A visit to the Dutchess County Fair is an annual tradition for our family, the kind of tradition like putting up a Christmas tree… you never skip it! Some of my fondest childhood memories are from my days spent enjoying the fair, and I love making similar memories with my children. It’s not all about the rides either. (In fact, I don’t like rides in the least. I get motion sickness on carousels!) There are great educational opportunities, yummy food, sunshine, and fun.
This year was fantastic. The weather was perfect with a high of 88 degrees and a gentle breeze. It did get hot, and being pregnant I feel like a human radiator, but it could have been so much hotter! We arrived at the fair early and enjoyed a few hours without large crowds or a blasting sun.
Drake has a blast. He loved walking around, the food, the animals, the antique wood chopper show, and the dock dogs. He got overstimulated a couple of times, but having him ride in the stroller instead of walking or visiting a less crowded area helps center him again. Overall, Drake is flexible and resilient in large crowds as long as we watch for clues that he needs our support or a break. We are very lucky.
Devin also had a good time taking in the sites and riding in the stroller, but he isn’t at the age yet to enjoy the fair the way he will when he’s older. His favorite part was probably the ice cream cone he ate while Drake did some rides with Damian on his own.
Damian and I always enjoy ourselves, and this year was no different. We had the best barbecue from Handsome Devil, and watching our kids have a blast is always heart-warming. By the time we left, the whole family was exhausted. Being pregnant, I was extra hot and extra tired. Damian shouldered the bulk of the stroller pushing and kid carrying which would wear anyone out, and the kids spent from a day of excitement. They both fell asleep in the car before we even left the fairground parking lot.
I can’t wait for next year!
Our first Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) meeting was… well, it wasn’t horrible, but I wouldn’t say it was an amazing experience either. The meeting was to determine Drake eligibility for services and what services they would be. Since Drake has an official diagnosis of Autism, we knew he would qualify for services, and we thought he would qualify for a preschool program.
I entered the meeting hoping for an integrated preschool setting since Drake is often flexible and his ability to communicate is expanding rapidly, but I remained open to a non-integrated setting if the committee had sound reasoning for it. I just wanted him to start preschool because he was so happy to visit the school when we had the evaluations done.
Here’s what happened.
The meeting was boring and dry for the most part, and everyone seemed nice. It started with introductions and then one member of the team read the evaluations out loud for 15 minutes, rattling off scores and comments made by the evaluators. They discussed basic paperwork stuff like how long he’d been in Early Intervention (EI) and the name of his doctor. Boring.
A shift occurred at this point and they asked if I’d seen any improvements since he started EI. (Uh… YEAH!) They asked our special education instructor for his opinion about Drake progress, which mimicked my thoughts. That led into discussing the preschool program.
The committee told me Drake would do a full day, 12-month program at a specific site. They didn’t ask what I thought, what I wanted, or how Drake would handle it. This irked me. I had never heard of the program, so they told me to schedule a visit.
They sorted out how much therapy he would get without asking my opinion, and then they said that the evaluators had made goals for Drake, and they would write them in his IEP. They asked our special education instructor what the education goals should be.
At the end, we completed a short entrance survey which was plain idiotic. (Who comes up with these questions?) They asked if I had questions, and we were done. That was it.
Here’s what went wrong.
First of all, so far when discussing options with our therapists and evaluators, they only talked about two program options for him. At the meeting, the committee wanted to place Drake into a preschool that I had not heard of or researched. I was blindsided by this mysterious third option. I was prepared for the two preschools I knew about, and I had already picked the one I preferred, but I also knew I was comfortable with the other preschool. The third preschool threw me off balance and left me confused.
Second, I should have spoken up about his goals. They didn’t go over them with me at all. Luckily, I knew what they were because I’d talked about our speech goals with the speech therapist, the OT put his in his evaluation, and I listened to what the special education instructor said. I didn’t disagree with any of the goals, but my opinion should have been considered.
Third, overall the committee focused on the evaluations and what the professionals had to say. They didn’t care what I thought about Drake’s education. I might as well have not even been there. I’m not sure I want Drake in a full day, 12 month preschool program, and I’m not sure I don’t want it either, but what I wanted didn’t matter either way during the meeting.
Fourth, while this is a small thing... when the committee said what Drake was eligible for, they acted like I should have been over the moon with joy. I am thankful for the opportunity to send Drake to a preschool equipped to help him for free, but I am also an analytical person who can see the flip side of the coin. Should I be so happy to put the care of my son in the hands of the public school system? I’m not so sure. While I remain grateful, I continue to have reservations.
