Monday, December 11, 2017

The Nutcracker

In utero, Little A was subjected to repeated listenings of The Nutcracker Suite in the first trimester as I drove to and from work. As a former professional dancer, it remains one of my favourites and is a staple on our music deck in the Christmas season. Even the staff at my shops love it, particularly the sole male store manager.

Fast forward to Little A’s boyhood, where he (through nature or nurture) discovers the love for classical music and orchestras. His anxiety and fear of new experiences have kept him from sitting in a darkened theatre, but he constantly watches orchestral productions on YouTube.

Last year, I took him to see an orchestra playing in a shopping mall, a familiar environment (I have a store there which he visits often) and with room for him to be active or noisy if he wished. He sat with eager anticipation for a full hour prior to showtime, and expressed disappointment that the orchestra lacked a harp and a bassoon.

The music was disappointing as they played only popular carols.

This year, The Nutcracker was on, and there would be an orchestra! I booked a box with the best view of the pit, assuming he wouldn’t watch the dancers onstage. He was brave going into the theatre, and made sure I kept an arm around him. But he sat, and to my amazement, thoroughly enjoyed Act I, watching the dancers and rooting for the Mouse King.

In Act II he lost patience, as did I, frankly, as the variations were extended needlessly to show off dancers and choreography that were not particularly stellar. Little A wanted to leave midway through Waltz of the Flowers, so we wandered around the theatre’s gallery section until the ballet was properly done.

Still, achievement unlocked! I was so proud of Little A, as were my parents, sister and niece, who accompanied us. Box 1 will be our seats of choice in shows to come. Who knows, we may end up with season tickets to the symphony in the future.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Life Skills

There are things everyone should grow up knowing how to do, besides being a decent, kind, polite human being. Knowing how to change tyres, light bulbs, and the oil in car are skills I sadly lack in practice, though not in theory. More basic ones, like household chores, are down pat.

Little A is little by little learning these small things, and already enjoys helping me at the supermarket and "cooking" his own favourite dishes. We still struggle with proper hair washing and tooth brushing as I need to do the final once-overs at bath and bedtime, but we will get there, I am certain.

Next up, allowing him to help me load the washing machine. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Puppet Shows, Singing Stints, and Selfie Smiles

Lately my son has discovered show business in a more personal way. His favourite YouTube videos these days are those of children who re-create and video their own shows. He has taken to doing the same, and was especially thrilled when I showed him how the "selfie" mode on the iPad's camera worked.

I may have created a post-millennial monster. Still, if it encourages self-expression, originality, and communicative expression, it is not at all a bad thing for a child with the kind of challenges Little A faces. So for now, we're going for it. He's definitely ready for his close-up. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Animal Adventures, Again

Among the things Little A has long loved are animals and musical instruments. Recently, we discovered that a nearby toy store, one we haven't visited in a long time, has opened a pet section! While at first he was scared to set foot inside the "pet room", by the second visit he was brave enough to take a closer look, and within a few more visits had taken to spending time with the animals, playing them classical music and watching them.

Sadly, in a couple of weeks all the pets had gone, either been sold or returned to the other pet store across the road, and the animal room had reverted to what it used to be - a storage area for pet habitats and furniture.

We will come back from time to time and check if the pets have returned. In the meantime, there are other places to see and things to do in the limited time after school, including the duck pond at the mall where one of my stores is located. No shortage of animals in the city, it seems. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Car Pools and Doggie Dates

Little A's newest "cousin" is of the four-legged variety. While not yet giving up hope on having another child (or two), my sister and her family took charge of a puppy over the New Year, and said puppy is now nearly a year old. He goes everywhere dogs are permitted with his human family, especially on weekends.

One Saturday at my parents' house, Little A and his cousins, plus doggie, got to play together. It was his first time to play with this particular animal, and the photos sent by my nieces show they had a grand time chasing each other around the house. It was very different to his interactions with our cat, and he seemed to enjoy it a lot, as did his new canine friend.

On the human interaction side, Little A now has a schoolmate to share the car with on Fridays after school. One of the mums asked if her son could find a ride to her office a few days a week, and I volunteered Fridays.

All new things require an adjustment period, and this was no different. Little A was used to calling the shots after school, on where to go and what to do. So as expected, there was whining and crying the first two Fridays. By week three, however, he'd gotten used to having to make a drop-off prior to his Friday after-school activity, and on week 4 we took the little boy with us to the shops while his mum was stuck in a meeting.

