Posted in family life, musings

holding Limerick through a meltdown

Tonight Limerick had a meltdown. He doesn’t have them as often as Rondel, but when he’s tired his big emotions can overwhelm him, and little things will push him over the edge. It’s par for the course when one is almost three years old!

When the meltdowns occur, there are two ways I can respond. First, I can try to reason with him in an attempt to make him feel better and stop crying. I have to admit that this is my default reaction, especially if other kids are awake, because I tend to be a logical problem-solver rather than a savvy emotional guru. However, it almost never accomplishes anything, especially with Limerick. He isn’t the most reasonable person at the best of times, and when he’s tired the sheer strength of his emotions renders his logical mind inaccessible.

The second response, which I’ve learned from parenting experts and cannot take credit for, but which I’ve found through experience to be far more effective, is to simply be present and available. With Rondel that typically looks like pulling him to me and hugging him until he calms down, because physical touch is one of his main ways of communicating love, but (as I’m discovering) with Limerick I usually need to sit a few feet away from him – say, on the floor beside his bed if he is in bed – and let him know that I’m there for him and that he can come sit with me if he wants. Slowly, as the emotional storm passes, he’ll scoot closer and closer until at last he is ensconced on my lap, rocking in my arms, restoring peace in his heart.

It’s becoming more instinctual to respond the second way, instead of remembering it only after I’ve reached the point of frustration and anger myself (I think the Zoloft helps me take that moment to stop and remember who I want to be as a parent, for which I am quite grateful!), and it is so rewarding.

Few things in parenting feel worse than going to bed having yelled at your exhausted and irrational toddler for acting out his exhaustion and developmental state, knowing that you’ve fallen so far short of your parenting ideals that it’s as if you ended up in a pigsty when you had intended to aim for the stars. But few things feel better than holding that toddler in your arms as he sniffles and hiccups away his final tears, gazing up at you as if you were their only solid ground in the middle of a buffeting ocean. No one enjoys a meltdown, but through it one can build deeper trust and connection than play and happy moments can provide on their own.

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Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

Michael4

Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application 😉 We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.

Posted in information, Uncategorized

preschool special needs screening

On Wednesday, Rondel had a special needs screening with our public school district. Because I wasn’t able to find anything about what to expect before we went, I thought it might be useful for someone if I wrote up a description of the screening, along with some context as to how it fits in to the whole process of qualifying for special education services.

Important qualifiers: this information is specific to the Mesa Public School District (although from what I can tell it is fairly similar across all Arizona districts), and pertains specifically to the preschool/early education screening, without any prior early intervention services.

The Overall Process

Requesting an Evaluation

The first step in accessing special education services is to call the district and request an evaluation for your child. We did this after the incident at church that resulted in Rondel joining the special needs ministry there, as the director of that ministry recommended it as both free and most likely faster than a developmental pediatrician. When you call, you’ll need to provide your address and contact information as well as your child’s name, and they’ll let you know the time, date, and location of the next screening. (By law, this must be within 45 days of your request. Our district does screenings weekly but there can be a lot of demand, so your wait time may be short or you might end up waiting a month or more like we did.)

Screening

The district uses the screening process to limit the number of children receiving in-depth, individual evaluations, for obvious reasons of time and expense. So the screening is designed to determine which kids qualify for that additional evaluation (which is the next step towards receiving services). You’ll receive a brief questionnaire in the mail ahead of time, and it is worth your time to fill it out as completely as possible to ensure that all of your concerns are addressed. The special ed teachers carrying out the screening will read it thoroughly and bring up aspects of your input during the screening.

Evaluation

If your child is determined to qualify for an evaluation (there are several different criteria which I’ll go into later), you will schedule it at the screening. Unfortunately, there will be a bit of a lag time here – Rondel’s evaluation is set for almost two full months after his screening – so it is beneficial to start this whole process as early as possible.

