Overnight Outdoor Education Trip (#Autism) – Guest Post from Kim

A few weeks ago, I was having a tough day so I asked people who Like my Facebook Page to share some good news. Kim shared that her son had gone on his first overnight trip with his class. Fantastic! I asked if she would be willing to share how she and her son’s Developmental Learning team prepared everything so he could participate and enjoy the 3 day, 2 night trip. Below is her story. Thanks for sharing Kim!

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The day I found out about Liam’s Outdoor Ed trip I did not panic. I went into Autism mommy mode instead.   I started running scenarios through my head. With questions right alongside. Should he go? Would he enjoy it? Can they accommodate his needs? Would he panic? Would I end up driving to get him in the middle of the night?

 

Liam wanted to go. His friend Craig* (name changed) had made it sound like fun. He wanted to be with his friends. Liam wanted to do what his friends were doing. Liam had no idea what he was in for. Without having a prior experience with mental pictures to draw from…he simply had no idea.

 

Thankfully I have a great communication system with his Developmental Learning (DL) teacher. I sent her a note the next morning letting her know I wanted to get together to discuss the trip. She of course was all for it. We set up a time for about a week later due to March Break starting. In the meantime, she began asking the staff involved for information which included a basic breakdown of the typical day at the centre. It also included a diagram of the dorm rooms. She spoke with the school principal about accommodations for Liam’s needs.

 

Sitting down to talk with Liam’s DL teacher we went through and listed what his regular morning and evening routines generally were. We discussed what foods he likes and doesn’t like; and how his food can’t touch on his plate. We discussed some of the chores he is able to be responsible for at home (taking out the recyclables after school, putting out napkins for dinner, making his bed). We made lists of special items he would be allowed to bring, and what different things he should bring. We came up with a contact plan in case of homesickness.

 

The Outdoor Ed centre did their part too. They were able to give his teacher a basic run down of what meals were generally served. They sent tons of outdoor and indoor pictures from the centre to give Liam visuals to see before the trip. They explained what sort of helping chores the kids would be expected to participate in.

 

The biggest accommodation to Liam’s needs was in his sleeping quarters. Usually all the boys share one large bunk bed room; and the girls another large bunk bed room. There are also separate rooms where the teachers and parent volunteers would sleep. Liam and one friend were given a room in this area to reduce the noise and commotion triggers for him. With just the two of them it was a quiet place to go.

 

Prior to the trip story booklets were made up. One for each day that included a schedule with picture references to keep Liam on track and to help him see “what’s coming next”. Not being to know what is coming up later creates a lot of anxiety for him. He also a story booklet about homesickness.

 

We packed according to the list the centre provided (clothing, bedding). We also packed a digital clock (knowing what time it is at all times is important for him), his ear muffs (to block noise), his mealtime vitamins (can’t break dinner routine!), a rest toy (a stuffy of choice to sleep with), his chapstick and hand cream that he can’t seem to live without. He had a separate backpack with books, toys, and such for keeping busy during quiet time. He was allowed to bring his DS, but that was in the control of the E.A. that was along. Electronics are not allowed (except cameras) but as his iPad wasn’t allowed, this was as a reward system if needed. He never used it!

 

The other E.A. on the trip also was given my cell phone number to use as a message system before bed each night (3 day/2 night trip). In the case of mid-day homesickness Liam would have the option of texting me if needed.   Only heard from him at night! This E.A. sent texts to his teacher on how he was doing during the day, which she then passed on to me.

 

All in all, he did fantastic! He loved it, he enjoyed it, he PARTICIPATED! One of the teachers on the trip took pictures and Liam was in quite a number of them doing fun things. Reports from the teachers, the E.A.’s and some of the other students (I work with some of his classmates parents) was that he had a great time, it showed, and he was just a regular kid.

 

With lots of preparation by everyone this trip was a success.   No meltdowns or tantrums, he interacted and participated with a group, he tried new things, he always found foods he liked to eat, he wasn’t lonely or left out, he was helpful to others doing meal cleanup, he actually slept – away from home, with no family member. We are all so proud of him.

 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words……pictures from this adventure could write a novel.

