Excellence in #SpecialEducation

A feature of my son’s behavior is disinhibition. In plain language, Tyoma’s mental brakes have a higher threshold, so he is more likely to flush things down the toilet and shout at the cat.

Curiously, Tyoma’s threshold varies day by day. Some days a forgotten hair clip rests safely by the sink; on others, the clip would be sent spinning down the pipes. Positive behavioral supports don’t help much. The only wise thing to do is plan ahead. Our house is immaculate and uncluttered.

The Kitty is a different story. She is a living creature deserving peace and respect. A mere glimpse of kitty triggers an automatic howl of “KITTY! MREOW!!!” from Tyoma. All summer I fought a losing battle to build empathy for kitty.  The more I tried, the worse his compulsion to shout grew.

Now, I enact an intricate plan to keep Kitty away from Tyoma on shouting days.

Thursday that changed. I gave Kitty a bath and she loitered downstairs when Tyoma came home. Before I could blink, he saw her and whooped, “KITTYYYYYYYY! MEEEEEYOOOOWRRR!”  The cat fled with cartoonish drama.  If I could produce steam from my ears, this was the moment.

I emphatically told him to stop—gasoline on the fire. He rolled his eyes, jerked his shoulders, and shouted again.

“Listen to me,” I said. “I know you can’t stop, but Kitty had a bath today and she feels very nervous. You may not scare her. If you frighten her, you must go to your room and stay until she is dry. Then she can go outside.”

I expected more Mreows and hysterical protests. Instead he replied, “She’s nervous? Scared? Because you gave her a bath?” The idea intrigued him.

“Yes. You may not frighten her. But you can help her to feel better,” I said.

“How?” he asked.

“You tell me, Tyoma,” I said

Thus, Tyoma created the Kitty Care Cycle–a diagram of how to help Kitty recover from her bath.

The next day, as I looked through Tyoma’s school papers, I found a comic book illustrated by his Special Education Teacher, Crystalyn. Hands down, this was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.

Ms. G wrote:

“Tyoma told me the cutest story about Kitty Pearl and how he used to meow/growl at her but he realized that she was really upset about her bath. He decided to do something nice for her after her bath to calm her down…so cool! We made a book about it during lunch today.”

This is the comic book they made:

Kitty Care One

Kitty Care Two

Kitty Care Three

Kitty Care Four

Kitty Care Five

Kitty Care Six

In a follow-up email, Crystalyn wrote:

“Today’s lunch conversation made a light bulb in my head go off! It was the perfect window into Tyoma’s thinking:

1. Cat growls/meows

2. Tyoma growls/meows

3. Tyoma’s re-assesses the situation

4. “Kitty isn’t growling at me, he’s scared!”

5. Tyoma figures out how to make it less scary for kitty.

A metaphor for how he sees the world.

The insight and sensitivity of this young woman astounds me. I never considered how universal  Tyoma’s systematic thinking is, nor did I see that his Kitty Care Cycle reflects his interaction with the world so accurately. In truth, our family of scientists and mathemeticians have our own Kitty Care steps and strategies to piece our way through life.

Thank you, Ms. G. Thank you for the dozens of scribbled encouragement notes write to my son. Thank you for reading and working hard to take my son’s perspective. You listen to our family and create the most robust and lively solutions.  We appreciate you.

 

Gratitude and Appreciation: Life and Ink

aviatrix

A few weeks ago, I posted Should I Indulge My Asperger Child?–my chronicle of my son’s love of swimming pools and their depths.

I have received many warm and thoughtful responses to this post. I am grateful to those who take a moment to read and share their thoughts.

But! Can you imagine my surprise when my friend Charlotte over at Life and Ink shared that she felt inspired to do something wonderful for my son? Charlotte, a pilot and photographer took to the air and snapped aerial photographs of pools for my son!!! She put them together in an adorable post: For Tyoma: Pools and Airplanes and Numbers, Oh My!

I am so happy and touched, I still can’t think of the right words to express myself. I am deeply appreciative of Charlotte’s support and encouragement. I feel personally validated as a mother.

