Friday, December 20, 2013

Take a Bow



This year, his first at the new school, Little A's Christmas program fell on a Saturday morning. His previous school would hold end of term plays and such on weekdays, which made it difficult for parents who worked regular day jobs to attend, Big A among them.

Thankfully, this school holds these events on Saturday mornings, and as it marked their first Christmas, this first show was quite special.

Similarly to all school shows, each class "performed" to the tune of a Christmas song. Little A usually stands and sways, watching the audience all the while, despite doing all the actions properly when practiced beforehand.

This time, a first in over a year and a half, he did not go ballistic with the applause, something that amazed all of us who knew how upset he would get over the sound of a handclap since March, 2012.

Not only did he not get upset, he was perfectly calm and kept his Santa hat on for the entire song number and bowed at the end of it. True, the "stage" platform had been in its place in the school's media centre since Halloween, and they had been practicing on it daily, but he had not been confronted with a crowd of eager parents for a while, all of them clapping.

We were very proud. After the show was over, Little A bounced back onto the stage, and bowed again and again, as if to tell us that he, too, recognised his achievement. Here's to more applause, with no more anger or tears!

Happy Christmas, all. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Graffiti


All children write on walls. Or at least they try to. When we were young, ink pads and rubber stamps were strictly forbidden inside our house. Back then, in this Third World Country, there was no such thing as washable ink so any marks made remained, indelible.

These days, thankfully, children's art supplies mostly come off with a little water and soap, though sometimes elbow grease is still required.

Little A prefers spelling to drawing, and has little patience colouring, painting and doing crafts. He likes spilling paint on the floor, or trying to paint on the walls, specifically the location underneath our apartment's only "proper" artwork, a large abstract that runs the length of a wall next to our dining table. If not for the glass covering the painting, he no doubt would have made his own additions to it long ago.

Recently though, he decided to write on the wall. His first graffiti is still there, and will likely not come down until we repaint or move away, and heaven knows when either of those possibilities might happen.

Little A's choice of drawing is his current favourite, the Pixar lamp. He has watched all the permutations of this video on youTube, and, finally, has tried to recreate it on his own, complete with tag line from the video he likes best.

At school, he currently has an hour a week with an art teacher who specialises teaching individuals with needs. Right now they're just working on colouring larger areas within the lines, but soon, hopefully, Little A will be creating more of his own works of art. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pure Imagination

Forbidden from leaping tall buildings, Superboy contents himself with watching over his little city.

From about ages two to four, most little girls live in their Disney princess costumes. I've seen it countless times over the past two decades, beginning with my now 18 year old niece. She even had Disney names for all of the members of my family. She was Cinderella, my mum was Fairy Godmother, my dad Prince Charming, her mum was Snow White, my other sister was Sleeping Beauty, and I, possibly because I always had a book in my hands, was Belle.

My other nieces, goddaughters and Little A's classmates all went through the same phase. Boys, though, not so much. Yes, there was the occasional classmate who came to school in Spiderman pajamas, but this was an exception rather than the norm.

Little A was never one for costumes. Lately though, he has been insisting on wearing swim trunks around the house and sometimes to bed. Perhaps because they are comfortable, perhaps because he knows he can jump into the pool at any time, or perhaps this is simply his version of perpetually wearing a Princess costume.

Since he refuses to wear a shirt with his swim trunks (and I can see the logic, because one does not swim in a t-shirt, after all), we've convinced him to wear his swim towels, which are designed like ponchos. He agrees to this, as they do go together.

Now if only I could get him to wear "real" costumes as easily.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

London Life




For 20 years, my parents co-owned a flat just off Sloane Square in London. As a boarding school student, I would spend half term breaks here, and when I was at university, my sister, best friend and I spent alternate summers using the flat as home base and visiting different cities in Western Europe.

It was very sad news when my parents decided to sell their share to my British foster father, but good to know it is still "in the family," so to speak, and may be available for use if a visit coincides with there being no tenant in residence.

Since then, my parents have been staying in the area still on their UK visits, since Sloane Square is very much our home on that side of the world. This trip, I walked by the old flat nostalgically and was glad to see that, like the rest of London over the past 12 years, much had remained the same, although there were very obvious things that had changed.

I mourned the absence of post offices and high street bookshops, which appeared to have been replaced by ubiquitous Patisserie Valeries. Even the book department at Selfridges, once a little piece of heaven on earth for me, was shrunken and modernised and now utterly bereft of charm. The Puffin bookshop at Covent Garden had gone altogther, though its neighbours remained the same.

For the first time in my memory, there were empty shopfronts in central London commercial areas, and very few supermarkets left on the high street, but Marks & Spencer food shops now appeared adjacent to nearly every large Tube station.

The best change was that the former military barracks on the King's Road, which we would walk past daily, had become a set of shops, cafes, and home to the Saatchi Gallery. It was at a lovely restaurant next to this gallery that I caught up with friends I had not seen in 21 years.

At home, Big A came down with the flu midway through the week, but Little A managed wonderfully in my absence, since my dad took him out trick or treating or just to swim at their house. We would chat via Facetime, or rather, I would watch as Little A ran around and jumped around.

In eight days, I managed to squeeze in six theatre performances. The new shows did not have the magic of the old ones, but it was wonderful to see the talent and the full audiences at every one.

All in all, an amazing break for me. I look forward to the next visit, whether it be five, ten, or another twelve years from now. And perhaps one day Big A, Little A and I can visit this wonderful city together. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fair Weather Friends


When Little A was just born, and I would take him to the playground to get some sun, there was a toddling little girl often there who refused to wear shoes. She walked unassisted at 9 months, and was a bundle of energy.

I never forgot this little girl, even though I stopped seeing her around, because my son too walked early, and also hated to wear shoes.

As the only mum on the playground amidst a sea of nannies, I never got this little girl's contact details, but presumed she had moved away, as many families do in our building.

Recently though, she was back for an afternoon, and she and Little A enjoyed each other's company at the pool.

Now seven and at big school, the little girl's nanny told our Au Pair that she only started speaking at age three or so, after therapy. With Little A, though, she was chatty and very sociable. At first my son ignored her and did his own thing as he tends to do, but she was insistent and kept bugging him to interact with her, until he discovered he enjoyed it. It was heartwarming to watch, as this is may be only the second time ever that any child has made an effort to play with my son.

While I was away, they swam together once more. Unfortunately, I still wasn't able to meet her mum or get her contact details. I would love to invite her over regularly, as this is the type of friend Little A really needs, one who is insistent and slightly forceful. There is a Filipino term for this that is perfect. Little A needs a friend who is makulit, someone who will pester him without giving up into interacting and sustaining interaction.

I look out at the pool every afternoon and hope to see her there. With a little bit of luck, she will come visit again before the year is out. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Playing School



Little A has had a couple of tummy upsets in the past few weeks, causing him to miss two days of school. And then there are the national holidays and storms that cause classes to be cancelled.

Since this is his first year of 7 hour per weekday school, I don't push him to do academic-related work when he's home. But clearly, he does enjoy the school routine and miss it when he's home. Just the other night, I found that he spelled out IEP Room. They have 3 such rooms in school, where small group sessions are conducted in Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

Another day, he grouped items in threes in several parts of our flat. I'm not sure if they do multiple choice questions, but took this to mean that his "answer" was B) 3 animals.

The first round of parent-teacher conferences last week indicated that all seems to be well at school. I only hope things continue to move this way - onward and upward. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mummy Break



My eldest niece turned 18 this year. Ah, the memories.  My 18th birthday was spent at boarding school, where I was gifted with a bottle of booze and a few condoms (marking the legal age for alcohol consumption and consensual sex), as well as other, less memorable, presents.