This little boy is quite the opposite of Little A as he is very, very verbal. I know Little A senses the difference when we are in the car and schoolmate chats nonstop about things we see, and what he is interested in. Still, he has adjusted well and knows he is paid no less attention to simply because I cannot hear him from the driver's seat. The other boy also adjusts to Little A's pace and interests. While I found it physically challenging to monitor two boys in separate parts of a play centre, it was managed, and when the schoolmate's mum came to collect him, we talked about doing it again.

I look forward to more play dates, whether or not the children actually play together. There is awareness, and consideration of the other, which is always a good thing.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Second Trip to Singapore

Since last year's trip was such a huge success, Big A decided the family ought to do a repeat trip to Singapore. This time, Little A was much less anxious, as he knew exactly what to expect.

We added one more day, and ended up returning to the Zoo, his favourite place. This year we skipped Universal Studios, but visited the Cloud Forest, which wasn't a must-see but was a good experience to have ticked off our Singapore lists.

Now that he's a "seasoned" traveller, we are aiming to get him used to longer and longer plane rides. The end goal is Melbourne, London, Hawaii, or even the West Coast. Next up, Japan! 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Sharing is Caring

So, a new school year has begun, and while many of his classmates are the same, Little A has a new set of teachers.

As always, the first few weeks are all about finding a balance. Praying no untoward behaviours crop up or recur, and that the learning continues apace, positively and enjoyably.

It was with trepidation that I opened a very long text message from Little A's main teacher one month into classes. Normally communications from teachers involve issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

This message was to tell me something wonderful. One of Little A's classmates, an older boy in an IEP class who joins the Grey Fours for last period, was crying. This happens quite often, and sometimes can be disruptive to lessons ongoing. Today though, it happened during free time, and the teachers saw Little A give this classmate a sensory toy. Thinking he was just returning the toy that the crying boy had dropped, they didn't react.

But then they saw Little A hand crying classmate a second toy, and pat him on the leg the way he did to himself when he needed comforting. And when Little A saw crying classmate mouthing the toy, he grabbed a third toy and made to put it in crying classmate's mouth, since this seemed to calm him down.

The teachers were touched and pleased to see this type of interaction between two non-verbal children, both of whom fall within the moderate to severe category on the spectrum. They might not interact typically, but it was clear that there was awareness, and sensitivity on another's emotional needs.

A+ for my Little A today. I am a proud mama. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

School Grey Four

August is upon us again, and this year marks Little A's fifth at his school. As student number 1, his birthday coincides with their anniversary, but since they started with a summer program in 2012, regular school only began a couple of months later.

Last year's troupe of teachers were amazing, and so was Little A's Holistic Program and its implementation. More so than in all the years prior, he made marked improvements across all areas, and we hope, and pray, this continues.

Summer was fun, but Little A, now 10, was very eager to get back to work, and in the few days' holiday constantly reminded me in writing that he was anticipating "school grey 4", after being told he would be a fourth grader this academic year.

I busied myself making sure he had a new, larger, set of school uniforms and shoes and that these were labelled clearly with his name (trusty sewing kit at the ready).

Grey Four is upon us then. We are ready!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Magic Words

All his young life, I have reminded, prompted, and forced Little A over and over again to say, write, or sign please and thank you when appropriate. No matter his challenges, I am determined to bring up my child polite and well mannered as can be, and these "magic words" are just a beginning.

He apologises without prompting quite quickly when he has done or perceives he has done something wrong. But please and thank you are almost always prompted, until quite recently.

A few weeks ago, he must have requested something - a toy, some food, or art materials - and I gave it to him. He typed something on his iPad and showed it to me, while making eye contact and doing the correct sign. The words were "Thank you for munch". As if to make sure I got the message, he quickly found a favourite YouTube video and set it to the point where the speaker was saying "Thank you very much", and played only this line, twice or thrice in a row.

I nearly burst into tears right then and there. That was the first ever time Little A voluntarily thanked me. I hugged him and told him he was most welcome, and that I was so proud of him for being a polite boy and showing me good manners.

A day or so later, the Au Pair reported the same. While Big A and I were out, Little A had thanked her "very munch" as well, and she was thrilled and elated. Until she corroborated my report, Big A didn't really believe this had happened unprompted.