And my son! Tyoma will be reading and enjoying her words and actions for the rest of his days. I can see him in his thirties, with glowing eyes talking about pool love and aerial photos just for him. How incredible our online autism community is that this could have happened.

Thank you Charlotte!

Lori, Egor, and (hop hop hop hop!) Tyoma.

Bog vs. Life

ponemah 2

Last Spring, Liev took Wednesdays off from kindergarten. His therapeutically shortened schedule gave him a much needed rest from the intensity of school. It also gave us time to pursue activities we would not engage in on the weekend due to crowds!.

During an unseasonably warm day in March we took a trip to Ponemah Bog. The wildlife sanctuary features carnivorous plants and beautiful birds.

We started our excursion with Liev ‘s usual obsessiveness over poison ivy. I fielded poison ivy questions all morning before realizing his real apprehension was over the expanse of elevated planks we had to walk across to reach the floating viewing platforms.

Fortunately, the local kids had provided us with the best anti-anxiety tool ever: graffiti.

bog2

The picnic tables near the trail head featured messages from two individuals who wrote out the number of steps to each viewing platform. This super-charged Tyoma for the walk. Along the trail, faded purple sharpie counted the steps by 50s. For Liev , this was better than candy. He hurtled down the planks with alarming speed and agility.

algea2

I breathed in thick air, which smelled of a floral scent best described as Herbal Essence Shampoo. I assumed the lurid green shampoo’s fragrance was entirely synthetic—my mother bought it for me to use as bubble bath in the 70s. To be surrounded by this distinct fragrance in the bog was surreal.

Thrilled with the step countdown, Liev hopped and hollered, “Take the picture! Take the picture! Please!”   I snapped dozens of countdown markers photos. We eventually reached an intersection. The graffiti artists had left a message for us:

boglife2

I laughed at their wry humor and contemplated their inscription as I followed T’s bobbing form to the first platform.  I took a more photographs and pondered the bog around me.

Beyond the planked walkways plants squeezed together, forming a thick fecund carpet. The jostling of fluted, curling leaves was almost audible. I had the unsettling impression that if I sliced a swath into the roiling plant life, it would heal itself seamlessly before my eyes.

pitcherplant1

How improbable that this odd carnivorous forest thrived less than ten minutes from our home. I thought of the graffiti artists and imagined them as kindred spirits. Young enough to enjoy the countdown numbers as much as Tyoma, they were also old enough to appreciate the allure of the wetlands.

moss3

Bog.

Life.

Which path to take? A part of me never wanted to step away from this un-manicured crush of strange and colorful plants.

I am grateful to past generations for valuing and preserving beautiful places. I am also grateful to the graffiti artists. By sharing their quirky map, they fed two hungry and eager brains with numbers and introspection.

Special Interests Across the Generations

Aunt Ruby
Sometimes, a single kindness travels for decades.

Summer, 1941. Germany invaded Russia and Pearl Harbor loomed a season away.  Citizen Kane played in theaters and the first batches of M & M’s and Cheerios cropped up in market places.

My father was an eight years old.

Most of the year, Dad lived as an only child, but over the summers, his half-sister Ruby came to stay.  Older by ten years, Ruby usually resided in a comfortable Tennessee mansion with her maternal grandmother (pneumonia took Grandpa’s first wife).

Ruby vacationed for weeks at a time with Dad’s family. Their home was nestled in the countryside, surrounded by lush vine-wrapped forests, winding streams, and numerous bat-filled caves. It was a welcome change from the dusty streets and crowded parks of Knoxville.

The age difference made my father a special creature to Ruby. Rivalry never existed. She knew my Dad, a dictionary-reading, fact-spewing prodigy, was an oddity his tiny Tennessee community.  Ruby must have been a curiosity herself. She was articulate, highly intelligent and well-read in a time when little more was expected of a woman than sewing and child-rearing.

Dad and Ruby’s uniqueness forged a gentle camaraderie during their vacations together.

Once a week, Ruby and Dad strolled to the local five and dime for treats. Usually, this consisted of penny candies from a thick glass jar and fizzy fountain sodas. One Friday, Ruby splurged and bought Dad a copy of Weird Tales magazine.