That was the year I came home to enrol at university, as well as embarking on a professional ballet career. Most of my schoolmates went on to do the final year of school, filled with auditions and teacher training certificate courses, while others moved on to university as well.

As the years passed, I kept in touch with these friends through letters sent in the mail and visits every other year or so to London, until I started working and had less time for travel.

My last trip to Europe was in 2001, to visit my sister who was then doing a degree in Public Art, and to see my old friends. Big A and I had started dating a few months before this, and he was in France and Spain with a friend to run with the bulls and drink plenty of wine at the same time I was in that part of the world. We met up in Paris, and then he spent a week or so with us in London.

In the intervening twelve years, my sisters and their families, and my parents, have been back to the UK countless times, but I've not managed to make another trip there, for budget or timing reasons. Until now. 

My parents decided to gift their eldest granddaughter with an overseas trip, and London was the location of choice, since she'd been to Paris and Germany over the summer, and my folks normally visit  the UK in October to celebrate my mum's birthday.

Last month though, they decided it might be more fun for an 18 year old not to travel with two people over 60. So I was elected to take my dad's place. In two weeks, my mum, my niece and I go off to London for eight days. It's hard to tell who is the most excited.

My mum had grown used to spending weeks in London visiting a daughter at school. My parents usually travelled separately unless the entire family was together, as the other would need to look after the kids at home, but since my dad retired, they have always travelled together. Not the best thing for my mum's shopping habit. Since opening her little shop, their European trips have been scheduled around the spring and autumn buying fairs, so none of these have been "proper" vacations.

This will be the first one in a long time - mum can browse the shops to her heart's content, I can see West End shows and visit art galleries, and my niece can come with either of us or go meet her godparents in London.

Naturally, I'm apprehensive about leaving Big A and Little A to their own devices, and have warned them both not to overload the Au Pair with too much responsibility.  I will be doing all the laundry and buying an excess of groceries before leaving, and will be gone over Little A's half-term break, so there will be no school.

I pray there will be no medical emergencies or accidents, and that all goes well. It will be Little A's longest time to go without my putting him to sleep since he was born. I hope we both manage the separation anxiety. Wish us luck!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

And On His Farm He Had a...

One of these things is not like the other - can you spot the real animal among the toys?

Here, kitty.

My son is an animal lover. He is fascinated with farms especially, but safari/zoo animals and underwater creatures come next. One shelf in our living room is dedicated to his LEGO farm, to which he attempts to add live insects that come into contact with us. Once it was a butterfly trapped in the laundry area, though we set that one free outside, and last week a grasshopper they found on a plant outside.

He regularly visits the dog obedience school down the road and the veterinarian's clinic around the corner. Lately, he's been spending plenty of time with a stray cat that sometimes lives in our parking area, and recently, he found a kitten of his very own.

While playing outside with the Au Pair on Saturday, they heard mewing coming from the bushes. On peeking inside they saw a tiny kitten that had been abandoned. Apparently it had been found in a car's engine and left in the bushes with its grey sibling, who was picked up by another kind soul.

I was away at a meeting, and on arriving home for lunch was introduced to the new member of our household, which had already been given a bath. We took the kitten to the vet's office, coincidentally at the same its adoptive owners took the kitten's sibling. Both were given de-worming medicine and had their claws trimmed.

We then marched home with our new kitten, who seems to be adjusting well to its new surroundings after a night of whining plaintively for its mother. Little Boy and Little Kitten now spend afternoons playing happily together. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You Have Not Been Successful


While my son has a long way to go before he communicates at the level of Carly Fleischmann, it is interesting to get quick flashes into his thought processes every so often.

At his last preschool, there was a programme at every term's end, when the children would prepare a dance number, go onstage class at a time, in costume, and perform for their parents. This happened at the end of October, before Christmas break, and in March when school broke up for the year. As Little A attended that school full time for three years, he had many a "programme day."

While he generally did not like the noise and mayhem, Little A did like being around his classmates and having people there to show how proud they were of him. The feeling of being a part of something mattered, and we could see that.

As part of a self-imposed desensitisation programme to the sound of applause, he took to finding videos of children performing for parents. He searches youTube for videos of his favourite nursery rhymes performed by live children (or, for some unknown reason, Hindi cartoon characters), and recently typed the name of his school into the search bar as if to say, I no longer go to Toddlers (his old school was called Toddlers and Teachers), but I'm watching them perform anyway.

Over the weekend, on one of his many trips a day to play with the stray cat he befriended in the parking lot, the feline was not there. It sometimes disappears for a while, only to return a little later. Little A has taken to sitting in a particular spot and waiting for the cat to come out, asking me to call it by saying "Pah, pah," which basically means, "Meow, Mummy!" When I bring my mobile with me, he types "Cat meow."

This time, after sitting patiently for about 10 minutes (a huge feat for a child who can't watch a half hour tv show in its entirety), Little A gave up and stalked moodily back into the building. On the way, he gave a quick, annoyed scream, grabbed my phone, typed in a word and showed it to me. The word was "Fail," but before I could say anything in response, he deleted it and carefully turned on the caps lock key to spell "FAIL." He screamed again, once, quickly, to express his frustration, then calmly walked into the building.

It's funny how even non-verbal children pick up on the slang of their time. I never use the word "fail" colloquially, but he knows it means something didn't happen, as when our Internet connection is slow and the phrase "Failed to Open Page" pops up. He sometimes spells this phrase out with letter tiles, as if to tell us that the Internet is acting up again.

Lately, I've been explaining to him that he has Apraxia, and that's why it's hard for him to talk. I have yet to spell it out, but I know my clever boy will quickly see that this word contains the same letters as one of his current favourites - "Pixar" - and hopefully he will intuit that being non-verbal is not too bad, as long as there are other ways in which he can use his words to communicate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Let's Eat

Ah, sustenance. The human being needs all sorts of literal and figurative nourishment, from the arts to the actual products of the land. Some people seem to live on coffee and cigarettes, others on chocolate and candy. Sushi and a good book could do it for me, though lately I've been favouring plenty of fruit and veg.

Little A, like most children, ate everything as an infant, though he really did not like applesauce or apples, and still won't eat them. Then he was diagosed with ASD and we attempted to rid him of gluten and casein. He no longer has dairy, and never liked sweets (fruit included) but we could never completely go gluten free because his favourite snack, corn flakes, are made with some sort of malt barley coating.

He went through a stage of liking three other snack foods - a sweetened corn snack, kettle popcorn and pretzels, but these days he has shifted firmly back into cornflakes territory. Real-food wise, he no longer eats pasta and bread, and has gone off broccoli and leafy greens, something he used to consume without complaint, so long as it was mixed into his meat-and-rice meal (think mixed fried rice in various combinations.)

Most recently, he's gone off soy-sauce based dishes as well, and only likes "orange food," or anything based in tomato sauce. At school, however, he will only eat processed breakfast food.

In my attempts to get him to eat healthier, I limit the processed meats to schoolday lunches only, so he has to eat "real" food at home. For a few days, this worked. But then the weekend came and he realised he was being cheated of his daily dose of additives.

He now comes into the kitchen, looks at what's cooking, and then at the food on the table. If it isn't to his liking, he puts a pan on the hob, climbs up to the cupboards, selects a tin of processed meat, and motions for us to open, and quickly cook it while he takes an empty plate to the table, pushing aside the one with the unpreferred food on it. This is accompanied by appropriately selected word cards or writing - "Sanuge" for sausage, or bacon, or Spam.

