Monday, April 30, 2012

Sandwich, anyone

So in the next few months we've got some milestones:
  • First kid to graduate high school/start college
  • Turning 50
  • A parent entering senior living
I'm pulled between kids still needing a lot of time and support, parents needing more attention and help, and a body that is starting to object to the years of neglect I've subjected it to.

A challenge, but what the heck, I love a challenge. Plus, it all ends up being more stuff to blog about.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The final K-12 summer

Collegiate Success Institute
This is HSS's last City Schools summer. I'm expecting/hoping that summer internships will happen through her college years, but this summer it's about prepping for college.

UMBC has a pre-college orientation-type program that includes taking two courses that are required for graduation, called CSI. So, for the first 6 weeks of the 12 weeks that is summer vacation, HSS will be living in the dorms, figuring out the logistics of college life, making friends, doing service projects, being a tourist...all sorts of fun stuff.

After that, besides the family vacation at the cabin, HSS will have to figure it out. Yet another step towards Independence and adulthood.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Summer plans continued

American Pie cty-style, from
 So the middle child, soon to be my only high school student also has a busy summer ahead. It's going to be her last year at CTY, where she's spent 3 weeks every summer since 2007:

I won't miss shelling out what has slowly gone from $3K to almost $4K per kid, but I know this has been a good investment for both my high schoolers. As much as I realize that msk needs to be flappy sometimes, I know my other kids need to be geeky. What other summer camps have a wiki explaining the lexicon and culture?

Also on the agenda is getting in the 60 hours of road time required to get a driver's license these days. Plus a week of camp in West Virginia repairing houses for elderly low-income folks. And there's summer reading assignments. Plus a family vacation in the woods.

I used to worry about what my kids would miss when the school system moved to year 'round. It seemed logical for it to change, expecially in a city like Baltimore where so few kids have any sort of enrichment activities over the summer. I'm holding my breath no longer. This kid has only one more high school summer left and msk does ESY and really would do better with full year schooling.

Friday, April 20, 2012

One week in

one full week of data logged
So, I'm a total geek. And I really need to lose a bunch of weight. So, using geekiness to fight fat, I bought a pedometer that has WiFi and links to a website for tracking how I'm doing. A fitbit. I love it, and so far I'm down 2.4lbs. for the week and 9lbs. from when I looked at my scale and said, "This must be wrong..."

Above is a chunk of the page showing my first week tracking steps, altitude, and everything I eat.

The journey of a thousand miles (or really 350,000 deficit calories ) starts with a week of data-logging.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two weeks off

I was shocked when I looked at the date of my last post and I realized I hadn't posted for two weeks. Sorry.

This summer marks a first for msk. He's going to camp, a sleep-away camp for seven days at that.

League Pioneers: Experience cooking over a fire, canoeing, and camping in a tent! Since 2003, Pioneers learn and take part in activities in four areas: pioneering, outdoor living skills, astronomy and adventure skills. Located ½ mile down the road from Camp Greentop, League Pioneers takes place at Walnut Springs. Participants will also explore the rest of the National Park and nearby Cunningham State Park. All League Pioneers should be able to navigate uneven terrain and be successful in a 3:1 participant to counselor ratio. So roll up your sleeping bags, fill your canteen and prepare for a fun and adventurous primitive camping experience as a League Pioneer!

I'm nervous, because he's never been away from both home and his parents at the same time.

On the other hand, I had a long conversation with the camp director and I really think this is a good fit. It's time for a change of pace. Msk loves being outdoors and doing all the things listed above. I'm hoping that he'll be able to work on socializing. It's been hard to find a way for him to make friends. Very few neurotypical kids his age have the patience or interest to get to make any real bonds. The inclusion setting he's been in for the last 3 1/2 years hasn't given him a chance to try to relate to other autistic kids, beyond hockey, and so far he hasn't seen any of his hockey friends outside of practices and tournaments. Not to say he doesn't have hockey friends.

I'd just like for him to have the time to figure out his own style of making, and bonding with, friends.

