03 September 2014

It takes a village to raise a (SN) kid.

Yesterday, the twins had their first day of Kindergarten.
It was a nervous day, all around, but not just because it was their first day of school.

Autism.  It played a huge role in this school year coming about.
It was the guiding force in the decision for Mr Boy and Miss Girl to even start Kindergarten this month.... a whole year early.

When you have twins, you do your best not to compare them, but that doesn't stop them from doing it; it doesn't stop strangers from comparing them.  Having one twin with Special Needs can only make it that much more of a challenge.  We want them to stay together (same grade) even when they are apart (different classes).  It was decided, at the beginning of the summer, that it was best to try to mainstream Mr Boy.  None of us know how its going to go.  In Pre-k, he was in the Special Needs classroom because of all his therapies.  In Kindergarten, he will still recieve two of his therapies, but will reside in a Mainstream classroom.  We are in new territory, and we don't know whether he will sink or swim.

So, this is our trial year.  This is the year when we learn if Mr Boy is ready for Mainstream.  This is the year we work with the school, to figure out our plan for the next 6 years.  If he does well, and keeps up with his class, then we will continue on, smooth sailing.  If he struggles too much, and needs a different setting, we can move him to the Special Needs class.  If this year blows up in our faces, and we have to start all over again, we have next year.

Starting the twins a year early means, if all else fails, we can hold them back a year.  Several administrators questioned that approach, and how it would effect Miss Girl.  They said it could be detrimental to her education.  Yes, her education is important to us, and yes we know that they are two individuals.  What we also know is this:  To separate the twins, hold one back while the other progresses, would kill them, emotionally.  Our daughter is her brother's "keeper".  She is well versed in his quirks, and can calm his frustrations with a hug and a few quick words.  She looks out for him whenever they are outside the house (school, shopping, soccer, playdates, park, etc) and makes sure he is included in all group activities.  She loves her brother, and takes her self-appointed responsibilities seriously.  Separate grades may not effect them now, but it sure will effect them down the road.  If she transitioned to middle school before him, who would be there for him after school?  They would hardly ever see each other.  He would be at school from 7:45-3:20, and she would be at school from 8:20-4:00.  That may not seem like much time away from each other, but for siblings, its an eternity.  And lets not talk about the emotional and mental effects it could have on Mr Boy, to be a year behind his twin sister.
If it comes to it, yes, we will do it, but we won't go down without a fight.

So, now that the back story is laid out, we can get to the grit of this post.
The first day of school.

One of the benefits of military service is that most units have what is called a "zero-nine (09:00) work-call" on the first dat of school.  It allows Active Duty parents to walk/drive their kids to school on the first day, or take them to the bus stop.  Usually, we are at work by 6am, and thus missout on this ritual.

So, we were up at 6:45, in preparation for a 7:45 departure.
We ate breakfast as a family (which is rare during the week), and their big sister (Ms Artist) called from college to wish them luck.

Everyone got dressed, and around 7:30, we headed out to the bus stop (the end of our cul-de-sac).
One big stipulation we had, when meeting with the school:  If they can't ride the SN bus together, then they will both be riding the regularly scheduled bus.

The other kids at our stop know the twins, and are friendly with them, but everyone at our stop is in different grades and classes.

All the kids were pretty nervous, and aside from parental probing, mostly kept quiet.

As the bus pulled up, hugs were had, and the kids filed onto the bus bravely, turning and waving as they reached their seats.  The older kids gravitated to the back of the bus, and the younger ones sitting up front.

The twins were at the back of the line, and as Boy reached for the arm rail, and went to take his first step up the stairs, he slipped.  Within seconds, both the bus driver and myself found our ways to him, and I picked him up, meeting a face of silent tears, and a busted chin. 
The tears weren't from pain.  Mr Boy has had 2 heart surgeries, 2 other surgeries, and has been poked and prodded since the day he was born.  Looking into his eyes I knew.  I knew they were tears of frustration.