One of the establishing tenets of communication therapy is that what the child asks for, provided it is requested properly, they get immediately. It's a basic reward system to encourage them to communicate more. As they get better at it, the concept of waiting is introduced. Then they are made to choose between preferred and non-preferred objects, and finally between two non-preferred objects. I know when we get to that part on the food game, my little one will likely go hungry. I was a headstrong child and a very picky eater, likely the result of so many food allergies, and would fall asleep at the table rather than consume food I did not like. If he's anything like me, then I'm in for it. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wonder


The minute I spotted the song lyrics on the first page of this book, I knew it would be an amazing read.

Natalie Merchant's song tells of a child with disabilities who is, nevertheless, "one of the wonders of God's own creation." I have loved this song since it was released in the 1990s, not least because of the beautiful voice of its singer.

I hadn't heard the song in well over a decade, and reading the lyrics after so long made me realise that this song was written for Little A, and all others like him all over the world. Hearing it again brought tears to my eyes, as did reading RJ Palacio's wonderful first novel.

The book, while it does not deal with autism, is the story of a child who is different and who has spent, and will spend, the rest of his life trying to fit in and longing for true friends who will see beyond his differences to accept him for the person he is inside.

I would be lying if I said this wasn't my most fervent dream for my own son. He does not yet have a single real friend (the Au Pair and family don't technically count), and while he tries to interact with them, most children his age are very aware that he is different, and do not have the patience to cultivate a relationship. Little A, for his part, still does not sustain interest in other children for their own sakes, beyond perhaps a shared activity they both enjoy.

Still, I know this will always be a primary area of concern, and I know that as he grows older and more aware, Little A too will want someone to call a friend.

I loved this book, and do not hesitate to encourage readers of all ages to pick it up. Even if I wasn't the mother of a special needs child, I would appreciate the beauty of this novel. My godchildren of teen-age don't know it yet, but this book is what they'll be receiving from my family this Christmas. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Caught on CCTV

A few weeks ago, Little A was hit by a car while dashing across a zebra crossing. The other day, it was my turn. Different crossing, same street.

While walking back from Starbucks on the last afternoon of an inadvertent ten day break from school (caused by a storm, monsoon rains and a national holiday), Little A and I crossed the road to our apartment building.

Three quarters of the way across, walking at a regular walking pace, I heard a car horn very close behind me. I turned to see a red car inches away from my legs, midway over the zebra lines. The driver, a curly-haired Caucasian man, motioned with his hands for me to walk faster. I reached out, and he was so close that my hand got to the middle of his bonnet, and tapped it. I told him through the windscreen, "This is a pedestrian crossing."

His response was to move his car forward, so that I had to jump back to avoid being hit. He drew up next to me, rolled his window down, and shouted, "Bet you'll think twice before doing that again!" Then he zoomed into the parking entrance of the building across the road.

To say I was astonished would be putting it mildly, particularly since this happened right outside our front door. Thankfully Little A kept out of the way the entire time, all two minutes that this episode took place, if that.

A taxi had been driving behind the red car, and its driver stopped his vehicle and called out to our doorman. I assumed he was there to pick someone up, but later found out he had told the doorman to be sure to report that rude driver.

I took Little A upstairs and wrote a quick email to my neighbours telling them to be on the lookout for this car - and to avoid it at all costs. The minute Big A read it, he was out the door and across the street, demanding that the reception desk of this irate man's building connect him to said man.

The man refused to speak to Big A, so he left a message informing the Caucasian that we would be filing hit-and-run charges against him the following day, as this day was a government holiday. On returning to our building, we were asked to visit the security office, where they had found that the driveway's CCTV had captured the entire incident on video.

Around 830pm, we got a call from the doorman saying the Caucasian driver was downstairs. Big A went to talk to him while I put Little A to bed.

When Big A got back, he told me what had transpired. Caucasian Man was a retired British bigot who thought I was a Korean nanny. As he said "Koreans have no manners or education," he must have felt justified trying to run me down. But since, like my husband, I turned out to be "an educated, reasonable Filipino", he condescended to apologise, since otherwise he would likely have gone to prison. He had attempted to explain his side of the story, but Big A told him not to bother, as the CCTV footage was telling enough.

On hearing this, apparently British Bigot (henceforth, he shall be called BB) began to sob and started telling Big A the story of his life, from the young native wife who took all his money to the special needs children he'd fathered with her, and all the details in between. Big A didn't care to hear all this, and told him so, but he did mention that the woman BB took for a Korean nanny was also the mother of a special needs child.

BB then requested to meet Little A, so that he could "teach him what he taught my own kids." Big A begged off, not wanting this possibly deranged man anywhere near our son.

To end it all, and to keep BB from a civil suit, Big A asked that he write an apology letter, and send it over along with flowers, chocolates and what have you. BB complied, so while we do not know his last name, I now have his photo and that of his children from the card he delivered.

The email I sent to my neighbours found its way into the social media, courtesy of one of them, and before I knew it my parents were on the phone demanding to know the details and hoping to get BB jailed or deported and his license revoked.

I haven't seen him since, thank goodness, but I always keep an eye out for that red car now, anytime I walk down the street. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rain Weather



Among his diving friends, Big A (a certified technical diver) is called "Nature Boy." He does this party trick where he looks at the sky for a few seconds and accurately predicts when and if it will rain, how strongly, and for how long. In the twelve years I've known him, he has yet to get it wrong.

Apparently his son has inherited this talent. We have had five straight days of monsoon rains and a typhoon, causing school to be cancelled for the entire week. I have been spending entire days at the store, covering for staff who are unable to come in due to floods.

Over the weekend, at seemingly random times while playing, Little A would suddenly stop and scream. Sometimes he would wake up in the morning, listen, and start crying. When asked what was wrong, he would spell "rain today" or "rain day." We assumed that since he likes to spend a lot of the day swimming and playing outside, he was upset because the rain prevented him from doing this.

By day 3, however, he would get upset more frequently. In the car on the way to my sister's 40th birthday lunch, he grabbed my phone and typed "rain weather." I had no idea he could even spell the word "weather." And yes, it was raining at the time.

Tired of being cooped up indoors, he managed one rainy swim, and befriended a stray cat living in our building's carpark. This affectionate feline would hang around the spot where I dropped Little A off after school, and he, the Au Pair, and I have been spending hours down there instead of on the playground or by the pool.

This morning, while playing, the cat suddenly started miaowing loudly. After a few seconds, Little A started to scream. I thought he was annoyed with the cat's noise, but he marched over to the wall and pointed out the letters R, A, I, N from the sign that says "Please park your cars facing wall". I pointed out the window at the sun shining on the golf course next door and told him not to be upset as the sun was shining.

He carried on screaming and spelling out "rain" I took him upstairs, got my mobile phone and asked him again what was upsetting him. He typed in "Rain Baby Noah". Then he ran up to the hedge in front of our window and buried his face in it.

Two minutes later, while we were still standing on the (covered) balcony, the rain poured down. I asked Little A if he knew it was going to rain, and if that was why he was upset. He nodded his head, yes. I apologised for calling him overdramatic, and we had a hug.

I wonder if this weather prediction talent is something we can exploit in future. For the meantime, I must remember to tell his teachers that in case Little A suddenly gets upset in class and spells out "rain," they should cease all outdoor activities for the time being and remain safely indoors.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Week Done


Boy. When it rains, it pours. Little A's first week of school coincided with the beginning of monsoon season.
Normally, rains start in June, and by August a couple of schooldays have been cancelled due to typhoons. This year, summer took its time leaving, which was great for us as Little A loves to swim, and would jump happily into the pool sometimes twice a day.

The night before school was due to begin, there was a lot of rain. By 9pm, school was called off the next day. I didn't mind this, as I figured the first week would be a huge adjustment period.