So that, along with ESY (unless it sucks, which is a distinct possibility) and a family trip to the cabin, is msk's  summer plans.

Everybody is busy this summer. Plenty of blog fodder, I suppose.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

All done

Last year, one (long) day of spring break was spent on our first college tour, and my first post about college applications. Yesterday, the process ended when HSS decided there was no point in going to an overnight at College Park this weekend, UMBC was it. So the college application label for HSS is done. I probably need a new label that captures the concept of panicking and getting whatever is required done to send a child away to college. Not yet. I just want to revel in the sense of accomplishment right now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Changing awareness to acceptance

April being "Autism Awareness Month", I know I need a post at the beginning of the month, but I really don't have much affinity for the awareness mantra. I guess awareness is a step, but it seems like such a minimal goal. And what does it mean? That you've heard the word autism? That you listen to stats about diagnosis rates going up? That you have some vague feeling about some sort of cause or cure needing definition? That you know someone with autism and you're willing to pitch in by buying a blue light bulb and turning it on? None of these activities mean much to me or to msk, so connection's a little rough.

I'll take passion and joy over "normal" any day
 Two years ago, I posted about moving beyond beyond awareness to understanding. This year there is a relatively big push to change from "Awareness" to "Acceptance". You should read this excellent post by Steve Silberman here that ties together, from many sources, how to make the world a more accepting place for autistic people.

So, following along with the theme of that post, here are my top five ways that people who are interacting with msk could change to make msk's life better - more respectful, more tolerable, more understanding.
  1. Presume competence - If you have a hard time knowing how much msk can understand or do just by looking or listening to him, give him a chance to exhibit his skills (in his own way and time). And while you're at it, try not to talk about him like he's not there - honestly, it doesn't seem to bother him, but it depresses the hell out of me.
  2. Look at reactions to gauge what can be tolerated - With limited expressive language, especially in new and different situations, msk is not going to ask you to slow down or stop talking. Distress is evident if you look for it.
  3. Don't expect quick comprehension of social queues - This is the flip side of #2. Msk has a hard enough time trying to process verbal inputs. If you want to give feedback, state it explicitly, rather than hoping he'll pick up on that disapproving frown.
  4. Use simple language, slowly, and wait for responses - Words are tough for msk to process. Extra time and plain talk will give him the most chance at success.
  5. Work to include - Once you strip away the expectations you can see what msk has to offer as a positive contribution to a school or a social group or a family. If you really believe in diversity you will spend the extra effort to pull him in. 
And while I'm at it, there are some ways society as a whole could evolve to make life better for autistic people generally.
  1. Don't pity - It's a mindset change, but there are different ways to be than "normal". Msk is not depressed about himself, so don't feel bad for him. I'm pretty good with my life, so I could do without the "Oh this must be so hard for you." type comments. If you barely understand what's involved in msk's specific brand of autism, there's no way you know how you would feel if you were him or you were me. Curiosity and questions and seeking to understand are great, but pity is a roadblock to respect.
  2. Realize that autism is not just about kids - As much as we've worked to figure out how to make schools work, there's a whole lifetime ahead of autistic youths. There are plenty of autistic adults. Don't marginalize them because they are grown and are trying to figure out a place in society. Respect and inclusion, and the work required to achieve them, don't end at 18 or 21 or 45.
  3. Welcome differences - Encouragement should be based on development and growth, not an image of "normal".
  4. Listen - It might be non-verbal, but if you pay attention to all communication you can enable self-determination. All people want to have a say in their future. Goals and priorities for a self-determined person are likely to be different than what you presume when you don't listen.
  5. Actively accept differences - I posted a while ago about someone calling the police when msk was feeling frustrated and communicating it. This attitude of shaming or confronting people who are acting outside of your idea of normal, with no intention of seeking to understand first, is not going to change anything beyond making a lot of people feel miserable. When you see something different, seek to understand, and to whatever level is appropriate for the situation, accept and acknowledge those differences. We might be talking about a smile and a nod rather than a lecture - it's hard to over-state how much this can mean.