Great Solution to a Common Problem

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I was gardening one fine day last summer, and came around the house to see my (then 2 1/2) son and German Shepherd in my neighbor's front yard with my very confused neighbor. 

Wondering why my antisocial husband would have taken the dog and toddler across the street for a chat, I soon realized my husband was not in the picture.  He was vacuuming in the house.

I called the dog, who rushed to my side, obviously relieved I had taken over.  Best we can guess is that he followed our wandering Bear out the door in an attempt to round him up safely.

I put Kona in the house and hollered for my husband while my super sweet neighbor and her teenage son held Bear's hand and walked him back, even stopping to make him look for cars.  My husband had just realized Bear was no longer "helping" vacuum and was rushing out to look for him, so we all converged in an awkward OMG-what-just-happened pile in my front yard.

That was the day we discovered Bear had taught himself to work the deadbolt.  Even though my husband was in the same room with him, his back was turned and the vacuum masked the sound of Bear's escape.

Honestly, I feel like we won the lottery on this one.  He'd chosen to reveal his new super power in good weather on a quiet Sunday with no traffic when both of us were home and wonderful people who knew him were on hand to intervene.

At this point he had only been in therapy a few months and was still mostly nonverbal.  He could not tell you his name and did not respond to it when called. It doesn't take much to imagine the potential for disaster with a nameless, voiceless child with a fearless, overly independent (one doctor says oppositional) nature.

Two things happened immediately after this little adventure.

1) We installed a hotel style bar lock high up on the door.

2) I ordered him a RoadID.

I've heard about mothers who worry about nonverbal children (especially older nonverbal children whom people expect to speak).  I've read heart wrenching posts and news articles about autistic children who have wandered off to tragic ends.  I've heard about nonverbal kids getting separated in a crowded mall. One brilliant mom I read about made a laminated card with her contact information for her son to carry, with instructions to show it to the nearest guard or mom with kids (apologies to the blogger who told this story, I couldn't find the post to backlink).

But I didn't want to rely on something my child had to remember to show someone (let alone that I had to remember to always make sure he carried with him). 

In my other life, I'm a back of the pack age group triathlete.  Because of this I happened to know about a brilliant, inexpensive product called RoadID.  Swim, bike or run... I never leave for a workout without it.

These IDs were invented for athletes by an athlete because of the ridiculously high incidence of athletes being hit by cars while running and cycling.  These engraved metal plates provide contact information and basic medical info to first responders for accident victims wearing little more than spandex and a heart rate monitor. 

Even though RoadID started out as athletic gear, I was quick to spot their practical appeal.  I happen to think they're a necessity for any family (are you a perfectly normal family with a perfectly normal kid who rides his bike or goes to the park by himself? Case closed.).

But I strongly believe these IDs are an absolute essential for parents of special needs children with a tendency to wander and/or whose ability to communicate is compromised.  And once the RoadID team learned about our community, they were interested in learning more about how they could help.  In the coming weeks, I hope to be announcing a promotional giveaway from them. 

In the meantime, I can only sing their praises and hope you'll check them out.  In addition to the shoe model (shown above), you can get them as wrist bands, ankle bands or necklaces.  We got a shoe one for Bear because he doesn't try to remove it and I don't have to remember to put it on him (if he's wearing shoes, he's got ID).  

And if your wee wandering one is anything like mine... while you're waiting for the ID to ship you might want to want to make a quick trip to Home Depot for one of those bar locks.

Milking Balloons

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

First Birthday - he was all about the balloons
I was really bummed when the dollar store in my town stopped selling balloons - I could deal with 50 cents pop for little helium filled bubbles of childhood joy.

But alas, for Bear's last two birthdays my only option was the old school downtown party supply store, complete with creaky floors and crotchety octogenarian owner, ear hair and all.  Plain old latex balloons are a buck a piece, and they deflate overnight.

Bear adores balloons, and what's a kiddie birthday party without them?  So, I reluctantly shell out for 20 and vow to get my money's worth.

These are our favorite leftover party balloon ideas, most of which fit right into the average sensory diet.  Typically, our helium balloons are mostly deflated by the next morning, so we unclip and blow up again on our own. But there's no reason you couldn't do these with any old balloon.