Since then it has become not constant, but quite regular, and not always with written or typed words, but always with definite eye contact and a clear sign. On Little A's making the sign, he expects the person he is thanking to verbalise his gratitude, and then respond verbally.

Thank you, to all the powers that be, for munch. And now, on to please, excuse me, and I beg your pardon. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Play Date

After the success of Little A's birthday party, a co-parent and I decided to make play dates, something so common among typical kids and so rare among those like ours, a regular thing.

Within the next few weeks, we managed one, at a soft play centre with Little A and his female classmate. She is verbal, and very sweet, and her mum and I are determined to foster bonds between our kids that will hopefully last a lifetime.

After playtime, we sat at a café and had a snack. The two interacted minimally, again, as is typical, but were quite aware of each other. One sat and quietly sipped a drink, while the other gobbled down food and then plugged into an iPad, but they made fleeting eye contact, and smiled to see each other in a setting outside of a classroom.

There is a week of "freedom" before fourth grade starts, so hopefully in this time we can manage some more together time with schoolmates. Or Little A can just enjoy the last week of home time before fourth grade begins on August 1st.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Turning Ten

2007 was a busy year. Apple launched the iPhone (a bandwagon I only reluctantly hopped on in 2015). Amazon released the first Kindle (I waited cautiously until version 2 came along in 2009, to see if it was worth the hype). JK Rowling published the final book in the Harry Potter series.

And my little family came into existence as Little A was born.

This year he enters the double digits. For the first time, he had a party with "friends" - the half dozen fellow ASD boys and girl in his class, plus his cousins. Previously, all parties consisted of mine and Big A's other godchildren, so this one seemed special somehow.

The birthday boy wanted to swim at the club near my parents' house, which was also the venue for my own tenth birthday party (with a guest list consisting of my sisters and two best friends) thirty one years ago. There were four swimming pools and a new room where we had food, cake and balloons.

I hope a good time was had by all, and that this is just the first of many playdates to come with this group. While it would be really fantastic if Little A made some neurotypical friends, there is something to be said for hanging out with fellows who "get" you, or don't care about your quirks because they have their own as well. While interaction might be minimal, you can tell that the kids enjoy being together, and feel comfortable in each other's company. Win. Repeat!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Aussie Adventure, Part 2

With a week to go before our one-year visas expired, Big A and I went back Down Under for a hopefully-not-last hurrah.

Once again, we spent a week in Sydney and Melbourne, but this time we knew where we wanted to go in each city. While the retail scene in Sydney is better, Melbourne can't be beat for nightlife, dining, arts, and culture.

We explored some of the "suburbs" this time, as next trip we hope Little A can accompany us. There is so much he would enjoy, with numerous nearby zoos (including a safari-type adventure), an island filled with penguins, open water whale viewing, and an operating steam train.

When we got back Little A went straight into summer school, a month of morning classes on weekdays which he thoroughly enjoyed, and very much looked forward to attending.

He begins his fifth year at this school in a few weeks, and continues to love it, something we hope does not change in the many years to come.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Birthday Party

Last April, for only the second time ever, Little A was invited to a classmate's birthday party.

When each class only consists of a dozen children, over half of which have limited or no speech, along with social skills challenges, parties (and other social interactive occasions) are a rare thing.

Until he was seven, all of Little A's own birthday celebrations were either held at school, or comprised of cousins and our fellow godchildren.

He has attended parties of cousins and fellow godchildren, but never with more than one or two other special needs kids present. This would have been a first, had Big A known to take him as I was away in Europe.

After arriving a day too late and making my apologies to the birthday celebrant's parents, I fretted that there might be fewer occasions like this in future and he had to have missed this one.

One of the other mums though, whose son had never had a "real" birthday party before, was thrilled to see the kids enjoy themselves, and decided to celebrate her child's birthday a few weeks later in the same place.

This time, I made sure Little A was present. He and his classmates had a grand time, and I gave the parents notice that the next birthday coming would be Little A's, in another month. This time, his party would be made up of classmates, and it would not just take place at school. We look forward to it already.

He, and his classmates, had a grand time.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Farewell, Third Grade

Today Little A officially becomes an incoming fourth grader. This year has been the best so far in terms of his improvements and achievements, behavior-wise, since he was diagnosed eight ears ago. Communication has also come a long way, and from what I observed in classroom structured activities, social interaction with his peers is getting better as well. 

