First Day of School,Take II

School has always been something Beanie has loved, even with the number of times she has been the “new kid.”  She has always gotten excited about going, and she has always chattered endlessly about her friends and about science class.

But this year, something changed.


Beanie has always gotten into mischief, but she started getting bad reports daily.  And her behaviors went from “normal” trouble-maker limit-testing, to hitting and screaming.  Instead of talking about her friends, she made up a bunch of imaginary friends.  She still enjoyed doing her homework and going to piano lessons, but she began throwing tantrums when it was time for school.

With her ARD meeting coming up (those are called IEP meetings in the other 49 states), I had a lot of correspondence with her case manager.  I learned that Beanie was screaming in class nearly everyday, in spite of the added supports and sensory diet they had her on.  She was needing an aide 4 hours out of the day, instead of the 30 minutes she had needed before.  And the kids were less interested in hanging out with her, due to her screaming.  And all of this was affecting her academically–her reading level dropped from a level F to a level B.

I have to admit I was nervous.  I knew that this was not the best situation for my daughter, but what would be? She really wouldn’t benefit from a resource room, where she would go for smaller reading, writing, and math classes.  She’s not very far behind academically, and this wouldn’t solve the problem of The Rest of The Day.

And she really didn’t belong in a life skills program, which would be a special class just for kids with autism, where she would learn cooking and other independent living skills.  This wasn’t the place for a kid with above average intelligence.

And she certainly wasn’t going into a behavioral program, where she would copy the misbehaviors of her classmates.

Those were the three options I was familiar with.  And I knew that the resource room was the only  one I would be willing to entertain at all.


So I was worried, but not surprised, when her principal called me.  She took a long time preparing me, which only increased my nervousness and defensiveness (which I suppressed quite well!).  So imagine my surprise when she told me about a program I had never heard of!  Their district has a self-contained classroom for kids who have severe speech and language disorders.  Beanie would be in a class with no more than 5 kids, would get lots of one-on-one time with her teacher, would learn her academics but really focus on getting caught up with her speech, and would be worked back into general education classes, until she would eventually be ready to return to her neighborhood school.

All of my defensiveness was replaced with the question, “How soon can we start?”


Beanie was hesitant to visit the classroom, but once she saw the puppets in the “break” area and the stretchy therapy swing, she was sold.  Since Beanie is above grade level in math and science, she would be in a general education class, with support, for those subjects.  She would also go to P.E., music, and art with her general education class.  She would work on speech,  reading, writing, and social studies with her special education class.  The speech therapist would come into the room to work with her and the other students, and the class would visit the large motor lab on a regular basis.

Beanie met her special ed teacher, her aide, her general education teacher, and her speech therapist.  She then led everyone on a search to find and meet the principal.  And she charmed every one of them.

Beanie rides the bus to her new school, but it gets her home in time to make it to her piano lesson on her old school on Wednesdays.

So how did her first day of school go?  Beanie came home with a very good report and a smile on her face.  She couldn’t wait to tell us about her new friend in her class, and she was eager to go back.


And thus, the charmed life of the Bean continues.













In Praise of my Mischievous Child


I keep a secret from my daughter.  There is something I don’t tell her, when I’m giving her a time-out or discussing the reason for the bad report from her teacher.

I am secretly happy that she gets into trouble.

Beanie isn’t angry.  She doesn’t get in trouble for deliberately harming anyone.

What Beanie does is test limits.  She conducts social experiments.  She’ll put her hand on the fire alarm to observe her teachers’ reactions.  She’ll say a bad word, to see what happens. She hits her friends, because she thinks it’s funny.


Of course, we show her what happens when she crosses a line.  We don’t encourage her to “misbehave.”

But I still like that she does it.  I like that she believes enough in her own worth to be unafraid of making mistakes. She’s not afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and learn.

Can we say the same for ourselves?


I know that I have always been a people-pleaser.  I have always been terrified of doing anything that might offend, or lead someone to “not like me.”  Being socially shunned has always been my fear.

And because of this fear, I have been afraid to try. Better not to rock the boat, than to do something “wrong.”  And when I inevitably made mistakes anyway, it led to a ridiculous drama in my head.  I admonished myself for being so stupid, and spent more time regretting the fact that I tried something that didn’t work, rather than learning from it.


