Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Beautiful, Rainy Day

Today, it finally rained in Southern California.  It's such an unusual treat.  Liam emerged from his room, looked out the front window and announced, "It's a beautiful rainy day.  Let's go play in the rain. I'll use the umbrella to keep us dry."

So Liam and his dad took out umbrellas and headed out into the light, but steady rain.  I watched them dissapear around the corner.

 I wandered into Liam's room and saw this on his computer screen:

 Then Liam tromped through the dirt lawn, turned to mud by the water.  Mud is another rare curiosity.  After a time, they trudged onto the porch and took off their wet shoes and boots.  "Hey Liam - do you want to walk in the mud barefoot?  I'll go with you!"  Liam hesitated a moment, but followed his dad and the two of them chased each other in big circles through the mud.
 They didn't bother to grab the umbrellas and the now intermittant rain slowly soaked their hair and jackets.  It was glorious.

I left a roasing pan of warm water, a washcloth and a towel on the porch.   Tomorrow, we start "learning at home with Mom and Dad."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reconnecting to Happiness

When Liam was little, before he was old enough for preschool, we would spend days wandering around, exploring things.  I'd load him into his stroller and walk for miles through Studio City along Ventura Blvd. and shady streets, throw him into a backpack and hike the mountains or stroll through the zoo for hours.  It was wonderful to be so free.  One day, in the zoo, a man looked at me and remarked, "you look happy!" At that moment, I felt a deep sense of contentment and joy and beamed back, almost discovering the fact for myself, "I AM!"  Liam was in his jogging stroller, kicked back and happy, ready to bounce out and run up a trail to check out the lights or bamboo plants along the edges.  I just loved hanging out and BEING in different spaces without the need to rush back for an appointment, school or work.

This week, I've been rediscovering that feeling.  Dealing with the recent hospital stay of a family member, our family has been unmoored from even our basic routines.  The positive effect of it has been to allow me to "play" more with the time we have in a day.  While John was at the hospital, Liam and I would just leave and go from one thing to the next, with little planning.

On Monday it was a trip to Burbank Mall, where I'd hoped to let him do some indoor bungee jumping.  I was bummed to see that the area for bungee jumping had been turned into Santa's throne area.  I was worried that Liam would be very dissapointed, given the buildup, but he was content to run into Old Navy and pick up some new flip flops for our trip to see Grandma and Grandpa in FL.  He took a moment to pose with the mannequins out front.
We followed up with a trip to Wetzles Pretzels and then Liam found a cotton candy machine that was playing some fun music and he burst into a happy dance.  

Yesterday, with Thanksgiving looming, Liam and I headed out for some supplies, but first we stopped at Castle Park Arcade.  He immediately noticed that they had added some red flags to the turrets.  We spent about an hour and twenty bucks on Liam's favorites, especially the Pacman Air Hocky game.

Then we bounced over to Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys Park where Liam loves to create "digital" numbers on one of the interactive areas of the playset.

Today it was a walk to Ralph's, Rite Aid and Starbucks - all in a nearby shopping center that I've always meant to walk to, but always opted to drive.  Time for a new adventure.  Liam asked, "What are we going?"  He's still working on prepositions and pronouns.  "We're walking to Rite Aid today!" He quickened his step.  He loves Rite Aid, specifically, taking videos of the digital display on the Lottery machine.  His fascination with digital numbers is a challenge in store situations, as he often wants to run up to the front of a line to see what's on the register, or even behind the check stand.  A friendly checkout clerk at Ralph's once let him help scan the groceries and now he wants to do it all the time! 

These are the situations where we have to stop and learn about boundaries.  Hard, when those glowing numbers are RIGHT THERE!!  

We took a break a Starbucks with a latte and a chocolate chip cookie.  Liam and I played a game where he pretended to be Mario shrinking and growing from encounters with enemies and one-up mushrooms. 
Boys communicate best when they're busy doing something.  I'm looking foward to seeing what's going on inside, while we play.  Today was a happy day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rearrainging Life

This week is vacation week for all of Liam's previous classmates.  For us, it's prep week.  In addition to moving into a whole new rhythm for our family, we've also been dealing with having a family member in the hospital, which has been a reminder of the old saying, "life is what happens while you were making other plans."

We have to find our rhythm, since both my husband and I work at home, but also be flexible for situations (like family emergencies) that take us out of that rhythm.  I still feel like I'm finding my footing in a moving stream. Today still seems more like a weekend than a Monday.  The dry Santa Ana winds brandishing desert dust and pollen outside make me want to curl up with a book and a cup of hot tea and let the kid run as he may, but I know I have to get it together and start to work the plan, at least the life-skills part.