I credit the leaps and bounds mainly to his fantastic pair of teachers. Both, but particularly the head teacher, went above and beyond the call of duty, and truly grew to love my son as much as his family does, and this genuine care over the ten month academic year translated into tangible gains across the board.

Another factor might well be the essential oil protocols we started last July. Little A's sleep has certainly improved thanks to the miracle plant that is Roman Chamomile. I like to think the calming and focusing blends had an effect as well, so much that by the third quarter they were hardly used anymore as there was no longer much of a need for them.

Finally, there is the constant that is Occupational Therapy, provided by living angel of a woman who has adjusted and readjusted Little A's programmes and goals over the past four years and watches him the most vigilantly of all. 

Miracles happen if you only know how to look for them. We have seen many in our son, just this past year.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Onstage Once More

When I hung up my pointe shoes two decades ago, I never thought I would one day find myself back in a "performing" capability, despite my definite return to dance as exercise last year.

Less than a month ago, Little A's school headmaster sent an email to ask if I might consent to dance at the school's fundraising show. How could I refuse? Another mum was a former dancer, and her daughter was Little A's classmate. She and another third grade girl were dancing a simple ballet number, so we opted to join them. We watched a rehearsal and then got together to work ourselves into the dance.

This was not much of a challenge choreographically, and we did want to keep the focus on the little girls, so our "dance" was more of an entrance, some arm waving, a few turns, and an exit. Still, we were thrilled to be back "onstage" and secretly hope it won't be the last time! Most importantly, it was for a very worthy cause, so if we are asked to do it again, I know what my reply will be.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Faraway Friends

One of my dearest friends, the sister-of-my-heart, with whom I share a name and a birthdate, has long lived on the other side of the world. For the past decade, at least. She has made her home there with a husband and two beautiful children.

Where we once spent many hours a week in each other's actual or over-the-telephone company, these days if we can manage to view each other's Instagram posts within the week of actual posting, that's a big win.

Still, I promised to visit her in wintry Helsinki, home of Moomins and wonderful design, and this year that promise came true.

Big A and his boy posse embark on a guy tour of Scottish golf courses and European racetracks in July, so I figured I deserved a trip as well. The timing couldn't have been better, as another dear, single, girlfriend decided this would be the year she finally visited London.

We spent a week in each other's company, seeing London, Berlin, and Budapest. Then I flew to Helsinki for three more days with my best friend (one of three, it must be said).

It was a wonderful trip, but I did miss my boys, and took comfort in knowing they were both safe at home, with each other.

That said, this isn't going to be my only trip to Finland, as another friend has moved there as well. With or without Big and Little A, I am determined to visit Scandinavia again. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Broken Ear

In about 7 weeks, Little A will be 10. In his lifetime thus far, he has never had to drink antibiotics, something I consider a huge win since a) he has so many other challenges already that we are extremely thankful that he generally enjoys good health, and b) as a perpetually sick child myself, I had taken numerous nasty medications too many times to count before I hit the double digits in age and hated each and every dose so was even more grateful not to have to subject my child to those same traumatic experiences.

But then a perforated eardrum came along. A cold combined with one too many swims must have done it. One afternoon when I collected him from school, Little A kept poking at his ear. At home he picked up the plastic tub of cotton buds and asked me to clean his ear, something we have never done in his life before.

Thinking he might, heaven forbid, have stuffed something in there, I gave the ear canal a very shallow swipe, and the cotton bud came away dark grey. I swiped again until the dirt was gone. The other ear yielded nothing. Apart from the poking, Little A showed no other signs of discomfort. 

I asked Big A if it might be an ear infection, something he and his brother suffered in quantity during their young years as national swimmers. He replied that with no fever and no indication off pain, it was unlikely. We kept an eye on him, but our son otherwise behaved as normal.

Two days later, Little A had a swim class. That evening, while I was at a meeting, Big A reported that Little A had fallen asleep on the couch at 7pm and seemed listless. Maybe it was his ear. That night, he woke up crying several times with a low grade fever and indicating his ear hurt.

