All kinds of brains invited.

Archive for March, 2014

He had to write about someone who inspires him. I suggested Nelson Mandela. Instead, he chose his 6 year old autistic brother.

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My long-haired boys, Griffin, 8, and Gage, 6.

There is a national arts contest sponsored by the PTA. I try to get my kids to enter every year, but am not always successful. Last year, Gage’s colorful selfie won first in his division for Nevada. Griffin didn’t want to enter.

This year, they both entered — Gage in art this time, and Griffin in literature. The theme was “Believe, Dream, Inspire.” I asked Gage what he dreamed of being, and he said “a pilot”. Gage drew a picture about it, and won his division for his school and an award at the state level (the awards ceremony where we find out is April 5th.) Griffin won his division at their school, too, and something at state, though again, we don’t know what yet. We are very proud, of course.

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But even if neither if them had won, we still would be incredibly proud of them. Gage, because fine motor is so hard for him, and he didn’t even pick up a crayon or pencil without tremendous coaxing until 2 years ago. let alone draw any identifiable picture. Griffin, because even though his entry was an essay, really, it was a picture of his giant heart.

I sat down with him to talk about who he might write about: What does he dream or believe in? Who inspires him– Nelson Mandela? Martin Luther King, Jr.?, Frank Ghery? (Griffin does love his architecture), but no, he didn’t want to write about any of these people.

“I want to write about Gage, mom. He inspires me the most.”  Griffin is 8 years old. Here is what he wrote:

“I believe in my brother Gage.”

There is someone who inspires me. There is someone I believe in. There is someone I have dreams for. It is my brother, Gage.

Gage is 6. He is in first grade. He is blonde like me. He loves to smile. He loves swimming. He loves computers, too. He is a great brother. He is also autistic.

Autism is difference in the way your brain works. It is hard for people with autism to communicate and have eye contact. There is nothing wrong with autistic people, they just donʼt act the way we expect them to, sometimes. Gage is very smart but he needs lots of help to show how smart he is.

Gage inspires me to work harder in school because he works so hard to do things the way he is supposed to. Things that are easy for other kids, like putting on a backpack, are hard for Gage. It took him 3 months to learn to put a backpack on by himself. His mind wasnʼt letting him do it. He practiced every day until he finally did it! He has 3 extra hours of school every day and homework, too. He also has school on the weekends, just to learn the things that come naturally to other kids. He practices things over and over until he gets them right.

I believe in Gage because he shows me that with hard work you can reach your goals. For example, Gage had a very hard time trying to talk. He didnʼt talk until he was about 4. He has had hundreds of hours of speech therapy. Now, he is 6 and he can talk to us. I feel great about that. I believe that he will be able to talk as much as I can one day, because he works so hard. Gage is in 1st grade at my school. He is in a regular class with a helper. I love when I see him in the hallway and I always give him a hug. I feel proud that he goes to my school, because I know how hard it is for him. Iʼm so happy for him, he even made the honor roll. After seeing him at school, I believe that my brother can get a good education and go to college. I will do everything I can to help him get there because I believe in him.

I dream that my brother will one day have a wife and kids, a job that he loves, and a house, and it wonʼt matter at all that he is autistic. I dream that he will be able to travel if he wants to, to see places like Paris, Sydney and Tokyo. I dream that he will be able to do whatever he wants to do, and that I will get to do these things with him. I dream that people will accept him for who he is.

 I am inspired by Gageʼs hard work. I dream that he will succeed in whatever he chooses to do. I believe in my brother Gage.

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I don’t know if I am worthy of being the mom of these kids. But I’ll sure try.

What We Didn’t Expect From Inclusion

When we asked (well, actually, insisted) that Gage be included in a gen-ed classroom, we expected that he would gain a lot of things from it: We expected that he would start to learn how to act in a gen-ed environment; we expected he would have many, many great peer models to help him learn the way; that he would start to learn how to take tests and complete classwork; to follow a schedule that wasn’t based on which child had the most intense needs at the time; we expected that he would start to build a platform of basic social skills upon which he could add more and more skills until one day he is able to be a productive and contributing member of society. We were fairly sure his classmates would be nice to him, because even though he was only allowed to be in the kindergarten classroom for 30 minutes a day last year, those kids were really nice.

What we were not expecting was someone like Iris.

Gage and Iris

I volunteer in the classroom every few weeks. I stay in the common area outside the class and the kids come out and read with me, one by one. They really highlight all of the things that are great about first graders — some shy, some confident, some boisterous, some perfectly behaved and some really trying to be. Most of them pretty funny, as six year olds can be. One of the more hilarious ones is Iris, who has more personality in her little pink fingernail than most people have in their whole bodies. As I got to know all of them, I felt so blessed that these were the kids who Gage was with all day, and so blessed that their teacher had set a tone of understanding, acceptance, and kindness (we really won the teacher lottery with her!). A few of them would always be there to meet Gage on the playground in the morning, including Iris. Pretty sweet.

Then, one day, a little note came home. It was from Iris’ mom.

“Hi there, Would it be possible for Gage to have a playdate with Iris? She has been asking for a playdate for about a month. Here is my number if you are interested…”

Was I interested????? Well of course I was. I mean, Gage had been invited to birthday parties before, but this was different. She wanted to play with him. Alone! She wanted to be…. his friend. I called the mom to set up a time, and tried to explain that if Iris could come for the last hour of Gage’s Saturday tutoring that his tutor could help with play skills to make sure that Gage played with her appropriately, and then she could stay for an hour of free play. And it would help Gage learn to play with peers and it would be great and so helpful to him. I said he wasn’t good at playing with peers and needed guidance until he learned.

This is where it gets good.

I don’t think it had occurred to Iris to tell her mom that Gage was autistic. It was sounding like maybe she didn’t know. When it became clear that Iris’ mom probably didn’t know, I tried to explain what Gage’s autism was like. She wasn’t put off at all. In fact, she wanted to know when they could reciprocate and have Gage over. I nearly dropped my phone.

On Saturday morning, Iris’ dad brought her over, armed with a Candyland game and a big smile. Gage and Iris played, they snacked, they read. Iris was in charge, and Gage was happy to do what she said. Gage, our sometimes solitary guy, wanted to hang out with her. The best part was when they picked out Mo Willems books and read to each other on the couch. They took turns. They alternated pages. And nobody had to use a token board to get Gage to do it. Our Saturday tutor was thrilled, and said that Iris could come back every week if she wanted to.

Reading some Mo Willems

When Iris’ dad came back, he came in for a bit. We watched the kids and chatted a bit, and I commented how neat I thought it was that Iris wasn’t phased by the autism. “We talked about it with Iris last night,” he said. “Iris said she thought that is just the way God made Gage. She said God made him special.”

God made Iris special, too. Hallelujah for that!

Accidentally, Iris left her Candyland game. When I texted her mom to ask how we could get it back to her, she said: “She will just pick it up at their next playdate.” (Got that? The next playdate!)

This inclusion thing just keeps getting better and better.