Beanie is not a people-pleaser.  She doesn’t feel the need to do anything or be a certain way in order to be loved.  Yet she also has no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings.  She realizes that her experiments won’t hurt anyone’ feelings, at least not in a way that a hug and an “I’m sorry” won’t fix.

Beanie doesn’t freak out when she makes a mistake.  She thinks no less of herself.  She merely  learns from it, and, if not, she repeats the “lesson.”  


And the most amazing part of it all?  While staying true to herself, Beanie DOES have a lot of friends.  In the three schools she has attended, she has been quite popular in all of them.  She is very successful, socially, even after being the “new kid” twice.

I think we all might have something to learn from that kid.


First Day Excitement!

The first day of school has always been exciting for Beanie!  Even though she’s done it four times now.

Onto the bus for Head Start when she was 4…

Now'r School 069


In Grand Haven the weekend before she boarded the Head Start bus once again when she was 5…



Getting ready to ride a bigger bus to kindergarten, when we lived in our apartment in Clear Lake…



This year, however, there were some changes!  Beanie would not be riding the bus through Clear Lake Shores

Somebody's excited!

Somebody’s excited!









Don't worry, she took off her life jacket when she got there!

Don’t worry, she took off her life jacket when she got there!












It’s only a couple blocks (less than a mile) from our marina to the school, and we thought bicycling would be easier and quicker than riding the bus or dropping her off by car.  When we get a dinghy, there is a canal that ends across the street from the school, so she will probably arrive by boat then.

Beanie had an excellent first day.  This year, she is in a co-taught class, like she was in preschool.  In kindergarten, she was in a general education class, with an aide who came to work with her for 30 minutes each day.  Her teacher and case manager recommended inclusion for her this year, so that a special education teacher or aide would always be in the room, though not specifically to work with Beanie.  That way, Beanie could get the one-on-one time she required, without being stuck with a certain time period where she got the extra support.  So she is in a general education classroom, with the same expectations as the other kids, but there is also a special education teacher in the room.  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I spend the majority of my day co-teaching as a special education teacher at the intermediate level).  She will also continue to get OT and speech.  I think this will be perfect for her!

As for Beanie’s opinion?   I think her joyful rendition of the school song spoke volumes.

Discipline and Kids With Language Delays

Re-posted from June 2011

When I was pregnant, I figured that two areas of parenting would be easy for me: discipline and language development. After all, I have a strong professional background in both, being certified in emotional impairments and learning disabilities (which are mainly language disorders). My kid would be perfectly behaved and be talking in complete sentences by their first birthday.

Well, there’s an old comedy routine, where Bill Cosby states that God has a sense of humor. While the Bean is fortunate enough to have excellent social-emotional skills, when she does misbehave, it is different.

If you pick up a parenting book–any parenting book–, or if you read any book at all on behavioral theories, you will find language. Talking. And lots of it.

Reality therapy is one of my favorite techniques at work. Once the kid has had the opportunity to calm down, you pull them aside and discuss the incident. What happened? What undesired consequences occurred because of the behavior? What can you do differently next time? Lots and lots of dialogue. Do you think I’ve tried this with Beanie?

It would be hilarious if I did!

So what about behavior modification? That’s how we were raised. If you do something undesired, you get a punishment. If you do something good, you get a reward. Of course, these must first be explained. And they are very symbolic, even abstract at times. Other than very simple rewards and consequences, I have not had much success with this.

All that being said, the Bean is very well-behaved! If the goal of discipline is to teach appropriate behaviors, then we are having a great deal of success.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned, about disciplining a child with a language delay:

–Nip problems before they happen. If you know your kid is prone to grocery store tantrums, for example, pick up an apple as soon as you get to the store. These take a long time to eat and will keep your little one busy. If your kid gets into trouble at other people’s houses, get out the bubbles before they have time to get in trouble!

–Repeated redirection. Beanie loves shopping at antique stores. When we first took her shopping, every time she tried to touch something, we said, “No, not for babies.” (She was a baby then). We said it calmly, and as simply as possible. Using too many words is a problem, if your kid has a language delay. It took a lot of repetition, but now she enjoys going to the shops and just looking.