Little A started on Tuesday with a full day, from 8am to 3pm. I was quite apprehensive about how he would manage, more so when I looked at the classroom doors and found that he actually had proper subjects already! Literacy, numeracy, science, then a lunch break and preschool in the afternoon.

In addition, I found out there were to be 3 meal breaks a day - morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack. Usually Little A has two sets of food - cornflakes and a container of rice and meat. He can eat one, both, or some of each. All that is enough for two meal breaks, but not three!

I stuck around for the first hour and a half, and good thing too, as I discovered during morning snack period that he was already eating his rice! I asked the teacher to stop him, as he had not only had breakfast just two hours earlier, but because he would have nothing substantial to eat at lunchtime.

That afternoon, I rushed him home in case he was starving. He'd eaten all his food. The next days, he was armed with enough for three meal breaks.

During the summer session, as soon as class was over, Little A was out the door and into the car. Now, however, he is reluctant to leave as he used to be at his last school. He walks around and peeks into the other rooms or sits in the media centre and plays with letter tiles. I think the presence of many other children is something he enjoys, though he still does not interact with them enough.

At dismissal on Thursday, he came to me with tears in his eyes and a different pair of shorts on than the ones he went to school in. One of the teachers explained that in the morning, Little A had indicated he needed to use the toilet. The female teacher called the male nurse to accompany him to the restroom. Unfortunately, Little A really needed to go, and didn't quite make it there before wetting his pants. As he has not had a toilet accident in years, he was quite upset.

I explained to him in the car that he'd have to let them know earlier next time, and that it wasn't his fault. He seemed to accept this.

The next day, each of the teachers came up to me separately to tell me how well Little A had behaved in all of his classes that day. I was pleased and proud as any parent could be.

The end of week one bodes well for the weeks to come. Now we look forward to Monday.


Friday, August 9, 2013

In Other News...


In Chinese culture, August is called "Hungry Ghost Month." For those who believe in  this, and in feng shui principles, this is a period when it is considered unlucky to open a new business, move into a new home, get married, or even, I think, have a baby.

My family doesn't really believe in this, but we were scheduled to open a new shop around this time. This is is the second branch of our little card and gift kiosk, and this time it is a proper store, located in the new wing of a posh mall. 

The administration team of this shopping centre has been desperate for shops to open as the foot traffic is low and the overhead costs high. They offered a discount on rental rates for the next two months to all tenants who open shop in the month of July. 

In a rush to avail of this discount, we managed to open on the very last day of the month. However, there were still some small kinks to be ironed out, particularly with our new POS system. Nevertheless, we opened, and are now running fairly smoothly. 

So just before the start of Little A's new schoolyear has me rushing between two shops, training new staff and sorting out various accounting issues. The timing is good, so next week will be entirely devoted to Little A's start of school.

Hungry Ghosts, begone!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zoo Trip



With school scheduled to start in a few weeks' time and a new shop opening soon, I have limited time to take Little A out on what's left of his summer holidays.

Big A was out of town on an overnight work trip, so Little A, the Au Pair and I got into the big car and went to the City Zoo.

The Manila Zoo has been around since the 1959, and as primary school children we were taken there on school trips. Back then it was hot, dank, and dilapidated. Thirty years later, save for the marvellous trees that have not been trimmed since they were first planted, the zoo is just the same. Very few improvements have been made, so while the space is good (wide walkways, constant shade, a decent breeze), the animals are sadly confined in concrete spaces with little or no greenery to remind them of their natural habitats.

The selection of animals is probably the most pitiful of any zoo in the world, even among other Third World Countries. There is a lone elephant, which animal rights activists have been clamoring to move to a safari-type location in Thailand, a couple of tigers, each kept in a separate pen, some sort of zebras (brown and white striped as opposed to the traditional black), several cages and aviaries of birds and a reptile cave.

Little A enjoyed watching the tiger walk back and forth around his pen. He also enjoyed the turtle ponds and the storks flying around the aviary.

There is talk of the rehabilitation of Manila Zoo as a new project of the former President, who was convicted for plunder and now holds office as Manila's mayor (will people never learn?). Given the massive misappropriation of taxpayers' funds for decades, I hope that this project, at least, will push through and be carried out properly. Our city sorely lacks public spaces and greenery, and most of all places where children can safely play. Let's hope this space, with all its promise, is developed right into one of them.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Night Waking

It's been a long time since I posted about a book. I read many, close to 200 in a year, many of which are wonderful. Until I joined this book club, I never used to keep track, but now I have a reading log and an ever growing pile of books to be read.

Sarah Moss's Night Waking was a Daily Deal in Amazon's Kindle store last year. The blurb sounded interesting so I went ahead and purchased the book, only to have it sit in my virtual library for months. I finally got around to reading it, and was astounded at the quality of her writing, and how much it resounded with me.

As the title suggests, this novel is about sleeplessness. The protagonist is a scholarly mother of two stuck on an island off the Scottish coast trying to get a book written while managing her children, who do not sleep. It is dark and perceptive, everything you'd expect from a Granta novelist.

The timing in which I read this book coincided with a period of Little A's sleeplessness. While he's never been the best sleeper, we'd gotten into a decent schedule of sleeping from 10pm-7am, or 9pm-6am once school started, with the occasional early waking - 5 am maybe twice in ten days. He sometimes wakes up at 2 or 3 am, but falls back asleep within 2 hours as long as I'm lying next to him. We've already established that getting out of bed properly is not allowed until the sun is up.

Since his sixth birthday party at school, though, we've had a lot of night waking. And night crying, and, for the first time, night screaming. Four or five nights a week in the past fortnight. For maybe the second and third times in Little A's life, his dad has had to put him back to sleep after the 2 and 3am wakings, as there is less screaming involved when he is in charge.

It is at these times, lying in the dark at 4am, having gone to sleep at 11 and been up again since 2, that I come perilously close to harming my child. Only a mother who has been through this would understand; unfortunately I may be in for this for a long time, as children with autism tend to have sleep issues. These nights I try to fall asleep soon after Little A does, so that I've managed at least 3 hours before the wakeup call.

We've been unable to pinpoint what caused this development, though I suspect it is the memory of his birthday party, or the thought of more parties, singing and clapping that initially triggered the crying. While the crying and screaming have, thankfully, and hopefully permanently, stopped, the 4am waking continues, now every other night. I can manage this, as one night of 5 hours' sleep followed by another of 7 is far better than 3 hours, 5 nights a week.

4am wakings mean we are up for the day, as the sun is up by 6. Big A sometimes falls asleep at work, and I get by with coffee. This week school is out until August 12th, so we hope to get Little A's sleeping back to its regular schedule of 8 hours or so a night. We will see how that pans out.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Super Six




I actually have a few blog posts lined up. They are sitting, quietly, unfinished, in the Drafts folder. The reason they haven't been getting posted is because Little A has appropriated the laptop for his own use. Every time he sees someone working on it, he asks to use it, using his communication cards. As initially we were after the communication goal, we made sure he got what he wanted immediately, provided he asked for it properly.

Now however, we need to move on to the "wait" phase. Anyone who has ever interacted with a child, nonverbal or not, knows how difficult it is to get them to understand that they may get what they ask for, but not necessarily at the precise moment they request for it.

At any rate, since I've been spending mornings at Little A's school while classes are on and there is no Internet connection in the temporary Mummy's waiting room, I get my "real" paperwork done during class time and can relinquish the laptop to him in the afternoons while I am at the shop.

Three weeks of school went quickly by, and midway through the summer session, Little A celebrated his 6th birthday with a small party at the school's playground. Since there are only eight children in class, and two of them don't particularly like birthdays (one being Little A himself), the teachers thought it would be a good idea to do a dry run.

