School Assignment

Yesterday was D-Day. We received Little Bear’s school assignment. Papi Bear and I were nervous, almost as though this were a decision as to whether or not our baby was going to an Ivy League school. First, they reviewed his assessment. We agreed with everything stated. Then we both started thinking, “Oh wait. Did we make him sound too good? Maybe they won’t even consider him for school. Crap. We need to make him sound worse! He needs to be in full day preschool with an IEP!”

FullSizeRender 3Next came his medical history. Then came his speech history. Then came his physical therapy. It was almost an hour of going through who exactly Little Bear was and what exactly his deficits were.

Then came the moment where they explained the different programs.

“One of the programs your son tested for was the ASD program. Your son has a social smile, attempted to engage strangers, enjoys playing simple games, and has developing joint attention. He also has over 200 words. Because of his social and verbal abilities, your child does not fit the school board’s criteria of ASD. Keep in mind this is not a medical diagnosis and is simply the criteria of the school board. It will not affect any services your child is currently receiving.”

I could feel Papi Bear breathe a sigh of relief. This trip has been an even bumpier ride for him than it has been for me. He only sees Little Bear at night and on the weekends, when he’s least structured and most likely to act out. His culture is also not one that takes the bull by the horns when it comes to dealing with special needs. He hasn’t told many people about Little Bear outside of his immediate family. This gave him hope that his son was simply not that social – just like he was as a young child.

Now we were sweating again. Did he place at all? He must have. He must have placed somewhere. We thought he was at a lower level than his brother at his age. He was, wasn’t he?

“Little Bear has been assigned to the Intensive Full Day program at Big Boy Elementary School.”

That’s Big Bear’s school! Our boys were now in the same school! Thank goodness! We were terrified that we’d be facing two buses, two schools, two pickups, two sets of events, etc.

I had originally requested that Little Bear be in the same class with his brother, but his brother is in the larger class size, so it’s not possible. They’ll be right next door to each other, though, and they have recess and playground together. I’m okay with that.

And that’s where we are. Little Bear is going to full day preschool at the end of the month in a small class with other kids that have similar developmental levels. He was not deemed high enough need for a special needs school, which means his ABA, OT, PT, and SLP have brought him a long way from where he was in March.

More than once I’ve considered calling Fancy Preschool and telling them, “Guess what, Fancy Preschool director. The school board says my child does not need a special school and is perfectly capable of being in a regular classroom as long as there’s a smaller class size and he has a little more help.”

Little Bear celebrates his third birthday this weekend. We’re taking him to Disney to celebrate. He doesn’t really care much, but his brother has been talking about it non-stop. Fun times this weekend for the Bear family!

Transition Meeting

Little Bear is currently in an Early Intervention program through the state. His birthday is in August and he will be turning 3, aging out of his program. He is expected to start a public school pre-K program at that point. Big Bear was in a similar program for neurotypical kids because he wasn’t speaking and has some social issues and he really blossomed when he began school. We’ve been waiting excitedly for Little Bear to reach this point.

Little Bear wants to start school desperately. His brother is in a summer camp program at a local Catholic church, which we call Solcito Camp. He calls church Solcito. I don’t know. We just roll with it. Anyway, every time we go to pick him up, Little Bear runs into the room and starts playing with the toy kitchen. Today we went in and they were having a dance party. Little Bear just started getting down. He was stomping, singing, dancing, and having an awesome time. His hardcore home schooling and therapy has helped him a great deal over the last few months, but he really does miss the atmosphere of school and being around other children.

We got to his transition meeting earlier than expected because I picked up the wrong paper from my mailbox. I thought it was at 8, but it was really at 9. For some reason they had a translator there for me, but I gave her up for another family whose translator was running late and was in desperate need of someone to help out with their twins.

Little Bear was his regular self during the evaluation. He talked a little bit, but not much. He played, used his social smile, but didn’t always follow directions. Getting him to stay on task was a challenge. Getting him to say two word phrases besides “I want” was not happening. However, within five minutes of the evaluation beginning, the psychologist and developmental specialist both said, “Look, we can’t diagnose your child. Also, we should let you know that none of this information will be shared with your medical provider unless you choose to share it, but we personally do not think your son’s final diagnosis will be ASD. We see a lot of children come through here with an ASD diagnosis and if your son is on the spectrum, he is very high functioning. We’re not saying he’s not autistic. We’re not saying he’s where he should be. We’re still filling out the forms for the autism class evaluation, but we do not expect that he will be placed in an ASD classroom. He just doesn’t fit the criteria of the other children who are placed there and he most likely wouldn’t improve as quickly as he would in other rooms.”

