Sunday, February 7, 2016

Wise Thoughts From a Departing Teacher

Kai's classroom had a farewell party for a staff member who was leaving to take a job in the corporate sector. She gave Kai a 3d puzzle chest as a goodbye gift, and wrote a very nice note to him...

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Progress at School

Three weeks ago, there was one more incident at school between Kai and the same boy who was involved in the previous incident that I had written about before. This last incident sent Kai to the school nurse, and afterward all parties agreed that it was time to separate the two boys into different classrooms.

Since then, Kai has had the two best weeks of school so far this school year.

He has been noticeably less stressed about going to school, and his performance in class reflects that. He has been able to focus on his classwork without distractions, and has had only relatively minor issues. His point sheet scores have been the highest since he started middle school.

The other day, though, we heard from one of the classroom staff that he was stressing out. The school would be having their first semester awards ceremony the next day, and Kai was worried that he would be the only student to not receive an award. He used inappropriate language to initially express his anxiety. The staff used the occasion to have a great discussion. They told the kids that not all students will get an award and there will be more students who do not get one than those who do. The other students suggested to Kai that he could be happy for those who get an award and try harder for the 2nd semester. We reinforced those sentiments to Kai at home.

The next day he came home from school with good news - he had received an award! - High Honors for completing all of his homework and doing well in academics. He said he was the only one in his class to receive this particular award.

And so, after several rocky months, things have taken a definite turn for the better. Keep up the good work, Kai!

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Huge Milestone: Last Speech Therapy

Kai has been having speech therapy for over eight years. During that entire time, he has been working with the same wonderful speech therapist.

We met Alyson several months after Kai was diagnosed with autism. At that time, we had doubts about how much any speech therapist could help him. After all, his speech, such as it was, was limited to a few words, and he didn’t string any of them together at a time. He didn't respond to anything we said to him. The thought that we would one day be able to have a conversation with our son was a dream, and some may thought it was a pipedream.

But as Alyson worked with Kai week after week, we saw changes. Kai gained new words. And then, short sentences.

After a time, he started to respond to our questions, with just a word or two at first, but eventually with sentences.

Alyson always adapted her work to ensure that Kai kept making progress. When Kai was able to speak sentences and respond to questions, she worked on conversations - teaching Kai to continue the back-and-forth through asking relevant questions back and perspective taking.

She also worked on other aspects of speech such as understanding non-literal language. While most of us understand idioms or colloquialisms without having to think about them, a boy like Kai who had a deficit in communication skills needed extra help to understand what they meant. Alyson's work in this and other areas helped to ensure that Kai's language sounded normal, and not overly formal or processed.

Alyson periodically tested Kai through formal evaluations. These tests quantitatively measured his progress and helped her identify what to work on. She finished her latest round of testing a few weeks ago and last week we got the results – Kai’s speech was now in the normal range. He no longer needs speech therapy.

As you can imagine, we are very joyous that he has achieved this milestone. We sometimes struggle to notice all the progress Kai has made because our focus is on all the work that still needs to be done. A milestone like this reminds us of just how far he has come.

Tomorrow will be Kai's last session with Alyson. We have told him that he is ‘graduating’ from speech therapy and that Alyson will have a celebration with him to commemorate the occasion.

We are extremely grateful to Alyson. Besides being so fantastic at her job, she was always the most upbeat, enthusiastic person who Kai enjoyed seeing every week. He will miss seeing her, as will we.

But we will never forget the impact that she had on Kai. Thank you, Alyson. You are in our hearts forever.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Finding Hope After A Rough Day

We are just over halfway through Kai's first year in middle school. There have been a lot of rocky moments during that time.

There have been many incidents, Kai has "fired" every staff member in his classroom many times over, and the school has told us that his classmates have negative impressions of him because of his difficulty in socializing with them and therefore their perceptions are mostly based on just the times when he is upset.

And while things have been trending a bit better -- there have been fewer incidents the past few months than in the first few -- it has been hard to be optimistic during these times.

The latest incident, earlier this week, was both one of the most stressful, but perhaps also a turning point of sorts.

