Thursday, April 4, 2013

April is Autism Awareness Month

I don't typically mix family life with blogging, but today I'm compelled to share my journey.

The journey began a little over 11 years ago.  Our first son Drew was born on January 21, 2002.  Drew was very healthy and happy.  Many people told us it wasn't supposed to be this easy.  Drew was a good sleeper, he ate well, he was usually happy.  Drew was walking at 9 months old and he was very bright.  As Drew got older I consistently took him for long walks and we would regularly spend hours at different parks.  Drew could hold his own on all the equipment.  Then school started.

Kindergarten, Drew came to school with me.  I taught 5th grade and each morning I would walk him down to his Kindergarten classroom.  In the hallways Drew would easily have two dozen people say "hi" to him.  Drew never responded, he held my hand and looked at the ground.  I tried to bribe him.  I remember one day I told him for every smile he returned I would give him a quarter.  I wasn't even forcing him to talk, just a kind smile.  Drew smiled four times and told me that he earned a dollar, I said, "see how easy it is," and he said, "I'm good with one dollar."  Oh boy!

1st grade came and my wife and I started to really see Drew struggling with peer relationships.  Drew was a strict rule follower and he was and still can be very black and white.  Drew was reading well at first grade, but he struggled with some math.  He loved science and he was a collector.  During 1st grade his passion, check that, obsession was Hot Wheels!

2nd grade, was a pivotal year.  My wife and I began to really get concerned about several aspects of Drew's personality.  He was extremely difficult to motivate, he was stubborn, he was very sensitive, he struggled to relate to others and he failed to connect with peers, he seemed to lack compassion.  Most of his classmates in second grade took care of Drew, they included him in many things, and they would even play games he was interested in.  They were good friends in second grade.  During this year we talked extensively with Drew's teacher and then came a visit from a highly recommended doctor.  For two hours my wife and I explained Drew to the doctor.  We explained his quirks, his strengths, his weaknesses, his obsessions, you name it we talked about it.  The doctor went down to the classroom and met Drew.  In less than ten minutes he was done and returned to the conference room.  He then began to explain to us... Aspergers.

Now you've gotta put yourself in my shoes.  I was trying to be extremely respectful, but internally I was thinking, you met my son for less than ten minutes and you diagnose him with an extension of Autism?

Then I sat back and I listened, I listened and I prayed.  I felt at ease, I felt as though the doctor was on to something.  For the next several weeks Amy and I read books and articles on Aspergers (mostly Amy).  We met with grandparents and we consulted our local ISD for support.

A big part of me was relieved to finally have answers for the unexplained behaviors.  Another part of me was still a bit skeptical.  Looking back it is funny how my wife and I learned more about Aspergers.  Amy was and is a reader.  She read several books, the one that sticks out for me is, Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.  Several nights Amy would read me pieces of this story that were similar to Drew.  Amy's way to better understand was by reading.  I on the other hand attended in-services, consulted leaders in the Autism field and signed up to attend START and CASE (with my wife).  The START program is designed to educate educators on Autism.  It is a six week training offered at our local ISD.  The presenters were Tony and Bill.  I thought the START and CASE trainings were very helpful.  I felt the information that was shared helped me with my kids at school, but more importantly with my son.  Looking back the advice that was best for me came from my wife.  She told me that I was the most patient person she has ever known, but with Drew I lacked patience.  I needed this wake up call.

From about the age of 6-9 Drew was a science junky (still is, but not to the same extreme).  Obsessed is a good word.  He loved Hot Wheels, but he was (and still is) an animal factoid machine.  We would go to a zoo and he would teach the presenters information.  It was remarkable.  Drew would read encyclopedias for fun.  His knowledge of animals is amazing.  Then the obsessions began to change.  He still loved Hot Wheels, but now he was finding a passion for weather.  This lasted a couple years.  Then after weather came Astrology, Star Wars, reading Michigan and American Chillers, and finally Legos.

The change for me wasn't in a book, it wasn't on Twitter, it was accepting Drew for who he is.  Drew hates to sweat, he'll never be a pro athlete.  Drew is still stubborn and sensitive.  I'll never make him be someone he isn't.  I had to accept Drew for all of his great qualities.  How many kids can read Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2 hours, and then that night sit down to The Hound of the Baskerville's?  Drew teaches me things daily.  He teaches me facts on Star Wars, he teaches me how he sees the world, but most of all he teaches me that patience and love are most important.

This is what Aspergers and Autism is to me.  Every kid is different, if we truly want to help students with Autism we need to see the world through their eyes.  Amy and I still try to help Drew understand the complexities of the World.  We are thankful for Tony Starr, Joann Goyings, Anne Kusch, his first and second grade loop teacher Sharry Royalty, and so many others that have helped Drew along the way.  Autism isn't going away, and because it isn't going away we have to become more aware of how to help students with Autism.  Ultimately we must remember every child is different.  Every child is special!

Autism Statistics:

*  1 in 88 people are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
*  Autism is the Fastest Growing Developmental Disability
*  1 to 1.5 million live with Autism Spectrum Disorder
*  Only 56% of students with Autism finish high school
*  Boys are four times more likely to have Austism Spectrum Disorder than Girls

Information that can help you:

What is Aspergers?

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

If you need to explain Asperger's to someone in basic, quick terms, this is a must-read: This is Asperger Syndrome by Elisa Gagnon and Brenda Smith Myles

Next Week At A Glance:

March 29th - April 7th:  SPRING BREAK, Enjoy the time off : )

Monday, April 8th:  Welcome Back!

Tuesday, April 9th:  String Team 4pm
Tuesday, April 9th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm
Wednesday, April 10th:  Assembly grades 3-5 at 8:45
Thursday, April 11th:  Spring Pictures
Thursday, April 11th:  KDG Orientation at CAC 7pm
Friday, April 12th:  Staff Meeting in Mrs. Moffitt's classroom 7:50am (please be prompt)
Saturday, April 13th:  Vendor Fair at Warner Elementary

Articles Worth Your Time:

Growing Up With Autism

10 Tips for Helping Kids with Autism shared by @jedipadmaster

Autism, Meet Adolescence...Kaboom!  by @hollyrpeete

Raising Modern Learners by @patrickmlarkin

Taming the Test by @8Amber8

Strategies for Addressing School Gender Gaps by @EdWeekTeacher

The New Challenges of Teaching shared by @NMHS_Principal

Reading With Them by @colbysharp

Does Focusing on Test Scores Lead to Inferior Education?  shared by @stumpteacher

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior shared by @docrappaport

Should Teachers Be Political? by @edrethink

Teachers Tweet, Administrators Don't shared by @PeterMDewitt

Thanks for the Nomination Kim, here is my page  nominated by @powell4thgrade

iPad iNformation:

10 Ways to Use Offline iPads in Education shared by @MarzanoResearch

50 Fab Apps for Teachers shared by @Tales2Go

4 Incredible Apps for children with Autism  shared by @mccoyderek

Videos Worth Watching:

Treasure Hunting with Google Maps.  This is so cool! (2 min) shared by @web20classroom

John Maxwell, "What are you really good at?" (Interesting perspective...) (3 min)

Trey Burke from the PARKING LOT! (1 min) 

You Posted That On Facebook! I love Ellen! @TheEllenShow (7 min) (Careful what you post...)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your family's story. Drew is so lucky to have two parents who work so hard to love him in the best way they can.
    I am going to order LOOK ME IN THE EYE to read myself -- maybe that will help me work more effectively with one little friend in my room for the rest of this year.

    Have your boys seen this Kid Snippets episode? My Star Wars loving class was overjoyed. :)