On top of being on the Autism Spectrum, Mr Boy also has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy.  He didn't walk until he was 14mo, and even then, it was spastic and he was prone to falling.  He works harder than most people even realize, to make his arms and legs do what he wants them to do.  His fine motor skills (tooth brushing, using a fork, etc) are still a work in progress, but for the most part, he has few issues with walking or running. 

His biggest Kryptonite: Nervousness.

When Mr Boy gets very nervous, his limbs tangle and his coordination crumbles.
He is getting better at controlling it in soccer and when he goes out, but new places/experiences can sometimes catch him up.

His tears were out of frustration.  His body had one simple job: get him up those 3 stairs.
It wasn't something we had even thought of as a problem.

We had trained him for the noisy bus, the possible bullies, the weird bathrooms, the new teacher, eating lunch in a cafeteria, fire drills, etc.  He was so prepared for this new adventure, and the thing that brought him tumbling down (literally) was a set of stairs.

It crushed him.

After convincing the bus driver that I could handle the situation (no need for police/ambulance), I told Miss Girl to hop on the bus, and I would take care of her brother.
She hesitated, worry evident in her eyes, but I promised he'd be fine.

I work in a health clinic, but it is a 40min drive from our house.  I knew he only needed a few stitches, so we went to the emergency department of our local hospital, about 10min up the road from our house.  They were great with him, and as soon as they scanned him in at the front desk, his Autism diagnosis popped up on the screen.  They saw that, and (it was not busy) took him straight back to our own room, and got him screened and ready for the doctor.  Everyone who came into the room knew his diagnosis, and talked to him, not me.  They asked him questions, and explained every step of what they were doing.  They gave him a button, and told him that if he needed them to stop, all he had to do was push that button, and they would stop whatever they were doing.

He calmed down a lot at the hospital, and was very brave when they numbed his chin, and started stitching him up.  He pushed to button only once, and everyone immediately backed up, and once he was ready for them to continue, they did.  He got 4 stitches.
On our way home, he asked if he could go to school, now.  After a Wendy's Frosty, and a shirt change (why we always carry spare in the van), I brought him to school, and we walked to his classroom.
He admitted to being scared, and asked me if I could stay with him, in class.  The teacher called down to the office, and got permission for me to stay, this time.
I set myself up at the back of the class, behind him.  For the first hour, he looked back constantly, to check that I was still there, but as he began to focus on the teacher, the searching looks got fewer and farther between.
A few minutes before the end of the day, the Principal, school therapist, and bus driver pulled us out of class a few minutes early.  Mr Boy was scared that he was in trouble, but the therapist quickly assured him that was not the case.
She apologized to him for not introducing him to a bus during his IEP/SN orientation to the school (This is her first school year at the school), and promised to do that next year for the SN students.
We brought him outside, and the Therapist and bus driver helped him familiarize himself with where his bus would be parked, and we helped him get comfortable with the stairs, helping him go up and down several times.

He was still apprehensive, but some of his nerves had dissipated by the time the bell rang.
The 2nd-5th graders all came out to load the busses (the K-1st and led out by the teachers), and we stood by, waiting for Miss Girl, as the older kids loaded the bus.  One of the players from my older soccer team (I coach 3rd and 5th graders) approached me, and having seen what happened that morning, asked Mr Boy how he was doing.  He reassured Boy that it would be okay, and promised to sit with him if he wanted.  Mr Boy let out a shy smile, and nodded feverishly, in agreement to that deal.  So, when Miss Girl finally arrived at the bus, Player helped Mr Boy up the stairs, and took a seat with the twins, near the front of the bus (where all the little kids sit by default).

I told the bus driver I'd meet them at the bus stop, and then hurried to my car before the busses finished loading.

When the bus arrived home, Player was true to his word, and walked Mr Boy to the front of the bus.  Miss Girl came off first, and turned around, to give her brother encouragement.  With grave concentration etched across his face, and his trusty spotter behind him, Mr Boy made it off the bus safetly, and had a big grin on his face as he gave his sister and me a hug.

I thanked my Player last night at practice, and he shrugged it off.  He said, "They are part of the team-family, Coach.  And you look out for your team-family"

This morning, my boss let me come in late again, to make sure things went smoothly for the twins.
When the bus pulled up, Player came up to the front of the bus, and made sure Mr Boy made it in safely.  Even though his job could have ended there, he led the twins to the back of the bus, to the seats he'd saved, and introduced them to the other 5th graders.

