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From Inside the Puzzle: Raising a Child with Autism Blog

First Week Back
August 17, 2015 9:52 AM by Devon Alley
Last week, I shared my concerns about A. returning to school. She was highly anxious, and there were several challenges she was going to have to overcome in order to be successful.

Now that she's completed the first week, I am happy to report that she has managed her anxiety and is doing well in the classroom so far. She still has complaints, of course. While she, fortunately, doesn't share any classes with the girl who stopped being her friend last year, she still sees her in the hallways from time to time, and it's still a very painful reminder. But she's managed that piece much more smoothly than she feared, so that's great.

In her last class of the day, which focuses on life skills and social development, she is the only girl, and she finds several of the boys highly annoying. She's also expressed some frustration with her theatre teacher for saying that she doesn't "believe" in multiple choice tests, and she has her regular frustrations with peers being loud. However, considering how stressed out she was at the beginning of the year, and how much of that has subsided after the first week, I will call it a win.

I feel like we owe this in large part due to the new members of her team this year. She has a new caseworker, and there seems to be a new person over special education in the school overall. Thomas and I had sent an email to them a few weeks ago, and they responded immediately. Her caseworker touches base and works directly with A. every single day. Not only did they rearrange her schedule to accommodate a time for decompression at the end of each day, but they also have worked with A. to ensure that she knows where she can go to for support each period in case she becomes overwhelmed and needs to step out. Her new caseworker is also working on a possible peer tutor for A., which I think would be a big win for her. I'm imagining that this peer tutor would not focus on academics as much as conversation and socializing -how to talk about things she's not interested in, etc. We'll see how that goes.

Overall, I couldn't be happier with the way things have been progressing so far, even if A. still doesn't really like school and complains about it all the time. At least she's not completely miserable and depressed, which was my big concern at the start of the year. At this point in the game, I'll take whatever positives I can get!

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Conventions and Cosplay
August 7, 2015 10:56 AM by Devon Alley

Last year, A. attended the Knoxville Comic and Anime Con, of which I wrote an entry about in this blog. Because she enjoyed that experience so much, I decided to make sure she continued to attend even more conventions this year.

We took her to the Marble City Comic-Con, as well as the Fanboy Expo.

A. thoroughly enjoyed both, even though she did not have the same benefit of having friends to pal around with this year.

For Marble City, she brought her notebook and went around collecting the autographs of everyone who was dressed up as characters she found interesting.

This is similar to what she did the year before, and it was awesome to see all of the attendees going along with her and playing up their roles.

For the Fanboy Expo, however, she wanted to dress up and do her own cosplay. After some consideration, she decided to dress up as Chell from Portal 2, and she did a pretty amazing job.

It was fascinating because, at the Fanboy Expo, A. was suddenly the one getting all the attention. Everyone stopped her in the aisles and asked to get their picture with her. She received so many compliments on her costume.

While I walked around awkwardly with my arms full of baby, weaving in and out of the crowds without a clue on how to engage people, A. navigated the social landscape with little trouble.

This was her turf, and she understood the rules much better than I did.

A. said that her experience at the Fanboy Expo was the best convention ever. We'll see if that holds out after our experience at Dragon-Con next month.

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A Visitation from California, Part 2
July 28, 2015 12:15 PM by Devon Alley

(This is part 2 of a 2-part series.)

Last week, I discussed the main events that occurred with M. and his mother visiting us from California. However, there were so many other small moments that I felt were, ultimately, so much more important to M. and A. 

M. not only brought A. a rose, but he also brought a unique, hard-to-find plush that depicted her favorite Pokémon character. As we drove them around on their adventures, they shared ear buds and watched videos and cartoons on their phones and his iPad. Courage the Cowardly Dog seemed to be a common theme. They Skyped other Internet friends together. When we were home, they would play Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and Doctor Luigi for hours. Their interests could not have been more in sync.