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Kim is a married mother of three boys, and works fulltime outside the home. Her middle son (Liam) has diagnosis of “Autism – Pervasive Disorder” and was diagnosed near the end of grade four at 10 years old. Initially, he had been incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD and medicated with Adderal XL until almost a year ago. Since the corrected Autism diagnosis, he is no longer on medication. He is now placed in a Developmental Learning class while integrated in three of eight classes with his mainstream grade 6 class. He is now catching up with social skills, his reading skills have improved, and his speech and language workers continue to work with him as well.

First Beautiful Weekend of the Year

After a REALLY long and VERY cold winter, we are *finally* hitting temperatures where we don’t have to bundle up in ten parkas to go outside for 2 mins (ha!). If you Like my Facebook Page, you’ll know that we live in a culdesac where all the neighbours are just awesome! This weekend, we even all celebrated the first nice weekend of the year with a get together in one of the backyards, around their firepit.

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Then someone decided to bring out their guitar…and the next thing we knew, there were a few guitars, a trumpet and some shakers. Next, a firepit “sing-a-long” started when I requested a song from when I went to overnight camp as a kid.

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Later, someone suggested all we were missing were marshmallows…and guess what I just happened to have at home.

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Even watching the end of the night embers burn was quite meditative.

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The next day, my man and I “celebrated” the beautiful weekend by breaking in the new BBQ…with lots of meat, of course. ;)

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Although nothing to do with the weekend, I feel the need to share one of the tshirts for sale at the BBQ store:

10152459_735367936502971_4596353300636709648_n     In case you can’t read it (this was the best I could get because they were hanging up REALLY high), it reads “There’s room for all God’s creatures…right next to my potatoes”.  LOL! We are NOT vegetarians in our family. ;)

#WorldAutismAwarenessDay (#WAAD, #Autism)

It’s been an exciting day! Before 10:30am, we had already supported World Autism Awareness Day in so many ways.

  • My son is wearing one of his Autism t-shirts.
  • My daughter is wearing a ribbon I made for her.
  • I’m wearing all Autism “bling”‘ I own, and of course my own Autism t-shirt.
  • My son’s seatmate on his bus wished me a “happy blue day!”.
  • My son’s bus driver was wearing her Autism t-shirt (which is the same as mine). She found out about WAAD yesterday and was happy that there is one, saying “it’s such an important cause”. How much do I <3 her?!!
  • the grand-daughter and daughter of one of my neighbours knocked on our door to show that they were wearing blue in support of World Autism Awareness Day. Sssssoooo cute!

I also attended the flag-raising at City Hall this morning. Small group as it’s a new thing this year.

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As it turns out, my friend who works at keeping everything running inside and outside the building, actually changed all the bulbs to blue yesterday. So, City Hall will be lit up blue and the Autism flag will be flying for the whole month of April! I know that there’s a lot of talk in the Autism blogosphere this year, recognizing that blue is actually the corporate colour for Autism Speaks, whereas the coloured puzzle piece is actually for Autism. I recognize that as well…but if the general public recognizes “light it up blue” as being Autism, then I think that’s a great start. But I digress… ;)

I also asked my lovely “Likers” on my Facebook Page and friends on my personal Facebook if they would be interested in sharing photos of their children with Autism. Here’s the resulting 2014 World Autism Awareness Day photo montage:

How have you been recognizing/celebrating World Autism Awareness Day?

 

#MarchBreak fun

My kids were at their dad’s for March Break this year…so, what does one do when they find themselves childless for a week? Go to their parents’ place, of course! ;) And in my true form, I started my March Break with a Starbucks chai for the drive to the farm.

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When I got to their farm, I needed to study and work on an assignment due that night at 11pm. Easy, right? Tried getting online in their office…nope. Went into the house where I know my laptop connects to the wireless internet (yup, a farm that has wireless internet…cool!)…and nope. Not working. We tried rebooting the router and doing all the magical stuff we knew of to make it work. It was another 2 days before it worked! I was shaking…thank goodness for my Blackberry so I could still access the internet, otherwise, I’m sure I would have been going through complete withdrawal.

 

But then there was a big problem…I still had an assignment due for my ONLINE course by 11pm that night. Plus, I’m in Small Town, ON where everything closes at 6pm at the latest. Sigh. No worries, I was going to Medium-Sized City, ON that evening to tape the 2nd episode of the Many Faces of Autism so I figured I could go to a Starbucks and submit the assignment as long as I had everything done before I have to leave. So, I finished all research required and wrote up the assignment, got ready to be videotaped (eek!) and headed to the family’s home (thanks Vimi and family!). We taped the episode (Vimi did AWESOME!) and, while we were waiting for our tech guru to do his magic on his end, I was able to submit my assignment while my laptop was connected to her wireless internet – yay! Got an A on that assignment too…so double yay!

