. We had seasoned therapists, social workers, and special education teachers who work with kids on the spectrum regularly. I figure these professionals would most likely be classified as having at least an intermediate level of autism knowledge--if not advanced.

Then we had regular education teachers and school administrators who may or may not be novices. Of all the people attending the trainings, I'm pretty sure that this is the group that has had the least amount of contact with people on the autism spectrum. This is the group I figure might benefit the most from the trainings, though honestly I think every single person attending probably can learn more and benefit more.

The presenters did not define the levels for us, but I'll attempt to do that in the next few paragraphs. In the novice group are people who might have an idea of what autism is, but have difficulty defining it. They may also not realize that the symptoms of the disorder may range from mild to severe, depending on the individual and may feel uncomfortable around someone with ASD.

Those in the intermediate group already know about the basics of ASD and the issues surrounding the disorder (vaccines, a lack of opportunities for adults, stress and special-needs parenting, etc.). They may have read a massive amount of literature about autism, but do not have much experience in relating to people on the spectrum (other than a relative with ASD). In other words, they don't quite qualify as "experts" yet.

I figure those with advanced knowledge are the ones who have written books (academic style, not personal experience style) and can conduct trainings such as START. They most likely have taken university-level courses on the topic or have had extensive training in conferences. Most importantly, they may have worked with people on the spectrum on a regular basis in either a volunteer or professional capacity.

As for me, I am part of the parent group whose members could fall into any of the three levels mentioned. Although I have a son (age 11) with autism and have blogged about this topic for two years now, I feel like I still have a lot to learn. I certainly do not feel like I'm at the advanced level, though I've been competent at defining ASD and identifying the issues surrounding it for awhile now.

I find that with autism, there is always something more to learn. I'm definitely looking forward to finding more about autism and how to reach individuals on the spectrum. The next two modules (3 and 4) are about Behavior and Peers respectively.

As far as behavior goes, I know a little bit on how to help my son avoid unacceptable behaviors that will hinder his ability to succeed in the world. However, I am looking forward to what the presenters have to say on the topic. As far as peers go, one of my particular weak spots is talking to children about autism spectrum disorder. I'm hoping that after the two training sessions about peers (Module 4) in January, I will be much more adept at this skill.

So far, I'm pleased with START. The trainers approach their topics in a positive manner. So far the group of presenters from START regard the potential of people with autism positively while also using a straightforward, but positive approach in encouraging everyone attending to learn what they can--regardless of the what level one is at.

Note: This is just one post from Module 1. I'll probably post one or more related to the topics covered before moving on to Module 2 (Educational Strategies). In the near future, I'll be publishing posts about autism, teamwork, and positive thinking.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fall 2009 START Calendar and Topics Covered

As I've stated in the previous post, I'm going to be sharing information I learn through my training with the START (STatewide Autism Resources & Training) program. This post will serve as an outline or point of reference to give you an idea to what topics will be covered and when. Each module consists of a two-day training session. Each day runs from 8:30-3:30.

September 17: Orientation (8:30-11:30)

September 30 and Oct 1: Autism Overview/Teaming (Module 1)

November 4 and 5: Educational Strategies (Module 2)

December 2 and 3: Behavior (Module 3)

January 11 and 12: Peer to Peer (Module 4)

February 10 and 11: IEP (Individual Educational Plan) Development/Implementation (Module 5)

March 3 and 4: Systems Change through Coaching (Module 6)--effectively delivering educational supports in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

April 12 and 13: Weather Make-up Days (A necessity in planning for Michigan winters, I'm afraid.)

Author's Note: As you can see by the calendar, Modules 1 and 2 have already been presented. I will try to give a summary of both Modules (and perhaps some related posts) soon. This Thursday I will speak to my support group about START and explain what it is about.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Brief Overview of START

Below: C1, the focus child for his school. : )

I've been on autism-information overload lately, which ironically is why I haven't blogged for awhile. Last week I participated in two-full days of a grant-funded autism-training program (based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan) called START (STatewide Autism Resources & Training).

The days run from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. It's being held in Ithaca, Michigan which means a one-hour drive round trip. The two day per month program started in September and will end in March or April depending on if there will be cancellations due to severe winter weather here in Michigan.

Although the time investment is huge, I was delighted that my son, C1, was chosen as his school's focus child. The idea behind the program is that teams from the school system learn to apply the information provided to help the focus child and then adapt it to help other children on the spectrum in their schools. It is my belief that this program will have a long-lasting positive impact.

The trainings are based around teams from each school (two or three districts are represented). Teams are formed around one child with autism from each school. The sizes of the teams vary depending on age (high school students have huge teams) and needs of child (amount of therapists needed). Parents are highly encouraged to participate along with principals, special education and regular education teachers, school therapists, and sometimes paraprofessionals.

Anyway, the good news is that I have a lot of valuable information to share right now, and will also have a lot more as the training progresses. The drawback is that I have to find the time to sit down and share it. My family is facing a possible huge, but positive transition in life (more on that later), so I've been busy trying to prepare for that as well.

Please be patient with my blogging gaps. I'll try to sit down and type up several posts at a time. The idea will be to schedule one post at a time for publication. Hopefully, I'll be able to publish more than one a week.