AR Tilburne Weird Tales 2

Weird Tales, a pulp magazine, featured short curious stories about the supernatural and unknown. Dad read his prize with wide, excited eyes. Then he re-read it. After dinner, he shared it with his mother, who in turn shared it with his father. Ruby read it last the next day.

Family discussions revolved around the possibilities suggested by the weird fiction. Colorful worlds, with brave heroes and fascinating alien races evoked wonder and speculation over the future. Spooky moody tales stirred up pleasant chills and shudders.

I imagine Ruby sitting on a faded chintz couch smiling, proud to have infused her summer family with such excitement.

Weird Tales captivated my father.  That summer day in 1941, dad became a lifelong collector of science fiction, fantasy, and strange stories.  Ruby’s fifteen- cent purchase ignited an enthusiasm that spanned two generations.

Dad transmuted his love for weird fiction and comic books to me via immersion. I grew up amidst a vast sea of pulp magazines and comic books.  Hermetically sealed lockers of taped and bagged treasures lined the periphery of our garage.

Volumes from the book pantry—a wall of storage lockers filled with perhaps a thousand anthologies and comics—served as my first library. I submerged myself in obscure and classic short stories for weeks at a time.

Looking back, I can visualize few toys from my childhood, but I can recall countless comic book covers and book sleeves.

Over the years, my father has gifted me with hundreds of my favorite titles from his colossal collection. I still re-read them, re-organize them and scrutinize their snug-fitting book bags with gusto.

Before Tyoma’s birth, Dad gave me his most precious gift–his Weird Tales collection. Forty-eight mostly mint magazines. I was overcome.  Dad’s original Weird Tales were mythic to me. Just to look at them was magical.

Dad said, “It’s a shamed for them to sit there, sealed away. They need to beseen and enjoyed.”

Six years later, right before Father’s Day, his words revisited me.  I pulled the pulps from their dark, safe place and scanned my favorite covers.

These scans are for my Dad and any soul who likes the art, history, or stories from bygone decades.

Remember, what you give to the world will resonate. Like Ruby, you might not hear the peals, but history will hear the echoes of your effort and be grateful.

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A Special Interest: The Number Wall

Number Sixes
“Hey, girl. Let’s contemplate numbers while I read you some Seuss.

Liev loves numbers.

As a toddler, he organized his magnetic numbers on every available surface. Little sequences adorned the drier, dishwasher and sides of our cars.

For  several months, number six was his favorite. Everywhere we went, he pointed out sixes with unlimited enthusiasm.

Mind you, Liev never said, “Six,” rather he pointed and verbalized, “Ah-dah-dah-dah!”

Close enough.

As he grew older, he became preoccupied with making his own number sixes. Naturally, he began to write much earlier than his peers. Page after page of smeary sixes stacked up in our art boxes.

Over long weekends and holidays, Liev and I built number walls in his room.

Numberwall

The walls evolved from globular number sequences to rigid cut and paste quilts. Over the years we have painted, collaged, taped, and stapled numbers to his walls. Velcroed dry-erase boards strain under the weight of  burgeoning magnetic numbers. Like tiny footnotes, lable-maker strips of digits dapple every wall.

I guess we are both obsessed.

This spring break, Liev wanted to redecorate his favorite number wall with a space theme. A huge bin of glow-in-the-dark celestial shapes caught his fancy. We prepared for their addition by removing one of his number walls.

Glow in the Dark

My mental image of Liev ‘s future wall was quite lovely.

I envisioned a symmetrical expanse of luminous galaxy bits. The soft glow would ignite Tyoma’s young mind with questions about physics and cosmology.

The reality was a smashed and misshapen mass of pasty plastic. Tyoma crammed all 50 pieces into three square feet. He hoped the light it generated would be enough to read by.

Despite “charging” the stars for most of the afternoon, the cluster glowed for only 30 seconds in the darkness.

Tyoma frowned and stared for a full 30 seconds.

He put his hands on his hips and said, “Mama, where’s the Sharpie?” I handed one to him.

He numbered every star and planet. After he finished, he stepped back and hopped. Continuing to bounce he exclaimed, “Wow! How cool! NUMBERS!”

Heh.