Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Funny Papers

There are a lot of cool things about Jack. I think we all know that. He also has certain...issues. We all know that too. One place where the cool and the issues collide is right smack in the middle of the skill of handwriting.

Jack produces a lot of illegible handwriting. The fine motor skills are there—you'll see them in a minute—but he has some problems. I think to Jack, handwriting is either totally utilitarian, difficult, and a pain in the ass (hence, rushed and unreadable writing) or a work of art.

I'm here to tell you about the work of art aspect of his handwriting.

When something is important to Jack, he takes the time to make it just what he wants it to be. Words for example. Sometimes words shouldn't be just letters, but they should show you what the core of the thought means. Jack is around to show you what those thoughts are in the form of tiny little pictures imbedded in his letters.

Moon, for instance.

I especially like that the picture needed a label...of the word.

And has anyone ever told you that the sun is hot? Like really, really hot? Like fiery, burning hot? Well, if no one else ever has, Jack will.

In case you were wondering, those are fiery letters.*

If you are going to, say, write the word "cute" to describe something, maybe you should really hammer home the idea that the thing really is cute.

How better to do that than to turn the word "cute" into a kitten?

In addition to having trouble with handwriting, it is sometimes hard for Jack to use words to describe things. An easier way for him to communicate what he means sometimes is through pictures. I love that he's figured out this way to get his point across. I'm just concerned that the state assessment tests may not accept awesome drawings as proof that Jack is as smart as he is.

If I were grading this answer, however, I would give it an A.

I would also label his snake picture as "cute"—and
I would draw a kitten in the word.

I include this next picture, because it is so expertly damn drawn, even if I don't approve of the sentiment, which I'm pretty sure is that he thinks his teacher is being irrationally strict. (Because I know her and she's not.)

I don't think I could put that much emotion into stick figures though.

Sometimes Jack doesn't need to use pictures to get his point across. His word play on this next math assignment shows so clearly how smart Jack is and on how many levels his brain is working at all times. That kid blows me away Every. Single. Day.

Paranthe C's = parenthesis
X. Pression = expression

This kind of stuff is exactly what I am talking about when I say that I love the way autism makes Jack's brain work. I don't know other kids who do this. I mean, I'm sure there are, but to me, Jack is such a unique and precious mind.

I'm a lucky mom to be kept so amused and amazed by my incredible child.

* For the record, I had a hard time figuring out how to spell "fiery" too.


If you've ever wondered what it's like to try to photograph my three kids all at once, head over to Patch.com to find out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Epic Nintendo Post

So, you may know that I am a Nintendo Brand Ambassador and they keep sending me all of these awesome things that I have been woefully remiss in telling you about. I had the best of intentions to write about them as they came in, but then everything in my life imploded in October and November. So I've decided to do it all here in one post, which I will call my Nintendo Shopping Guide of New and Awesome Things in the Nintendo World That I Have Recently Acquired.

1. Let's talk about the 3DS. First off, I know a lot of people have reservations about the 3DS, but we LOVE ours. And now that it is not much more expensive than the regular DSi, I think it is the perfect time to think about buying one for your kids. There is a ton that this thing can do. It's really cool. Plus you can buy it in red. Hit me with your concerns in the comments and I'll let you know based on my experience what I think about it.

2. Did someone say Star Fox 64 3D? Yes. Yes, someone did. Waaaay back in, like, 1998, Alex and I used to spend a LOT of time playing Nintendo 64. We had epic Mario Kart tournaments, but one of our favorites was Star Fox 64. Now, Star Fox is available for the 3DS, with gyroscope controls (steer by moving the whole 3DS—it's kinda badass) and super awesome cartoon animal action!

Although either the game has gotten harder or my reflexes have gotten slower in the past 13 years.

You wanna know something else cool? When my Star Fox 64 3D came in the mail, it came with this awesome flight bag, which is maybe my favorite thing ever.

Oh, hi, Algernon.

I took the bag to a PTA meeting at some point and someone saw it and thought it was real and was really excited about it and my supposed military service and then I had to admit that Nintendo sent it to me in honor of a cartoon fox.

3. If you have a kid with a 3DS, buy him or her Super Mario 3D Land for the holidays. This game is all kinds of fun. The Super Mario type games are my favorites. I hoarded this game for myself for a while because I knew that once I let my kids see it, I wouldn't get it back...ever. I was also afraid that seeing as how there are only three slots for games and there are three of THEM, that they would erase my game in favor of a Team Stimey Junior game.