Today is the first day I truly believe he will be okay this school year.

03 March 2014


Bullies have been a fact of life.  Just about my entire life.
When I first came to live with my parents, I started school (kindergarten) late, but by the end of the school year, I was on 2nd grade material.
I was the new kid in town, I was a foster kid, and I was smart.  In a small farming community, I stuck out like a cat in the chicken coop.
I made enemies faster than I made friends.  I actually only made 2 friends....my new sister, and another girl in my class.
From my isolated existence, the sudden onslaught of people my age overwhelmed me, and scared me.
Added to that, the fact that I have Autism (diagnosed several years later), I didn't do well in school, socially.

I was small for my age.  I was ahead in my classes.
The bullying started out as weird looks, quiet comments, and distance.
Slowly, it became more.  I was the "bastard child", the "stupid nerd", etc.
When it got out that my mom had actually abandoned us and my bio dad, I was the "unwanted orphan", "the retard nobody could love"
I had speech issues, and I wasn't very coordinated.  I didn't know how to interact with the other kids, let alone defend myself against these attacks.
By 5th grade, I had my diagnosis, but it didn't help the situation much.  Our school was not equipped to handle "different" students.  The nearest school that could was across state lines.
By 5th grade, I'd developed socially, but not nearly to the level of my peers.  I played in a local soccer league, but was on the team from across town, to limit my exposure to the toxic kids from my school.  The teams were mixed, and the players ranged from 7-11 for our grouping.
I was a half decent goalie, and the day we played the team from my side of town, I didn't let a single ball past me.
There were small remarks with every missed opportunity, but none that the adults could hear.
My bullies were too smart to get me in front of our parents.
The following week, though, they caught me outside the school, my (foster/adoptive) mom having driven me (I'd stopped riding the bus years before).  They shoved me against a wall, and hit me.  When I tried to run away, I was thrown against the wall, and broke my wrist.  I collapsed to the ground, where I was kicked, stomped, and hit.  A custodian coming out of the building saw what was happening, and pulled them off of me.  I was sent to the hospital, and it took several hours for them to get ahold of either of my parents.  I had broken both bones in my wrist, had bruises up and down my trunk, to the point that they thought I had organ damage.  I had 2 teeth knocked out (both baby teeth), a broken eye socket, and a massive concussion, with bleeding in my brain.
I was in the hospital for more than 2 weeks, developed an infection in my head (meningitis), and had to be sedated.

My parents sued to school district when the boys who did it were let off with a slap on the wrist.
The school district tried to tell them that I was not welcome back to the school, because I was "creating disruptions"  They told my parents that I would have to attend a different school, nearly an hour away, and that my parents would have to provide my transportation.

My parents won their case.  And in doing so, the School District was forced to fund my grade-school education, at any private or public school of my parents' choice.
My parents' lawyer came up with a list of schools that could cater to my special needs, were safe (bully-wise), and could provide me with an education at my level.
My parents let me make the decision, and finalized my adoption when DCS wouldn't agree with my choice.
When I was 9 years old, I got on a plane for the first time, heading for boarding school in England.
I was the youngest kid in the secondary (middle/high) school.  The school paired me with a 12yo student, who shared several of my classes, and was a kind and well-liked kid.
He helped others understand my weirdness, and got me a gig helping out the rugby captain with his lessons.  After that, I wasn't picked on a single time in my schooling.
I only had a handful of friends, but the other students respected the "weird Yank", and would include me in group activities, if I showed interest.

When I started college, as a minor, my parents were very hesitant.  They were scared that the unchecked world of adult schooling might bring back the nightmares of elementary school.
They finally agreed to let me go to a school with one of my sister's good friends, in Chicago.
He looked out for me, and when he joined a fraternity, we were a package deal.
I dealt with my share of hazing, and was definitely mother-henned by my housemates (my mother threatened bodily harm if anything happened to me), but I bloomed socially, and really learned to adapt.