Bear's geeky engineer Grandpa demonstrated power of static
My son really notices static shocks and asks about them on a regular basis.  Rubbing balloons is a great way for them to experiment with static in a controlled way.

- Rubbing a balloon is a tactile and auditory experience.

- Static creates a subtle tactile experience that's a fun way to introduce the scientific concept.

- Bear is very defensive about being touched on the head. Rubbing/pressing with a balloon is fun way to work on this aversion that he readily accepts.

For little guys just learning to catch (or older ones with motor control issues), a slow moving balloon is ideal for practicing the motor planning necessary to catch a ball.

My son's wheelchair bound Great Grandma told us about this one.  You can sit several people on either side of a table and play balloon volleyball.  They play this when the preschoolers visit Grandma's assisted living senior facility for their holiday party.  It's great for participants with limited mobility or motor planning challenges.

Trampoline Tease
We put Bear in the trampoline and...

- hold the balloon over his head, making him jump higher and higher to touch it.

- drop the balloon and let him try various ways to hit/kick/catch it.

Balloon Ball Pit
Our mini trampoline has a net and also serves as our ball pit.  When we've got leftover party balloons, we fill the trampoline let him at it.

I know it's time to let them go the day I trip over one and annoyance overtakes the fading birthday party glow.

- I hold each balloon steady for him.

- I give him a thumb tack (the kind with a plastic grip about the size of a pencil eraser - it's a reasonable fine motor task, and they're not too sharp).

- I draw it out as much as possible.  We talk about which color to do next, and I make him pick (with his processing problems, making even simple decisions can be very difficult).  We do a countdown of some kind to stretch the wait, which makes it more of an event and is practice for one of his big challenges (impulsivity).  Obviously, it also makes the fun last longer.

When we're done popping, he helps me collect all the broken balloon bits.  It's another tactile experience, and a chance to discuss why the the same material feels and looks different now (yay! science!).

He got a little balloon powered plastic race car in his stocking I'm sure I'll drag out of hiding one of these subzero days.  But first I need to put balloons on the shopping list.

Bear thinks it's hilarious to let them go out of reach up the stairwell.

Bargain Bling

Monday, January 17, 2011

The pink lines and happy tears had barely dried before I'd figured out the baby's birthstone and decided I wanted a piece of commemorative jewelry.  Something simple and tasteful, like a ring or a necklace I could wear anytime.  (What can I say? At the time I was a childless sentimental 30-something girly girl with disposable income.)

Cut to nearly 4 years later.  I still hadn't found anything.  Mostly because, hello, real life.  Priorities shifting and all that.  And also because it turns out A) citrine inspires some un. be. lievably. fugly jewelry, and B) apparently I've got good taste, cause if I liked it, I guarantee it cost more than a Southpaw bolster swing.  

My husband was looking at Bear's birthstone rings again for my recent birthday, and it inspired me to poke around eBay just for kicks, where I found this (Which, it goes without saying, now keeps my wedding ring company, because it's not like I ever actually get to wear them.)

I just knew this cheap little silver ring was the one, even though my husband was offering to get me an actual piece of jewelry from an actual jewelry store.  One that probably wouldn't draw blood or snag my sweaters.

But I had to have it, because this ring so perfectly captures my relationship with Bear.

He is the light of my life.
He is the center of my universe.
He is so totally spiky around the edges.

For less than 20 bucks, I have to say I wasn't expecting much.  But the impulse purchase gods were with me on this one, and all I can say is the photo doesn't do it justice.  It's shiny and delicate and fits perfectly. Just putting it on filled me up in a way I can't explain.

I finally have my commemorative jewelry.  It was years overdue. Just like my Bear.  It's not what I thought I wanted and didn't look like the ads.  Just like my Bear.  And it's absolutely perfect. Just like my Bear.

I Caught The Groban-West Virus

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dudes. Josh Groban snarking melodiously on Kanye West's tweets.   This has to be why they invented the interwebz.

If a pop culture retard like me has seen it, this sucker's clearly gone viral.  I suspect this one will go down in the annals of internet history.  Just like this. And this.

