March 29, 2010

One, Two, Three

birthday Time is really beginning to fly around here. Jelly Belly turned 11 months old today, and I can hardly believe she'll be one in a month. One month after that, Moe will turn 3.

Moe's third birthday is a big deal. For one thing, it means that it will be one year since his diagnosis. It will certainly be a time for reflection on our journey through early intervention, how far we've come, and where we are headed. In more concrete terms, it means Moe ages out of Early Start services through the Regional Center (RC), and we'll have some decisions to make.

In California, once a child turns three many services become the responsibility of the school districts (SD) to provide. In April, he'll have his exit assessments from his current service providers and his entrance assessments for the school district. His new services will begin June 1.

In our district, which has a good reputation for special education services, all of the preschool classes are at one campus nearby. Once we know which class he'll qualify for (and I'm sure he'll qualify, at the very least under speech & language delays), we'll go observe a class. The change from RC to SD is a tricky one, because the SD only needs to provide services that will affect him from an educational perspective, whereas the RC is family focused, and responsible for the development of the whole child.

If we don't like what we see from the SD, or don't think it is enough, we of course have the option to find services privately. We can then pay out of pocket or try to get insurance reimbursement. (The latter is going to be difficult with our current insurance, but we're hopeful that new regulations under health care reform are going to force more insurance companies to cover autism services.) To that end, I've been researching our options for private preschools with autism programs. We're going to visit one on Wednesday.

The decision to send Moe to a special school would be tough. Not only will it be expensive, but I was really hoping he would be ready to go to a regular preschool, perhaps with an aide. But he is clearly not ready for that. I'm concerned he could get lost in the public program if he doesn't have one on one attention. He may learn to go with the flow, but I want to make sure we're bringing out all of his potential. These years leading up to kindergarten are crucial.

My best guess right now is that he'll go to the local preschool, hopefully 4-5 half days a week. He'll probably also get some speech services through the district. Then we'll likely supplement with social groups and possibly some additional one on one therapy, including some kind of ABA, extra speech and maybe OT. Our long term goal, of course, is that he's in a regular school (public or private) with typical kids, but we'll do whatever we need to do, one step at a time.

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian.

March 26, 2010

Opportunity Knocks

A few days ago, I got a most unexpected call. Jill Asher, founder of Silicon Valley Moms Group, asked me to blog with them! The group started with just one blog (Silicon Valley Moms Blog) and a few writers, all local parents. Since then, they have expanded and include separate, sister blogs for areas around the country, including Los Angeles, Ohio and DC Metro.

I had wanted to write for them, but I could never figure out how to apply. Then one day, I saw a post that they were looking for new writers. I applied but didn't hear back, and I've been so busy getting set up with Signing Time that I forgot all about it. But this week, they called, and now I'm going to be blogging there as well.

I'm excited to have an opportunity to write some things that I might not write about on this blog. My topics can be broader in scope, and allow me to write about issues I care about or adventures we have outside of the autism spectrum. The group will also provide some great networking opportunities with involved parents in the area, and give me some more exposure as a writer.

Because I'll be writing in a more public forum, I've decided to use pseudonyms for the kids. You might notice that I'm now using Moe and Jelly Belly throughout this blog, and will use the same names over there. Moe was a nickname from before he was born, when we needed something to call our yet unnamed son. It comes from nicknames my brother and grandfather gave to each other, Moe and Curly, from the Three Stooges, which they used to watch together. My brother was Moe, and since we knew we'd honor him with our first child's name, it was fitting. Jelly Belly is a nicknamed I've been calling the baby, and I think it suits her.

I'm not blogging there quite yet. I've submitted my bio and a photo and am getting set up with their blogging platform. But I am already working on my first post, and will link to it when it happens! If you are interested in seeing what they are about, especially if you are a parent, click on the link above in this post, or on the button in the sidebar to the right.

March 16, 2010

The Spoon Strike

A few weeks ago, Moe stopped eating certain foods. At first, I didn't think much of it. I just thought he was tired of those foods or didn't feel like eating them. This happens: one day macaroni & cheese is in, and the next day it's out.

After a week or so, though, it dawned on me that it was only particular foods that Moe wasn't eating, specifically, anything that required a spoon. He wasn't tired of the foods; if I fed him, he would eat them. My first reaction was (of course) worry. Did he suddenly regress? Had he lost the ability to use a spoon? After Jeff talked me down, I was pretty sure that wasn't it.

Moe has been working on a number of new skills, he's using more sign language, walking up and down the patio steps without assistancec and climbing the rails of his crib (in quite a frightening manner, I might add). So my second thought was that maybe he was working on other skills. Perhaps using a spoon was more challenging than I had realized, and he didn't want to make the effort with so many other things going on. But I could get Moe to use the spoon mostly by himself if I had even the slightest bit of my hand touching his. And Moe has been using a spoon for a year. So I didn't think it was too hard for him. What then?

