Friday, November 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Conferences

It was the best of conferences, it was the worst of conferences.  Honestly, not to skip to the final chapter of this epic or anything, but really both conferences (the one for Emma the NT big sis, and Lily the autistic star of this blog show) were pretty good.  Well, better than pretty good.

This was Lily's first parent/teacher conference ever, really, and although we're P/T conference veterans, having lived through grade four under Emma, I admit I was sort of dreading Lily's conference for no easily fathomable reason.  When I let myself think about it, it was really no big deal.  We've met with the teachers (both Lily's Special Ed teacher and her Kindergarten Homeroom teacher) several times already through IEP meetings, wrap fade meetins, etc.  This conference was really not going to tell us much more than what we already knew, but it was not going to be your "traditional" conference, because Lily is not your "traditional" gal.

We had Emma's conference first, and we may as well have just copied and pasted past dialogues into the mouths of Emma's new teachers.  Doing great scholastically, getting along really well with just about everyone in the class, adjusting to the new school magnificently. . . oh but um. . . sometimes we can't really get her to shut up.  Emma chats.  She's very social and very friendly.  That said one high point did come out of the conference that's worthy of note.  I'll return to it shortly.  Lily's conference was the following day.

We really like Lily's teachers.  Mr. R. comes across as a very soft spoken, low key, sensitive male teacher.  He seems to be the consummate professional; diplomatic, accepting of suggestion, well spoken, and considered (I was trying to come up with the right word here. . . I was thinking "thoughtful" but that isn't what I mean, and I don't mean "considerate" though I'm sure he's that too; what I mean is, he considers.  He speaks slowly, returning to the start of his thought if he feels he's not communicating what he means effectively, beginning again to make his point clear and then seeking assurance that his audience understands before proceeding).  Mrs. I comes across just as professional and well-spoken but there's an edgy almost palpable passion for teaching kids with special needs and learning new ways to reach them that I am always stricken by when we talk to her.  Like the whole process of learning to teach and then applying it is her own personal heroine.  If we mention something we've "learned" (and it's in quotes because sometimes I spout off the apocryphal crap I glean from people in their blogs as if it's the gospel truth (and often it is)) she latches onto it with the hungry tenacity of a junkie in the throes of withdrawal (as learned from such films as "Trainspotting") immediately intense and interested and excited.  She always seems not just passingly interested in what our wrap services people have to teach, but eager to learn it, to absorb it, and to apply it to the kids under her care.

So how could our conference possibly go wrong, right?  The short answer is, it didn't.  It went great.  It seems that they are in agreement about the number one challenge they face with our little Lily:  Figuring out just how much she knows.  We share this issue.  Sometimes Lily will utter the most appropriate sentence in perfect context (e.g., at my parents house we had dinner.  They have a sun room where we eat.  In the entryway between the kitchen and the sun room Lily stood, attempting to enter.  My father was standing just inside the entry watching her.  "Excuse me, sir," she said.) and other times we can't get her to say goodbye.  We recognize that (and here I drew on some of the autistic bloggers I follow) kids like Lily may not always be able to find their words or speak on command, and so it's difficult to tell whether she "gets it" or if it's echoic (is that a word?  Because I'm pretty sure that's a word).

Mr. R. indicated that she has integrated/adjusted in his classroom as well as any of the NT kids have.  She's sitting still for instruction, sometimes as much as 20 minutes at a time, focusing on him when he speaks, and answer to the best of her ability.  The good news is, the NT kids in her homeroom appear to like her and they meet her at the door when she comes from her special ed class and give her hugs and hold her hand and take her to her desk.

Academically, she sometimes responds appropriately to questions, sometimes she doesn't respond at all.  The example that blew Mr. R. away in class one day was:

"Lily, what's the first sound you hear in the word mug".

"Mug," she answered.

"Okay, but what's the first sound you hear in the word mug."

"Muh," she answered.

Really?  I would never have dreamed she'd have understood that concept, let alone given the right answer.  And again, does she know it?  Is she repeating it?  Can she be consistent with it?  We don't know, because if we try to duplicate the results at home, she's more likely to respond "I want Torious," (I want Victorious) than she is "muh".