When my wife picked up Kai at school on Monday, a staff member told her that Kai had been involved in an incident that involved another boy in the classroom. This was only the latest of many incidents that involved the same child.

After I got home from work, we spoke to Kai about what happened. He said he had been working on a puzzle during recess when the other boy came over and knocked it down. Kai said he got upset and acknowledged using some inappropriate language as he yelled at the other student.

In the past, we have struggled with Kai refusing to accept responsibility for his actions. He always blamed staff or others, and never seemed to understand that his own actions often led to whatever happened. This time, however, he calmly told us what happened, and even without our prompting, he said that he accepted responsibility for what he said. As a result, while I still took away his iPad privilege for the evening, the length of the punishment was less than it otherwise would have been. I don't know if that was his motivation for accepting responsibility, but in the past that never seemed to make a difference.

This was not to be the end of the story, however.

Later that evening, we were copied on an email that the mother of the other boy sent to the classroom teacher, therapist, and school principal as well as to us. She said that she had spoken to her son and was very upset. According to her son, the boy accidentally stepped on the puzzle that Kai was working on and Kai overreacted, punching the other boy in the nose. She went on to say that Kai routinely makes things difficult for other students and that his behavior is routinely disregarded by staff. She followed up by pleading with us to stop Kai from hurting others.

Of course, my wife and I were very upset to get this email. I first wanted to ignore and not respond at all. But after calming down (somewhat), I wrote the following response:

Dear Ms XXXX

We too were upset to learn that there had been another incident at school between (your son) and Kai. We understand and share your frustration that this continues to happen.

As you correctly point out, no one on this thread was present during this incident. And that includes you. Like you, we spoke to our son about what happened. Kai related a different perspective.

We don’t feel the need to share all the details of how his account differs from (your son's account) as we do not wish to engage in a back-and-forth about which child’s view is correct and which is wrong. Personally, we never assume that what Kai tells us represents the whole truth. It is just his perspective and is only part of the story. But forgive us for feeling the same way about (your son's) account; we believe it is his perspective and is only part of the whole story.

We also acknowledge that Kai has social, emotional, and behavioral issues that we are all working hard to address. But then, that is why he is attending (this therapeutic school). And lest you have any doubts, we work constantly to try to correct these issues. When there is an incident like this, we let him know in no uncertain terms if he has said or done something that is unacceptable, and we speak to him each time about taking the other child’s perspective and talking through how he could have handled things differently. We only hope that you are doing the same with (your son).

Raising Kai has helped us to be empathetic toward other parents who are dealing with similar issues and who send their children to (this school). We know firsthand how frustrating it is to be doing everything you can and still find your child to be involved in incidents like this. As such, we try to be understanding and supportive of others who are in our shoes, and appreciate when we get the same from others. And so I hope you can understand why we were so hurt and distressed to receive your email, and believe it is entirely unfair to suggest that all the problems rest with us and our child.

We sincerely wish the best for (your son), however, we do not wish to engage directly with you in any further dialogue on this or any other incidents. We will direct all further comments to school staff, and hope you do the same.


The next day, we received the official incident report from the school principal. Based on input from the one staff member who was in the room at the time, the other boy was the initiator and aggressor in this particular incident. That boy appeared to deliberately provoke Kai by pretending like he would knock down the puzzle. The two boys argued and were separated by the staff member. But then the other boy came back toward Kai with a closed fist. Kai raised his arm to protect himself, and accidentally hit the other boy in the nose while doing so. Staff then stepped in to prevent further escalation, and Kai was escorted out of the classroom as he was crying and upset and needed to calm down.

We were very happy to read this report. We found out that Kai's account of the incident matched with what the staff saw. More importantly, we saw that he had actually handled himself pretty well in what must have been a very difficult situation for him.

We also learned from the school that Kai is making great progress in using his words to work with staff at finding resolutions rather than becoming loud and destructive. And so, for perhaps the first time since he started middle school, I'm feeling just a bit of optimism about Kai's future.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Special Movie Night

It has now been 12 years since my wife's first husband, Kai's biological father, passed away about a month before Kai was born.