The next morning his ear was red, swollen, and weeping liquid. The fever and listlessness continued, and Little A even typed "Doctor ears", showing he wanted medical attention. But Doctor Ears had no clinic hours on Wednesdays so we had to wait until Thursday morning to get him checked out. By this time, after constant applications of immune boosting essential oils, the fever was gone and the ear less red, and no longer weeping.

Doctor Ears confirmed a small perforation in Little A's right eardrum and prescribed drops and oral antibiotics to be administered twice daily for a week, followed by another visit. 

So just shy of his 10th birthday, we embark on his first antibiotic journey. May it be his last as well.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Great-Grandmother Love

Little A is fortunate to have one living great-grandparent still. My maternal grandmother is 80 years and 30 days older, and she and Little A have a bond he doesn't seem to share with any of his four grandparents, even.

While they don't spend as much time together as we'd like, when they are together there is a quiet kind of rapport between them, one that is comfortable and needs no words. He knows never to be his usual rough-and-tumble self around her, and always, always goes up to kiss her without being told. She talks to him, and he sits quietly and listens, something that even his teachers are challenged with, as are we at home.

My grandmother turns 90 this year, as Little A turns 10. She is still fairly able-bodied and certainly all there in her mind. I hope she and Little A get to enjoy a number more of years together in their unique Zen calm relationship. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Week

Every year, most schools hold a Literacy Festival to celebrate the love of reading I wish each child possessed as ardently as I do. Little A's school is no different, regardless of the difficulties some of the students may have with focus and comprehension.

In addition to a children's publisher setting up a selling area in the playground, the events of the week culminate in a fancy dress day, with each student coming in as their current favourite book character.

Unsurprisingly, there were an overwhelming number of superheroes and Disney princesses, but my son donned his long-sleeved white shirt, formal trousers, top hat and bow tie, and came as an orchestra conductor.

To my delight, he won the book prize for Best Costume! Perhaps the judges knew that he really loved these types of books, and saw that he read and reread his favourites. A couple of other children had come as impressive Shel Silverstein story characters, but whether these were parent-dictated outfits or their own choices, Little A still came out the winner. I was beyond proud.

In the summer he begins a special reading programme designed to help special needs children improve comprehension and increase expressive language. It costs more than some schools charge for a year's tuition, but Big A and I have decided to give it a try and see if it helps. Watch this space for updates.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Social Skills

At last year's closing parent-teacher conference, when asked what our expectations were for the coming academic term, I expressed the hope that more interaction between the typical and challenged children at school could be fostered.

Little A's second grade class had three typical, two high functioning, and two moderately challenged children in attendance, and the last period of each school day was "free play". I usually arrived early enough to catch part of this session, and observed that what ended up happening was that the typical and high functioning kids tended to play together while the other two were generally left out. They would be asked to join, but if no interested was shown, there was no further encouragement to integrate the less socially adept child into the fold of the rest.

While I appreciate that the teachers at this point in the day wanted to let the students work on their own group dynamic,  they did also know that children like Little A needed more of a "push" to join the bigger group.

Thankfully, my suggestion was heeded, and this year the period at the end of each schoolday  is a social skills lesson. Instead of choosing their own activities, an integrated play group activity is instigated, and all the children in the class are required to participate until the closing bell sounds.

At this year's first parent-teacher conference, I was told that social skills is the class Little A enjoys the most in each day, and looks forward to. This brought about mixed emotions. While glad my son is starting to socialise appropriately, I longed for more opportunities to do this outside of the classroom. The biggest challenge for a child like mine is making friends, and play dates are hard to arrange when most kids have schedules packed with after-school sports and activities.

Still, I am sure we will find a way, and since Little A has been spending most afternoons after school at the pool again, even if the weather is still decidedly chilly, the children in the building are also around, and there are more chances to practice these new skills. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Orca Training

Ever since he came across a video about Sea World, Little A has been avidly watching numerous clips of killer whale shows, stories, deaths, and similar.

He has been writing about orca training, and lately recreating his own version of it in our swimming pool, with all the plastic figurines he could find in his  collection.

We hope to get him (and the Au Pair) visas to visit the United States this year. I've heard from friends that the children are usually interviewed as to what they would like to do or see on a trip to the so-called Land of Milk and Honey, so I am hoping my child communicates when it is his turn to face the consular officer, that he would like to see "killer whales up close".

In the meantime, watching them on the small screen and playing with the toy versions are as close as he is going to get.