Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Graduate

Five years.

It's been five years since we began a reluctant (but very much necessary) journey with Jonathan to help him assimilate to everyday life while on the spectrum.  And if you would have told me that five years from then our boy would be "graduating" from the program, reveling in being the center of attention, yapping constantly for two hours, and appreciating everyone that was there in his own personal way--there is no way I'd have believed you.

Yet that is what happened yesterday.

Our journey, as is the case with most along the autism spectrum, has been a roller coaster ride.  Five years ago Jonathan was barely verbal and he communicated mostly by pinching anyone who didn't give him his way.  He wasn't potty trained and we didn't have a clue how we'd be teaching him that with a communication barrier.  He had some epic meltdowns in public and in private.

Yet Jonathan has always had a loving side too, and Jen and I and his WEAP (Wisconsin Early Autism Project) team wanted to coax as much of that out as possible.  Yesterday it was evident that that particular mission had been accomplished--but it was so much more.  No coaxing was necessary when it was all fueled by a boy's genuine excitement and sense of pride at graduating the program.  It was Jonathan showing love for his friends and teachers, but on top of that he was the life of the party, something we would never have believed could happen back in 2011.

Many of his therapists (aka "big friends") were there, including Stephanie, his first senior; Ali and Katie, his first line therapists; Jevin, his most recent senior; Chelsea, the "friends club" leader; Jenna, Caleb, and Caitlin--the more recent line therapists.  His first/second grade teaching team of Ms. Bradley, Mrs. Carden and Mrs. Olander were there, and they have had an enormous impact on Jonathan as well--treating him like every other student and yet still giving him the personal attention he needs.

When we came to the realization that Jonathan was ready to move on to the next chapter in his journey, it felt like the universe looked at him, looked at us and gave our family a wink, a nod and a giant thumbs up.  The WEAP team was gracious, proud and accommodating, and suggested that we have this graduation ceremony.  Jevin made him a diploma, and Jonathan gave a speech (much of it was Sesame Street scripting, but he was still fearless).

We know this is just a stop on the journey.  But it's one we can stop at, look around and be incredibly thankful to everyone that has shaped our boy into the awesome little person he's become.  We can look forward with much less apprehension and much more excitement.  We are humbled and appreciative.  But mostly, we are proud of our son and all that he's accomplished so far.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Career Aspirations

"When I grow up I want to be Santa Claus.  And I will give presents to all the boys and girls.  And my bedtime on Christmas Eve will be at 6am in the morning.  And I will not die, because Santa does not die."

2014 Santa photo with the family. An oldie pic, but a goodie

That is a lofty career aspiration from my eight year old.  But if he wants to be Santa, I have no doubt that he will be Santa.

He has also wanted to be a yoga instructor, a Doctor, and now most recently, a Dentist.

This past week, he had a dental check up.  He has been going to a Dentist since he was two years old. We have made concessions for him in order to be a positive experience.  In therapy we played Dentist for a month straight before an appointment.  At his appointments, he would cry, scream, and kick.  But of recent he has really gotten the hang of it.

This last visit, he was a rockstar.  A dental patient rockstar.  (there has to be such a thing, right?)

We arrived at 4.  He knew the office closed at 4:30.  When he was called back, he said to the Hygienist, "I'm your last customer of the day!"  He chatted it up with the her.  Talking about the blue cupcake he ate at school for his friend's birthday.  He asked her about her work schedule and if she worked everyday.  At one point she said, "OK Jonathan.  You need to stop talking so I can brush your teeth."

During his check up, he said, "Um Nurse.  There is something I should tell you.  I need pictures of my teeth." The kid was ASKING for x-rays.  So she obliged.  She suggested we do a panoramic x-ray.  And he did great listening and staying still while they did the x-ray.  When the results came back to the computer, he asked me if we could take a picture of it.  He also was really into all the notes she took.  He even got to give me an "exam."

His X-ray.  Kinda freaky

Learning the documentation program early 
So while he was making the Hygienist laugh with his inquisitive and funny dialog, the big man arrived.  The Dentist.

"Dr. T!  I'm so happy to see you.  How was your Christmas?  I got a Lego Fire Transporter!"
Dr T. laughed.  He has been seeing Jonathan for a while  I think he likes the kid.

When Jonathan asked his birthday and license plate number, it was no problem.  They even went to a window to take a picture of his car.  When Jonathan mentioned it was after 4:30, and the office was closed, the Dentist laughed and told Jonathan that sometimes they need to work a little bit over.  And that was OK.  Lastly, Jonathan wanted to make sure he got a picture with his favorite Dentist.  Jonathan said "I want to be like you."

Two Rockstars in one picture!

It was one of the most positive dental experiences.  And the kid was so excited all day to go there.  This was a perfect appointment; years in the making.

I am so proud.  I'm sure this is how Santa's mother feels too.