Even though they shared a lot of similarities, they also had a lot of differences. M. is a bit of a collector - he brought an entire suitcase full of plush toys to play with while he was visiting, and that is apparently just a small percentage of what he owns. A., on the other hand, tends to get rid of things as she loses interest in them. A. also doesn't care much for keeping things in "collector" shape. For example, one of the most thoughtful gifts M. got for A. was a personalized Coca-Cola bottle with her name on it shipped directly to the house, and he was baffled when her first action was to open the bottle and drink the cola. 

They were both very affectionate with each other for the entire visit, but they were also very vocal about when they needed space for a few minutes to regroup. They were mindful of each other's needs. It was sweet to watch the two of them navigate the complicated social landscape of romantic interaction, and it was also amazing just how well they were able to do so.

It definitely isn't your typical high school romance, but I could not have imagined a better match, and I could not have wished for a better first boyfriend for my eldest daughter. I'm so very grateful they found each other, and that they had the opportunity to spend such a wonderful week together.

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A Visitation from California
July 20, 2015 3:03 PM by Devon Alley

(This is part 1 of a 2 part series.)

These past few blog entries have focused on A.'s online relationship with a boy in California who is also on the spectrum. This past week, M. and his mother flew all the way to Tennessee to visit us. It was the first time A. and M. met each other in real life, and I had a bit of apprehension about the visit - What if it went badly? What if they were both overwhelmed? Needless to say, my worries were unfounded, and they both had an amazing time.

We met them at a local restaurant on Tuesday. As soon as we arrived, A. and M. ran to meet each other with enthusiastic hugs. It was incredibly adorable. The two of them sat down at their own table, began quoting from their favorite Internet videos, and when they needed to release some energy, they both paced around the back of the restaurant, almost as if in time with the other. A. carried her video game plush character with her everywhere, and M. did the same. They both spoke to each other in very blunt, to-the-point language, and they shared similar rehearsed-sounding laughs. It really seemed as if the two were made for each other.

On Wednesday, we carted the kids off to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville, where they explored indoor water parks and other amusements while we moms found other ways to amuse ourselves. On Thursday, we had a rather failed attempt at visiting Dollywood, even though M. was so very sweet and patient with A. and her paralyzing fear of insects.

On Friday, we went back to the mountains so the kids could explore further indoor amusements, and then we visited my in-laws out in the country. M. managed to convince A. that it wasn't so terrible to be outside, and at one point I looked out and they were way down the hill and in the middle of a cow pasture. I never would have dreamed in a million years that A. could be convinced to go that far away from the indoors.

Saturday, the kids had a quiet day indoors, and we ended the evening at a friend's house shooting off fireworks. On Sunday, they said goodbye, and M. and his mother flew back to California.

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An Online Romance, Part Three
July 13, 2015 4:37 PM by Devon Alley
One of the biggest pieces of news that has occurred in our household in the last year has been A.'s budding long-distance relationship with M., a friend she met on the Internet who lives in California. She has yet to meet this young man, but we are looking forward to a visit from him within the next few weeks.

I'm fascinated about the fact that A. has developed a romance over such a long distance with a friend who is also on the spectrum, but I felt awkward talking about the situation as an observer, and as a parent. I thought that, instead, I would interview A. about the situation, and let her explain in her own words. What follows is part three of this interview.

Q: So, would you consider this a serious relationship? 

A: I want to make sure it's as genuine as possible. You know - generosity?

 

Q: So, M. is also on the spectrum. Do you feel like you understand each other really well?

A: Mmm hmm. If you have the same interests, chances are you might have a great friendship, or possibly more than that.

 

Q: What is your biggest worry?

A: You know that people have thoughts about suicide and all? When people get depressed, I always worry that chances are that people would want to commit suicide. He tells me that he would never do something like that. But I still worry when he has the bad days. I hate to see him upset.

 

Q: Do you talk to him about your feelings?

A: Yeah. We give each other comfort and hugs - tons of hugs; all of the hugs.

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An Online Romance, Part Two
July 7, 2015 2:42 PM by Devon Alley
One of the biggest pieces of news that has occurred in our household in the last year has been A.'s budding long-distance relationship with M., a friend she met on the Internet who lives in California. She has yet to meet this young man, but we are looking forward to a visit from him within the next few weeks.