Not to mention that once your kids have handed your ass to you by breezing by all your accomplishments, it gets a little less fun to play. It kind of reminds you how quickly you're moving toward not knowing how to change the clock on the VCR. Or whatever the 2011 version of that is.

I would also like to share with you some of the really hilarious things that the Nintendo people sent me along with this game. If you've played the game, you know that Mario can wear a raccoon suit, which gives him all sorts of advantages. Naturally, my kids call the raccoon suit "the squirrel," which is all I can remember anymore when I'm playing.

Wait. That's not the only thing I can remember. I also remember this:

Problem Girl, this if for your file. (Alex, Embarrassing Photos of...)

If you prefer your Mario Squirrel with a mustache, well, here you go:

I was a little concerned that this would turn into DuckHead Part II,
but so far so good.

For those less inclined to wear the (faux) skin of a raccoon squirrel on their heads, there is this nifty mirror that does just about the same thing.

It was surprisingly difficult to get this photo.

And just because I didn't want to leave Sam out, I bribed him with a dollar to wear this:

He was NOT happy.

4. I don't know what Fortune Street is, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to buy it. Sam came home from school the other day with a folder featuring a Nintendo game I'd never heard of. He says that his teacher gave one to every student in the class. I actually have a number of questions to ask the teacher about this, but I will probably never do so.

"See, Mom! Fortune Street!"

Clearly Sam has been enjoying my Nintendo Ambassadorship because he was all, "Can we borrow this game, Mom? So we can advertise it? Like how you always want us to test games out for you?"

Did I mention that Sam no longer believes in Santa, but he evidently believes in the Nintendo Fairy?

Honestly, though, I kinda do too.

There you have it: Soul sold to Nintendo. I should DISCLOSE here that the games mentioned here, as well as the 3DS and fun accessories, were given to me at no charge. Including the raccoon head. Which is awesome. All opinions expressed here are my own. Especially the opinion about the raccoon head being awesome.

Also? This is awesome.

That poor dog.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Was Trying to Think of a Funny Way to Say Happy Thanksgiving to All You Americans, Screw You Everyone Else, Without Sounding Like a Xenophopic Nutjob, But I Couldn't Do it, So Happy Thanksgiving To All of You, Even if You Don't Celebrate

But really. Sincere thanks to all of you. Not to be to cheeseball or anything, but you all really make a difference in my life. I am thankful for you today. (And most days, really. Don't feel tooo special today, okay?)

I like to let my kids write my Thanksgiving Day post, but Sam's teacher came up woefully short this year. I guess fourth graders are too old to be thankful in school.

I asked Sam if he did any Thanksgiving stuff at school. "You know, like 'I am thankful for...'"

"No, we didn't do any of that stuff," he says.

"Well, what are you thankful for?" I asked.

Long pause. Then, "You?"

Thanks, Sam. You've learned to suck up well.

First graders, however, are right in the PRIME of creating these things. He came home with a whole book full of thanks and awesome.

I am thankful for first grade teachers who create this stuff.
By: Stimey

Page one: "I am thankful for food."

Aren't we all?

That is apparently me and Quinn. I am bald and he is a baby.

Page two: "I am thankful for everyone else in my family."

 Although, honestly, this looks kind of like a horror movie to me.

I identified Jack on the left and Quinn second from left, but then it looks like Quinn ran out of coloring steam. The rest of us are colorless blobs with freaky smiles.

Page three: "I am thankful for Izzy and Denali."

His spelling of Denali's name was, shall we say, creative.

Denali is really fat. Evidently, she is also "lazzy," which, I believe translates to "lazy." I just about died laughing when I saw this page and the fact that this particular character trait was important enough to be added as a label. Note the sleep Zzzzz's.

It is important to note here that the dog did not make the book.

Page four: "I am thankful for mom."

I win.

I got my own page, peoples. AND a heart. Some days being the mom is a sucky job. Some days it is the best. Today it is the best.

Jack's class also made lists of things they are thankful for. Well, most of the kids made paragraphs from the lists, but Jack evidently refused and refused hard. I got this great note in Jack's communication notebook from the teacher that was all, "Jack refused to do the paragraph, oh but now he sees me writing in the book, so he picked up his pencil..."