IEPs/504s/etc

This is the part of the process we haven’t reached yet 🙂 Your child’s needs and strengths will be considered in great detail at the evaluation, and if those needs are believed to require additional assistance in the classroom or special services outside the classroom (like occupational therapy or speech therapy), a team of people will work with you to get those services in place. That can be done through the structure of an IEP (individualized education program) or a 504 (federal disability law). This is where you’ll get into the minutia of how to best capitalize on your child’s strengths, accommodate his weaknesses, and teach him the skills he needs most. But like I said, I don’t have personal experience here yet!

A Typical Preschool Special Needs Screening

The Criteria

At the screening, your child will be evaluated in six different developmental areas:

  1. Sensory Skills (hearing and vision)
  2. Cognitive Skills (thinking, concepts, reasoning)
  3. Motor Skills (fine and gross)
  4. Speech and Language Skills (articulation, speech patterns, understanding)
  5. Psychosocial Skills (social/play skills)
  6. Adaptive Skills (eating, dressing, toileting)

To qualify for additional evaluation, a child must score below the cutoff in cognitive skills or in any two of the other skills areas.

Sensory Skills

The first portion of the evaluation is a brief hearing and vision test, to make sure that no physical problems are interfering with the rest of the evaluation. For the vision test, the Welch Allyn spot machine is used; this machine can detect a number of visual abnormalities and if any are flagged, the district will refer your child for a full eye exam. Rondel failed the vision test because the machine detected his anisocoria (that is, one of his pupils is larger than the other; this is sometimes associated with disease but is often just a variation of normal), so a failure here doesn’t necessarily mean something is severely wrong. It’s more of an alert than anything else.

For the hearing test, a earbud-type headphone probe is inserted into each ear, one at a time, and a computer sends sound waves out and records the child’s response. I’m not 100% sure how it works as I was more focused on keeping Rondel from pulling the earbud out before the test was complete. The audiologists running this test were, at least in our case, very understanding of squirmy, sensitive, preschoolers and even said it would be ok to skip the second ear after the first one had passed; however, since he has speech/articulation problems, I had them test both ears. And they both passed – so that was a relief, at least!

I don’t think this kind of test would pick up something like central auditory processing disorder; it is, as far as I could tell, looking purely at the physical mechanisms of hearing. So if that is a concern for your child, you should be aware of that, and potentially address it at the subsequent evaluation or at a private audiologist. Any medical forms like the results of an audiology or eye exam should be brought to the evaluation and will be considered there along with the district’s own observations!

All The Other Skills

After vision and hearing tests are complete, you and your child will meet with a special ed teacher who is going to ask your child some questions and give him some tasks to do with manipulatives and pictures. The teacher will also ask you questions about his self-care and social abilities. There were sorting tasks, stacking tasks, instructions with manipulatives to test understanding of prepositions (e.g., “can you move the bear out of the circle?”), fine motor tasks like drawing and folding, gross motor tasks like walking on a line and hopping on one foot, timed “I Spy” kind of tasks looking for items within a picture, and more. For each task or question, the teacher scores 2, 1, or 0 for a great response, partial response, or inadequate response. The questions and tasks span a wide variety of skills and activities, so you don’t need to worry that your child won’t qualify because they have one really strong area, or that they will look worse than they are because of one really weak area. It seemed rather balanced, especially for simply being a short preliminary screening.

If your child’s speech and understanding seems off, the teacher may call a speech pathologist over to assist with the evaluation, to ensure that articulation difficulties don’t lead to an incorrect assessment of your child’s skills.

Behavioral struggles can, however, lead to lower scores than your child is actually capable of, because there’s no way for the evaluator to know if your child can complete the task and is just choosing not to, or if they are actually unable to complete it. On the other hand, if your child’s behavioral struggles are interfering with following instructions and even carrying out fun activities like some of the manipulative tasks, then they probably need special services anyway and ought to be qualifying for further evaluation! An inability to sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time, or to be quiet when others are talking, or to express frustration in non-violent ways, will definitely make education more difficult for your child, and that needs to be addressed and accommodated.