The day before the party, the kids "practised" having snack time on the playground, at the art tables, followed by active play, which is a change from the usual classroom routine. All seemed to go well.

On July 5th, while the kids were in class, I set up the playground tables with a little centerpiece, loot bags, paper plates and cups, and snack items. They came out at snack time, and the first thing we did, to get it out of the way, was to sing "Happy Birthday." Little A blew out his six candles, and proceeded to cry.

He stepped out of the party room, upset, and sat with me, his teacher and my mum, until he calmed down and was ready to join the "guests." He didn't eat, and didn't want to play, but he did manage to get on the swings and hand out the loot bags and balloons before we left school.

Little A was fine the rest of the day, but didn't forget that he dislikes birthday parties as he cried that night, as I was putting him to bed, when he saw the birthday banner we'd brought home from school and taped up in his room. He cried every night after that and every morning on waking up, even when I took the banner down, until enough days had passed and he realised that his birthday was well and truly over, and that there would be no more singing of the Happy Birthday song.

We celebrated with his cousins two days later, but it was just a meal. No singing, no candles. Little A was happier that way, and that's what birthdays are all about, aren't they? Happy for the celebrant, never mind what anyone else wants or expects. And so he is six, and so we go on.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Becoming a Big Boy

In the days and weeks leading up to Little A's birthday, I would remind him that he was going to be six. Six! A big boy. A proper boy, no longer a toddler.

Little A seemed to take this in stride, as we worked on independence skills like brushing his teeth with less supervision. I wondered though, how he really felt about turning six. While he couldn't tell me, we soon found out he took this growing up seriously.

He suddenly learned, after ages of being reminded, to throw the towel over his head after a shower when he only used to wipe his face and chest and then wander off, dripping, to play.

The night I realised he really did mean business though, was when he went to the toilet all by himself.

Little A potty trained quite early, and with very little fuss. But when he needed to poop, he would look for someone - myself, the Au Pair - to keep him company and clean his bottom when he was done. Big A and I would be at the dinner table and Little A would come and take my hand and lead me into the bathroom. We'd gotten used to this over the past several years.

Since summer school started though, Little A has been having his dinner earlier because we'd had to push forward his bedtime due to the early morning wakeup. He usually plays in his room, or uses the laptop in ours, while Big A and I eat, and then we begin the bedtime routine.

One evening last week, I left him with his YouTube videos and sat down for dinner. A few minutes into the meal though, the bedroom was unusually silent. Looking in to check, I didn't see Little A at the desk. Neither was he in his room, or the bathroom in the hallway that he usually prefers to use. The last room was our ensuite bathroom.

I peeked in and there he was, sitting on the toilet in the darkness. When I turned on the light, I saw the bidet on the floor, instead of on the hook next to the toilet where it normally rested. I asked if he was done, and looked into the toilet to see half a roll of toilet paper already in there. When I checked his bottom, it was clean.

Little A had done his business and cleaned himself up, but was waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone to come and tell him he'd done it right. Once he got confirmation, off he hopped, back to the laptop.

Since that night, he's gone to the toilet by himself most times, but sometimes asks one of us to come with him and hand him his iPad while he's sitting there. And while we're there, we help clean up.

This is what I look forward to then, in the world of six-year old motherhood - independence. Clearly, my son is up to the task.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New School News

So in our little pocket of the world, the new academic year has begun, along with the rainy season.

As he has "graduated" from Kindergarten and turns six in a fortnight, Little A should be moving to First Grade. Only with the dearth of schools that do proper mainstreaming and integration for special needs kids, our choices were quite limited, and we decided to keep him back a year to join a new school that recently opened.

This school is run by a bunch of people with great track records. They are starting with preschool and adding one new grade every coming academic year for the next twelve years. The program looks good, and they have an in-house support system for special needs kids. The campus is located in a converted house along Metro Manila's busiest thoroughfare.

This school follows the "international" (i.e. Western Hemisphere's) academic timetable, beginning in August and breaking up for the summer at the end of May. They are starting, however, with a "summer" programme - 5 weeks from June to July. Since Little A has already had two months of summer holidays, he was the first to enroll in the summer programme, to get him used to a new school new teachers, and a new routine.

Week one is over, and there are only 7 kids in the class. Little A, as expected, is the oldest, and the biggest. I managed to convince his home ABA teacher to apply, and she is now part of the faculty, an addition that was badly needed, as it turns out every single one of the kids enrolled in this summer programme has special needs.

I've been spending mornings with the other mums, getting used to the new schedule of being up at 6am, on the road at 730, and in school before 8. We've been talking, and most of us are ambivalent at the non-integrated setup currently underway, as all of our children have come from mainstream preschools. The other mothers, however, are expat wives. None of them will be in Manila three years from now; nor will their children.

Little A, however, is in this for the long term. I am crossing my fingers that the applicants for the August term will make up the deficit of typical children, but if they don't, then need to consider if this really will be the best academic environment for Little A.

While he is still non-verbal, this program suits him well. The IEP portion of the schoolday (2 hours, with 2 hours of preschool following) should allow him to keep up with his same-age peers academically, as last I checked he was on par with them in that department. The preschool day will give him opportunity for interaction with other kids.

The first week, my son was perfectly happy. Not a peep of complaint. I was very pleased, and asked his teacher on Friday what they had covered during the week so his home ABA teacher (his former shadow teacher at the last school) could continue the work. To my dismay, she told me that they had not done anything challenging at all that week, tackling only skills Little A has already long mastered, for the purposes of fostering independence. No writing, no reading comprehension, no addition!

No wonder Little A has been so happy, he'd just been playing! I am giving them another week, and then kindly requesting that they move up to more academic work during the IEP time. There is a parents' orientation this weekend, so I look forward to hearing what the other parents will have to say. On the whole, though, I am more pleased than displeased with this school. They are new to this setup, and I'd like to give them a chance to prove that they are worth the fees we will be paying each academic year. I only hope it doesn't take them too long to do so.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Back in the Saddle





When he was 3, Little A fell off a horse. It was his first time to sit on one, a Shetland pony at a petting zoo not far from home. Big A and I took him to see the animals that summer day, but my son is generally uninterested in those behind bars or glass, preferring ones he can actually interact with, or possibly touch. Part of me wonders if he is against animal cruelty, wanting these creatures to be free.

Since then, he has refused to get back on a pony, preferring to watch them from the sides as they go about their business.

This last trip to the mountains, though, just before summer school started, he wanted Big A to sit him on a horse. We were at a park we always visit to enjoy the fresh air and the scent of pine trees, when Little A spotted a gentle grey horse standing at one side, with his owner, a man of maybe 60 years, standing next to it.

There was a sign that read "Photo on Horseback" and a very reasonable price. Thinking Little A just wanted to touch the horse, like the last time we were in the mountains, Big A picked him up and brought him closer. To our surprise, Little A threw his leg over and sat proudly in the saddle.

He seemed thrilled to be seated on the animal, reaching forward and touching its mane, and then rocking back and forth in the saddle, asking it to move. But this horse had retired from walking the park circuit, and was content to just stand by the tree next to its master.

Naturally, I took photos. Big A stood close by, but Little A was brave, perhaps knowing instinctively that this animal was a very gentle one who had been used to children sitting on its back for years. Luckily, no one else was in the queue for a photo op on horseback, so we took all the time we wanted.

The next day, we took Little A to the place where ponies were for hire, walking a circle or a mountain track. He inspected the horses and sat on one, but wasn't feeling ready to go walking on it yet. So we didn't push it. We know, as with everything else our son does, that he will let us know when  he is ready.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Run and Hit

Three or four times  a week for the past year and a half, Little A and I, or Little A and the Au Pair, have walked down the road and crossed the street to the therapy centre he attends.