I'm fascinated about the fact that A. has developed a romance over such a long distance with a friend who is also on the spectrum, but I felt awkward talking about the situation as an observer and as a parent. I thought that, instead, I would interview A. about the situation, and let her explain in her own words. What follows is part two of this interview.

Q: What's the worst thing about having a boyfriend on the Internet? 

A: Why would anybody say that? I mean, there are usually bad days, but eventually they'll get over it. If you're always there for them, chances are they're going to be there for you, no matter what happens. And yes, we do have bad days, but in the end everything works out. Because you know why? We cheer ourselves up. It's important to do that when you're in a relationship.

 

Q: What do you mean by "cheer up?" 

A: I show him funny videos; I draw him some love art of me and him.

 

Q: Which is better -- making friends on the Internet, or making them in real life? 

A: It depends, really. People argue on whether you should meet them in real life or just on the Internet. I think that's a bunch of bull crap. I think you can meet a person wherever you want whether that's in real life or on the Internet. I hope to meet him someday.

 

Q: Do you think it's easier for you to have a romantic relationship over the Internet? 

A: Well, I don't know. It's hard to be in a relationship you know, that is if you want to keep it healthy. Because I've heard some not so peasant endings to a relationship, and I want to make sure that never happens to us.

 

Q: What will you do to keep that from happening? 

A: Simple. Be there for him every single day. Whether he be down or whatever mood he's in, I'm always going to stick by him, no matter what happens.

 

Q: Do you feel like he's there for you too? 

A: Of course. We love each other very much.

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An Online Romance
June 30, 2015 10:12 AM by Devon Alley
One of the biggest pieces of news that has occurred in our household in the last year has been A.'s budding long-distance relationship with M., a friend she met on the Internet who lives in California. She has yet to meet this young man, but we are looking forward to a visit from him within the next few weeks.

I'm fascinated about the fact that A. has developed a romance over such a long distance with a friend who is also on the spectrum, but I felt awkward talking about the situation as an observer and as a parent. I thought that, instead, I would interview A. about the situation, and let her explain in her own words. What follows is part one of this interview.

Q: Describe M. What's he like?

A: Funny. Imaginative. He's an amazing voice actor. We have the same interests, and we like to make each other laugh.

 

Q: What are his interests?

A: Mario, Pokemon, Castle Crashers, Shovel Knight...lots of video games. And music. And TV Shows.

 

Q: Where did you meet him?

A: Deviant Art. He was browsing through a lot of stuff when he found some Castle Crashers fan art that I had done, which was a picture of the Conehead Groom, which he liked very much.

 

Q: He lives pretty far away, right?

A: Yes.

 

Q: How do you go on dates?

A: It's simple. We use voice chat. We like to pretend that we go to movies. We look up stuff on YouTube, and we usually like to make hilarious commentary. We usually like to just quote our favorite scenes from it.

 

Q: What's the best thing about having a boyfriend on the Internet?

A: You get to see what they're doing and all. You can check on them and see how they're doing, plus you get to hear their hilarious stuff and kind words. Of course, the Internet can be dangerous, but we were both careful.

 

Q: How were you careful?

A: We didn't talk about too much inappropriate stuff - like something too personal, because we know how it feels. We handle the stuff maturely. You have to be careful what you're saying, because if you say something that might make them uncomfortable, it's not going to be a pleasant ending.

(This is part 1 of a 3-part series.)

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Maturity and Optimism
May 11, 2015 10:07 AM by Devon Alley
This past week was a rough one. I was working long hours each day, and A. was having a crisis at her school. One of her good friends, E., stopped having anything to do with her. I'm still not sure what happened. As much as I can gather, other students have started a rumor that A. is, in fact, NOT autistic, and it seems like E. might believe these rumors, and is upset and stressed about the idea that A. may have lied to her. Whatever the reason, A. has lost a friend, and she feels pretty devastated about it.

When she called me sobbing on Friday, I decided to allow her to leave school early. My amazing mother-in-law picked her up, brought her home, and hung out with her for a while. She told A. to try to focus on happy things in-between the feelings of sadness.