After my daughter passed away in Dec 2001, (and after 9/11), I joined the Army.
I went from law student, to Medic student, to deployment in a matter of 9 months.
Having ASD gave me a distinct advantage over my classmates: obsession.
I went into Iraq knowing as much as any one person (without first hand experience) could know about Combat Medicine.
I didn't make too many friends, but I saved lives, and gained trust.  I wasn't invited to eat meals with "the guys", but I was offered extra rations by those who knew me.
I found my niche in the world, and extended several times, for a sum total of 18mo in the sandbox.
I got so used to the environment, that returning to the US was a culture shock.
I returned when everyone was still proud of us....but I returned with a heavy load, one no one knew how to cope with.

The military wasn't prepared for PTSD, and society didn't even know what it was.
I was verbally attacked for my anxiety levels, and jumpiness.  I was harassed by troops who questioned how we could wash out....they hadn't deployed.  They hadn't spent 18mo covered in the blood of their brothers.
Everyone turned their backs on me.  No one cared, no one wanted to help.  I was floundering in the weight of my own world, and they just watched me drown.
When I tried to seek out Mental Health, I was told to "Suck it up, don't be a pussy....... Be a f***ing man"
When I sought out the comfort of a pastor, I was turned away for being "A sinner, a murderer, and an abomination"
And when I hit rock bottom, and found myself seeking solace in a bottle of liquor, a bottle of pills, and a long way down to the street below, not a single person noticed.

I had lost my daughter, my innocence, my happiness, by best friend, and my own soldiers.
And everyone was too busy telling me what I should be doing, to realize what I couldn't even be bothered to do: Live.

I had been attacked so many times in my life, I never bothered to ask for help twice.  I "knew" the answer would always be no. It would never change.

Fortunately, my sister (a rapid-cycle bipolar) recognized the signs of trouble, and came for me in my final hours.  She was the fighter, she knew how to make the system react.  She got me help.

Its been over 10yrs, most spent in therapy, and working out medication cocktails.
I've dealt with major bullying two more times since then.
My old unit was notorious for it.  We had investigations left and right.
I did my best to protect my soldiers from the BS that flowed, and the narcissism.
Every time I thought I'd made a step forward, I would get shoved backwards.
Every time I thought I'd found an avenue to success, my unit would light that bridge on fire.
I took on a lot of things, to keep my soldiers sane, but in the process I almost lost myself again.
I was getting hit left and right by people who outranked me, and there was nothing I could do, especially with the hierarchy of my unit.
The only saving graces were my family, and my PCS date.
I was threatened with UCMJ for protecting my soldiers.
I was threatened with UCMJ for doing what we were told to do.
I was threatened with UCMJ for doing my job.
I was threatened with UCMJ for not doing everyone else's job.

I survived, I got the hell out of dodge, and I'm in one piece.

The second time I've dealt with bullying since then:
I have Autism.  My personal filter doesn't always work, and then sometimes I say or post things that may be unpopular, or too unfiltered.
There was one time I posted something (a meme) with a variation of the word "retard".
At the time, I didn't see what the fuss was about.  I saw past the word to the content of the meme.
I was attacked and unfriended by dozens.
I had "friends" calling for complete boycotts of anything to do with me, and wanting to run me out of the blogosphere with torches and pitch forks.
I had people who had supported me, resign their positions, and disappear from my life.

Most of those people, some who are still my "friends" just waiting for the next riot opportunity, are the same people advocating for ASD kids.
The same people who want their kids to live bully-free.

My mom has only ever wanted me to live bully-free.  My mom is so proud of what I've done with my life, and loves that I've become "social enough" to share myself on the blog stream.
She wanted me to be given a chance.  To be forgiven for my mistakes.  And to be educated, instead of attacked and belittled.

I can only be thankful that my mom never saw what my "friends" did to me.  It would have broken her heart.
And unlike those "friends", I forgive mistakes, because I want my kids, both NT and ASD, to be given second chances.
My entire life, beyond 8 years old, when I finally woke up in that hospital, has been a second chance.
My entire life, beyond 23 years old, when my sister talked me down from ending my life, has been a second chance.