She gets along well enough with her classmates that my wife and I have decided to let her have a couple of them over for her birthday party next month.  Three of the little girls in her homeroom appear to have a particular fondness for Lily.  One of them she knows from daycare, one of them is the daughter of one of the aides who works in Mrs. I's special ed classroom (and also was in daycare with Lily), and one is a girl we don't know, but Mr. R. said. . . "she is an exceptional human being."  Really?  At five she's an exceptional human being?  That's pretty high praise for a five year old, but okay.

Doubtless this birthday party will be the subject of future post(s) since I already have something I'm grappling with inside my heart.  Namely, all these kids are in her typical classroom.  None of them are special needs?  I reverse the tables and imagine the sadness associated with Lily's exclusion from a birthday invitation and it's making this hard for me to justify.  And yeah, it's a girl party, and there are no other special needs girls, but. . . I haven't even articulated this to my wife yet, but since she'll be in one room reading this tonight while I'm in the other room doing something else. .  maybe she'll text a response to me and we'll actually have a real life conversation in the same room.  I KID!!

Okay. . so this post is getting long, and I don't want to forget the noteworthy thing that happened at Emma's conference the day before.  I can't quote the scenario, and I may have one or two things not exactly on, but in talking to Emma's teachers, and then to Emma about it later, it appears to be this:

Emma, overheard a conversation of her peers mocking, questioning, exclaiming, SOMETHING about the behavior of one of the kids in the special ed classroom at HER school (which is 4 - 6, where Lily's is K-3).  She didn't know the child, but offered this:

"Maybe he has autism." (She says Aut-ism, almost like it's two words, as if she had a Texas accent.  It's one of those silly things that for some reason melts my heart)  "My little sister, Lily, has autism, and sometimes she gets really frustrated because she doesn't know how to express herself like other kids.  Maybe he's not a bad kid, maybe he just doesn't know how to explain, and it makes him frustrated."

The teachers were very impressed and surprised by this; at once giving some kid she'd never met the benefit of the doubt, showing great pride in her autistic little sister, and (to her ability) educating her friends about kids with differences.  I got something in my eye at that point. . . dust or something, and it started to tear up a bit.  Stupid contacts.

SO proud of her for that.
SO proud of Lily for how well she's adjusting to this new setting and new teachers.


  1. I have something in my eyes as well.. Love this post and so glad to hear that your daughters are doing well..

  2. Okay, that was funny, your wife texting you a response. It's funny 'cause it's true!

    I love love love the kids in Child 1's class who have family members with Aut-Ism, because they "get it" and they don't judge and they don't laugh at him, they just know it's a part of life. I kind of want to say I wish there were more, but I'm not sure I want to actually make that wish....

    That's always been the theme of our PTCs with Child 1, too: trying to figure out how much he knows. I just had his conference yesterday and I asked his teacher to teach him typing instead of cursive. Did you know they teach cursive still? Why the HELL would a 9 year old need to learn cursive? Anyway, since you hear all those stories of aut-istic people who are nonverbal but can totally communicate with a typewriter, I thought maybe this would be our "ticket in" to his brain. Hope it works.

    This was really more of a post than a comment. Kind of rambling, huh? Well. Whatever.

  3. I just had a discussion with someone about cursive. I NEVER use it. Why would my kids need it? For term papers? BWAHAHAHAHAH! Stupid cursive.

  4. Erika, I have to get a humidifier in this blog, i'm forever getting dust in my eyes when I write it.

  5. I don't have contacts, but can I blame them for what's going on in my eye?

    I don't know. It kind of sounds like Lily *and* Emma are pretty much exceptional human beings.

  6. Aaaaand, now I once again have to get the puking scenes from Trainspotting out of my head.

    ANYWHO, I can relate to the "no other girls" thing. K is the only special ed girl in her social anything school related. And girls, even at this age, are like little teens. Heck, even the 3 and 4yo girls at Ben's preschool have the whole, let's form a group and gossip, thing down.

    K does not get bday invites, unless they are from people with whom we have always been friends. Since kindergarten, when kids started just inviting a few kids, as opposed to the whole class (like preschool), K has not gotten one invitation from a kid I didn't know. She has connections with no one. It's sad. I think it would be less sad if she was a boy, but I don't know.

    I remember writing in the parent's part of K's IEP in kindergarten that we had no clue what she knew, or if she even understood what we said. I know how that is. Now, in 2nd grade, it seems a bit easier to flesh out, but there are still times when it's difficult.

    BUT, it is seriously great she has such an awesome sister.