"I'm thankful for (1) food (2) video games (3) Famous Amos cookies 
(4) my mom, my dad, Samuel & Quinn (5) wall of fame (final) TV."

Jack isn't grateful for the dog either.

Me, I'm so thankful for those creative, funny, loving, wonderful kids.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And even if you don't live in a Thanksgiving-celebrating locale, know that I'm thankful for you too. Have a wonderful day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Next Week Absolutely MUST Be More Chill

I know it's THIS week and all, but I just have to tell you about LAST week. Because last week was a doozy.

I'm a person who values her evenings at home. Frankly, I don't really like to go places. I especially don't like to go out every single weeknight in one week, but that is what I had to do last week. It was exhausting.

You know who earned rock star status last week though? Alex. He made it possible for me to go out all those nights after my intense days, because last week the days were pretty harrowing too, with drama at Jack's school and conferences with teachers and angst, oh, so much goddamn angst. Don't worry though. We're fine.

Monday wasn't too bad and wouldn't have been any ol' thang if it had been any other week. Tuesday was also pretty chill but for the fact that I had to conduct a telephone interview with someone. There is very little that throws me into more of a panic than having to do that. Especially when the person I'm talking to is really smart and talks faster than I can type.

That night I went to a meeting of a special education committee to hear the county's new schools superintendent speak. It was interesting and encouraging to listen to him. He answered a lot of questions from the public and I had one, but I kinda lose speech at those things and couldn't possibly raise my hand.

I wanted to say this: "My son is important. He could grow up to be a professor or to work in a pizza parlor. No matter what, he has an intrinsic human worth and deserves the education funding to give him the greatest possible opportunities in life. I know my son is valuable. I think most of the people in this room know that my son and their children are valuable. But there are a lot of people in this county who don't know that, or worse, adamantly do not believe that. When those people tell you that you are wasting money educating special education students, I want to know that you have our back. I want to know that you will stand up and say, 'Yes, these students are important and deserve their fair share of the education budget.' Will you do that when the time comes?"

Even though I didn't ask, I really hope that the answer is yes.

I was actually really looking forward to my Wednesday. I attended the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's 5-Year Anniversary Celebration. It was wonderful. It was also a little intense. Fortunately, I had a solid cover, which it helps to have at these sorts of things.

My cover? I was a journalist, covering the event for my Autism Unexpected column, which gave me license to walk up to people I didn't know and ask them intrusive questions. A couple of people asked if they could give me their email addresses instead and I could follow up with them the next day, which was awesome, because hello? I've found my tribe.

You can see the photos I took at the event on my Flickr page. I was really happy to be able to find Corina Becker (founder of Autistics Speaking Day) right off, because she was a friendly face sitting at a table with an empty chair. It was quite relieving, honestly. And wonderful to meet her. I got to meet a whole slew of other people I'd been excited to meet as well, along with some entirely new people.

The beautiful Corina Becker and Kathryn Bjornstad, creators of ASDay.

I think one of my favorite parts of the evening was when the TV connection malfunctioned as they were trying to show a video. A whole gang of folks went up to figure it out and when it was all done, Ari Ne'eman said, "How many autistic people does it take to fix the TV connection? The answer is: five." Good stuff right there, people.

On Thursday, my event was reading night at Jack and Quinn's school. I usually dread these things with the force of a thousand suns, but this event was great because some of the teachers had set up a room specifically for special education kids. We were actually the only family in that room, which was a shame, because I hope they keep doing it as my family is just not able to attend those things well without that type of accommodation.

They had great activities, complete with technology, coloring, games, story time, and manipulatives. I was really grateful to be there. Especially after I heard some of my friends talking about the regular classrooms and how they were set up. We would never have been able to hack it. As it was, my kids and I all had a great time and were able to relax and be ourselves. It was lovely.

I got to cap off my week on Friday with something really terrible and something really wonderful. In the afternoon, I took Whiskers to the vet to be euthanized. It's so sad to do that. On the way there, it didn't feel right to make Whiskers' last ride be to the sound of NPR, so I put on some classical music and we rode in soothing music.

When I took Scabbers and Poseidon to be put to sleep, they both died almost immediately after the injection. Whiskers didn't. She walked over straight to me and climbed into my hand, where she stayed, curled up until she died. It was both brutal and comforting at the same time.