I knew Moe didn't dislike the foods, and I knew Moe still had the ability to use the spoon. I figured I would just put some really, really yummy foods in front of him, help him out with a bite or two and then let him realize that he could eat it on his own or not at all. Seemed like a good plan. Five minutes later there was chocolate pudding on the walls.

I went to our Occupational Therapist for advice. We looked at his spoons, came up with theories about the bumps on the handles, metal versus plastic, long versus short handles. I experimented, but nothing seemed to matter.

It took a couple of weeks, but I think I've finally figured it out. I always give Moe and Jelly Belly meals together, and of course, I feed Jelly with a spoon. Moe sees this, and although he's never outright protested, I think he's jealous. He has actually shown some other signs of jealousy lately, pulling on me when I'm paying attention to Jelly Belly, and getting pretty frustrated when she tries to take his toys (which is always). Although I don't want them to fight, I'm thrilled to see these very developmentally appropriate emotions from Moe.

The other day, I gave Moe some chocolate pudding. Jelly had already eaten, and we were having a webcam chat with the grandparents. Without a second thought, he ate it all up. I think he was too distracted to realize he wasn't supposed to eat it. Now that I think we have a cause, I'm not quite sure how to fix this. I'm going to try to feed the kids separately for a while and see if that helps. Most likely, in time, this will just resolve itself.

March 8, 2010

A New Adventure

i_love_you I took a baby sign language class with Moe when he was a baby. He kind of got "more" but it never really clicked with him and I didn't keep it up. Now I understand that he wasn't really understanding language in general. But with such a strong focus in our house on language, and developing communicative intent, I wanted to start signing again with both kids. I had heard great things about Signing Time, which was formerly on PBS, so I started by getting a Baby Signing Time video. I couldn't believe it when Jelly Belly, all on her own, signed "milk." Now I sign with her all of the time and she has three signs: more, milk, and all done. I think she may also understand dog, mommy and daddy.

We sign a lot with Moe as well, and he will very rarely use signs. When he does he generally will also say the word while he signs. He loves the ST videos and he cries when the ending credits come on. We watch them a lot.

So the timing couldn't have been better when I saw an announcement in the Signing Time newsletter. I've been looking for something to do: some kind of job or hobby to keep my mind working and sanity intact while at home. Blogging has been a great outlet, but it isn't always enough. Immediately, something clicked. Now this was something I could really do!

I researched the requirements for becoming an instructor: one or two American Sign Language (ASL) classes depending on the level of certification you are going for. I decided to take a class online; if I liked it, I could move forward. If not, I would move on. I loved it and took a second class. I'm considering taking a third. But I still couldn't decide if I wanted to actually teach a class. I would be an Independent Contractor authorized to teach the ST material. It would mean starting a (very) small business, including finding locations to teach, charging tuition, and competing with other local baby signing classes.

Finally, this weekend, I took the plunge. I filled out my application, sent in my resume and a lovely letter of recommendation written by my BFF. I decided to go for the first level of certification, which will let me teach to kids three and under with their parents, as well as do parent workshops. In the future, I can upgrade to be an Advanced Instructor, allowing me to teach older kids, as well as professionals, like doctors or teachers who may want to use ASL in their practices. I have a phone interview today and my training materials and curriculum are on the way.

It will still be a little while before I will actually start teaching classes. After I get certified, I'll need to wait until Moe starts school and I know his schedule. I'll have to find childcare for Jelly Belly while I teach. And then I'll have to set up the classes. But a new adventure has begun!

If you aren't familiar with Signing Time, you should definitely check them out, especially if you have young kids under three, and even more especially if you have young kids who aren't yet talking. In future posts, I'll talk more about what ST is all about. I'll also talk about the benefits of signing with kids and how using sign language affects development of speech in hearing babies.

March 2, 2010

Not quite pushing 40

Today is my 37th birthday. It is also my cousin's 30th birthday. She is living the life that I (okay, that we all) dreamed we'd have: living in the big city, editor of a magazine that sends her and her husband to exotic romantic locations around the world, and renovating an historic home with a rooftop view. On my 30th birthday, I was working at a cool Silicon Valley startup and was dating my future husband. We went wine tasting with some friends in Napa, had dinner at French Laundry and went on a hot air balloon ride the next morning. It was a perfect birthday, and after losing my brother just a year earlier, it felt like a true new beginning.

But this year is hard. It isn't that I'm upset about getting older, or that it is a mere downhill slide toward forty. It's just that my life is not at all what I had thought it would be right now. The picture in my head of how things are supposed to be is not at all how things are. I never expected to be a stay at home mom for this long. And I never expected to have a child with autism.

It was pouring rain this morning which added a bit to my melancholy. But conveniently, as I write this, the sun is coming out. My parents sent orchids (clearly, still recovering from their recent trip to Hawaii). My BFF came over with homemade bagels (homemade!!), and cardamom bread (also homemade), and not one, but two kind of (yes, homemade) fudge. I'm not saying that this is going to be the best birthday ever, but if nothing else, at least I can eat myself into a carb and sugar induced stupor. It helps. Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't.


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