STEM vs STEAM

A popular move in education is moving schools towards STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; so students can keep up in a growing technological world. D has graduated Elementary school this year so I’ve been thinking a lot about Middle School and Education this year as we prepare for the switch in schools for him.

The Middle school that D is supposed to attend recently became a STEM school without consulting the parents and teachers about the switch. All Music, Drama, and Art classes have been dropped. I was told that should at least 40 students band together and want one of those classes, the school will provide an online option.

How in the world do they expect to teach students to tune their instruments via an online class? How will they troubleshoot issues with instruments that inevitably happen with students that are new to the instruments and usually renting the instrument? I could go on and on about how this is not an option that will really work. I’m all for it in places like rural Alaska where it may be the only option, but we live in a suburbs of Seattle and Tacoma WA. This is not our only option.

Here are just some of why the Arts and Humanities are SO important to me and why they should be important to you.

The Arts, any form of art, is creative. It causes you to use a different side of your brain. This side of your brain is what is used to be creative, to be inventive, and innovative, and even in the STEM areas of the industry, you need this to stay ahead. The Arts train your brain to think creatively.

The Arts help prevent and aid in healing mental illness, through people being able to express themselves, be it through writing, and art of any form be it music, dancing, acting. It feeds our soul even if we are only observers.

It has been shown in repeated studies that exposure to and being trained to play a musical instrument makes a person smarter.

If we continue on our current path of focusing solely on STEM, I can see a day one day when the old masters of music, the written word, and art of the world will be lost because our children will not appreciate the beauty and majesty of their creations.

I’m FOR Classical Education which includes a broad learning base. I don’t have a problem in High School or the last couple of years if a child focuses on STEM or some other area that they plan on working in IF they have been given an adequate base of knowledge in Classical Education.

Unexpected Gifts on Vacation

This summer our family was on vacation and due to a lot of reasons (sickness and allergies being chief) it was a difficult vacation. What I didn’t expect though were some unusual but great experiences we had on our vacation.

First, I had the opportunity to meet with a Mom who was struggling to find supports in her area. I don’t think I helped much as I don’t live in the area and could only offer general information, but I hopefully helped her find people who can help. This was good for me as it reminded me of why I do what I do. I remember starting this journey of Special Needs and not having any answers that I needed. I didn’t know where to find supports or how to find them. I swore to myself at that time I would do everything I could to keep other parents from that situation. This experience also gave me a chance to reflect on and say a prayer for all those who have helped me on my journey. I really appreciated that, and I enjoyed making a new friend.img_2823

Next, we were visiting some cousins and a 13-year-old with Autism kept coming by to visit. He is pretty severely impacted with Autism and kept escaping from his parent’s home. It filled me with so much joy to see how kindly these cousins interacted with him. If I could clone them and populate the world with them I would, because our kids need people like them who see their beauty and worth and treat them accordingly.img_2824

The third experience was meeting up with one of my husband’s best friends from High School. They, like us, have one boy and one girl with the boy having autism. We’ve known many children with autism and while D has enjoyed playing with them I have never seen him connect with another child the way he did with this young man. After dinner, the boys rode in our car back to Grandma’s while the girls rode in the other car. Listening to the two boys in the back of the car nearly brought me to tears! They understood each other on a level no one has understood D before. They “scripted” together (reciting movies line for line), enjoying every minute. img_2822D told him of what he someday dreams of doing and the young man thought his plans were awesome. I could kick myself for not having spent more time with this family over the years. The girls had a great time too, but listening to those boys in the car was something I wasn’t sure D would ever find. That was truly special.

Vacations and getting out of our bubble can be really hard for families of Special Needs kids. But in spite of everything, it can also be really worth it.

Hats off to the Moms of Young Children

img_2827Occasionally we have been watching a set of twin 8-month-old boys. I like doing it because, one,  I just plain LOVE babies, and two, it also helps my children who don’t have younger siblings around learn how to care for them. (This week I made R change her first diaper.😉)

A couple weeks ago we had them for a lot of the weekend. They went home at night but would be with us during the day. Sunday made me remember just how hard being a Mom of young children really is. Luckily church wasn’t until 1 pm or we would have NEVER made it out the door. I thought I was doing really well. I loaded up the van with my two kids, Charlie (D’s service dog), the twins in their car seats, and the double stroller that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to collapse. Luckily I had one of the seats in the van folded down in the floor already so I ever so carefully smashed, wiggled and worked the stroller into the van fully upright. Success! img_2828

We drove to church, and I was pretty proud of myself. Only a few minutes late! I got the stroller out (much easier than putting it in!) and put the boys in. My kids and the dog got out and we walked into the church. (I felt a bit like I was leading a circus….)