Thankfully I had an event to go to that night thrown by Tech Savvy Mama (a.k.a. Leticia) and Tiny Prints. Mary Gardella of Love Life Images hosted the party at her studio and took complimentary head shots of everyone in attendance. She is amazing and did such a wonderful job. Also, I want to move into her studio and live there.

The focus of the night was on how to get great shots for holiday cards (and Tiny Prints is a fantastic place to get beautiful holiday cards, by the way), which was helpful because I was shooting my kids (just with a camera) on Saturday.

See how much the tips helped?

Coming to a mailbox near you in just a few weeks!

The best tips I picked up were on how to get a genuine smile out of your kids. Amie (a.k.a. Mamma Loves), also a photographer, suggested that you admonish your kids to NOT SMILE. DO NOT SMILE. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. NO SMILING. She also suggested that you have your kids tell you a joke. I tried both of those tactics and guess what? They worked!

I actually got much better shots than that one up there. Although that one has a certain charm to it.

Thank you to all of the wonderful people I chatted with Friday night. You made a tough week a lot better. I can't properly express how much I love my DC Moms blogging community. There are some really good women living and writing around here.

Now that I have that all out of my system, I can move on to next week, which, as it turns out, is Thanksgiving week. Did you all know that? Because I don't know how it is possible. But there you go.

Before that though, we have an IEP meeting for Jack set up for tomorrow morning. After that, you can color me done for the rest of November.


I did, however, manage to write a column this weekend about Flummox and Friends, a really great new project in the works to teach kids social skills through a hilarious TV program. Please check out my column and if you have a couple of bucks to spare, kick them in to the project's Kickstarter campaign. Even a dollar helps!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Algernon Goes to IKEA

Hi friends! I'm a little out of sorts today. I came home from dropping my kids off at school today and then sat forlornly at my desk for the next four hours without even bothering to take off my coat. I'm going to call it Winter Blues instead of Crushing Depression, because that sounds better.

At some point, I was all, "I should leave the house. That would help."

But then, the only place I could think of going was to the vet to murder my mouse and then I didn't feel better at all. So I just remained there...at my desk...in my coat...avoiding murdering my mouse.

We have an appointment tomorrow. I think I'll feed Whiskers a lot of peanuts tonight.

I have a long list of actual work I should do, but instead of that, I'm going to change the subject and tell you about a trip Algernon took to IKEA a while back. We were looking for a rug for Sam's room. Our mission was a little bit desperate, because Sam had objected to us removing the dog pee-stained carpet in his room and we told him we would put it back over the refinished hardwood floors if we didn't find a better option. Needless to say, we were incredibly motivated.

Unfortunately, IKEA is inscrutable.

Algernon was all, "What the fuck? Where are the rugs?"

I am happy to report that after a lot of poking around, we were able to locate a shaggy red rug that Sam deemed appropriate. We were willing to spend one millllllion dollars to get rid of the gross carpet, but this one cost only $79. AND we had three individuals to help carry it.

Although two of them were less than helpful.
Also, what are those dirty towels hanging from the ceiling?

Naturally, we stopped at the IKEA cafeteria for a snack. As you do.

Algernon wanted Dryck Flader.

I would like to take a moment to discuss Dryck Flader. What? Why? And how many boxes of that do you think they've sold in the past few years?

I'm guessing zero.

The cafeteria is right next to the kids section where you can find all kinds of tiny, plastic furniture and inexpensive stuffed animals.


"There are...so, so, so many of them."

Point the first: I'm sure it doesn't surprise you that we already own many of these rats and their smaller mice friends.

Point the second: You know you've done some dumb things when creating mice scenes in IKEA and photographing them doesn't embarrass you in the slightest.

Point the third: Algernon had to take a moment to tell an IKEA mouse that while life on the outside is infinitely dirtier, it is also far more awesome.

"And then, she carries me around in her purse and
sometimes takes me out in strange places!"

I'm thinking of making Algernon do all my holiday shopping this year. That would save me a lot of time. It would also free up a lot of time for me to sit at my desk by myself. I also imagine that he would have excellent taste in gifts. I don't know why, but I think he would buy lot of tiaras.

Mice in Many Forms and Moods

The bad news is that after tomorrow, I will only have two mice.

Whiskers—you remember Whiskers, right?—she has a tumor. And it's been getting bigger. And it's time. I'm going to take her to the vet tomorrow. And I'm really sad about it.

From earlier, happier days, full of healthy mice and tiki huts.