Liam needs to do things independently, which ironically means that for a while he'll need to be supervised.  Yesterday I let him make his own lunch.  On removing the bagel from the toaster, he dropped it out of surprise from the heat, exclaiming, "it's flames!"  He made the bed on just a suggestion this morning and managed to get himself dressed.  Later today, we'll go to the bank and the mall.  I'll give him a budget to buy something and let him calculate it on my iphone.   I'll also let him choose some foods at the grocery store for his lunch and dinner.  Expanding his self-limited food choices is one of the goals - allowing him more potential choices when we're out around town or traveling and he can't have a bagel and chips.  Right now the out-of-the-house go-tos are french fries and pizza (sometimes).

Meanwhile, Liam is in a Klasky Csupo frame of mind today.  He was picking out the theme on the piano this morning.  Here's a crazy picture of how he programmed a piece of John's gear to display the name of the animation studio.  John assured me that it isn't easy to figure out how to do that on this particular piece of gear (which I never use).  While we're out, Liam will make videos of digital displays on my iphone and edit them into imovie to make his own videos later.  Onward.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Star of the Show

So, I mentioned that my son is fun.  The amazing thing is that pretty much every person who has ever worked with him - even the kids in his class, love him.  He's easy to like.  He may be the most natrually chill, content person I've ever met.  And he laughs easily at simple, silly things.  His teachers had a hard time telling him not to laugh in class because his laugh is so infectious.  His sense of humor is mischivious and totally 8 yrs. old.  Notice his answer to question #3 on the quiz about mountain ranges.
And here we have a self-portrait, with a booger and commentary.  For some reason, Liam always draws himself with a dark mohawk.

This is what he actually looks like - and what he can do with a stop-motion program and some clay.

And here's another stop-motion animation countdown drawn on the whiteboard in his room.  Sometimes he picks out tunes by ear on the piano.  

Usually all it takes is pointing him in the right direction and he's autodidactic - well with art, music and computer programs, anyway.  So when we start from a place of competence, this is part of where we start.  There's more - so much more.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Homeschool - an ALS Challenge for the Soul

My son is, hands-down, my favorite person on the planet.  Sometimes I can hardly believe I waited 42 years to have him.  He's that cool.

I've been a DJ, a stand-up comic, voiced a TV show on the Cartoon Network,  had my own improv company, taught Shakespeare to 4th through 6th graders and got to play with puppets at Henson Studios, but nothing has EVER been as fulfilling as being a mom.  OK - Henson came close.

But along with the awesomeness that is my son, came a challenge.  When he was three, Liam was diagnosed with autism.  Autism is a neurological disorder that falls on a spectrum.  Because it affects the brain, it's very complicated and varies widely from person to person.  The best description of autism is, "when you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person."  The past five years have been about getting him what he needs to be a happy, independent person.

Since his diagnosis, Liam has had an aide in typical classrooms and at-home therapy.  Now, at the age of 8, we've decided to home-school him.  His teacher is fantastic and he has exceptional aides supporting him in school, but the Common Core's increasingly heavy emphasis on inference and analyisis isn't working for my son's brain.  Liam is smart.  He has been able to operate at "grade level" until now.   Third grade is when Common Core shifts from the facts or the "what" of each subject to the  "how" and "why" and even "how do you know?" and those questions do not make sense to Liam.

So we're going to teach Liam in ways that do make sense to him.  We're going to stop working from a place of disability and focus on his strengths.  And since each autistic person is unique, there is no blueprint for Liam.  We have to write it ourselves.  I read as many blogs and posts by autistic writers as I can.  These powerful advocates constantly remind me of how much Liam needs to be presumed competent.  That's where we start.

When I tell people what we're doing, the reactions range from verbal "high-fives" from friends to verbal "head-pats" from professionals who say things like "well, if it doesn't work, you can always try something else."  I'm smart, tenacious, resourceful and creative.  If what I do doesn't work, I will try something else.  I've done stand-up.  I've taught middle-school kids Shakesepeare.  I've failed, figured it out and made it work.  I expect some days to suck outright.  Okay, MANY days will suck outright.  But I also know from years of teaching that there will be good days and a few exceptional days - I call them "lightbulb" days.  Surprisingly, one lightbulb day can be all it takes to wipe out a month of crappy ones.

So where does the ice-bucket challenge come in?  While Liam was in school, I became very involved at the school - volunteering many hours to chair the Arts Committee, attend Governance Council meetings and work with parent volunteers and teachers to help create a new violin program at the school.  This year we were going to expand the arts fair we started when Liam was in Kindergarten.

I also grew close to Liam's at-home therapists and school aides who are all very loving professionals.  It is time to say goodbye to all of it and it feels like a bucket of ice-cold water thrown on my head, but like the ALS challenge, I know that the cause is worth it.  So, I'm moving forward, screaming with shock and exhiliration.  Let's do this!  Tomorrow is Liam's last day of school.