We sit down, and I suddenly realize I don’t have a diaper bag!😩 I quickly asked a friend to watch the kids while I ran back home to get it. I got back just in time to see R just a little frazzled as she tried to keep both the babies from crying.img_2826  I sit down and take over.

We get both the babies happy, and one of them starts to laugh, which in turn makes my kids laugh, which makes the other baby laugh. After watching this being repeated multiple times (to my secret amusement), I tried desperately to get my kids to stop laughing. We left the chapel and sat on the floor of the foyer and let the babies crawl around. They LOVED that.

Suddenly it dawned on me that although I had the diaper bag, the formula was in the other bag, which was STILL AT HOME!

The main meeting was almost over so I waited until then and got my children off to class. I left the stroller there, I wasn’t going to try and put it back in my car just to drive home (AGAIN) and back. I took the babies and got their car seats buckled in the car, and again drove home to get the formula. I would have probably gone home for good after the main meeting at this point, except that I had agreed to teach a lesson during the last hour of church. Yes, I know. I’m a glutton for punishment.

I now head back to church for the 3rd time that morning and I am completely frazzled. I found some women to watch the twins while I taught the lesson. (Only after I had accidentally dumped the entire contents of the container of formula out on the floor.) Their Mom walked in in the middle of my lesson and I was SO happy to see her! I had forgotten how crazy it is with little ones, particularly at church.

img_2825-1So my hat goes off to all mother’s of young children. May you find people who will help you through this time when you really think you’d be better off staying home from church. May you find the courage, faith, and patience to keep coming every week. I promise it does get better. And a shout out to the angels who helped me along the way when mine were little.

Can We Get Off This Merry Go Round Now?

Another doctor… Another test… We are lucky, we know D’s primary diagnosis- Autism. Unfortunately, it also comes with many other coocuring issues. We have been looking for answers about his sleeping issues for years, and I was severely frustrated the last visit we had with the sleep doctor, when they said again, we don’t know what’s going on. Try these things. (We’ve been doing those things for years!). This particular type of doctor we have now seen 3 different ones this year. We saw a pregnant LNP the first time and then because she was out with her baby, we saw a different LNP. The second one seemed to really listen and was able to see Daniel sleeping in action. He wouldn’t wake up for her in the office. She recognized that this was a severe problem and referred us on our next visit to one of the two heads of the clinic- a doctor this time.

img_2660Once again the tests didn’t show anything wrong except that he isn’t getting enough sleep at night, in spite of being in bed from 8 pm- 7 am and giving him medication to sleep. The doctor I felt was really blowing us off because they weren’t able to find anything wrong, gave us suggestions we have been using for years, sent us home and said come back and see us in the fall. 

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Can I tell you the rage I felt at that moment? This child has missed tons of school because I can’t get him to wake up and get him to school and even once I do, he’s falling asleep in class on the cold hard floor in spite of all the noise and his teacher can’t wake him. We are usually extremely vigilant about getting him to bed on time. He wants to go to bed. He knows how important it is to get sleep as he always feels tired.

I want some help dammit! Instead, I’m left feeling helpless and like we just wasted all this time out of school and money once again trying to find answers. It is frustrating and very disruptive for him because it’s not just his sleep. It’s learning he’s missing out on, it’s his ability to handle and control stress, it’s his ability to function.

I say we are lucky and we are. I have friends whose children have mysterious symptoms and they and the doctors have no clue what is going on and it’s life threatening. This part has been surprising to me just how common it is for families to be fighting for answers. You think, “We have all these medical advances. Why can’t they figure what is going on with my child?” The truth is that the human body is still very much a mystery.

So we will continue going around and around on this merry go round, talking to one doctor and then the next, one test and then another. Praying that at some point we can stop doing tests, and finally have some answers that will help.

Back Pain, Opioids, and Alternative Treatment

I have chronic back pain. I’ve already had two back surgeries and at the moment, it’s not that bad compared to what it was like before each of my surgeries. I don’t like taking medicine so when I do take pain medication or muscle relaxants it is few and far between.