Papi Bear wasn’t with me for the evaluation – he had to attend a conference out of town – but when I told him over the phone later on, he was thrilled. He said I had made his entire week. Little Bear’s diagnosis has always been difficult for him to deal with because of cultural differences. It has been compounded by the fact that he usually performs better in the mornings and he only really sees him in the afternoons after he’s worn out from 6-8 hours of therapy a day. This made him feel like his child has more possibilities to reach his potential. I think Papi Bear still has trouble grasping the idea that autism doesn’t mean Rainman or rocking in the corner. I think he also carries personal fears that he may be autistic and, therefore, the cause of his son’s neurological differences.

And that’s where we are now. Our next meeting is on August 8th, four days before Little Bear’s 3rd birthday. We’ll find out what school and classroom he’ll be assigned to. Fingers crossed that he gets a full day schedule and that they let his ABA therapist go in to see him at school.

Playground

Little Bear has been getting 15 hours a week of ABA for about 3 weeks now and the improvements have been measurable. Today he was eating his dinner in his high chair and he pointed to the napkin holder and said, “Yo ee ne.” Which is close enough to, “Yo quiero (whatever – you pointed!)” for me to be thrilled. Tuesdays are always especially hard for him because we have PT at my mother’s house, ABA for three hours at home, barely a 2 hour nap, then SL, followed by another hour of ABA. Since he did so well, I took him and his brother to the park.

The boys were running around, having a great time. Big Bear, who is four, insisted on taking his matchbox space shuttle with him. He was running around the playground, Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 11.38.07 PMclimbing and playing with the shuttle when this slightly older child, maybe 5 or a young six, came over and tried to take it from him. I noticed immediately that the child was almost certainly on the spectrum. He was not making eye contact, he was not noticing anything except the space shuttle – even when he pushed my son, he never looked away from the toy. I intervened and told the child, “Let’s put the toy away so we can play together.” The child did not look at me and said, “My shuttle.”

The boy’s mother came over and looked mortified. I said, “Oh, don’t worry. My younger child is similar.” I smiled, trying to signal, “It’s okay. My son’s on the spectrum, too. It happens.” Her response was, “I hope not. Of course I have the kid who likes to mug other kids on the playground. It’s because he’s an only child. He doesn’t understand that he needs to share.” She reminded her son that he has five shuttles of his own at home. I later saw her leading him around with a backpack style leash on him.

It was at that moment that I felt a profound pity for that child. Could it be that his mother didn’t realize or want to admit that he has special needs? This child was at least kindergarten age, if not first grade, and he spoke to me on the level of a young two year old. It really hurt to see a child that may have had the potential to obtain fluent language and develop social skill muted by a parent who just explained away the differences.

I sincerely hope, with all my heart, that she was simply embarrassed by her child’s behavior and that he is, in fact, receiving a full schedule of therapy. No child deserves to be denied his or her future.

“I don’t think his final diagnosis will be Autism.”

In 2002, I met a girl online while searching for other fans of a Spanish pop singer. We quickly became friends and, when my best friend died of lupus a year later, she was a huge support for me. Fifteen years later, we remain close friends and confidants. During those fifteen years, she went on to become a Pediatrician. Dr. Friend now works at the clinic of a prominent hospital in her city.

She lives far away from us, so she hasn’t seen Big Bear since he was a baby and this was her first time meeting Little Bear. She knows that Little Bear has an ASD diagnosis and I had told her about my husband’s freakout on Monday.

Little Bear has done phenomenally at home with me this past week. On Monday, he was throwing tantrums and wouldn’t sign “want” at all. Today he didn’t throw a tantrum until 3 hours into our day when he was legitimately tired and done. When we did our puzzle together, he not only signed “want” every time, but he coupled it with “Yo” (“I” in Spanish) and the name of the animal that the piece was related to. This was after only four days of working with him at home. He is like a different child.

So it was this Little Bear that Dr. Friend met. She gave him a board book of Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See and, after reading it twice, read Dr. Seuss’s ABC with him. She was surprised to see that he knew huge portions of the book by heart and was able to turn the pages with minimal help.

