I am having a hard time starting this blog today. It is only because I have so much going around in my head I don't know where to start. So I'm starting by saying I don't know where to start..hoping the keys will take me in the right direction. I guess I'll start with the word START. Here in Michigan START stands for the STatewise Autism Resources and Training. It is a huge grant through Grand Valley State University. I have been to many many START trainings. It isn't usually parents, but all of those people on your team out there working with your child. I like to know what they are learning and what they are supposed to be doing, so I go too. It is also very helpful for me to improve how I parent. It isn't meant for that, but I have gotten a LOT out of it.
Last fall I attended a LINKS training. Here is a bit of an explanation of what it is. And what it is, is actually a Godsend. Truly. It is simple in concept, but not in procedure. It is also the most win-win in education that I have ever seen. A truly win-win situation doesn't come up very often. The kids on the spectrum obviously get a ton out of it, but the amazing thing is so do the General Ed kids who are "linked" up with them. It is so simple in concept it is genius. Hearing Maureen Ziegler talk about it in training is mesmerizing. Truly. Her stories of how LINKS came to be are so interesting I could listen to them ALL day long. I hope you follow the link (ha ha) and read up a bit. '
In January Daniel's high school got this program in it's initial stages. Daniel has 5 LINKS with him every day. It didn't work out schedule wise for him to have one first hour, but he does 2nd through 6th. He has a different general ed student with him each hour. They sign up for a LINKS class, do on line work but in place of going to a class they go to DANIEL's class with him. This does NOT take the place of a para pro. Repeat, does NOT. They are there for socializing and modeling. See, kids listen to kids. Not adults. Adults can't act like kids. They can't teach kids how to be kids. They especially (we have found) can't model to a kid with ASD how to act like a teenager. This has been modeled all over our great state with astounding results. The Gen ed kids get as much or more out of it than the ASD kids. And the better part? When you start getting kids to be LINKS who are struggling themselves? THEY turn around. They know they have to come to school because this ASD kid is relying on THEM. They have a purpose. Their grades improve. It isn't just for NHS (National Honors Society) kids. It's a miracle.
So throughout this semester these LINKS have been with Daniel. I have heard reports of Daniel branching out and being much more social at school. He comes home excited about "making friends". When we went to the musical 3 of his LINKS were cast members. We went again. We bought the DVD. They saw him in the audience and RAN through the crowd to find him and thank him, truly from the bottom of their heart, for coming. They met with Todd and I at school and asked us questions. We answered honestly. We also told them his ability to ask questions has dramatically increased since they have been with him. It decreases outbursts and behaviors. If he gets angry he recovers quicker. It's amazing. Have I said that? So this leads me up to last night....
Daniel had a band concert. He is always excited about dressing up. He wears a tux. He thinks he looks pretty darn good....and he does. Daniel is doing well. I brought him back stage before the concert. I talked to a student teacher and asked if Daniel would be OK back there on his own and he said, sure no problem. I dropped him off and went and sat in the auditorium and waited like all of the other parents. I didn't wait backstage with him. He's fine, they said, and he was. Todd, Zachary and I were in the audience waiting for the concert to begin and Todd leaned over and said "are you nervous or worried at all?" I honestly answered, "no, I'm not". He said, "me either". "So this is what it feels like?" I thought. I have never experienced this feeling of true calm before a concert that Daniel was involved in. There is always a level of anxiety. How incredible!!! It's not just him making progress!!
Then, when one of his LINKS walked up to our seats and greeted us with her wonderful smile. She excused how she looked as she just rushed over from dance practice. She said one of the LINKS blogged about the concert (they all communicate through a private blog so they can discuss things that come up with their student and problem solve together and share information. They can all be on the same page all the time). We chatted then she sat down. Daniel's group was getting on stage. It was perfect timing. I sat back in my chair thinking she has no idea what she just did for me. She took time out of her nutty senior schedule to come to this concert. Sure she probably had lots of friends performing, but I was thinking about how happy Daniel would be to see her after. I settled in for the absolutely amazing concert. These kids are something else! We are so lucky to have such a strongly supported music program in these tough economic times.
After the concert Daniel was sitting with his group in the audience. He was on the aisle. As he was standing up, juggling his huge baritone and his music three, yes three of his LINKS (the same three who happened to be in the musical) ran down the aisle toward him. Their enthusiasm was bubbling over and they were complementing him, congratulating him and telling him how dapper he is in his tux. Generally making a big fuss about his awesomeness. They took pictures as a group with him. I stood off to the side holding his baritone with emotions I can't even explain to you. When we all finally dispersed Zach looked at me and just said "wow, that was amazing, what great kids". I could only nod my head as I was choking back tears.
On the ride home Daniel was chatting about how great he was (totally true) and I couldn't speak. I was so choked up. I knew if I talked I would cry and he would think I was sad and I wouldn't be able to explain that mom's cry when they are happy too. So I just drove home acting like this is like every other day. When it wasn't. It was something I'll never forget. When you spend your life pretty isolated, even though kids like Daniel, they are nice to him and include him, things like this don't happen. Until now.
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