Saturday, September 28, 2013

I NEVER Worry About Mike Being Left Out

I never worry about Mike being left out of parties - I'm always too busy hosting our OWN, BETTER PARTY!!

For the past four years, we have hosted a 
Trick-or-Treat party for 
our school's Raider Buddies group. Our group averages approximately 
50 ESE & typical students, teachers, 
parents, and friends. 

To ensure a successful and EASY party, I have streamlined the organizations. Here are some of MY helpful party tips:

* Send invitations EARLY and OFTEN, especially if you're dealing with high school kids- typically the first week in October. (I've included a copy of MY flyer) ...

* DON'T LEAVE ANYONE OUT!!  If you have students living in group homes, as we do - arrange transportation/carpools EARLY. Oftentimes, proof of insurance is required to transport students that live in group homes. (It's very simple - just don't wait until the last minute.) I actually invite the entire group home to participate. Last year, I had a developmentally delayed 39 year-old woman who Trick-or-Treated for the first time in her life.  She talked about it for MONTHS! 

* Seek donations for Trick-or Treat bags - some kids will show up without them.  My grocery store hosts a Halloween event and is HAPPY to supply our group with bags.

*  Make sure EVERYONE has a costume. I typically keep some face paint on hand, just in case.

*  Have water bottles and stick one in every student's bag.  We are fortunate to have a golf cart follow our group.  It carries extra water and assists when students get tired.

*  Have a CLEAR pick-up time on your invite.  

* BE ORGANIZED:  I typically don't allow the students INSIDE my home for this event. If I do, they will make a mess and I'll never get them motivated to leave on schedule.  I organize the bags, water bottles and candy, on tables, in my driveway.

To ensure that my neighbors are prepared for a group of 50 or more teenagers, I send a flyer to ALL of my neighbors, notifying them of our group (I've included MY flyer).

MY NEIGHBORS LOVE OUR GROUP!! Last year, I had a neighbor drop off candy and treats for our kids, prior to Halloween because she wasn't going to be home.  I also had a neighbor write a letter to our school board members bragging about our students.   

*  Have an adult or typical student LEAD the group.  We pair our kids up with their buddies, but assign a LEADER to notify the homeowner that your group in there. 

*  Snap a group picture and SEND A THANK YOU CARD TO YOUR NEIGHBORS! They will LOVE this and feel good about supporting our kids!

*  Invite your principal.  He/she probably won't come, but make them aware of the event. I'm hoping to get some press coverage this year. :-) 

*  Bring flashlights

Raider Buddies
Trick-or-Treat Party


At Mike’s House

Halloween Night
6:30 – 9:00

Please come in your costume!  Bring a flashlight, candy bag, and eat dinner prior to arriving.  We will be leaving promptly at 
6:30 to Trick-or-Treat

If you need a ride or a costume, 
please contact Ms. XXXX

Dear Neighbor,

My son, Michael has autism and is a special education student at XXX high school. I have invited the Raider Buddies club to Trick-or-Treat our neighborhood on Halloween night.

Raider Buddies is a school sponsored club that encourages friendships between general and special education students.  

Please be advised that some of the ‘special students’  in our group have challenges with language and personal space.  Some of our students are very fearful of scary costumes.  We will assign a leader to notify you when group is approaching. I would appreciate your cooperation in not attempting to scare the students.  Also, taking just ONE piece of candy can be a difficult concept for some of our kids.  If possible, I would prefer that you hand the students the candy, rather than allowing them to grab a handful. 

I’m anticipating a group of approximately fifty (50) special and general education students, faculty, and parents.  They’re a wonderful group of kids – I promise they won’t Trick, as long as you give them some Treats!

Thank  you & Happy Halloween,
Autism Hippie

As you can see, I've done ALL the work for YOU!!  I hope I've motivated you to get involved and plan your own Trick-or-Treating party! 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lockup Raw: Strawberry Festival

“THANK  YOU for handcuffing my son and transporting him in your police car.”

Yes, I made that statement. And yes, I sincerely meant EVERY word of it.

Mike was on his FIRST field trip with his class, to the Strawberry Festival. The Strawberry Festival is an annual event that celebrates the local strawberry harvest and other agricultural accomplishments. The event is held at our local fairgrounds and is a mixture of carnival rides, games, and agricultural displays.

The trouble started as soon as Mike entered the fairgrounds. He was greeted with a cart, selling the typical carnival junk and he wanted a bubble gun!  Now, when I use the word, “wanted” what I mean is that he had a desire so intense, it consumed him.  The teachers and aids on the field trip were able to redirected him away from the first cart. Unfortunately, they were greeted by cart on every corner. 

His desire for the bubble gun turned to anxiety.  The anxiety quickly turned to aggression and Mike was unwilling to remain with the group.  The teachers were unable to calm and/or control him and decided that the safest option was to transport Mike back to school.

