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Middle School … here he comes!

Middle School Orientation for Justin … drum roll please!

Well, the morning started out a little dicey as we pulled up to the middle school parking lot and dozens of geese were grazing across the lawn.  Justin really REALLY dislikes geese – thinks they are creepy and might chase you.  He hooked his arm in mine (for geese protection) and we walked across the parking lot toward the middle school entrance.  He was in good spirits and excited about Lancer Launch – the rising 6th grader orientation day at our new middle school, Landstown Middle.  And once we cleared Geese Central he was all grins, even posing for a pic on the Lancer Bench out front.

 

From the moment we walked in the school you could feel a great, positive vibe – SO thrilled by that.

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First positive sign was seen the smiling face of a family friend from Justin’s running club at the PTA table – wide smile and warm welcomes all around!

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As we head toward registration one of Justin’s best buddies sees us and rushes forward to give me a bear hug – happiness!   Volunteers all around were helpful, energetic, smiling.  They shepherded the kids off to their homeroom classes and had a great day of touring the school, visiting classes and generally having a great time.  Could not have asked for a better start to the year – and SO grateful for the incredible effort that you could tell had gone into the day.  Bryce and I left feeling like he was going to be in good hands.  Justin said it was ‘awesome’ and he’s excited for the first day of school.  He knows where his classes are, can find the library, is amazed at the size of the school (very big) and is excited about all of the clubs.

 

Pretty incredible and so encouraging to realize just how far Justin has come.  Since he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at about 5 years old, he (and we) have grown so much.

 

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On every single front – academic, social, emotional, physical – he has made such progress.  And as he has grown, some symptoms of his autism receded and really are not present anymore, while others are revealed in different ways as he gets older.

 

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So we keep learning and listening, adapting to meet him where he’s at and help him grow.  And there are so very many people who have helped him reach this point where he is ready for middle school – it feels right to share our thanks and our love with a few of them as he gets ready for this next stage.

  • from Montessori teachers like the lovely Miss Subha (wish I could find a pic), to
  • his speech and occupational therapists over the years,

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  • from the amazing Newcastle family of teachers and administrators,  to

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  • the incredible Kellie Maier of KelsKids who has helped him become so confident in the water with his surfing and stand up paddling

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  • the wonderful tae kwon do crew at World Champion TKD who have challenged him and supported him, readying him to test for Junior Black Belt this coming week!

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  • his running coaches from POWER – especially Coach Todd and Coach Dennis – who have pushed and encouraged Justin in his running

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  • to all of the family members who have cheered him on, listened intently to his many stories, played along with the hundreds of version of Top 10 lists and ‘what if’ discussions.  Thanks Natalie and Josh for your patience and kindness with him

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  • and the friends (both ours and his) who have loved him for exactly the person he is, and by being there and sharing life have helped him to grow into the sweet, silly, happy kid that he is.  The sleepovers, birthday parties, swim races, Lego adventures and all around silly times are some of his favorite moments and memories!

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Yet for all the progress, it’s equally unnerving to see his quirks and perseverance on some topics and wonder how kids that are new to him will react.  Will he build on the social progress he has made in recent years, or withdraw in this new setting?

Will his complete love and mastery of all things superhero/supervillain help him find friends with common interests, or will he find it hard to connect with others?

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And academically, will this much larger school setting be able to adapt to help him learn at his pace?  He is incredibly smart, but learns differently and takes more time to process.  Big worry there … I hope so.

It feels like such a milestone to not only be old enough to be in middle school, but to seem developmentally ready.  He has work ahead to get to grade level in all of his studies … but the gap closes every year!

 

 

In every one of his major transitions over the years, there are always similar questions.  But having supportive and caring teachers and support teams around him have always been the best sign that it will work out.  And that’s why this morning’s Lancer Launch was especially encouraging – I left feeling like they would look out for him.  I’m sure there will be bumps along the way, but a positive partnership goes a long way in weathering the storms when they come.

So excited for Justin and the year ahead!  Go Lancers!!  

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He’s an Original

It’s double graduation around here this week – Justin wrapping elementary school and Joshua middle school.   We are thrilled for them both, and so proud of the young men they are growing into.  But I hate to mash their two milestones together … so I’m taking them one at a time.  Josh today, Justin next time.

I don’t know how it snuck up on me, but while we were busy with life Joshua went from a boy entering middle school to a veritable young man.  Overnight!  Well … seems like overnight anyway.  I forgot when he passed me in height – 6 foot tall and definitely still rising (and I won’t even mention his shoe size!)

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He’s our first boy to hit teenage years, so its all a first for me – voice getting deeper, shadow of facial hair.  Just hard to believe it’s still Josh.  That little boy who spent an entire year (literally!) wearing a silver top hat and memorizing all of the instruments in the orchestra at 3 or 4.   The one who knew the names of more animals by 5 than I know to this very day.   The clown of his Destination Imagination teams – with lines that we will never forget like ‘too much sesame chicken!!’   So many great memories!