 

The next day, I got to cross off something from my “bucket list”…take my parents’ four-wheeler in for service. I know, you all have it on your bucket list too. ;) Who knew that taking it in for service meant taking it to a Honda dealerships…where the showroom was filled with beautiful motorcycles. I’ll take them all! ;) Spent some time with my dad though, so it’s all good. Later that night, my mom needed to sew some things so I FINALLY sewed on a button on my jacket that has been on the verge of falling off for most of the winter (silly, I know but I have a sewing repair kit around here somewhere…).

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Have I mentioned that my parents’ live in the snowbelt? And that my dad uses a tractor to clear the snow? This is a picture taken BEFORE the snowstorm hit on the day I was supposed to leave. Reminder: I’m 5’10″!

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Then the storm hit. We didn’t get too much snow, but it was whipping around horizontally and the wind was really strong so it wasn’t safe to drive anywhere…but a lovely girlfriend of mine (who has snowtires on her car…alas, I do not) made her way to the farm for a tea before the storm really hit. She even brought tea biscuits that had bacon in them. A woman after my own heart!

 

I stayed an extra day because of the weather…but it was all good because the internet repair guy also made it out before the snowstorm really hit that day and was able to fix the internet. So, I was back online and able to continue working on my assignments and write an exam while we were snowed in. Insert happy dance here!

#Review: #Legoland Discovery Centre (#Toronto, ON)

Last week, the kids, my man, his son and I had the opportunity to go to LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Vaughan, ON (north of Toronto). To stay away from the really busy times, we took a “family field trip day” during a school day…gasp! The kids were really excited and, to be honest, my man was almost as (if not more) excited than the kids.

When we arrived, the kids “had” to play with the Lego people outside the centre, with my daughter gravitating towards the girl Lego person, and  my son dancing with his reflection in the window.

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Inside the outer doors was pretty amazing…very colourful and a very cool HUGE Lego cut out as the door to enter into the centre.

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There was a really interesting Lego display to walk through of various Canadian buildings. It was amazing to see these structures and some of them were taller than us!

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There were bins of Lego scattered throughout the centre, so kids can play with them whenever they wanted. One of the staff was constantly picking up Legos from off the floor. Needless to say, all grownups were wearing their shoes whenever we walked around. ;)

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There was a big indoor playground that the three kids loved, and a play Lego kitchen where my daughter was so proud that she completely organized the fridge…she’s definitely my girl!

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My son’s favourite part of LEGOLAND was a smaller space that lead to a mini slide. He spent lots of time in there…and hugged the giraffe made of Lego at the bottom of the slide each time he came down.

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As with any other tourist/attraction areas, I dressed my son in one of his Autism t-shirts. Just makes everything easier…especially when another parent tried claiming she saw my son push another child. I was right there and saw everything…it was actually her son who pushed my son then when he noticed I was right here, he fell over and called for his mom. She tried disciplining my son and he ignored her (shocking that!). I calmly let her know what had actually happened and that as far as my son was concerned, her son didn’t exist because he has Autism and just wants to play with Lego. She then saw his t-shirt and just left us alone.

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My son had a mini-meltdown when we tried to move him from the quiet space he loved to the larger indoor playground. We knew once he got to the playground, he would be in heaven. I was a bit surprised that there weren’t any offers from LEGOLAND staff to help but there also wasn’t really anything they could do to help either. The lack of staff within visible distance did make it easier for my man to carry my son over his shoulder to get him closer to the indoor playground. He was screaming his head off but then I held him for about 10 minutes to help him calm down enough to see the indoor playground. Eventually, he went in and that’s where he spent the rest of our time there.

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We had wanted to go when LEGOLAND first opened up a year ago but were deterred by the admittance price: $20 per child and $22 per adult is a bit too steep when factoring in two of my three kids, my man and his son. When I was contacted to review LEGOLAND in exchange for free admittance, we jumped at the chance.