Whiskers was one of the best mice. Whenever it was food time, she would come up to the side of the aquarium and put her little feet on the glass. She is a greedy little mouse. She has a fun little personality. I love her. I will miss her.

In other mouse-related news, the good news is that Squeaky is getting a lot better.

You might remember that Squeaky was scratching herself raw for a really long time. I have been giving her antibiotics and pain medication at least once a day for months now. This regimen was keeping her mostly okay, although sometimes she would rip open a new gash.

It was actually kind of horrible.

But now, she is regrowing fur on all her bald spots. I'm weaning her off of her pain medication, because I don't know if it's addictive and I'd hate to see her going through withdrawal. I think that makes me both compassionate and a little crazy.

You can see one of the last bald patches there.
Under her eye there used to be completely bald and gory.

Hmmm. When I set out to write this post, it was going to be a lot funnier than it ended up. But now all I feel is sad. I don't even have anything funny to say about Gerbil the mouse. But she seems healthy, thank goodness/knock on wood.

Okay, OTHER news. I went to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network 5-Year Anniversary Celebration tonight and it was awesome. I got to meet some very cool people, and I got to hide behind a veneer of Serious Journalist. (You'll read about the event at Autism Unexpected sometime next week.) I want to tell you about it, but I have to do some thought processing first. So until then, I will give you this photo of THE MOST AWESOME DESSERT EVER that they served at the event:

It's like they knew I was coming and would 
soon-to-be mourning a black and white mouse.

I think that's all my mouse news. Now I'm depressed.

Algernon would like to cheer you up by offering you a business card.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Go Away

Kinda. But come back, okay?

I don't have time to write a real post right now, but what I can do is send you to a couple of other things I wrote. If you're looking for special education Stimey, head over to Hopeful Parents for my thoughts on The LRE Question.

If you're looking for (hopefully) funny Stimey, head over to the Wheaton Patch to find out what my morning routine is like in my White Knuckle Parenting column: Out of the House in 30 Minutes or Less.

If you're looking for something you've already read here, head over to the awesome DC Moms site for Not Even Wrong—now with a new adorable photo of Jack taken by my sister in law!

Hopefully tomorrow I will be back with the promised mouse post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thank You.

I'm not really sure how to follow up my last post here. Especially because what I was planning to write about before I showed up at parent-teacher conferences and started thinking big thoughts was my mice. And that doesn't seem like the way to follow what is without question my most well-received and one of my most important posts ever.

I like to think that I give you all whiplash here. You never know what you're going to get. Deep thoughts on neurodiversity? Maybe a picture of a mouse? Who knows! Stay on your toes!

What I guess I think is the most important thing to say here is thank you. Thank you for all your kind words and emails and tweets and comments and shares on Facebook. Hearing how much this post resonated with you, both within and outside of the autism community, means so much. It gives me hope.  It makes me think that maybe we really can shape the world to accommodate square pegs.

So, from my overwhelmed (in the best possible way) and entirely full heart: Thank you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not Even Wrong

I am always apprehensive about parent-teacher conferences.

Nothing bad ever happens. Sam has never gotten anything but glowing reviews. Quinn is Quinn, which is wonderful and charming. And Jack? Well, I always hear that he is very smart, that he is "making sufficient progress to meet goal(s)." In fact, I never really hear anything that surprises me, but I still feel angst walking in to those meetings—at least to Jack's.

Today was different. I've noticed Jack struggling more and more this year. I've started to wonder if an inclusion classroom is the best setting for him. (That's a whole other set of angsty feelings.) I've started to see his autism-specific deficits bumping up against the curriculum.

But here's the thing. Jack's teacher sees this, recognizes it for what it is, and gave him the appropriate marks to reflect it. She gets it. She very explicitly knows that giving him high marks just because he is smart doesn't help him. She doesn't just want to teach him. She wants to help him.

Third grade is where it starts getting harder for him to slide by just because he's bright, she told me. I agree. As someone who was smart enough to be an epic bullshitter and get good grades all through school without actually learning anything, I appreciate her seeing that and stating it. (I personally think that I started actually hearing and retaining knowledge for the first time in grad school. Seriously. But I could write an essay like nobody's business. Kinda like now, actually.)

Here's where she blew my mind though: She showed me some examples of his work and took the time to go through his answers and tell me how she and he got to them. She showed me one worksheet about seeds and said, "I didn't know how to grade this. It's not even wrong, but it's not right."