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But even though he’s older and more mature (most days), one thing that has not change throughout is his love and protectiveness for his little brother.  Looking back on it, Joshua was an anchor that helped Justin in so many ways.  Whether he was just hanging out with him, going to movies, swimming, or letting Justin fidget with his ears (it was a thing for a while) :-)  Josh accommodated it all and was the best buddy and brother we could have ever wished for little Justin as he worked his way through so many aspects of autism.

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I love that though he’s older he has not lost his silliness  – breaking into happy dances at the most random moments!

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And it makes me smile when I realize how comfortable he is in his own skin and with his own diverse interests – with playlists that can range from Stevie Ray Vaughn or Ludo to Punch Brothers.

We chuckled the other night over the silly juxtaposition of two things he loves – archery and ukelele (he said it’s War and Peace) :-)

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I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about bows and arrows (compounds, recurves, fletchings, and draw weights) but love that he has found things that he really enjoys.  And he has taught me more than a few things about patience, grace, compassion and compromise.

He’s off to high school in the fall and he’s so thrilled to be heading to the Performing Arts Academy at Salem HS.  We are very proud of his accomplishments at school, and grateful for the great education he had at Kemps Landing Magnet.  But even more happy at the loyal, kind, funny and caring young man that he is growing into.

We love you, Josh!

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Water – Fun, Safety and Autism

When you get to know other families of kids with autism, you quickly realize a terrific but unnerving pattern – they are drawn to water.     Thankfully, Justin took to swimming pretty early and seems to be half boy/half fish, so I usually feel pretty safe.  But, boy, can he give the lifeguards a scare.  You see, he LOVES the feeling of floating and drifting – like allowing himself to drift to the bottom of the pool and hang out there til he needs air.  yeah … just the kind of thing to panic a lifeguard.   Freaks them out!  But its sensory and relaxing for him.  We had to create some rules so that he would be a swimmer in good standing … it all worked out.

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But that love of water is wonderful – it opens up so many water sports and family fun … swimming, kayaking, SUP, surfing, etc.    And the exercise is great too!

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But on a more serious note,we have all seen the news and noticed how many times kids with autism stray from their homes, wander off, and water is often their first destination.  Many times with tragic consequences.  How many of our hearts have broken to hear of kids on the autism spectrum who were found too late – in the water – drowned.  That’s the dark side of this attraction to water.  And if you live in a beach town with lots of waterways, feeling confident that your kids are safe in the water is critical (for your own sanity as a parent …)

Which brings me to water safety, and the reason why so many of us LOVE Kellie Maier and her non-profit KelsKids.

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Kellie devotes herself to working, playing and laughing with our kids with special needs in and on the water.  She has been the key to water safety and joy on the water for so many of the kids in our community.  Justin has taken classes, Joshua helps her out as a volunteer and assistant.  

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She’s committed to these kids and the love and caring just flows right out of her.  Amazing!  

Tonight is the fundraising event for KelsKids and many of us will be out in force – really to laugh, share, connect, and celebrate her work and our kids.  We love you, Kellie!!  Excited for this evening.  Let’s all get there – checkbooks in hand – to generously bid on the auction and raise some money for this fantastic lady and org!

Photo credit to Suzi Noyes – awesome friend who captures amazing photographs of our kids adventures together.

PLAY

… on play and productivity

Something I read this week reminded me about the importance of play in our lives – as adults.  More on that in second.  But today, I had a wonderful time with a great big dose of fun on a mom-son play date with Justin. :-)   While Josh was at the Harlem Globetrotters with a friend, we headed out for the afternoon together.    SO.  MUCH.  FUN.  And he was grinning from ear to ear on the way home, talking about what a great day it was and how glad he was that HE planned it :-)

So the question … is there enough play in your life?  What an interesting question, right? For a long time,  I would have have thought to even ask that question – so focused on getting work done, getting chores around the house done, etc.   I am pretty hard wired for action, so productivity was king since there were always lists of things to do.  But I am incredibly grateful that some years ago I started to make a more deliberate effort to unwind, to laugh more, to play.  Now … when I am mindful of it … I try more often to channel it into fun adventures with family and friends.  And when there’s too little fun and laughter … frankly, I get a little grumpy.  Bryce can attest to that.

 

This week I was reading a chapter from Gifts of Imperfection about play and it was right on point.

“In today’s culture – where our self worth is tied to our net worth, and we base or worthiness on our level of productivity – spending time doing purposeless activity is rare.  In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen. ” “… the opposite of play is not work … the opposite of play is depression.?” “… many of us still believe that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that even sleep is a luxury.?”  – Brene Brown

I know how easy it is to identify with busyness, to almost elevate our busy schedules.   How often does someone ask how you are doing and your immediate first response is …”really busy.”  I find myself trying hard daily to break that habit.  We all have work, lives, families, commitments.  And our days will fill up in one way or another … no one will schedule us for time to unwind and play … if balance and creativity and fun are going to be important in our lives we will have to carve out time for it.  So interesting to ask yourself whether there’s enough play in your life … and if not, what small change can you make to put a little more laughter, fun and play into this coming week? Hope its a FUN week!