As she does every year, my wife lit a yahrzeit candle in memory of Kevin.

This year, however, we also commemorated the occasion by watching a special dvd that my wife had created.

Long ago, she had put away most of her old photos, the pain of her loss making it too difficult to relive those times. I don't think I fully appreciated her grief and depression during the first few years we were together.

But a few months ago, as she was sorting through things in our crawl space, she came across those old boxes of photos and was finally able to look at them and enjoy the memories. Along with the photographs were various videotapes -- from the wedding, vacations they took, and even a television commercial from Japan that her late husband had starred in. She had highlights from those tapes digitized into one dvd.

Last night, we all viewed them in a special movie night. For the first time, Kai got to see and hear his first father.

Kai seemed to get the most kick out of seeing his mom and other relatives when they were much younger. But he didn't react too much to seeing the father that he never knew.

I think that he's just too young to really appreciate it right now.

But I have a feeling that as he grows older, he will treasure having these photos and videos. Hopefully he will feel like he got to know his father.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015 Halloween

The boy who complained about all the walking we did in Boston on our summer vacation had no issues with taking a nice long walk around our neighborhood for trick-or-treating. Even a little light rain did not dampen Kai's Halloween spirit.

Kai was dressed as Kylo Ren, who apparently will be a Darth Vader-like villain in the upcoming new Star Wars movie. He received a number of positive comments about his costume as we went around and a number of folks showed off their own Star Wars apparel to him. I hadn't thought that he particularly cared about what others thought about his Halloween costume, but he remarked that "this is the first time everyone like my costume."

Here he is in front of the house at the end of our block that famously goes all out for Halloween, not only in their decorations but in giving out big ziplock bags of goodies, and serving hot chocolate for the trick-or-treaters and wine for their parents.

After trick-or-treating, we had our usual Saturday movie night, though with a Halloween flavor. My wife added "eyes" to our pizza.

And she made some finger cookies.

And then we settled in to watch Hotel Transylvania.

A good Halloween it was. Hope yours was, too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

He Did It!

Kai returned from his very first overnight camp this afternoon.

My wife spoke with Kai's school therapist and she reported that Kai was "a good trooper" and that he tried all of the activities. Not everything went perfectly, but apparently things went well enough that he had a good time overall.

Kai hates to answer questions and to talk about school-related matters, so my wife waited until I got home from work before we peppered him with questions. That way he would have to talk about it only the one time.

I asked him if he was glad he went, and he said yes.

He described trying all of the activities. He said he was scared of the zip line (even though we had done it in New Hampshire over our summer vacation). He said it took him about 15 minutes before he could jump off and zip down.

He said the high ropes course was even scarier but he did it.

And he tried the climbing wall for the first time. He said he only got a third of the way up, but I was happy that he tried it.

He said the food was good though the spaghetti was not as good as Mom's.

He said he showered in the evening and my wife confirmed that his washcloth was actually wet.

He got one of the top bunks, and said he was able to sleep well.

Apparently he did not get especially homesick, and he seemed to be okay spending a day and night away from Mom.

So, we are both relieved and happy that he was able to do this. I'm sure he had a lot of support from the school staff, but it still was a nice little step toward independence.

Well done, Kai!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Preparing for Kai's First Overnight Camp

We learned that my son's middle school offers a special away-from-home experience for their students. The kids travel up to southern Wisconsin along with the school staff for a two-day, one-night adventure at a YMCA camp. Activities include ropes courses, climbing walls, and zip lining. It was described to us as a highlight of the school year, one that students remember and talk about for months.

Although it is not mandatory that all kids attend, it sounded to us like it would be a fantastic experience for Kai, and we wanted him to take part.

But we knew he would have a lot of anxiety about it.

For one thing, it would be Kai's first overnight away from family.

And so we tried to proactively take some steps to help that it goes as smoothly as possible.

First, we told him without hesitation that he was going to go the camp. We didn't want to waffle and have him think that he could lobby us to keep him home.