Summary

While they say to give yourself at least 90 minutes for the screening, it only took us about an hour. They were moving fairly quickly and we were one of the first people in, which probably helped. I’d say the whole thing felt kind of like taking an IQ test adapted for preschoolers… if I had to describe it in a way that my preschooler could understand, I’d tell him that he was going to get to answer questions and show a teacher how smart and capable he was at doing different kind of things like building and sorting and jumping. I’d also tell him that it would be a somewhat noisy, stimulating environment with a lot of other people around, and that he would be expected to control his body and his words as if he were in a library, so that he could be prepared for that.

What I’d tell you, the parent considering taking their child for a screening, is not to be anxious. The evaluators are therapists, special ed teachers, and speech pathologists; they don’t have to worry about the bottom line of the budget, and they genuinely want to see the best possible outcome for your child. The sincerity, compassion, and helpfulness of everyone I encountered blew me away. Even if you are unsure of the educational path you’ll be taking with your child, it’s worth the time to get them evaluated so that you, the parent, have a name for your child’s struggles and recommendations for how to work with those struggles. It can help you adjust your expectations of your child to a more realistic standard, and give you the perspective you need to approach them from a respectful, relational direction instead of from a paradigm of discipline and punishment.

So if you have any concerns about your child’s development, especially if someone outside your family can corroborate those concerns, don’t hesitate to call your school district and request an evaluation! The earlier you know what’s going on, the earlier you can structure your child’s environment in the most helpful way possible for their development. I hope this gave you a more complete picture of what to expect at the very beginning of the special education process!

Posted in art, family life

finger painting in the new house

One of the best features of our new house is the large, open island counter. There’s plenty of space for chairs to be pulled up all around it for the boys to stand on, and ample room for projects and supplies to be spread out. We’ve obviously used it a lot for baking (so much nicer than my old tiny kitchen for rolling out pizza crust!), but I’ve also been trying to use it for crafts and other messy or artistic activities.

I decided to try out an unattributed edible finger paint recipe I found on Pinterest which was basically cornstarch, sugar, and water cooked together. The boys were just as excited about making the paint as they were about actually painting – they helped me measure the ingredients, and then helped me decide which colors to mix up in each of our little bowls.

The paint had a gloppy, jelly-like consistency – I would hesitate to call it paint, and I wouldn’t recommend the recipe. It was fun to squeeze and mush around, though!

The boys experimented with the paint for a little while on paper, but their main goal was to paint themselves:

Rondel painted himself to look like a bear and even gave me a roar for good measure!

IMG_7537

And of course, since it was edible, we let Aubade join in when she woke up from her nap, to her great delight:

An additional benefit of the whole exercise (besides the creative fun and sensory play) was that the boys agreed to have a peaceful bath afterwards and didn’t even complain about having their hair washed!

One thing I have noticed about the boys with these kinds of projects is that Limerick gets very focused on the process, carefully and meticulously repeating the same motions until he can perform then to his satisfaction; he has a definite goal in mind and won’t easily be distracted until he’s accomplished it. Rondel, on the other hand, is far more exploratory with the medium at first (that was his hand in the bowl of yellow paint above, and he in general loves the tactile sensations of these types of activities once he gets past any anxieties) but seems less self-directed than Limerick. If he has a goal, he doesn’t always remember it or stay focused on it long enough to make much headway towards it. And yet he still seems interested and engaged with the activity, so that’s good. I guess it is just two different ways of approaching the world!

“If you manipulate, coerce and bully your children, you will have no power at all. If you lead with humility, gentleness, and by example, you will need no power at all.” – William Martin

power

Posted in family life

a run-in with special needs services

A few weeks ago, while I was nursing Aubade in the mom’s room just off of the church sanctuary, I received a text on my phone asking me to please come to where I had dropped Rondel off for class.