I was able to leave work a little early, so A. and I went shopping, and then we went out for ice cream. As she talked to me about the situation at school, I was really impressed by her maturity. She said she was very sad about losing the friendship, but that she had to accept it. She didn't seem to be angry at all - just hurt and confused. 

As we sat and ate our ice cream, A. opened up a little. She told me that she was really lucky to have me as a mother. I thought she was going to say this was because I'd let her leave school early and was getting her ice cream before dinner, but she didn't even mention it. She told me I'd taught her how to be mature and optimistic. It was humbling to be on the receiving end of such gratitude, and I responded in kind - that I was grateful that she was my daughter because she was so compassionate, thoughtful, creative, and fun to be around. We finished our ice cream and went home, both feeling much better.

It was a very sweet and touching end to a rather emotionally exhausting week.

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Her Podcast Debut
May 4, 2015 9:33 AM by Devon Alley

Recently, A. was a guest for my friend Elle’s podcast: Into It. True to the overall theme, this episode focused on one of A.’s very favorite subjects: Pokemon.

I’ve mentioned Elle on this podcast before. A. is her goddaughter, and she’s been a close friend of the family for decades. I think that was part of what made A.’s presence on this podcast episode so successful - the level of comfort that already exists between the two, paired with Elle’s ability to mine A.’s conversation for the focus points and important themes. Elle was a gracious host, restating main ideas and asking good questions, allowing A. to be expressive without totally derailing the episode. 

 

And it worked. A.’s autism is never mentioned, and while I can hear the echolalia in her vocal cadence, it is blended with the enthusiasm and passion of a young person in love with the topic she’s discussing. She can also be very witty, making jokes and adding humorous turns of phrases that are designed to entertain. When she talks about the Pokémon Tyrantrum, for example, she says, “It’s a frickin’ T. Rex. What more could a person love in life?”

 

And even though A. is the youngest guest that’s ever been featured on Into It, she still carries herself with more maturity than I would have expected for her years, and I can believe when listening to her speak on this episode that she truly is about to learn to drive a car, go to prom, and start applying for college.

 

Not to mention, after listening to this episode, I think I finally have a true understanding of this complicated universe of Pokémon – which, of course, is really the whole point of this podcast.

Check out the Into It podcast and A.'s amazing interview.

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Just Like Me
April 27, 2015 12:37 PM by Devon Alley
You know how they always say that, when your children grow up into teenagers, they will be just like you? I must confess, when it comes to A., this is absolutely true.

I'm blessed in a way, because I happened to be a very well-behaved teenager. I minded my mom, my grandparents, and my teachers, and I worked hard to be a good student. However, I also hated the bureaucracy of the school system, the idea of authority in general, and anything that everyone else loved that seemed "mainstream" to me. I dressed in black, I hid under my headphones, and I spent my time writing pen-pals who lived all over the world, creating stories and poems out of the intricate universe in my head.

Likewise, my daughter is a well-behaved teenager. She works hard every day to listen to the teachers and do well in her classes. She complains, however, about rules she finds ridiculous, or peers who seem annoying, and if something is "mainstream," she wants no part of it. She doesn't dress in black, but she's constantly plugged into ear buds, and she spends her time chatting on the Internet with friends who live all over the world, drawing stories and digital artwork out of the intricate universe she's created.

Recently, I found a letter I'd written to one of my old pen pals. In that letter, I was complaining about how much I hated school - how annoying it was to have to spend my time learning useless things when I would rather be listening to music and writing letters to my friends. I also complained that "I haven't had a good ten hours of sleep in DAYS!" I laughed as I glanced at the clock, noted that it was almost one in the afternoon, and the teenager was still bundled underneath covers. That apple does not fall very far from this tree.

And I would not have it any other way.