Second, we regularly talked to him about what a fun experience it would be. We reminded him that he had already tried zip lining this summer. We pointed out that he would get to stay up until 10PM at camp, an hour later than at home. And we mentioned that if he did not go, he would have to listen to other kids talk about the experience and would regret missing out.

Finally, we asked Kai's school social worker if she had suggestions on how we can reduce his anxiety. She said that she could arrange a tour of the camp so Kai could see it and visualize the experience before he had to go with the group from school.

And so, on Columbus Day, my wife drove Kai up to the camp and they were given a personal tour.

First stop was the dining hall where everyone would have their meals.

Next, they walked around the grounds. The hub of all outdoor activities would be at the "Mount MacLean Skyway."

Here there would be a series of ropes courses where the kids would have to maneuver around tires, ropes, and planks to get from one side to the other.

In addition, on one end of the structure is a climbing wall.

And on the other is the zip line.

Of course, the kids will be wearing safety harnesses and helmets so they will be safe, something that we constantly reminded Kai as he gets anxious about everything.

After that, they walked over to the cabins, set in the picturesque woods, which will be their sleeping quarters.

Kai liked the bunkbeds inside and declared that he wanted one of the top bunks.

The visit to the camp seemed to help lessen Kai's anxiety. But we still worry about how it will go.

Tomorrow is the big day. Kai will go to school in the morning, and then they will all depart for camp. I'm not expecting that all will go perfectly smoothly, but here's hoping that Kai will take part in most activities and come back happy that he went.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Old and New Traditions

We repeated a couple of Kai's favorite fall activities and added a new one this weekend.

Our public library always invites in guys from a local model railroad club to set up the Halloween Railroad. This is always one of the library's most popular events, and Kai still looks forward to seeing it. And I do, too.

* * * * *

This weekend we attended our first Chicago Blackhawks game. For those of you who are not hockey fans, the Blackhawks have become somewhat of a dynasty as they have won three out of the last six Stanley Cup championships. During their last championship run last spring, my wife became a big Blackhawk fan and watched every game with me, and even watched a couple by herself when I had to work late. So, when I suggested that maybe we could all go see a hockey game sometime, she enthusiastically replied, "Blackhawks! Yes!"

This would be Kai's first professional sports event that he would see in Chicago following three baseball games he has gone to (the one in Hiroshima, Japan last year, one in Milwaukee with his elementary school, and the one we went to at Fenway Park in Boston two months ago).

Here we are shortly after we had settled into our seats. (You can see my hand holding half of a giant Italian Sandwich).

The experience of a live sporting event is far different than watching a typical game on tv. At a Blackhawks game, the excitement builds even before the game begins. The playing of the national anthem has become a famous, boisterous tradition as fans cheer throughout and the noise level in the arena keeps rising until the anthem has ended.

Kai, however, stayed quiet during this portion and just kept his hand over his heart and took it all in.

The game itself was good. The Blackhawks mostly dominated the action but just could not score as the game remained scoreless throughout regulation. I was wondering if Kai would get bored, but he seemed to stay engaged the entire time. He always joined in when fans chanted, "Let's go Hawks!"

During breaks in the action, very loud music is blared. It was a bit too loud for my taste as it made it difficult to converse, but it didn't bother Kai and he enjoyed bopping to the music.

It was great to see him enjoy the whole experience.

The game went into overtime, and this was the first time I had seen the new three-on-three overtime rule in action. The Blackhawks scored very quickly, only 17 seconds into the extra period, to win the game.

Afterward, it took nearly an hour to get out of the parking lot so we didn't get home until nearly midnight. Between that and the cost of the tickets, I don't think this will be something we do very often. But as Kai enjoyed it so much, perhaps this is the start of a new tradition to take in a live sporting event in town every now and then.

* * * * *

This was the last full weekend that canoe rentals would be offered at Skokie Lagoons and Kai wanted to go one last time this year. It was a perfect fall day and we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon outdoors. My wife's back was aching so we put Kai up front and he and I did all of the paddling this time.

So, all in all, it was a very nice weekend. Hope yours was nice as well.

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