Those of you who have read Paul Collins' excellent book about autism, Not Even Wrong, might have just taken the same sharp intake of breath that I did when she said that in the conference. (If you haven't read it, check out my review of the book from last year at Autism Unexpected. Then go read the book.)

That phrase refers to what was originally a derogatory way of dismissing someone's answer to a problem. It's not right, it's not wrong, but the solver's frame of reference is so far off base that it is not even wrong. It perfectly describes autism and it perfectly describes Jack.

It also perfectly encapsulates what I want for my kid—a place, an existence, where it is okay for him to be not even wrong. Because I love the way Jack's brain works. I love the way autism has given him this unique perspective that lets him come up with some of the most amazing things. I adore his not even wrongness. I want him to find a way of life where starting from a fundamentally different point of view is an asset to him and where he can be valued for that.

I walked out of the conference feeling buoyed. I'm not sure by what. Was it hope? I don't think so. I know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to find Not Even WrongLand. Was it delight that he has a teacher who gets him? Partly, but we've had that before too. Jack has always had amazing teachers. Was it a sense that this teacher wants to help Jack get to where he needs to be? Definitely, but that's not totally it.

I think what I felt was a shift in thinking today. Largely mine. Ever since the Dialogues over at Thinking Person Guide's to Autism, I have been feeling that shift. I've always been a neurodiversity advocate, but sometimes I run across something that kicks that into high gear. Hearing Jonathan Mooney speak for the first time was one of those. The Dialogues was another. Hearing those words come out of Jack's teacher's mouth (quite by happenstance; she wasn't, as far as I know, aware of the implications of the phrase) is the latest.

Let me offer you this quote from Collins' book: "Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg."

This is where I see my place in the autism community. I'm not running for office. I'm not pushing legislation. I don't fundraise for causes. I'm not forming organizations and I'm not fighting legal battles. All those things are necessary and important, but that's not what *I* do. I talk. I talk and I write and I try to win people over with honey and words.

I'm trying to help find more square holes and I am trying to get to the round holes and make them at least trapezoidal before my kids and your kids get hammered into them. I want to spread awareness of both autistic kids and autistic adults. I want this to be a world where it is okay to be a square peg without having to pretend to be round.

I don't want to change Jack. I want to change the world.

A few weeks ago, I started trying to change the world by changing Jack's class. I went in, armed with nine pages of notes, borrowed liberally from MOM-NOS' toasters and hair dryers series, and I told Jack's classmates about autism.

I told them how each one of them is different and how they can be a friend to Jack and other kids with autism. I told them to go forth and be different themselves, and to show other kids that is okay to be different and that even if he doesn't always show it, that they are important to Jack and they can make a difference. I listened to them at the end of my talk when they told me, "There is a kid on my soccer team with autism," and "I have an uncle who doesn't talk," and I knew that some of them were getting it.

Not all of those kids are going to make it. They will not all stand up for the different kids and adults that they run across in their lives. But some of them will. And some of them, even if they don't act on it now, just might remember about the toasters and the hair dryers later in life when they come across someone who acts differently. And they might help that square peg find a hole that isn't round.

The kids sent me letters the day after my presentation, letters that said things like "Thank you so much for coming and teaching us how to be friends with Jack and telling us what games Jack likes to play. I already started to try to be friends with him."

Today, at my conference, Jack's teacher told me the story of a short passage that Jack had to write, which would get a grade of 0 to 3 points. His original sentence garnered him a zero. So the teacher pushed him, and Jack changed it, reading it to the whole class. The change gave him a one. Then he added to it some more and read it to the whole class, and then he got a two. Pushed by his own outrage at the injustice of the Not Three score and the urgings of the teacher, Jack continued, finally reading his final three-worthy passage to the whole class.

I wasn't there, so I don't know how it really all went down, but this teacher has created an environment where Jack was comfortable going through this whole process in front of his peers. And the class understood. They knew where he was coming from and how hard he was working.

The teacher has a Hall of Fame wall where passages that are really, really good and earn threes get hung up. Jack's passage was undoubtedly not up to what was already posted there. But you know what Jack did? He went and got some tape and he put his paper, on which he'd crossed out "0" and written "3," up there all by himself. He knew that he had worked hard and that, for him, his work was Hall of Fame worthy. And the teacher made a square hole for him and let it stay.