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Writing Messages of Hope
April 21, 2015 1:07 PM by Devon Alley

A couple of weeks ago, A. started arriving home from school with various affirmations written all over her body. These affirmations proclaimed such positive thoughts as, “You are beautiful just the way you are!” and “You are loved,” and — my personal favorite — “Everyone is a composer of their own work.” The messages were written in black ink, in A.’s own handwriting, and they were a strange, much more positive echo of messages I had written on my own body when I was in high school, so very many years ago.

 

 

When I asked her about it, A. explained that she and one of her friends at school had started doing it in response to other classmates who write negative things on their body. A. explained that many classmates not only write negative things, but will also cut themselves, and cause themselves harm. A. expressed concern for these classmates, and worried that they might actually kill themselves. She explained that she wanted them to know that things will work out, and that people do love and care about them — and that they deserve to be happy.

 

It was such a gentle, touching demonstration of empathy that I immediately wanted to share it with people. A. was embarrassed by this idea, even though I eventually convinced her to let me do so. This told me that she wasn’t doing it to get attention — that, in truth, she wanted to express her love and support of people who might be going through dark times. And I understand that my daughter is not alone — there are many teens expressing similar sentiments in a similar fashion all around the globe. It's such a sweet idea, and a much needed sentiment in a world where more and more teenagers feel overwhelmed and hopeless. 

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Autism Awareness, Autism Acceptance
April 3, 2015 4:21 PM by Devon Alley

Yesterday, April 2, was World Autism Awareness Day. Many people all over the globe lit things up in blue, shared blog posts, and donated money to various organizations in order to promote autism awareness and increase visibility for the condition. I personally know some individuals who participated in this autism awareness campaign, and I can tell you that, without a doubt, these individuals are doing what they believe is right, and are attempting to help autistic individuals in whatever way they can. In short, their hearts are in the right places.

Other people will be focusing on autism acceptance, instead. Many autism advocates and autistic adults are pleading for the world to move from a state of awareness into active acceptance. They explain that Autism Awareness campaigns tend to paint a picture of autism as a condition that needs to be fixed, that requires a cure, or that devastates families and creates hardships. What these individuals will tell you is that we need to create a shift in our culture from focusing on curing and changing autistic individuals to building networks of support and assistance to truly help autistic people throughout all stages of their lives. 

I'm not here to take a side, to publicly lambaste certain organizations, or to argue anyone's case. A. didn't even know there was anything special about April 2 -- her biggest concern yesterday was the aftermath of April Fool's Day, because the chaos and uncertainty of the day was very difficult for her to navigate. But as she grows closer to adulthood, I know that I hope for a society that is both aware of her needs and accepting of her personality. It makes sense to me that people are still celebrating autism awareness, if for no other reason than the world needs to be aware that we should accept autistic people as part of the inherent and amazing diversity of the human race.

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Spring Break Plans
March 25, 2015 4:50 PM by Devon Alley

Whenever A. has a holiday from school, she always asks what we're going to do -- what we have planned. Generally, it's not much -- maybe dinner and a movie, or a stop at our favorite pizza restaurant. For this year's spring break, however, I took a couple days off from work and built an entire itinerary of mother-daughter activities to help A. know just how much I value the time I spend with her.

These activities included some old standbys -- eating at A.'s favorite restaurants, wandering around downtown Knoxville. They also included some practical necessities, like visiting the bank and buying new clothes. She got to experience several "firsts" during our excursions -- eating gelato, getting a massage, using a steam room. I also shared some of my favorite places with her, including Magpie's Bakery and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

In order to help make a packed agenda palatable for A., I created a schedule and we stuck to it. I would review the order of events with A. several times each day. I created "sensory breaks" throughout the day -- deep-pressure massage, swimming, time for A. to plug into her headphones for a while. And I would let her "stim" when she needed, whether that meant singing to herself in department stores or flapping her arms while looking at art. This kept her stress levels down, even while engaging in new activities and spending a great deal of time socially interacting with me.

It was a wonderful way to spend a couple of days of vacation -- having adventures with the eldest, free from the distraction of work, computers, and other family members. Every once in a while, I think A. really needs time like that. Truth be told, I really need that time with her too.