Head Exploding in 3 2 1...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This is a rant in which I come off like a raging bitch from crazytown.  But I am angry enough that anxiety-ridden, image conscience me is still putting it out there.

I held off writing about this because I try not to be one of those people who pass judgment on things they don't actually know about (ya know, like those zealous nutballs who held Harry Potter book burnings claiming the novels promote witchcraft and satanism... but had never actually read them.)

I try to live by this, which is why I kept this particular outburst to myself even though its roots go back to Bear's November 18th IEP meeting. I resolved to wait until I'd experienced it for myself and could form an educated opinion about the situation. Because maybe my imagination was blowing it out of proportion. So I suppressed my gut reaction, which was to decline the service and pay for private.

So, I waited and I experienced. And it was even worse than I'd imagined it would be.

Here's the scoop...

Bear's group therapy through EI was great. They are wonderful and competent and have a lovely facility. I didn't bat an eye leaving him there. And while they offer a comfortable waiting area, they encourage parents to run errands during the hour the children are in session. Every single mom in his group cherished those 45 free minutes.

Even better, on the days I didn't have errands to run his OT allowed me access to wifi and to set up my laptop in the conference room so I could work. Beyond awesome.

So. After Bear's IEP meeting, they told me that the group speech/OT session is held in Mobile #2. Our school district is overcrowded and mobiles are common. So, not great, but no big shocker (though still annoying, because they had shown me their large motor sensory classroom previously and given me impression that's where it would be).

However, the rest of the story is that the parents are required to wait in the hallway of the school across from the mobiles. Because - I am not making this up - the mobile facilities have no running water, and therefor no restroom facilities. So the parents must wait in the school in case one of our children needs to use the bathroom. 

I was speechless. I was literally reduced to an incoherent whaaa...?! and just barely managed to bite back the colorful flurry of expletives that comes a little too naturally for someone with my countrified redneck upbringing.

Over the course of several phone calls I repeatedly questioned this, and that is their pat answer - we have to wait in case they need to use the bathroom.  See, I thought maybe it was an insurance thing or something, so I clarified all I really wanted to do was go to the school track (about 50 yards from the mobile, still district property) and run laps.  Ya know, use the time wisely.  The broken record droned on... cannot leave the building, must wait...

This is ridiculous from both sides of the equation. Let's review the highlights...

From Bear's Perspective
Let's just play along and assume my neurologically challenged, refuses to cooperate with potty training, doesn't do well in groups and has trouble communicating his needs to anyone but me child ACTUALLY broke his attention from whatever fun thing the group was doing to inform a speech teacher that he needed to use the restroom.

(I should note for perspective here that it's January in the upper freaking Midwest. It was so miserable this morning Bear clung to me with his head buried in my chest, sobbing "It's too cold outside, mommy! It's too cold outside!" while I carried him into the school.)

Here's what would have to happen:
1) They would send someone across the parking lot to the "waiting area" (you'll understand the quotes in a moment) to notify me.
2) I have to get myself together (coat, etc) and go out to the mobile.
3) Get him out of group, put his coat on, get him across the parking lot.
4) Wait for the main office on other side of building (or hopefully a nearby student or waiting parent) to buzz us in or otherwise let us into the school, because at this point we are locked out.
5) Get him (quietly!?) down long hall full of in-session elementary classrooms to bathroom.
6) Get him out of coat, pants, shoes, etc (he insists on getting at least half naked to sit on potty)
7) Convince him to sit on a strange potty. (Or carry our potty seat with me at all times?!)
8) Get him back into pants and coat and shoes. (Can't overstress the impossibility of just this line item).
9) Navigate hallway again (which, I learned today, is sometimes full of students for him to get lost in. My thanks to the teacher who caught him for me.).
10) Get back across parking lot to mobile (short term: snow. sometimes as high as him.)
11) Get him back out of coat (this can be so hard it's not unusual for him to nap in the darn thing).
12) Get him reintegrated into the group.
13) Get back across the parking lot and once again wait for someone to let me back into the locked school.

Personally, I lost count of the transitions after about 5.  Because even if Bear told the teacher as soon as the hour session started, it is seriously doubtful we could accomplish this process inside of an hour without him, at some point, being carried while screaming.