PLAY

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Lovely and ordinary moments …

The topic of this week’s course on wholehearted living with Brene Brown is gratitude and joy, and how they relate to one another.  I typically feel like I live this every day, but realize that it had gotten away from me recently.  You know those windows of time when you get too busy or distracted with the past or the future to remember the beauty and awesomeness of what’s right in front of you?  Yeah … that was me lately.  A bit of a funk.
Today I noticed these daffodils that bloomed out in the yard, just a week after the ground was covered in snow and ice.   And much like these cheerful flowers, I feel like my attitude and disposition have also been renewed … positive, encouraged and excited about the season ahead.

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I am THRILLED to feel that it has passed, and my appreciation and awareness of all the wonderful things in my life is back in full force.  My desire to pause and notice, to capture the moments, and to appreciate them makes my days so much better.  Because its easy to take the ordinary blessings for granted.  So on a rough day, the practice of gratitude can challenge us to find the good and the important and the beautiful and the inspiring in the rest of our day.   Keeps things in perspective.

So today I tried to notice the simple moments.  I always love weekend mornings because of their pace … easing into the day, baking something tasty, sharing a leisurely breakfast with the family, lingering over the Sunday NY Times, parents-choice mornings (that means TV off … parents choice of music …)

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Nothing extraordinary or dramatic.  Just normal, ordinary (but lovely) time with loved ones.  The kind of time that we wish we could get back to when life hits a rough spot and our days are disrupted.  Then, what we wouldn’t give for those lovely but overlooked moments of our lives.

So I hope that you are enjoying a wonderful Sunday, and that you will take a moment to look around and notice (or snap a pic, or write in your journal) a few small but beautiful things about your day.

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Behavioral Changes … and MiniFigure solutions

It took me a little time, but I have been really processing some troubling and gradual changes we have seen in our littlest guy.   In the 7 years since Justin’s diagnosis with high-functioning autism, We have been so blessed to see incredible progress – social, functional, sensory, speech, academic.

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Fairly steady progress … sometimes new challenges or curve balls …but progress.

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Our life and family have gladly adjusted in lots of ways to accommodate raising this amazing little guy … he’s a happy kid and our routines are pretty consistent.

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But lately,  sometimes we turn to realize that there are silent tears flowing down his cheeks over something that he would have taken in stride a few months ago .   Could it be pre-teen hormones (can’t believe he is 12!!)? Sadness that his very best buddy Josh is quickly growing into a young man and more independent?  Something else??

And couple that with some real and perceptible changes in his attention and focus.  He’s more scattered at times, less connected to what’s around him sometimes.  Not all the time, but enough that we have noticed a bit at home and more at school.   And his progress toward his goals at school is flat.  Less time outside being active?  Too much screen time?  Something else??

So much to make sense of lately.  Not nearly what some autism spectrum families I know navigate, but changes nonetheless and difficult ones for him.

Well of all these things, the one we have had the most success with in the past is focus.

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So when the going gets tough, the tough get …creative!

One small part of our game plan is to keep him motivated to keep his focus and attention up at school.  He responds VERY well to even small rewards like a trip to the ice cream shop or a game of family bingo. So tonight – as one small part of the plan to get to the bottom of these changes – we relaunched our iRewards program, with a ‘bonus.’

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This last year we have used a great app to keep track of Justin’s chores/goals and the rewards that we give him – called iRewards Chart.  Great little app, and we have loved it.

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It has a nice library of goals and rewards, all customizable.  And every night Justin would score himself on how he did … on things like manners, brushing his teeth, clearing the dinner table, etc …  plus a score from his teacher on focus and following directions. Then we would talk about the scores together at bedtime and see if they were fair, what worked well and what didn’t … and we might adjust some score up or down.  Then the points he earned could be traded for rewards later on.   And it was a great routine … that we somehow fell out of recently.  And so that connection between his accomplishments and rewards wasn’t as front and center as before.

So to get back into the swing of things … tonight I added a little BONUS (his eyes LIT UP!)   Each day at school that he earns a 9 or 10 on focus/attention in class, he gets a special Success sticker.  5 of these puppies gets him a Lego minifigure!!

He’s a BIG collector of these guys so this is serious business to have one on the line for only 5 days of excellent class focus.   And the glimmer in his eye was back at least for tonight, with plans of how to get his mind ready after breakfast for a great day.  of how he will tell his teacher that he wants to get back to the 9 and 10 scores of the fall.

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Lots of other steps ahead to figure out the other changes he’s going through … but tonight, I am at least happy that he feels motivated to put his best foot forward at school while we figure out the rest.  Fingers crossed … and off to buy some minifigures soon (I hope)

 

Great song! “Love Take Me Over”

This morning our church band performed this song – and I LOVE it.  The lyrics are so perfectly aligned to our series on relationships, and also with the wholehearted living course I am in the midst of.    Perfect alignment :-)  Hope you enjoy it, too …

Here’s a little excerpt from the lyrics that resonated …

From “Love Take Me Over”, by Steven Curtis Chapman

This is what I’m sure of, I can only show love
When I really know how loved I am
When it overtakes me, then it animates me
Flowing from my heart into my hands

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