Later, we took our cat to the vet since she had been suffering from a UTI for a week. Little Bear fell asleep in the car on the way. I asked Dr. Friend to stay in the car with him while I took the cat and Big Bear inside for our appointment. At some point during the appointment, he woke up and she brought him inside and showed him the cats and the fish. During the entire time, he was well behaved, held her hand, and smiled at her while he laughed at the animals.

Later that evening, Papi Bear and I took her to a Brazilian restaurant for live music and too many caipirinhas. After two or or three, I asked her for her opinion on Little Bear.

“I only just met him, but I don’t think his final diagnosis will be autism. He doesn’t exhibit a lot of the signs of children on the spectrum. He is delayed linguistically and socially, but he was completely fine spending time with me and he’s very interactive with people he knows. He’s very affectionate, he follows directions or he at least understands them and chooses not to follow them.”

She advised us to continue with his therapies, get as many as possible, have him in the special needs school for at least a year, but she thinks he will eventually mainstream.

I think this is what my husband needed to hear and I do think her comments are more along the lines of what the neurologist feels, even though his therapists and pediatrician continue to say he is autistic. Ultimately it’s the symptoms that matter rather than the actual diagnosis, but to hear from a trusted friend that he is social and cognitively where he should be definitely relieved some of my anxiety.

The stages of grief

I’ve been in the acceptance phase of Little Bear’s diagnosis for a long time now. I spent weeks crying, blasting my self-soothing music, crying, “Why my son? Why my baby?” at absolutely no one. I mourned his differences as if I had lost a child. I did lose a child. But in losing the child I imagined he was, I began to meet, love, and adore the child he is.

This morning we started our homeschool sessions. I think everything went well except for table time. We definitely need to work on table time. His ABA therapist came at ten and he did a wonderful job reading books with her and taking breaks before transitioning back to his assigned activities. She gave me ideas on how to organize his day and get him to do what he needed to do. When she left, I felt very positive about his future. He knew at least two words on every page of the Dr. Seuss ABC book, he named my sister, my mother, and my mother in law and he asked for food every time he wanted it. To me, it was a very successful day.

I filled out his transition papers for preschool. I requested a special needs school with complete knowledge and acceptance that this is what my son needs. It was a good day.

My husband has also gone through stages, but today was not a good day for him. Little Bear was rolling his head back, not answering to his name, and being generally disinterested in anything my husband said or did with him. On Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at night, so I wasn’t there to help get him back on track or figure out why he was derailed at dinner/bedtime.

I came home late from work. I had papers to grade and tests to write and I always work more efficiently from my office or a classroom compared to my home. I came in and my husband was on the couch, classical music playing, feeling very down. He had been reading about ASD and was full of questions, the biggest one being: Why our son? Why our family?

He broke my heart more than once during the conversation, although I didn’t tell him. The first time was when he said he didn’t want to have any more children because of the risk that another one could have ASD. I very much want a third child and Little Bear isn’t confirmed ASD yet. He has ASD-like symptoms, but his neurologist is heavily leaning towards delayed myelination. Since delayed myelination isn’t genetic, I see no reason not to have a third child. I want a third child. I very much want to have a third child in the next year.

As he kept saying what pre-occupies him and what scares him and what his fears about the future were, I tried to remind him repeatedly that our little bear is not a lost cause. Looking at where he should be cognitively, he hits every single milestone except following two-step directions. When looking at what a 3 year old does cognitively, he does everything except turning a doorknob and playing make believe. His delays are purely linguistic and social in nature. I have no doubt Little Bear will eventually mainstream once his language skills take off. How easy school will be for him is another question. My husband doesn’t seem to share those feelings. He fears Little Bear will be in a home and need constant care for life. I just don’t see that happening. His language was at an 11 month level 6 months ago. He tested at 18 months two months ago and he has gained an avalanche of words and phrases since then. He’s potty training on schedule like a neurotypical 2 year old. In other words, he’s making progress.

That wasn’t the moment that broke me, though. I asked him if he’d rather an autistic Little Bear or no Little Bear. The obvious response should be, “Autistic Little Bear.” His response was, “Please don’t ask me that.” My heart broke in that moment. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces because, while I’d love Little Bear to be able to walk through this world as comfortable as possible, the idea of this world moving on without him is a possibility I would never want to consider.

Then came the argument of secrecy. My husband does not like to tell people Little Bear is autistic. I tell people all the time. I really don’t see it as a big deal. I tell family. I tell strangers. I tell anyone that wonders why my 2.5 year old acts like an 18 month old. I think it’s better to be honest and have them treat him with kindness and empathy than have them think we’re awful parents. My husband has not told the vast majority of his family. He says, “I don’t see why they need to know. It’s private.” To me “private” means “embarrassing.” His family is “private” about anything and everything that can cause discomfort. I am not. This is a continual collision point in our marriage and I see it continuing to be so as we move forward with Little Bear’s treatment.