A few months ago, a bus stop was built down our road, and this past week there have been roadworks next to it, making the road a little bit narrower, and therefore a little busier for the vehicles that pass it.

Little A has been repeatedly told that we must only "walk on the stripes," and while holding a grown-up's hand. Sometimes, though, we let him walk just ahead, to foster that little bit of independence.

Yesterday, there was an illegally parked car next to the pedestrian crossing, immediately to our left. As we stood on the pavement, I let go of Little A's hand to put his iPad, which he had been carrying, into my bag. I saw that a bus was loading with passengers and told Little A that "after the bus, it will be our turn."

Immediately upon seeing the bus go past, Little A bombed it into the road, just at the edge of the zebra crossing. Unfortunately, there was a car behind the bus, and the driver's view of Little A was blocked by the illegally parked car to our left.

I screamed, and it was as if time slowed down, just like in the movies. Little A swerved to his right, the car braked, and its front fender caught him on the left side of his ribcage, hurling him a few feet forward, where he landed on his left elbow.

I grabbed him off the street and dragged him back to the pavement, where I sat on the curb and wrapped him around me, checking his back for bruising, bumps, blood.

The driver of the car pulled his vehicle over, and the security guards at our building, as well as some other drivers waiting at the car park nearby, came running over.

My first remark was to the driver of the illegally parked car. "Why on earth were you there? That is a no parking or waiting zone!" I didn't hear his reply, as I switched my attention back to my shell-shocked son, who wailed very quickly about his hurt elbow, and then went nearly catatonic against my shoulder.

When Emergency Services arrived a few minutes later, I tried to set Little A down on the pavement to show them what happened. My little boy's knees immediately buckled under him, and one of our building guards scooped him up and handed him back to me.

The driver of the car that hit Little A was from a company that worked at a building down the road. He and the other guards and witnesses waited for the police while the Emergency Services car drove Little A and myself to the hospital. I managed a quick call to Little A's therapist on the way, explaining that we wouldn't be attending his session today and why.

Upon admission, Little A was quiet, and likely in shock as I spoke to Big A on the phone and told him quickly what had happened. When the intake staff tried to take his pulse and temperature though, Little A quickly gained enough energy to refuse and complain. We were given a bed in the pediatric emergency ward and seen by three doctors.

The first recommended an X-ray. I agreed to this, and we waited. The second doctor arrived with medicine for the scrape on Little A's elbow. By this time, he was regaining some of his energy. By the time the trauma doctor arrived, nearly an hour later, Little A was jumping on the chairs, running around the ward and asking me for corn flakes.

Miraculously, on removing all his clothes, there appeared to be no damage to Little A's body besides the bump on his elbow. I asked about internal bleeding, cracked ribs and the like, and was told just to keep watch, and given the all clear to take him home.

The company that owned the car which hit Little A sent another vehicle over with a lady who paid the hospital bill and a policeman who took my statement. Little A and I went through the other side of the hospital and walked carefully home.

On entering our flat, the first thing I saw was the backpack Little A had been wearing when he was hit by - or ran into - the car. It must have fallen off when he tumbled into the road, or when I picked him up, or maybe I just ripped it off him when I was checking his back. I picked it up with shaking arms. Perhaps it was this item that protected his ribcage from damage.

Little A carried on with the rest of his day as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I, on the other hand, felt like I needed a long sleep. It was as if all the energy in my system had just disappeared with the adrenalin. Apart from a quick, necessary, trip to the shop, I kept a close eye on Little A, expecting him to feel tired or hurt suddenly, or want to take a nap, at least. Amazingly, he was energetic  as usual.

My parents, who were hysterical on hearing what had happened, rushed over and couldn't believe that Little A was feeling so normal. Guardian angels protecting him, maybe, or just the amazing resilience of children.

While I was grateful that nothing worse had happened, I was also worried that Little A wouldn't have learnt his lesson. This morning though, he was careful to walk only while holding my hand, and asked to be carried across the road going home.

In the past three years, Little A has had three accidents that required hospital visits. One per year. They say these things happen in threes. Let's hope, then, that this was the last. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Midnight Wanderings


One of Little A's writing tasks, with his own answers. Bed is for Mommy.
I've written many a post on Little A's sleep, or the lack thereof, even before he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It took him ages to sleep through the night, and until recently he would still wake up at 4 or 5am a few nights a week.

When Little A wakes in the night he sometimes babbles, and if this goes on long or loudly enough I go in and quiet him down, whereupon he asks me to stay with him until he either falls asleep or the sun comes up and he is allowed to get down from bed. Other times he gets down from the bed himself (no easy feat in the dark from a top bunk!), shuffles into our room, tugs at my hand and takes me back to bed with him to keep him company. He knows he must stay in bed until there is daylight, and that he is not allowed to share ours as he shouldn't disturb his sleeping dad.

Upon moving into his own room in January, Little A's sleep patterns, by and large, improved. There is still the occasional early morning waking, more so since summer has begun and he has been less tired by the day's activities, with no school to keep him busy. But the sleep hours are longer, and for that I am grateful.

On the nights that Big A and I are out on a date, the Au Pair puts Little A to sleep. She knows the routine and manages very capably. As soon as he is out for the count, she retires for the night herself. Normally, we arrive home only 2 or 3 hours after bedtime, and usually all is quiet. I peek at Little A, and then get ready for bed.

One night recently, we stayed out later than usual, as a friend of BigA's was in town for the first time since she migrated to Canada with her family three years ago. When we got home, I saw that our bedroom light was switched on. This is unusual, as we turn out the lights when we go, and at bedtime only nightlamps remain illuminated. I checked Little A's room, and he was in his bed, but he was awake.

When he saw me, he reached for me and asked me to stay next to him as he fell back asleep, which only took a few minutes. The next morning, I asked the Au Pair if the light in our bedroom had been left on the night before. She told me it was off when she went to bed after putting Little A to sleep. He had obviously woken in the night, made his way to our room, turned on the light to be sure we were not there, and, finding the room empty, gone back to his own bed.

I still am very proud he did this all on his own. In the beginning my biggest trepidation about him sleeping in his own room was that he would wake in the night, turn the lights on, and play with his toys. He used to try this, but has since accepted my edict that unless the sun is out, he must stay in bed and at least try to go back to sleep. That he followed this even when seemingly at home all alone gives me much joy and hope that in other things as well he will learn to behave appropriately. Hooray for small successes.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Baby Birds



The Au Pair found a nest in the bushes by our apartment's swimming pool the other week. In it were a pair of baby rice sparrows, our country's national bird. She showed them to Little A, who promptly wanted to take them home.

The nest was transplanted to the bushes outside his room, but, afraid the mother bird wouldn't find it, or would reject the babies for having been touched by human hands (I read somewhere that this was the case with certain birds in the wild), the Au Pair took to feeding the tiny chicks by hand twice a day.

Big A, who had raised fighting cocks and racing pigeons in his youth, didn't expect the chicks to survive the week. But to everyone's surprise, a few mornings later, Little A spelled out "watchbirds" with his letter tiles, and showed me that the nest on his balcony was empty.

The little birds had grown their feathers and taken - sort of - flight. They begun by hopping about the area near the bushes for a day or two, but soon found their wings and flew away.

There's a lesson in this, obviously. That help can come from unexpected places, and that, against odds, one can become a success. So I am applying this to Little A, who has plenty of challenges to face; many more so than the average child. May he find his wings. And fly. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Happy Feet


Several years ago, this animated film came out featuring singing penguins. There was one among them who discovered he couldn't use his voice like the others, but he expressed himself another way - through dance.

As a former professional dancer, I was once expert at saying things without using spoken words. Now that I am mother to a non-verbal child,  alternative forms of communication take on a whole new meaning.