We are told there is an Opioid epidemic in our country and because of that doctor’s aren’t wanting to prescribe pain medication. At various times I’ve had to become a patient of a pain clinic. I was really struck the second time I went in for more medicine. I wasn’t asking for pain meds. I just wanted the muscle relaxant. I hadn’t been in for a year. 30 pills had lasted me one year. Now I know they are worried about addiction and rightfully so, but to treat your patients as though they are doing something wrong by asking for help when obviously I haven’t been abusing the system is just wrong. I have a documented history of back issues and hadn’t been in for a year to ask for more.

More and more insurance companies and doctors are recognizing the benefits of alternative medicine like the chiropractor, acupuncture, and massage, which is awesome. They really can help. Acupuncture alone made it possible for me to quickly come off my pain medicine after each surgery.  However, my other issue is that I can pay $30 for a bottle of pills that will last me 30 days (or in my case a year). Or I can pay $30 for one visit to one of these alternative therapies which will help for a day or two and then I have to go back and pay another $30. No wonder people are getting hooked on opioids! It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the alternative treatments which have a chance of actually healing you vs just masking the symptoms. Until we can make these visits cheaper we are going to continue having an opioid problem. People can’t afford to pay $30 or $40 every day for treatment. This should be the real Healthcare reform.

I Am Not Special Because I Have A Child With Special Needs

Frequently we hear and see people saying that “You must be a special person because of your child with Special Needs”. Or, “There is no way I could do what you do (implying taking care of a Special Needs child).”

I’m just a mom. I’m not a special person because my son has Autism. His having Autism, or any of his other issues doesn’t make me special, it doesn’t grant me super human powers of patience, or increase my tolerance for craziness. I was not magically gifted with knowing how to advocate educationally and medically for my son. 

I am not special. I am just a Mom who loves her son like you love yours. I have the same general weaknesses and strengths as any other person. If you had a child with Special Needs, you would find that you would be doing the same things I am, because you love your child and because you really have no other choice.

img_2521The person who is special is my son. Children without these issues can have a fun and carefree childhood. Children like my son spend their days working harder than anyone else to do things that we take for granted. Instead of spending his afternoons after school playing, his afternoons for years have been filled with therapy, and evenings filled with medical procedures, an early bedtime is pretty much mandatory or we will pay a high price the next day.

So here’s to all the fighters out there like my son, who work harder than I do just to get through a day.

Teaching Our Children to Be Kind- Despite the Disabilities of Others

Toward the end of the school year my daughter’s General Education class was evacuated due to two children fighting. Apparently, a desk and a chair were thrown and it was children who it would appear, have behavioral issues. This isn’t the first time there have been issues.

I’m in a unique situation from most parents. This was R (age 9), who spends most of her time in General Education with pull outs mainly due to Dyslexia, being evacuated. But it very easily could have been D causing the evacuation in his class. At school, he’s mostly fine since his service dog Charlie started going with him, but at home, things can get a bit crazy. So I know how those parents must have felt when they got the call from the school about their child. I know the frustration, the panic, the helplessness, and fear that comes from situations like this.

Because I understand all this, I find myself in an unusual situation. How do I teach my daughter to be safe, not to become a doormat, and yet be kind and friendly to a child who, I’m just guessing, but probably really needs a friend or two?

I don’t even begin to have the answers for this. I just know how I would like D to be treated if he were in this situation. I asked my community of Special Needs Parents and one response that really stood out was this-  “When something is happening and your child doesn’t feel safe, she should call out loudly that, “I don’t like what “John” is doing and I don’t feel safe.” This alerts the adults nearby that something is going on and helps the child who is being unsafe hear that a peer is not comfortable with what he is doing, and then your child should walk away. That works great for keeping her safe.

But what about learning to still be kind to people who may not seem to deserve it but not taking it so far that she learns to just take the abuse?

I don’t want my daughter receiving the message that you just keep taking whatever someone dishes out to you no matter how unkind they may be. That’s abuse and I don’t believe for a second that is what Christ meant when he said to turn the other cheek. I believe we should have respect for our body and spirit and the same respect for others.

In Appied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy we learn about reinforcing good behaviors and causing an extinction of the bad behaviors. As R only sees these children in a school setting and they are in her class and will likely be in her class next year, I think she should remove herself from the situation when things get out of hand. But it is my hope that when things are safe, she includes these children in her play, that she invites them to join in. As one of them has a crush on her I’m hoping that the positive reinforcement of her attention and kindness will have its effect on the child.

However… I also know only too well the dangerous line she runs in doing this, having followed this idea myself as a young girl. I had young men severely upset with me because they thought they were my boyfriend simply because I was being nice to them as I could tell they needed a friend. How do I help her navigate this minefield that is only going to get harder as she gets older?

Still searching for answers….