Here’s what I learned.
There’s no way I could have known all this before I experienced this meeting. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, but next time I will be better prepared.
I learned that I need to speak up. If I want to talk about the goals, then I need to ask about them. If I want my opinion considered, I need to voice it immediately and enthusiastically. This is hard for me as I am shy in groups of people, but the committee isn’t going to ask my opinion. I need to give it.
I should have asked more questions about the full-day program vs the half day programs. I’m not sure it would have made a difference as I am sure the school district believes that their schools are best for him, but I could have discussed it more.
Here where I am at now.
After that meeting, I am more certain than ever that I want to homeschool our kids! Like I said, it wasn’t terrible, but to see the ownership the school district takes over the children and their goals is unsettling as a loving, overprotective mother who has only rarely been away from her babies! I’m not saying that my opinion of Drake is the only one that matters, but it deserved far more consideration.
In the end, it turned out okay. Damian and I decided that the third preschool, a small program, is a fine option for Drake’s preschool, and the committee’s recommendations were reasonable.
Edited to add: I did a vlog the day we had the meeting. For my initial reaction, you can check it out here.
Every child with Autism is different, and every family is different. This is my take on Autism. I don’t pretend to speak for everyone impacted by Autism, just myself.
Autism, to me, is a way of experiencing the world and a way of thinking that differs from the majority of people. This way of thinking and experiencing is a challenge because it is hard for us typical people to understand, and people not impacted by Autism don’t care to understand. (Not judging. It was me once too.) There are plenty of other challenges people with Autism face, but it seems to me a lack of acceptance and understanding for neurological difference is the root of many challenges people with Autism face.
Autism makes Drake different and being different isn’t bad. It makes life more difficult, and Drake will have to work hard to overcome people’s misunderstanding and discrimination. But his difference is important. Having people in our world who see things differently and think differently is essential and important for progress in our society. Drake’s different way of thinking shouldn’t be stamped out of him, but nourished.
I don’t want Drake to conform for the sake of fitting in with the rest of us, for making us more comfortable. I don’t care if he acts like other kids or adults as he gets older as long as he is happy and living a personally fulfilling life. Autism is part of who Drake is in a meaningful, sometimes difficult, and often wonderful way. I would never want to change who he is. I love him for who he is. I want only for him to be his best and most authentic self and to find happiness in this world wherever he can. It is what I want for all my children.
I can’t claim to be an expert on cooking with small children as I just started with Drake. In fact, I don’t think you’ll ever hear me say I’m an expert on anything. It’s not my way. Even though Drake is only beginning in the kitchen, I have learned so much! I love having him help me! So far we made pancakes twice, pizza crescent rolls, and he has chopped a banana. He’s even cracked an egg on his own! (And I fished the shell out after.)
There are many reasons I decided to cook with Drake, but the main one is that I wanted to give him an opportunity to complete a project and feel proud of his hard work. I love seeing him confident and proud.
Some Tips (especially if your tot is as wiggly as mine!)
Stay safe. I won’t give too much guidance here because only you know what your child is capable of doing safely. For Drake, I save cooking on the stovetop and sharp knives for me. I let him chop with a butter knife though.
Prepare your space, ingredients, and tools ahead of time. Just take everything you need out. You don’t want to be distracting looking for a measuring cup when there’s a big bowl of flour sitting in front of your curious toddler. Clear a large space for them to make a mess in.
Speaking of messes… It is messy! The more you let your little one do, the messier it becomes. I usually have a lot of clean up! I’m hoping to include Drake more in the cleaning soon though.
Expect the unexpected. Drake has always had an independent streak. He doesn’t quietly wait for my next instruction. He takes the lead, dumping in the milk I just poured or grabbing the whisk and mixing a bowl that is not ready for mixing. He plows forward confidently and sometimes erroneously.
Avoid negative comments. They’re learning and experimenting. If they spill half a cup of sugar on the floor… well that isn’t great, but it isn’t the end of the world. For myself at least, it is more important to cultivate his joy of cooking before we worry about anything else.
Why I love Cooking with Drake
Drake loves being in the kitchen with me! And it gives us a special time to bond. We finally have a shared interest! (Sorry Drake, I don’t love Thomas the Train the way you do.)
Drake is gaining basic cooking skills, and he is learning to enjoy the work. I didn’t learn to cook until I was well into my 20’s, and I wish I had more experience.