On my birthday this year, my family visited our city's Ocean Park. We'd tried to go once before, but the queues then made it impossible with an impatient, crowd-unfriendly toddler in tow.

This time round, we chose a day when the city was virtually empty for the Easter four-day weekend. Little A breezed through the fish tanks, only spending a long time admiring the sea horses.

When we got to the penguin enclosure, however, there was an opportunity  to get up close and personal. Big A took a look inside, then paid the fee and took Little A in. Neither of them wanted to hold up the slippery fish to feed the penguins, so the Au Pair was tasked with that job.

Little A loved being close to Pingu and friends. There was a time when he would cry seeing animals in cages, but being in their "natural" environment like farms and open areas has always thrilled him, to the point that we've considered animal encounters as possible therapy options. (Next up, swimming with dolphins.)

Many parents and professionals have related how children with special needs are sometimes brought  of their shells by developing close relationshps with a particular animal. We'd love to discover if this would be true for Little A, if only we didn't live in a small apartment in the middle of a bustling metropolis.

Apart from this, we push on with Little A's alternative communication modes.  May our society get to the point where happy feet and happy fingers will be enough to include these individuals who lack their own  voices.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Big Blue


Back when DVD players were the latest technology, Big A and I were a new couple. As he loves movies as much as I do books, for our first anniversary I got him a DVD player and a film that a friend sent over from Amazon US. DVDs were fairly expensive then, and there was a limited number of locally available films.

The movie was Luc Besson's The Big Blue, one of Big A's all-time favourites. A certified technical diver and former national swimmer, he has probably spent more of his lifetime in the water than on land. His son has clearly inherited this love of the water, as I am, despite all efforts to change this, very much a land creature. Graceful on land, having spent most of my life defying gravity and standing on the tips of my toes, I am awkward in the water and have a dodgy right eardrum that makes diving difficult.

Little A first went swimming at about 9 months of age - the summer after he was born. He loved it, splashing around and flailing his limbs. Shortly after his second birthday, he escaped from our apartment and made his way to the swimming pool. By the time he was three, he preferred the big pool to the baby one.

In his third year, Little A taught himself how to swim. Slowly, carefully, by dint of much practice and holding on to our arms, he learnt to doggy paddle and got confident doing it for the length of our 20m, 5 foot deep pool. He also discovered floating and buoyancy at this time. Then, he moved on to dipping his face underwater, first practicing in the bathtub, and then in the swimming pool.

This summer, he mastered the frog kick and gained incredible speed chasing his dad the length of the pool. Simultaneously, he has discovered the joy of diving. Experimenting with his breath, he would plunge down as low as he could get, trying to get to the bottom of the pool. After reaching it with his feet, he tried sitting down, lying down, and doing somersaults.

One day in March, a neighbor's son had some toy cars by the poolside. Little A took them and dropped them into the pool, where they promptly sank to the bottom. Knowing he couldn't yet reach there, I prepared to put on my swimsuit and retrieve the cars, but Little A surprised me by diving in and getting them himself, one after the other. Delighted with himself, he dropped them down and did it again.

We've since bought some sinking swim toys, as he's been using the ones brought by swimming teachers and other parents. These days, 5 feet of water is no challenge at all for Little A, so much that he actually spent 5 entire days last week out of the water. One of the coaches who teaches some of the other children has taken videos of him, remarking that all he needs now is to learn the form for the proper strokes.

It would be great to see Little A follow his dad's footsteps in competitive swimming, and possibly scuba diving. The bigger challenge now, is getting him to don a pair of swim goggles so we can take him to the beach. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Are the Champions




When you have a child, you pick godparents who you would trust to raise your child in the event that you and your partner are unable to.

Some people judge godparents by other measures, or choose them with other priorities in mind. For us, though, that was the main thing.

Naturally, the child's godparents tend to be the parents' most trusted friends and siblings. They win such places of honour by having qualities the parents value highly.

I am happy to say that Little A has a winning crop of godmothers.

At his Christening, I gave each a toy wand and a notebook with the words "Godmothers make wishes come true" on the front. (His godfathers got miniature terracotta warrior replicas.)

In the last few years, these women have, truly, lived up to their positions.

Godmother 1, my younger sister, has constantly been on the lookout for Little A, particularly since he was diagnosed with ASD. She has interviewed all of her friends for information on the best schools and courses of treatment for her nephew, besides showering him with much love and affection and constantly inviting him to play with her daugters.

Godmother 2, my best friend from childhood, quietly makes recommendations based on discreet questions to her sons' teachers for inclusion programs and adapted regular programs and annually brings back from the United States whatever therapy materials Little A needs that aren't available locally.

Godmother 3, my soul sister who lives in Helsinki, (we share a name and a birthday) regularly emails links to news stories and articles from medical journals on the latest techniques in Europe.

Godmother 4 was the dark horse, as she has no children and until recently lived in Edinburgh. She always asked after Little A, gave great presents, and spent as much time with him as she could when she was in town. This week though, she and her doctor partner gave me the best birthday gift - a meeting with her partner's cousin, a Speech Pathologist and behaviour specialist based in New Jersey who was in town for a whopping two days for the Easter holidays.

This specialist took two hours of her precious holiday time to read Little A's reports and provide a detailed outline for a Communication and Speech Programme that should benefit him enormously if implemented properly.

Apparently, the techniques used in this country for Speech Pathology are over 20 years old, with many of them long since proven less effective than newer techniques. This being the Third World, however, and with brain drain as our country's biggest export, it is to be expected that we are behind the times in what really matters. (You can be sure that despite our massive national debt, everyone who can buy or steal one is equipped with the latest iPhone or whatever gadgets are hot off the press.)

This brings us to Godmother 5, Big A's sister, who lives in Singapore, where many of our best therapists are trained, or go for work. It isn't an impossibility that Little A will go there for more updated therapy techniques, or I will for training.

I have called a conference with Little A's team, and sent off an email outlining the new goals. I hope we can implement the programme and achieve the desired results. With such champions as these godmothers in his corner, how can he not? 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

End of (Preschool) Days

Sensitive to applause, Little A covers his ears to be sure.

The hat is a little bothersome, so off it comes.
Today, Little A officially ended his preschool days at the school he's attended for three years. Once again, children in the class wore togas, but since they are a mixed group, the 4 year olds sometimes stay another year to complete the Kindergarten level at this school, as Little A did. Several of his classmates were those he'd been with for a year or two, and one had been in the same class since the first year they both attended the school.

Little A's class danced, and while he had been practicing assiduously for weeks in the classroom and performing some of the steps for us at home, he was stage-shy, and followed the blocking, but did not do any of the steps on stage. The class then sat down to take turns announcing to the assembled audience what they wanted to be when they grew up (Little A held up a sign in lieu of speaking), and then again taking turns to receive their "diplomas".

It was a monumental achievement in the life so far of a young boy, particularly mine, as many children with autism who mainstream in preschool years do not go on to do so for grade school, either because of the lack of available inclusion schools with support programmes, or because parents feel the child would be better off in an entirely SPED setup, all things considered.

Little A's future school is still undecided, as we await news from the school he tried out last week. That bridge will be crossed as it gets here. More urgent is what's in the present - his summer schedule.

Easter is upon us next week, and then Big A has declared a trip to the mountains for the week following, so we all get a bit of a break. Beginning April 1st, however, a plan must be quickly put into place and instructions disseminated to Little A's team.

Apart from his regular OT and Speech therapies, his home ABA teacher will continue to come and do lessons with him. I do plan to enrol him in a music and/or art class, and to attempt some Integrated Play Groups, after attending a most excellent workshop the other day detailing some of the requirements, benefits and a basic program outline.