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Attending the IEP
March 13, 2015 2:45 PM by Devon Alley

For those of us who love and care for children on the spectrum, the IEP becomes a source of great joy and incredible anxiety. Talk to any parent of an autistic child the day before an IEP meeting, and no matter how many times they've attended them, or how often such meetings have gone well, they will almost always express a sense of nervousness and worry. I can definitely say the same. And IEP meetings have historically gone really well for me and for A. Even the meeting where I was most anxious -- the one where they recommended A. go into the CDC classroom -- I was only ever met with individuals who wanted to support, assist, and help my daughter. As I understand it, we've been one of the fortunate families in this regard.

Even given that fact, the IEP is generally a source of anxiety for me. The meeting this afternoon at A.'s new high school was no different. I think I'm always worried that I'll become blindsided by something unexpected -- that even though I think things are generally going well, and even though I think she's making great progress, I worry that something didn't get fully communicated, that I'm going to be unpleasantly surprised -- despite the fact that, generally speaking, the opposite usually happens.

This afternoon, A. actually attended the IEP with me. I'm not sure if they would have included her in the meeting anyway, or if they did so because I called and left a voicemail requesting that she participate (and, hopefully, begin learning how to advocate for herself). But either way, they called her to be a part of the team today -- and it really changed the way I saw the entire process. In the past, the meeting has always been about making sure there are systems and safeguards in place to help assist A. at school -- to protect her, and to help her meet her goals.

With A. in attendance, the whole purpose of the meeting shifted for me. Now, it's about me educating her on what sort of services are available to her, and it's about me spending more time listening to what issues she has, and what she thinks she needs. It becomes a much larger team effort - the teachers make suggestions on what they think A. needs to work on, and A. contributes with what her aspirations are and what worries her the most. It's no longer just about me trying to interpret and play her translator and ambassador to the world. It's the striking realization that, very soon now, A. will be in a position where she needs to interface directly with that world, and she needs a lot more tools to be equipped to do so when that time comes.

Today's IEP meeting was a lesson in the fact that I need to listen to my eldest more often and extend a greater degree of trust in her self-reliance skills. I've been pestering her almost every day so far this semester, asking how things are going at school, and she's been telling me, "Everything's fine!" At the IEP meeting today, I found out that, indeed, everything truly is fine

She's been making a lot of progress from the previous semester in self-awareness and emotional maturity, and she's passing all of her classes. (I say "passing" -- she's making a high B in Algebra, and an A in her English class). Today's meeting was also a lesson that I can trust this school to make the right sorts of calls on-the-fly when A. does require additional assistance. I'd been worried about her gym class, because gym is always challenging, but as I hadn't heard anything negative, I guessed things must be going okay.

The school made the call to pair her with a teaching assistant for gym class so she gets that extra one-on-one attention in this challenging sensory environment, which has been working out great. They also suggested that we make the space in her schedule next semester for a "Life Skills" class to work on some basic social and vocational needs, and I could not agree more. She still has a very difficult time interacting with others or working in groups, so having a space where she could practice these skills would go great lengths into helping her overall progress.

It's interesting, because whenever I ask about why she doesn't make more friends, she complains that no one else shares the same interests as her. What I want to do is tell her that interests don't really matter, that she can make friends with people who aren't exactly like her. But when I stop and think about how obsessed she gets with her special interests, and how little patience she has for topics that are outside that sphere, it's like I have to remember all over again (right, autism!) and change "my" way of thinking about these topics. 

Today's meeting was also a lesson in just how much I need to teach A. about what life will be like for her in the years to come. She's so unaware of the supports that are in place for her, of the organizations we've reached out to for assistance, of places she can turn to for help when she's an adult. She is very nervous about the idea of growing up and moving out on her own, especially since she isn't fully aware of all the small things I do to help her, and she hasn't learned to pick up those skills as part of her own self-care.