So now we’ve gone from having a venting conversation to not talking because I’m too public about Little Bear’s diagnosis. And that, too, breaks my heart.

Strike 2

Little Bear got kicked out of Fancy Religious Child Care Center on Thursday.

No shock there, but Papi Bear took it very hard. He was pretty messed up about it all day.

Special Needs Child Care center will be able to accommodate us the second week of June for their summer program. I have to call back on Monday when the director returns to see where he is on the wait list for the regular program.

I have to admit there were some tears when I explained how much it hurt that Little Bear wouldn’t have friends anymore. Maybe that moved us up. Fingers crossed.

Until then… Little Bear Home School goes into session on Monday at 7AM.

Semantics

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Today a friend I knew when I was in grad school made a post on facebook during a trip to the local fair asking something along the lines of “is it normal for 5 and 6 year olds to have pacifiers and ride in strollers now?” This friend has always had a penchant for the sarcastic and lives in a heavily hispanic area despite being a white man, so it was quite obvious that his comment was saying, “Latinos, you need to get your kids up and walking and not give them pacifiers.”

My children are Latino. My 4 year old rides in a stroller when we go to theme parks for safety reasons.

I decided not to play into the racism of the comment and instead mentioned that many children are special needs and require sensory stimulation in crowds and need to be in strollers for their own safety or they may simply be disabled. A friend of his responded, “Their kids will end up gap toothed and having weak legs.”

The conversation moved towards “well, there must have been a lot of kids with autism there!” My response, “1:42 boys have it. My son is autistic. So was Thomas Jefferson.” To which gap-tooth-weak-leg woman said, I kid you not, that *I* was being ableist for calling my child autistic.

I have heard the idea of “autistic” being ableist before. I have heard the arguments of  it not defining the child. I have heard them and as a mother of a child with this disability and as a linguist, I wholeheartedly disagree. I respect the desire of people who want to be referred to as “having autism” and will always follow their leads (or that of the parent in the case of young children), but I will not be told by the mother of neurotypical children how I should refer to my child who is on the spectrum. Take a seat. Pull out your suitcase. Unpack for a minute. I know I had to before writing this post.

If given a choice of terms, I would say my son does not have autism. To me, you have diseases. He didn’t acquire autism when someone sneezed on him. When he was born, he was hard of hearing. He was not “without hearing.” We don’t change the morphology of any other disability-related word to make it less “defining.” Why are we afraid to define our children or, in adult situations, ourselves, as autistic? Why can’t we embrace it as a trait rather than an affliction to be “had”?

My son was born with autism. It may not be in his DNA as far as the geneticist can see, but his tendencies were visible soon after birth. Autism is part of him. He doesn’t have it any more than he has latino heritage or white skin. He is latino. He is white. He is autistic. No, it doesn’t define him, but it certainly makes up a large part of his world view and to take that away from him and isolate it as a sort of illness is offensive to me as his mother. Also, I feel like saying he “has autism” gives the false impression that it’s an issue to be cured. He doesn’t need curing. He may need therapy to help him navigate the world, but he certainly doesn’t need a “cure” for his autism. As a very staunch pro-science mother, I also feel this term plays a bit too much into the woo ideas of it being curable through pseudoscience.

I am certain that as Little Bear grows autism will be an important part of his identity.  Every part of his identity deserves an adjective. He came to us with both a full head of hair, light skin, and autism. Calling him brown-haired, light skinned, and autistic are just naming three aspects of his being that make him my beautiful, special little man.

If he decides that he feels differently as he matures, I’ll change my way of referring to him, but for now, he is my autistic son Little Bear. If the person has any background in medicine, I may say he’s on the spectrum. You will never hear me introduce him as “my child with autism” unless the day comes when he says that’s what he wants.

So the ableists who want to call out the mom of an autistic child for defending her child and his culture… they need to take a goddamn seat and check their privilege while not defining my child according to what they feel defines him and doesn’t. Autism defines my child. Latino defines my child. South American defines my child. North American defines my child. Bilingual defines my child. Adorable defines my child. Just as a word can have many definitions, so can a child. Autistic is just one of the many listed under the dictionary entry of Little Bear.