And then there's the parents' perspective...

1) The mobiles are in a parking lot, but we're not allowed to park in it.  That would be too convenient for us and less stressful for the kids.  We have to park on the street, drag them through the school's main office (which is so chaotic first thing in the morning that just that starts getting to Bear) to sign in as a visitor.

2) We are supposed to put on stupid little visitor name tag stickers (Really?! Putting on a new visitor sticker twice an effing week, when we've got a stack of documentation taller than our kid that proves why we're there?!)

3) We are supposed to quietly navigate the halls of the school (in session) to get to the exit closest to the mobiles (which is so tricky that today Bear and I ended up locked outside the school, trapped inside a playground with a padlocked fence. No way in or out. In 10 degree weather.  We could see the mobile, but couldn't get to it. Thankfully a teacher saw us through a window and came to our rescue.)

4) After depositing our kids in the group area, which is a spot on the floor of a makeshift office space in a trailer, we are supposed to go to the "waiting area."

5) The school is locked, so we have to be buzzed in from the cold.  Then we are expected to sit in chairs in the hallway of the school.  Classes are in session and we are right outside several classrooms.

6) The chairs are next to the doorway, so it's freezing cold.  Plus, there are classes periodically going through to the outside (so, door held open for extended periods of time 3 feet from us).

7) If you have other children and do not have the luxury of having someone to watch them from 8:45 to 9:45 Tues and Thurs mornings, they have to suffer the same "waiting area."  One poor mom was trying to wrangle a 15 month old in these conditions.

I tried REALLY. HARD. to make the best of it.

I brought work, but hello?!  I'm a web writer.  Not much work I can do without a computer. Or internet access.  And the other parents were chatty and ignored my obvious attempts to tune them out and focus on my documents.

- I can't realistically bring a laptop.  There's nowhere to put it, and no wifi even if I decided that it was worth it to lug my laptop in and sit on the floor twice a week.

- I can't realistically talk on the phone to clients. It's obvious we are expected to wait quietly, and when we did talk in a normal tone of voice the closest teachers pointedly slammed their classroom door.

- I can't risk pissing off these other parents so soon.  This is a small town and their kids will be Bear's classmates for a long time coming.  So, I can't completely ignore them or be rude about working when they're trying to engage me in conversation.

The only bright spot is that one of the moms has a son with SPD, and she's trying really hard to educate herself but lacks information.  I really feel like she's someone I could hang with someday and am genuinely happy to do whatever I can to help her find resources.

Beyond that... I'm dreading Thursday.  And the Tuesday after that.

The only reason I was able to swallow the inconvenient schedule for this therapy session was the 'at least I can run errands during that time' factor.   So for that to be taken away from me is brutal. Plus, I've got professional concerns.  For starters, the chamber of commerce tech committee I'm on already changed their meeting time once based on Bear's daycare schedule (which also got turned on its ear for this).  Now I have to go back to ask them to completely inconvenience themselves on our behalf AGAIN?!  Before we found out about this, my wonderful husband had even offered to be late to work on my meeting days and drop him off so I could attend, and then I'd pick him up (leaving it a few minutes early).  But this won't work if they require you to sit there.
And I'm sick of people telling me that I'm over reacting.  Because ya know what?  I'm not.  I don't have time for this bullshit.  I'm barely hanging on over here.

I've got a business to run, and what little I make tends to be "hey, we can afford an extra piece of therapy equipment" or "maybe we can get some private OT" money.  I've already sacrificed a huge chunk of my business in order to give more attention to Bear.  Which he deserves, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  But the fact remains that I've given up exercising and walking the dog and eating right and cooking nice meals for my family and noticing I still have a husband and cleaning the house and eating or showering or sleeping on a regular basis.

Pretty much, they can bite my giant ass.  If it were a great program I'd put up with it, but I don't see that they're going to do all that much for him AND I still have to look for private OT anyway so he can get what he really needs.  Right now I feel like I need ditch the school to save my sanity.

At the bare minimum, I feel like I need to find him someone who realizes a 13 step potty process is not productive use of a 3 year old's therapy time.