  7. i'm new around here, but that made me tear up too. because we all need someone to see the possibility that there's a reason for our poorly adjusted kids. to consider the possiblity that there might be a valid explanation & not just that they're weird or stupid.
    cursive doesn't get used by younger people very much any more, but it seems to me that even if they don't learn to write it, they should learn to read it. otherwise, it's almost like partial illiteracy, especially if you get a card from grandma. and since she's usually sending money, the kids should know how to read her handwriting.
    it's crazy how many autism blogs i've found in the past year. when i started blogging, i had no idea that there was a whole sub-culture of bloggers & not just bloggers, but parents who have autistic/aspie kids. it's really nice to read the experiences of so many other people who are in the same shoes & how they deal with it. but instead of saying that my kid is autistic, i like to say that she's au-tastic. sounds cooler.

  8. HA! My daughter pronounces it the same way also. We've gone over it time and time again.. it just comes OUT that way! lol she's 14 now! And, she still teaches her friends. A LOT!

    I love writing. I practiced so much to have the best handwriting. I thought they stopped teaching that? lol

  9. Great scholar photo!! Lily and Tootles have the same grad colors! Glad the conferences went so well. Yes, echoic is totally a word. Excellent usage.

    Is there some kind of dust storm on your blog? Cuz when I read about Emma, I got something in my contacts too. What the hell?

    Emma rocks - and she couldn't do that with such style without your star, Lily. Such great girls - lucky dude you are, ya know? :)

  10. @ sherilin: I'm pretty new here too and am also amazed at the number of autism blogs. Welcome to mine! Thanks for the comment, it was au-tastic

    @rhonda: my hatred of cursive stems from my inability to beautifully master it. My printing kicks ass though.

    @karen: probably just dumb luck on using echoic properly...I was just repeating something I heard (see what I did there? Echoic humor!)

  11. Compassion is a beautiful thing.

    I've tried to teach my daughters that and if you pinned me down and asked me what is the one thing I hope my girls leave my home having learned, it's compassion.

    I LOVE your Emma because that is EXACTLY the kind of compassion in action that lets you know you're doing a great job with your daughter.

    And to Emma's "Texas accent", it just makes me love her all the more, y'all. :) Don't Texas accents melt everyone's hearts??

  12. Sounds like wonderful news all the way around! I'm amazed at what a wonderful young lady your Emma keeps proving herself to be... and yes, I used "young lady" on purpose. Her wisdom and insight just seem to much to be associated with a "young girl."

    As for the parties -- I know we both want *everything* for our girls and we both worry that sometimes they may not be able to have everything because of their disabilities. But I also know that both of our daughters are loved by many of their classmates. And yes... that love will grow, fade, change, and mature as our girls get older -- but the same thing happens to all of us -- regardless of (dis)ability.

    Lily *will* have people who appreciate her for who she is (especially with that awesome fan club she has... I believe the name is Emma?) -- and anyone who doesn't see what wonderful special people our girls are doesn't deserve a friendship with them anyhow!

  13. Incidentally, ever heard the term "three-nagers" Um.. yeah... START EM YOUNG!

  14. First time visitor to your blog. What has taken me so long (well, you know, life in general...)?? Your blog is AWESOME! Your girls sound amazing. You and your wife are rockin' the texting parent thang. That's it: I am now a FOLLOWER! :)

  15. My daughter is like that as well when she hears something about another kiddo. I have never been prouder than when she stands up for her big brother. You must feel the same. Not a bad feeling, eh?

  16. Woo hoo! Go Emma! I chuckled at the "exceptional human being" part. That's a lot to live up to at the age of five!

  17. I got really far behind on my replies.

    @Along - SOMETIMES they melt people's hearts. I'd like to think i'm parenting the hell out of Emma, but the truth is, she's SUPER easy. You tell her no and she stops doing the thing that you told her not to do. The only issue is. . . she's mouthy. And she gets that from me. Meh, I'm okay with it.

    @M2LM - Mom's on board with inviting a little boy in her special classes as well. so. . . YAY!

    @Kelly - Welcome aboard! I've seen you somewhere before. i suspect we may share one or more followed blogs on our respective lists!

    @Lizbeth - Awesome feeling!

    @Sarcasm Goddess - Not just an exceptional child, or an exceptional kindergartener. . . but an exceptional HUMAN BEING!!!