The world is slow to change. We have been hammering square pegs into round holes for so long that it takes a huge leap to put down the hammers. I'm hopeful that I got to some of those kids before they even pick up the hammers. And I hope that some of those kids told their parents. And I hope that some of you read this and tell your kids. And I hope that we, all of us together, CAN change the world.

I guess what I felt today at Jack's conference is that his teacher is finding a way for him to be a square peg and to make it okay. She is in no way an expert on teaching autistic kids. I don't know if she knows much about autism at all. But she seems to intuitively get the need for square holes, and that? That is everything I can hope for.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Upping the Ante on Picture Day

If you've been around Stimeyland for very long, you have seen some excellent school picture portraiture float by here.

There is Sam in Spring 2008. And Quinn in Fall 2009. Frankly, even the photos I've purchased have been extremely goofy. But I think that this one that came home in Quinn's backpack today may be the best.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Even me, who is pretty chill about paying for whatever the photographers send to me because I figure it captures who they are when the photo is taken, was all, NO.

Seriously. Quinn looked at the picture, looked at me, and said, "I'm sorry."

I can't stop laughing.

I called the so-called "professional" photography studio that took this and the woman who answered the phone looked up the photo, took a breath, and said, "I'm sorry."

Then she followed up with, "They should have caught that."

Ya think?

Retake day is December 1.


You guys, I have a great column that I wrote over at Autism Unexpected. It is about this woman named Jane Meyerding. She is a faceblind, autistic adult who wrote this awesome mystery featuring an autistic, faceblind character. The book is amazing for a lot of reasons, and Jane is a really cool woman. Check out my column and think about buying her book.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Everybody Needs a Middle of the Night Fund

Alex doesn't care for my Middle of the Night Fund.

In case you're not familiar with such a thing, you create one by collecting small bills (and the occasional big bill) from your pocket change in little boxes all over your house, so when you have to suddenly abandon your house in the middle of the night, you have money to take with you.

You know, for when you find out that your husband is a serial killer or there's a natural disaster or for when the apocalypse comes.

Because it's coming, people.

If that apocalypse doesn't come? Well, there was this one time that I used my Middle of the Night Fund to completely fund a vacation. (<— Okay, that's a big lie, but there was a lot of money in it.)

Alex doesn't see this as the model of fiscal austerity that it is. He's all "STOP TAKING OUR MONEY OUT OF THE BANK AND PUTTING IT IN LITTLE BOXES ALL OVER THE HOUSE. SPEND THE MONEY YOU ALREADY HAVE."

And I'm all, what happens when the apocalypse comes and we need a wad of small bills to pay passage over the bridge?

Don't ask me what bridge. There's always a bridge. And I assume that it will be guarded by marauders or trolls or some such that will demand payment.

Alex will be all, "Hey, troll, here is my ATM card," and then the troll will eat him. But *I* will have eight dollars in small bills to pay the toll, and I will be fine. That is, if Alex doesn't keep raiding my Middle of the Night Fund to give the children their allowance. Honestly, it's a really short sighted way to prepare for the apocalypse.

I currently have three Middle of the Night Funds. Because, unless you're Alex, you can never be too prepared. I moved one to our official disaster kit, although it is occasionally poached to pay for emergencies like babysitters or pizza delivery. I sometimes steal batteries out of the disaster kit too. I have yet to steal any of the MREs in there though, mostly because I am afraid of three-year-old foil-wrapped pineapple upside down cake.

There is one in my desk, into which I put birthday money and whatnot. Although it is earmarked for the apocalypse, it will probably be pressed into service to pay for winter clothes soon. Sort of a fashion apocalypse, if you will.

Regardless, I am still building my Nightstand Subfund. Because you can never be to careful. I'm looking at you, Alex.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Scenes From the Dark

I promised you Halloween stories and I'ma give you Halloween stories. I don't care if everyone else in the entire blogosphere wrote this post yesterday, I'm going to write it today.

Our costumes were not super inspired this year (nothing like Jack's Lego brick costume from last year), but they were functional and my kids were happy. Sam was a ghost skeleton king, Jack was a robot, and Quinn was a ninja.


Sam and Jack's costumes were actually pretty scary. Q-ball was just cute. And practically invisible.

I should have edited Jack's redeye out of the photo.