An area for improvement for LEGOLAND from a guest-standpoint is that there is nothing for grownups to do, which is strange when it costs more for adults to be there. In comparison, we go to a local indoor playground often and there’s a charge for children (less than $10) but adults are free. A similar set up would be great for LEGOLAND. There’s also a really large interactive display that blocks sightlines from the café (similar price to going to the movies) through to the indoor playground, which means you can’t sit there enjoying a coffee or tea, while keeping an eye on your children. So, after the kids played for just over two hours, my man and I were done…especially since there is very little seating for grownups within sightlines. Then we had the just-over-an-hour drive home, plus to ensure we didn’t get stuck in traffic, we took the toll-highway.

I’m really glad we went, and it’s something we can check off our “Attractions we want to go to” list but the high cost for a family is a deterrent. Overall, the kids had a fantastic time…and they were exhausted on the way home. ;)

 

Meghan and her family received free admittance to LEGOLAND Discover Centre

in exchange for this review.

 

Many Faces of #Autism – Episode 2: Vimi

Thank you so much to Vimi for sharing her story of her family, which includes herself, her husband, and three children. Her middle child (her son) has Autism.

Quick promo for Episode 2 (I love that her baby squealed during this promo!):

The interview:

Thank you Vimi and her family!

First Day of Fulltime #School / End of #IBI (#Autism)

Last Friday was the end of an era…a 2.5 year era in my family’s life. My son finished IBI (Intensive Behavioural Intervention therapy). When we moved back to Big City, Ontario, the weekly schedule was that he went to school on Mondays, in an Autism-specific class, then IBI therapy Tuesdays through Friday, from 9am – 3pm. Last week, my kids were at their dad’s for March Break so I took a little baked goody for my son’s therapists on Friday, arriving at the pick up time (my ex was NOT happy, and thought I should have asked his “permission”…but I digress…). The therapists have been so amazing with my son that a home-made baked goody is definitely just a tiny token of thanks compared to the work they have done over the last 1.5 years (at this location). My daughter handed over the banana bread and my son said “thank you” to the therapist…and the therapist cried. Happy tears and sad ones as she said she’s going to miss my son. She was going to share the bread with my son’s team. They even sent home a HUGE inflated Sulley…one of my son’s favourite characters. He went to their dad’s because they were there until Sunday, and since returning home, Sulley’s been hanging out on the ceiling in the living room:

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Yesterday just felt like a regular day because he usually goes to school on the bus on Mondays. Today however, he was back on the bus, heading to school. Normally, he sits in a seat by himself but he’s tried getting out of the rear door of the bus so today, he sat beside one of his friends closer to the front of the bus. I’m not sure if the look on his face was confusion, sadness, or perhaps a bit of both…? I’m actually surprised that he didn’t say “IBI please” or something similar, so I’m guessing he may understand that IBI is finished…?

So, here it is 9am and I’m still in my pjs because I don’t have to drive my son to IBI. In fact, because I have the greatest neighbour in the world, and she takes my daughter and her own son to school since they are in the same class, I could stay in pjs for most of the day. I do need to get dressed though today because I will be picking my daughter up from her afterschool math program (she LOVES math! Woohoo!) then heading to class myself (if you Like me on Facebook, I got 90% on my Psych exam yesterday – yay!). Tomorrow however, all my appointments are via Skype so methinks I’ll be in pj bottoms all day. Shhh…our little secret. ;)

I even got to have my breakfast…at home! Strange feeling to actually eat breakfast during the week, instead of just grabbing my smoothie and leaving.

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I will admit that I have a pit in the bottom of my stomach from nerves. The last time my son was in fulltime school was in Senior Kindergarten. It was half-days at that time, three times per week. At least one of the three days per week, within an hour of me dropping him off, I would get a call to come pick him up. At that time, he was a runner, violent and completely non-verbal. Although I “know” his behaviour has improved dramatically and he’s able to verbally communicate. I “know” the teacher and EAs in his class are specifically trained to work with children with Autism. I “know” everything will be okay because he’s been with them for 1.5 years already on Mondays and he loves school. Alas, the pit is still in my stomach, waiting for that phone call from school. I’m nervous, anxious, scared and sssoooo happy for him to be back in fulltime school. A sense of “normalcy”…whatever that means. ;)

Now, off to my home office to work on my assignment that due tonight…gulp!