Little A knows that this is a new time for him. While I told him several times that after this day he would "no longer be a Toddler but a bigger boy," I wasn't sure he really understood that he was moving up and moving on. On the way home though, from lunch after the commencement exercises, he solemnly typed in his iPad "IfyouhappyknowitToddlers". I could be wrong, but am taking this to mean he understands, and that this is his way of telling us he was happy at Toddlers Teachers Inc, and is feeling bittersweet about those days coming to an end. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Circles

What goes around, comes around. Pay it forward. We hear and read things like this everywhere. Every religion talks about getting what you deserve, in this life or the next.

This week, I realized all the sayings are very, very true.

When Little A was sixteen months old, I enrolled him in a playschool across the road. The owner of the school was a neighbor with a son a few months older than Little A.

While the school didn't last too long, she did make use of her space to open a Tomatis Centre, and held two seminars, both of which I attended. The first introduced the therapy and its benefits. It was at this event that I met the doctor who would become Little A's developmental pediatrician.When Little A still wasn't speaking at age 2, we made an appointment to have him assessed, and a few months later, he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

The second seminar was about Special Education in Regular Schools - inclusion programmes, in other words. When this event took place, Little A had started at his preschool, but I was already feeling that he might need a shadow teacher. I met one there, who turned out to be working at the preschool I had wanted Little A to attend had it not been so far away, owned by the same people running Keys Grade School, where we are now applying him for next school year.

The second speaker was from Brent International School, the school Big A dreamed his son would attend (because in our time the girls from there sported the shortest uniform skirts imaginable). Hearing about Brent's inclusion programme put that school at the top of my list for his future applications, which are no longer in the future but very much in the present!

Upon submitting Little A's application last October, I was told by the Admissions Office that for several years now, they have stopped accepting children on the autism spectrum. Disappointed, I went on with the school search.

Then, two weeks ago, Little A's PROMPT therapist, newly back from maternity leave, mentioned that two of her colleagues were setting up a new inclusion school to open this coming academic year.

This therapist also happens to be the in-house speech pathologist at Brent; her students who do not attend the school are seen at home, or, in Little A's case, his grandmother's house, which is as far north as the teacher is willing to travel. She sent me the link to One World School, and I contacted the person-in-charge, who set a meeting the following weekend.

When I arrived at the meeting, who did I meet but the very speaker from the inclusion seminar in 2010, whose name I hadn't gotten back then and couldn't find later through the neighbor who hosted the seminar! Truly, it was serendipity. He and his colleague told me about the school, and I in turn told them about Little A and handed over the obligatory set of therapist reports, psychoeducational assessment, health certificates and the like, all of which I have in multiple copies for any school applications that may suddenly turn up.

Since the school is still under construction and no marketing has yet begun, I was one of the first to apply, therefore securing my son a place. Hooray!! Their programme is good, but it will mean Little A will have to "repeat" his last year of preschool, as for the first year they will only be offering preschool classes and adding grade levels as the students progress.

The good thing is, the team heading the school is experienced and able. The campus is conveniently located, and the facilities will be at least as nice as what is currently available at Little A's current preschool. The tuition is more than twice what the other schools are asking, but we will no longer need to provide our own shadow teacher, which will save us more in the long run rather than paying school fees and the shadow's hourly rates for possibly Little A's entire academic life.

This school will take him through to age 18 and beyond, as they will offer transition programmes and life coaching for adults with special needs as well. So truly, this is a fervent prayer answered, for as long as we can afford to keep Little A there, that is. It's a huge load off my mind.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

School Search

As only a parent of a special needs child will know, getting your child a place in a good school, one that suits the child's personality and supports the child's needs, is nearly as difficult as finding that proverbial needle in a haystack.

For one, there is the list of available schools, which, as I have mentioned before, does not exist for children on the Autism Spectrum. A friend whose daughter has Down's Syndrome was given a "Bible" shortly after her child was born, detailing doctors, therapists, schools and various other programmes available at the time. This directory is regularly updated at doctor's visits.

Children on the autism spectrum, on the other hand, are rarely diagnosed before they are two years old, and when they are, because each child is different, finding the right course of action is always a long process of trial and error. There are diets, biomedical treatments, assorted therapies and many more. Finding a school, when the child is of age, is just one more challenge.

After ruthlessly questioning friends, teachers, therapists and random women in waiting rooms, supermarkets and bank queues, I made a list and went through it one school at a time.

First was Reach International School, an inclusive school even nearer our home than Little A's current preschool. A visit though, led me to think that this would not be the best environment for my son, as the work is done on a largely self-motivated basis. There was no teacher and class interaction, or even small group work. Students meet with the teacher one at a time for instructions and complete the set work quietly at their desks. At the moment my son needs a shadow teacher just to keep him seated long enough to complete a single worksheet, so this type of school was not right for him.

Next came The Laren School, a Montessori school located in a commercial building not far from home. My parent's visit morning was very eye-opening. While my sister attended a Montessori school, I knew very little about it beyond that the preschool advocated independence and taught children self-help skills as part of the programme. I thought Little A would benefit hugely through their manipulative material-based learning methods.

Unfortunately, it turns out there will not be a space available for him this coming school year. Since Laren runs vertical classes, children aged 6-9 are in one group, and there were already 3 special needs kids among them. A new student would only be offered a place if one of the special needs students was ready to move to the regular group.

Inclusion schools generally accept a maximum of 2 special needs children per class, in classes of up to a dozen students. Larger schools run on more traditional programmes do not support inclusion at all.

St. Mary of the Woods's SPED coordinator impressed me throughly with her knowledge and years of experience in the field of educating special needs children in a traditional setting. I wasn't sure though, if Little A would benefit from being mainstreamed in Filipino language social studies classes, but I did like that they are a Catholic school, as I want my son raised in the same faith as his parents, grandparents and cousins.

The Learning Child turned out to be a bit of a dead end as they have started phasing out their grade school levels and are maintaining only the preschool.

The Abba's Orchard, another Montessori school, did not seem very keen to process Little A's application, as after I paid a visit and made several phone calls, they never got around to scheduling him for an assessment.

Create School had a wait list as long as my arm. Plus, they weren't really an inclusion school in that Little A would be in a separate class, along with other special needs kids of his same level of ability.

Britesparks School was recommended by a friend of my sister, whose child attended the school and has since moved successfully to a traditional one. However, a visit and telephone call revealed that their SPED support department had dematerialized due to talent being lost overseas and to other industries over the last two years. They will only accept very high-functioning, Asperger's students. Not proper inclusion, then, so not an option for us.

I was hesitant to even apply Little A to Keys Grade School, as I had it from one of the directors and the principal back in August that spaces for special needs children were reserved years in advance by the students attending their preschool. However, my mum's former student turned out to be the vice-principal, and she convinced us to pay a visit anyway. I was so glad we did, as we were beyond impressed by the teachers, the programme and most of all, the students. They were, without exception, confident, articulate, interested and positive in an environment that clearly nurtured and developed them properly.

As a special needs applicant, Little A's entire support team was required to attend an open day, and then write recommendation letters. His application has been processed and he is scheduled for assessment and a two-day sit in next week.

Keys is a fair school, assessing all applicants over a period of at least two days and making final decisions and issuing offer or rejection letters in mid-April. As their academic year begins in early June, this does not leave parents of children who are not accepted much leeway to find backup schools at that late time.

Apart from those, my alternatives were SPED centres, which would focus more on self-help and life skills rather than academics, which seems a shame when considering that Little A was reading ahead of his year level and has achieved many improvements by modeling his neurotypical classmates. I prayed we would find a place at an inclusion school.

My prayers were answered. More on that next post!