And guess what I did again? Made sure all my kids were impossible to see at night by dressing them completely in black. Next year I am going to make them all by disco dancers and at least one of them is going as a disco ball. I'm thinking maybe Quinn as the disco ball.

Algernon wouldn't have blended into the night, but he didn't want to go trick or treating.

Howdy, pardner!

Before trick or treating, we had to get some reading out of the way.

One of my favorite photos in the history of time.

Sam presented his Native American poster for our friends who came over to trick or treat with us. Those friends mostly engaged in swordplay behind him.

I videoed him when he did this same presentation at school. When he heard his voice on the video, he gasped and shouted, "I sound like THAT?!?!" He was incredulous. It was hilarious.


Every once in a while, if you are really inept with a camera, using it on the wrong setting will yield fun results...

like Ghost Alex there.


Halloween is supposed to be all about scaring people, right? Well, Quinn does not care to be scared. For instance, there was this green plastic bowling pin with a face drawn on it that we had to hide in the basement for four years because he would scream every time he saw it.

When we went costume shopping a few weeks ago, I thought he was going to pass out from fright when he saw a couple of the costumes we pulled off the shelf.

The point is, Quinn is a sensitive little soul who likes kittens and blankets and the color green. So when his little neighborhood buddy showed up dressed as Ghostface from Scream, Quinn didn't react well.

Although his reaction was a little Blair Witch-y spooky by itself.

Quinn spent the rest of the night hiding behind me. He was NOT interested in being confronted with the scary costume again. It was hilarious and terribly sad all at the same time.

The Raisins...

I was going to tell you a story about The House That Gave Out Raisins, but no one in my family came away from that looking like a good person, with the possible exception of Sam, who left the house skipping and yelling, "Yay! Raisins!" So I'll leave it at that.

The Payoff...

But it was all worth it in the end, because, you know, unlimited candy eating when the munchkins returned home.

Quinn ate more than anyone.

With this, I close Sucktober. Don't let the calendar page kick you in the ass on the way out.


Also, I just started writing a parenting column that I have called White Knuckle Parenting over at a Patch.com site. My first column went up yesterday and was called "Prepare To Feel Good About Yourself." I'd love it if you'd check it out! I'll be writing over there a couple of times a month.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Autistics Speaking Day!

I have some stories to tell you about trick or treating, which was awesome, but they are going to have to wait, because today is Autistics Speaking Day and everything else is getting bumped. I encourage you to visit the ASDay website and check out the list of participating writers. Take some time and read what they have to say. It's important.

Also, if you have time, check out my column at Autism Unexpected today. I interviewed Corina Becker, the woman who had the idea for ASDay. She's awesome.

For my own post here, I remembered that it is not Stimey Speaking Day (that's every other stupid day here in Stimeyland), but rather Autistics Speaking Day. So I looked around this morning and managed to locate one of them in the backseat of the car on the way to school.

This guy. (The green one, not the pink one.)

I took a few minutes and I told him about ASDay and about all the grown ups with autism whose brains work kinda like his do and how they are having a day all about letting people know what it is like to be them.

I asked him what he wants people to know about him. He said that he would want people to know that he likes Lego Robotics. Then he said, "I'm Jack and I am funny. I am also hilarious." (For the record, he totally is.)

Right on, Jack. Speak it.

I would add that he is kind, adorable, smart, cuddly, and empathetic (yeah, I said it).

I asked him if there is anything he wanted to ask the autistic grown ups who might hear his question. He said, "Do you like Plants vs. Zombies?"

He's, you know, eight.

I suspect that as he grows older, his question will be different and more pressing. This is why I am so grateful for the autistic adults who carry on with this day. In a few years, my kid is really going to need you. I hope ASDay is still around.

Because you, the autistic adults reading this? You are role models. You are who I look to when I tell my son, "Look what you can do. You are amazing." Because he is. And you are. You are who I want my child to be when he grows up. You are who I want my child to look to when he struggles.

Thank you for speaking. Thank you for ASDay. Thank you for being who you are and letting my son know that it is not just okay, but GREAT, to be who he is.

To sum up:
• Today is Autistics Speaking Day. Go visit the website.
• Check out my interview with and column about Corina Becker.
• Jack likes Lego Robotics and is funny.
• If you are an autistic adult, please let Jack know in the comments if you like Plants vs. Zombies.
• Thank you for ASDay. It means so much to us allies to hear you speaking. Really. Thank you.