This was highly disconcerting. I have known for years that Rondel struggles sometimes in the class environment; I’m not sure if it is the structure, the people, or the noise, but something about it can be difficult for him. Some weeks he’s protested about having to go to church at all, and threatened to hit or kick the other kids; some weeks he’s come out of class and told us about all the things he didn’t like. Other weeks he’s come out full of excited news about the toys he played with or the snacks he ate, however, so it has never been all bad. And this particular Sunday I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, because Rondel had told me on the way in that he was going to do well in class and was looking forward to the story.

When I reached his classroom, a woman I’d never met before introduced herself to me as the leader of the special needs branch of the kids ministry at our church, and told me what had happened: Rondel, perhaps overwhelmed by the chaos of class, the lack of individual adult direction and attention, or the noise of the worship music portion, tried several times to run away from the classroom. Since the kids were in the big music room at this point (all the older classrooms come together for a worship time in the middle of the hour), this woman had been present as well and had assisted Rondel’s classroom leaders in keeping him safe by taking him to the sensory classroom until he was able to calm down. By the time she showed me to that classroom, Rondel was happily and calmly playing with one of the pastor’s daughters, a sweet little girl with autism.

This triggered a cascade of events. Rondel’s teachers told me that they are normally able to accommodate him in the regular classroom because they typically have three adults and one can focus more on helping Rondel cope with the structure, the stimuli, and his own emotional reactions. Apparently this week it was especially difficult because there were only two adults in his classroom, and while the adult to child ratio was the same, they weren’t able to give him the focused attention he needs. So while this is the first time he’d actively tried to run away and needed to be diverted for his own safety, he doesn’t handle the classroom environment like most of the other children can. I’m sure that was hard for his teachers, and I’m equally sure it was hard for him, and was contributing to his complaints about church. Something needed to give.

J., the woman who directed the special needs ministry, set up a meeting with us the following week and asked us to fill out a questionnaire online. After talking it over, we agreed that for now we’d like it if Rondel could continue going to the sensory classroom each week, so that he could still hear the story, learn about God, and engage with other kids, without the stress and discomfort of the normal classroom getting in the way. The last thing I want is for him to associate church with anxiety and stress – and if he’s having to work that hard at emotional regulation the whole time, he’s not going to be learning anything else anyway. Eventually we’d like him to try to integrate back into his regular classroom with a “buddy” – a designated adult volunteer who helps prepare him for class beforehand and stays with him the whole time to help him with focus, impulse control, emotional reactivity, stimulation, and so on. We’re waiting for a few more volunteers though; I think we’re the third family in line for a buddy 🙂

In the meantime, I’ve already seen a marked change in Rondel on Sunday mornings. I asked him which classroom he’d like to go to and when he answered that he’d prefer the sensory classroom I asked him what he liked about it. After describing the swing and how he can push himself, the beanbags that he can crash into, and the Duplos he can build with, he said, “And I like the other kids there.”

I’ve never heard him say that about a group of children before, besides his cousins.

In just two weeks with this ministry my little social boy, my hypersensitive extrovert, had finally found a place where he could be himself around other kids and still fit in and make friends. He had gone from threatening to hurt and fight with the other kids to telling me how much he liked them, even remembering one of them by name.

I don’t know how all of this will play out in the long run. It’s made me simultaneously more worried and more reassured – worried, because what if something is wrong inside Rondel’s brain that is going to make his whole life more challenging for him; and reassured, because it feels like validation of what I’ve been feeling Rondel’s whole life, that something is just a bit different for him, and because I know there are people on our side in this, rooting for him and supporting him. Whatever does happen in the future, however, Rondel and I are abundantly blessed in this moment to be receiving the unconditional love – giving, serving, and non-judgmental – of the body of Christ through our local church. And for that I am unequivocally thankful.