–Distraction. Kids with SPD, especially, get stuck on things. It takes a new, fun activity–preferably in another room–to get her unstuck sometimes.

–Routines. Beanie loves to clean up. She insists on doing it anytime she has finished an activity. This is because her therapists sing the “Clean Up Song” and start cleaning up on their own. Beanie joins in, and at home she will sing the song herself. If she knows that “this is how it’s done,” she will do it that way.

–Make it fun. If you sit the Bean down and tell her to draw a circle, she’ll get mad and flop on the floor. If you both have a crayon, and you start drawing circles (while excitedly saying “circle!” each time), she will join in.

–If there is a problem, it is a language issue. 99% of the time. If the Bean is misbehaving, it is for one of two reasons. 1. She wants to ask for something but doesn’t know how. 2. She doesn’t understand what’s going on.

–Dealing with tantrums. You can’t reason with any kid who is having a tantrum. Don’t even try! Figure out what calms them down the best. Beanie likes to be alone in her room. We send her there when she gets whiny, but she’ll often go there on her own! Some kids like to have you there. Some kids like to be held. While I would love it if we could talk after the tantrum, that is currently an exercise in futility. She still doesn’t get whatever she was trying to get, which may lead to more tantrums. Kind of a floppy repeated redirection. But she’s never had to go to her room more than twice for the same issue. Here’s how it usually goes: I sing the lunch time song. Beanie walks to the table, and sees that there is not candy, ice cream, or at least berries on her plate. She takes my hand and leads me to the fridge, to seek out these items. I tell her that her food is on her plate. She flops on the floor and cries. I tell her she needs to go to her room to calm down. She goes. 5 minutes later she comes back, sees the plate, and leads me to the fridge. The sequence repeats. Then she comes out of her room, nonchalantly has a seat at the table, and eats her grilled cheese.

–Very simple rewards and punishments. I like to use these sparingly anyway, because they are completely extrinsic. But we stick to clapping if Beanie does something well. As far as punishments go, she gets removed from the activity if she is being whiny. If we’re at the park and she get floppy, we go home.

One thing that I always try to keep in mind is that behavior is communication. There is a reason that a child acts a certain way. Our job is, first, to figure out that reason. Next, we need to teach the child to get their needs met in a more acceptable manner.

With a child who has a language delay, it is more of a challenge, but it can be done!

Life With a Bean

Living with the Bean is certainly not boring.  Nor is it always conducive to having a productive day, packing.

Case in point: two days ago.

Rob and I woke up with high ambitions.  We discussed our plans over coffee: begin the day by going to the bank and getting a new ATM card (oh, yeah–we lost my wallet somewhere in our decluttering adventures.  Hopefully it will turn back up!) taking a carload to Goodwill, then filling up the car so that another load could go the next day.  We hoped to have more rooms emptied out. 

Well.  First, enter the flying ants.  The previous day, when Rob was cleaning out his hopelessly cluttered workshop, they kept biting him, leaving horrible welts.  Now, remember that Beanie encountered fire ants last spring.  After such an exposure to ant venom, she has developed an apparent sensitivity.

So, there Beanie was–while we were making plans–lying on the floor in the hallway, whimpering.  On her back was a huge, infected bump, surrounded by other obvious ant bites.  The flying ant had found his way into her bedroom.

I will spare you the details, but the bump needed to be dealt with.  Which was hugely upsetting for us, and even moreso for the Bean.

We snuggled her, and set her up in front of the laptop, with some They Might Be Giants podcasts playing.  The Goodwill trip wasn’t going to happen right away, so I started hauling some items out to the motor home.  When I approached the house, to get the next load, I heard Beanie crying.

Inside, Rob was snuggling Beanie, sitting next to the linoleum kitchen floor.  Beanie had thrown up.

After cleaning it up, Rob told me that it had looked like coffee grounds were in it.  He wondered if she had eaten dirt.  I consulted Dr. Google, and learned that this was actually blood, and was horrified by the litany of serious ailments this could be.

I was afraid that we were in for another trip to the E.R.