Drake is getting practice completing a project that takes multiple steps and requires that he follow directions. These are areas we need to work on with Drake.
Beware, there is one drawback. Now he wants to help cook ALL THE TIME, and it’s not practical. Sometimes there isn’t much for him to do, and sometimes the kitchen is not kid ready. (Our kitchen is small so I tend to keep the kids out.) I love, love, love that he wants to help and enjoys it, but sometimes I just have to get dinner on the table!
All in all, Drake and I are having a ton of fun cooking together, and I’m so happy I gathered enough courage to try it with him.
Since beginning potty training Drake about three weeks ago, we’ve seen small progress almost every day. Drake will now go to the bathroom when he feels the urge. He holds it and tries when I ask him to. He remembers to pull down his undies most of the time. He still has accidents, but he is also independently using the potty or asking to sit on the “big boy” potty.
We still haven’t tried leaving the house in undies. I am considering getting a travel potty that can fit on public restroom seats so he is comfortable when we are out, but we are not ready for that step just yet.
He doesn’t wear undies every day. Most days, for at least half of the day, he wears undies, but the rest of the time he wears a diaper. We are pretty relaxed about it with him. If he is particularly cranky, or having any trouble doing a number 2, we break out the diapers.
Why am I taking a relaxed approach? As I’ve mentioned before, Drake can be stubborn, and I am trying to avoid him digging his heels in against potty training. If I don’t meet him half way, that is what will happen. On top of that, potty training stresses Drake out. It’s one more thing he has to think about in his day and navigate, and some days he just isn’t up for it. As he builds up his potty skills and comfort level, I expect that it will be less stressful.
I am pretty laid back for a type A, so a relaxed approach fits my parenting style overall, but in the coming weeks Drake will need to wear undies more frequently, and making bigger steps towards full potty proficiency. We are hoping by the time he starts school in September, he will be ready to wear his fancy underpants and impress all the other 3 year olds.
I'd like to say I prepared for potty training Drake. I'd like to say I researched effective methodology, bought pull ups and appropriately sized undies, prepared a goodie bag of rewards, and had some kind of plan. Of course, there was no plan. As with many things, I woke up and decided that today Drake would wear undies, I would pull the potty chair out, and we would see where things went. No pressure and no commitment.
I wasn't very optimistic. Drake is not usually the most cooperative and had shown no inclination to use the potty or wear anything but diapers. And despite what everyone says about structure and routine with Autism, it really doesn't work for Drake most of the time. He likes to know what to expect, but too much of a routine irks him and he refuses to take part.
So I put (too small thanks to my poor planning) underwear on him in the morning, popped on Thomas and Friends, and sat him in his potty chair. He sat, and sat, and sat. Nothing happened. We continued. When I wanted him to sit, I gave him a distraction, and he'd happily sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Screen time was at its height in our house. Close to noon he had an accident, but I directed him to the potty even though he had clearly finished what he needed to do on the floor, and he cooperated with me.
A few hours later, with the help of too much watermelon, Drake peed on the potty! Startled, he looked down at himself peeing, then up at me like "what the heck is going on mom!?" I praised him, gave him a cookie, and praised him even more. I was proud, elated, and optimistic. That day he didn't do a number 2 at all, but he used the potty two more times after I directed him to sit (and had a couple of accidents).
The next day was the real kicker. He did number 2 multiple times thanks to all the watermelon he consumed the previous day. I don't think I've ever been so happy about a poop in my life. He even went to the potty himself while I did the dishes although he did forget to pull down his undies, which kind of defeats the purpose. It seems pooping on the potty makes more sense than peeing though as he has never once done that on his own.
Since we started a few days ago, we've had bad days and good days. When we leave the house, I put pull ups on him or a diaper as we are not ready for public restrooms. (Can't they have kid sized toilets?) So if we have a busy errand running day, he doesn't get much practice. If I'm not paying close attention to the time and providing distractions while he sits, accidents happen, but I'm hoping over the next month he will make the connection. I don't expect miracles or an overnight success. That's not Drake's style, but I think we are on the right track.
Here's what I've learned so far:
Both Drake and I have learned a lot these first few days of potty training. Even though I didn’t have a plan, things are going smoothly, and I’m beginning to wonder if his success was helped BECAUSE I didn’t have a plan or expectations.
Welcome to the family!
We are a laid back, fun, family of four living on a dime in 900 square feet. Life might not be perfect, but every moment of every day, it is beautiful.