Deputy Barker, the school resource police officer, was dispatched and arrived on the scene within 15 minutes of receiving the call. 

As I’ve previously noted, Mike is a VERY big young man.  He is 6’2" and weighs approximately 230 pounds – he is incredibly strong and fast.  He is physically intimidating.  When Deputy Barker arrived, the staff was having a very difficult time keeping Mike with the group.  People were starting to stare and the fairground’s ‘local’ police officers were observing at a distance.

It was then that I received the phone call.  I had met Deputy Barker on a couple of occasions and found him to be a very compassionate man. Our school has a very large ESE population and he has worked cooperatively with the staff for several years.  

When he called me, his words were direct and quick. He simply stated that Mike was melting down and bolting from the staff.  He was going to remove Mike from the fairgrounds and transport him back to school.  He wanted to accomplish this task without any involvement from the ‘local’ police officers who were observing him.  He was informing me that he intended on using his handcuffs to gain control over Mike.

I immediately understood what he was saying – Mike’s size matters.  He can be very intimidating to people who don’t know him.  He feared that the ‘local’ police officers would attempt to assist him and possibly use unnecessary force. In that moment, I knew how much this man cared. I knew I could trust him.  

With the assistance of the school staff, Deputy Barker handcuffed Mike.  When Mike realized that he was the ‘bad guy’ and wasn’t going to get away with his behavior, he complied.  He calmly walked with Deputy Barker to the police car without incident. He was placed in the backseat of the car, and  transported back to school where he finished out the school day.  

NO, I was not asked to pick him up. 
NO, he was not suspended from school. 
NO, he did not receive additional, 
unnecessary disciplinary actions.  
The school GETS it – they did not reinforce Mike’s behaviors and they did not reward him by sending him home.    

Now, the thought of my autistic son being led away in handcuffs was not a pleasant one. It’s incredibly painful to know that your child is probably scared and that there’s nothing you can do about it – except trust.  My faith in Deputy Barker mostly came from his composure during out brief phone call. He wasn’t frustrated, intimidated, angry, upset, or flustered by Mike’s behaviors. He also understood the bigger opportunity - to teach Mike a lesson, while ensuring his safety.

While the purpose of the field trip was to educate the students about agriculture, Mike learned a far greater lesson that day. He learned that there are unpleasant consequences to bad behavior.  He learned that he must respect and listen to police officers.

I couldn’t be more thankful for the compassion and understanding that Deputy Barker showed that day. He made sure that Mike was uncomfortable, scared and SAFE.  He made sure that the experience taught Mike a life lesson that he NEEDED to learn.  

The next day, I visited Deputy Barker with Mike. We reviewed a social story about what had occurred.  We  reviewed the options and consequences with Mike.  HE GOT IT – he has participated in the Strawberry Festival field trip EVERY year since, without incident.

Some lessons are best learned the hard way. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Pain

Does the pain ever go away?

I recently saw this question posed to another blogger and it caused me to reflect. 

I can remember my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten – 5-years after Mike was diagnosed. I was standing amongst the other mothers watching our babies, in their Catholic school uniforms, embark on their first day of school.  We ALL had tears in our eyes but my tears were different. While I was emotional about my daughter’s transition to Kindergarten – my tears were mostly for my son.

As a former Catholic school student, there’s an emotional bond in wearing that plaid jumper and those navy blue shorts.  Seeing your child in ‘their’ first Catholic school uniform is a transitional moment. It’s a bond that can only be appreciated by ‘other’ Catholic school students.

As I looked at my daughter’s Kindergarten class, I found myself consumed with the little boys.  The pain was unbearable and I was relieved that I was able to mask my tears – attributing them to my daughter. In reality, my tears were for Mike. He wasn’t wearing the navy blue shorts, with the white shirt, embroidered with the school logo. He had autism!

Over the years, I’ve had countless moments like this. They mostly surround events or experiences that Mike should be participating in. 

I’d like to be able to tell you that, with time, the pain subsides and that there’s acceptance – if there is, I haven’t found it.  At any given moment, something can trigger me emotionally and I’m reduced to tears. What has subsided is some of the stresses.  Gone are the 30-hour a week therapy programs and my obsessive search for ‘the cure’.  

While I still grieve the loss of the son I was expecting, I’ve come to understand that the grief and pain that I feel is my own.  Mike is not grieving any of these losses – certainly not missing out on Catholic school.  When I shift my focus from MY perspective of happiness to his – I see that his life IS fulfilled.  There is balance, acceptance, and Mike is happy. 

It’s been 16-years since he was diagnosed and my goal for him is still the same.  It’s the same goal I have for my daughter –be happy! If they can achieve that, they’re better off than most of society.