But then, in small, non-highlighted print, it said “GERD.”  It turns out that minor bleeds are quite common with GERD.  Beanie has had a number of reflux episodes lately, as we have not been as careful with her diet as we should be (actually, we were challenging to see if she had outgrown it, which apparently she has not.  I think she’s a lifer).  After more research and phone calls, I learned that the little bit we saw did not make this an emergency.  So we watched her, figuring that being upset from the ant bite caused her to have an episode.  She did not throw up again and gradually got her energy back.

So, by the afternoon, we knew we would be safe to make a Goodwill run.  First, we stopped at the food co-op to drop off two bicycles, with “free” signs on them.  Seeing where we were, Beanie insisted on going inside.  And she did not feel that a trip there was complete, without making a purchase.  So I armed Beanie with a dollar, and she selected 4 miniature organic chocolates.

Off we proceeded to Goodwill.  After we dropped off our donations, Rob decided that he could benefit from buying some shorts that actually still had buttons.  So we drove around to the front.

Then we looked into the backseat.

Beanie’s face and arms were completely covered in melted chocolate.  In true SPD style, she decided that the candy bars would make an excellent facial treatment.  She was in the process of licking it off her arm, and took offense to being called “chocolate monster.”

In the end, Rob found a shirt and shorts.  And Beanie didn’t have time to get ornery or get into mischief while he was shopping, because she was busy getting cleaned off in the restroom.

And I got a few more grey hairs…


Pessimism vs. Realism

We’re often reminded to “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.” The thinking is, that, with that kind of mindset, we can only be pleasantly surprised, not disappointed. We call this a “realistic” mindset.

But is it? And does it really do us any good?

When we prepare for the worst, and view the worst case scenario as being realistic, we accept it before it really happens. Whether it comes to be or not, we experience it.

We’re not blindsided everytime something bad has the potential to happen, because the bad thing often does not happen. And being blindsided occasionally is much better than experiencing the worst case scenario everytime.

Case in point: My daughter’s IEP meeting was today. Last fall, I had requested that she be tested for autism spectrum disorder. I thought I was addressing the elephant in the room. I thought I was seeing her fall further and further behind–because I was prepared for the worst, I only saw the worst. I saw her challenges, magnified.

This led to stress in our family, to needless worrying, and to fear. I blamed myself, because I was in the car accident while pregnant, the delivery was difficult, and I am not the perfect mother. When she played with other children, I only saw how different she was, from them.

Realistic? Partially. Only partially. And today I got a good dose of reality. Real, true reality.

It began with the speech report. Last time she was tested, she was 3 years old and functioning at a 15 month old level, across the board. Now she is up to grade level in a few areas, and only slightly below in most others. Her intelligence and academic skills are above average. Her fine motor and sensory needs have improved significantly. She has a number of social skills deficits, but they are all things that can be taught.

The Bean does not have autism. There never was any elephant in the room.

Next year, she will get visuals in the classroom, as well as speech, OT, a sensory diet, and social worker services. She is expected to “catch up” completely, in due time.

So, did accepting the worst case scenario benefit me? Not really. It was nice to be surprised today, but my negative perspective was not realistic at all. I saw only Beanie’s challenges, not her growth. I saw only one side of the coin.

And I believe that I suffered at least as much as I would have been, had I expected the best outcome, and gotten blindsided today.

Pessimism is not realism. The worst case scenario is not the realistic scenario. Having a pessimistic perspective is akin to worrying–it causes us needless anxiety, that is much worse than the event itself.

We need to realize that reality does involve a bit of sunshine.

Sunshine : Sunny Sunshine

Raw Meats! (And an Epic Tricycle)

Jelly Bean has never named any of her toys.  Often she’ll just call animals by what they are, as in the case with “Monkey Friend.”  Or the toy will already have a name, such as Theodora the teddy bear. 

But, at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, she finally got the chance to name a toy.

While they were baby-sitting her, Grandma and Grandpa took Beanie out to Target, where they found a good-sized stuffed horse.  Beanie loves horses, so this was a must-have. 

When we came to pick Beanie up, she was sitting on the floor, feeding this horse the cloth carrot that came with it.  Curious as to what Beanie’s reply would be, my mom asked her, “What is the pony’s name?”