That being said, some things have happened organically -- she's a lot more "in tune" with when she is overloaded or needs to self-regulate. The IEP team said they were impressed with just how well she advocates for herself in that regard -- she knows when she needs to leave the room or go to a safe quiet space for a while to adjust. She also knows what sorts of things trigger those issues -- when the schedule changes, or when "rules change." And I'm comforted by the fact that she's made a "lot" of progress this year, and that we have a few more years to work with this and get her prepared for the road ahead. I'm also comforted by the fact that, even though she really seems to dislike school at times, she has a strong desire to go on to college.

I also learned that, in addition to wanting to create video game concept art, A. wants to be a writer. When I asked her to clarify, she said she wanted to write stories, and works of fiction.

"Like me?" I asked.

"Where do you think I got the talent from?" she said.

Today's IEP meeting may have been the best one I've ever attended. Not because anything earth-shattering occurred with the services that were put in place, or the paperwork that was filled out, or even with the teachers and educators who were in attendance. It was the best one because I got to share it directly with A. I got to see it through her eyes, and I got to help her start making plans for her own future.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise." ~ The Beatles

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And Now She's an Alley
March 4, 2015 6:10 PM by Devon Alley
So, there was a very big piece of news that happened several months ago that I never got around to sharing. Life has been, as I've mentioned several times over again, extremely busy as of late, so I've been terribly delinquent in updating my blog, which means I've missed some of the "big stuff." It's definitely well past time for me to catch up.

On November 18, 2014, Thomas legally adopted A., so now she's officially an Alley. It's a process we'd been working on for the greater part of the year. With the baby on the way, I realized that A. was going to be the only member of the family who didn't share the Alley last name. I was already worried that the arrival of a new member of the family might make her feel ostracized and out of place, so I thought the adoption might help her feel more included in the process. I was also hoping she could start high school empowered with her new name, which I hoped would help her transition.

Even though we'd only been working on the logistics of the adoption in 2014, it was a process that started long before this year. It was a process that included reaching out to A.'s biological father and his family, letting them know what we wanted to do, and making sure they understood that they would always have a role in A.'s life. It was a process that included Thomas reaching out to A. after our wedding ceremony, giving her the gift of a necklace, and letting her know he was always going to be there for her, too.

It was a process that included Thomas assisting with afternoons of homework drama, weathering many meltdowns, creating new foods in the hopes A. might actually eat them, taking A. on adventures and excursions, being an incredible stepfather and a caring and devoted parental unit. And it was a process that, quite honestly, probably began more than five years ago, at that fateful "Boomsday" experience when Thomas carried A. on his back for several blocks uphill in downtown Knoxville and decided at that point he wanted to ask me to marry him. A. and I were always a package deal, and Thomas fell in love with the concept of being a father just as much as he did being my husband. 

Despite the fact that Thomas knew he wanted to adopt A. even before we were married, the process was long, involved, and expensive. It took me years to try to find a lawyer before I finally turned to a friend of the family for help and assistance. Once we got the process rolling, it seemed like every step along the way demanded paperwork upon more paperwork, and waiting period upon waiting period. The actual "court date" itself was the least complicated part of the entire journey. We showed up at the judge's chambers, answered a few very simple questions, and then made our way with our signed and certified documents to submit an application for an updated birth certificate -- one that lists Thomas as the father, and A.'s last name as Alley.

It was interesting, because A. hasn't really acted like any of this was "that" big a deal. She wanted to do it because she wanted to feel like she was, legally, on the same playing field as her younger sister, and she definitely wanted her last name to be "Alley." Outside of that, however, she didn't seem to be too terribly excited about the process. She was on board, but it didn't strike me as something she really deeply cared about at all.

This just goes to show how profoundly wrong I can be when I read her sometimes. After our discussion with the judge, I wanted to get a "selfie" of the three of at the courthouse, just something small to document such a tremendously momentous occasion. A. doesn't generally like having pictures taken of her -- she tends to make faces, or at least turn her smile into a smirk. She has difficulty taking them seriously, or giving a genuine smile. After I looked at the picture I took of the three of us, I was absolutely awestruck by the look on her face - just how genuinely happy, pleased, and excited she looked. The whole thing obviously meant a whole lot more to her than I'd previously realized.

So, that's the story of how A. officially became an Alley, even if the telling of it is over three months late.

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