Beanie thought about it a bit.  Then she answered, with all the confidence in the world:

“Raw Meats!”

My mother started laughing so hard, that she had to leave the room

Rob and I, questioning Beanie’s resolve with the choosing of this name, has frequently asked her about her pony’s name.  Her answer is always the same.

Last weekend, when it was time to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Beanie started jumping around, excitedly.  “Pony time!”  she exclaimed.  “By the name of…Raw Meats!”

Gotta love that kid.

Beanie also got a very epic tricycle, from Harbor Freight.  She has been learning to balance on a bicycle, but her distractibility and lack of leg strength have made it difficult.  We found this trike, which is designed for older kids, and able to go off-road quite easily.  It looks cool, and we think it will help her build up her leg muscles.

All in all, it was a good weekend!

Journey of Turkey

Beanie has been talking more.  She still has a limited vocabulary, but she’s picked up on a few things.

Last night, she pointed at her white board, and said, with careful annunciation, “Journey of Turkey.”

Here is her drawing, with three turkeys traveling beneath the sky and clouds.  (Notice that she has one pigtail and a backwards nightgown–this is what she changed into after school…)

2013-03-14_19-34-47_864 2013-03-14_19-34-39_865

She has picked up something from her mommy!

The Best Addition to Our Basement

I have a 5 1/2 year old.  And I still change diapers.

My daughter is beautiful.  And she reads pre-primers.  She writes, she spells.  She’s absolutely brilliant, and creative.  And a social butterfly.

But she has sensory issues.  Which delays potty training.

So you need to understand that Rob and I have changed diapers for 81 months.  At 5 diapers a day, on average, that’s 405 diapers! 

Beanie has been doing well with potty training at school.  But, at home, it hadn’t been happening.  Finally, I suggested that, maybe, it’s the inconvenience of having to go upstairs to the unheated bathroom. 

So, Rob picked up a Port-a-Potty for the basement.  It’s been nothing but success since then!  My Jelly Bean has been earning LOTS of handfuls of marshmallows!  She’ll even get up from video-gaming, to use the potty. 

And the Port-a-Potty will get her ready for using the potty in our motor home, and on Moonraker (we’re redoing that bathroom though–it has issues).

Definitely a big day in our family!



So, by the end of the year, my Jelly Bean will most likely be labeled as being on the autism spectrum.

It’s important to see that for what it is.

It’s putting a name to a set of characteristics that cause her to need support in school. It’s not adding anything new. It’s not changing anything about her. We already knew–have known–that Beanie has difficulties with receptive and expressive language, is “young for her age,” and has sensory and fine motor issues. We’ve already grieved the fact that our daughter will be facing these challenges. We were well through that process when I began writing this blog.

But do you remember how I introduced Beanie to all of you? I didn’t tell you about her disability right away, because I didn’t want that to be the first thing you knew about her. The most important–the most obvious–thing about my Beanie is that she is a gorgeous, charming kid who seems destined to live a perfect life.

She’s still the kid who got all of Manistee dancing. She’s still the little charmer who walks right up to kids, in port towns, and says “hi!” She’s still a child who is being raised minimalistically, and is far more attached to people than to things.

And the label will not change that.

I think the autism label is especially difficult, because our understanding of the disability is evolving so quickly that we don’t fully understand it ourselves. Even in the education field, the word “autism” brings with it a picture of a complete person–a stereotype, actually, although nobody intends it to be that.

Beanie may be on the autism spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t connect with other people (a funny assumption anyway, because I’ve always connected the best with my students who are on the spectrum). It doesn’t mean that she is overly concerned about her possessions, or bonding with them more than other humans (I wonder why she doesn’t have that characteristic…). It doesn’t mean that she lacks an imagination.

Most importantly, this label will not change the way we are raising her. We’re still not going to overload her with possessions and electronic toys. She still sleeps in a sleeping bag in the basement. We still won’t buy a television. We’re still going to spend as much time teaching her about the value or being intentional and living simply, as we spend working on her therapy tasks. We’re still going to sail and live aboard next summer.

There are things in our life that are more important than labels.