Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Importance Of ... Postcards

I have written from time to time on the importance of "community". Community takes many forms, and in the autism vernacular is used in many ways, some as cold and unfeeling as a word included in a clinical calibration of goal establishment, such as "subject will spend 45 minutes per day, 5 times per week, in a community-based setting".

Sometimes, when I am applying "real" autism stuff to our little corner of the autism world, I need to get my arms around how terms or circumstances apply in our life - how does something like "community involvement" or any of its variations play out in our family dynamic?

To answer this question, I will use a minor occurrence from last Tuesday. You see, last Tuesday J received two postcards in the mail. Ask yourself the last time you received two postcards the same day! Heck, when is the last time you received one postcard?

The first postcard is from J's kindergarten teacher. Now, please be aware that Jason is done with Kindergarten. He graduated. Just ask anyone who lives around here, and they know, since J told everyone he saw - very loudly and at the expense of any other greeting, "I graduated Kindergarten!" - for the last 3 weeks.
The teacher, Mrs. D'Nealian, was simply one of the most perfect people that could have come into J's life at the time she did. Mrs. D'Nealian runs a tight classroom, with lots of rules. Mrs. D'Nealian has all of her rules in writing, at eye level, all over the classroom. Mrs. D'Nealian uses very concrete ways to help young learners identify good and bad behaviors (such as the "VIP" chair), Mrs. D.Nealian welcomes parents to be involved in the classroom, and also welcomed a full-time aide for one of her students (that would be J). For perhaps the greatest example of the type of things that occur in Mrs. D'Nealian's classroom, read The Best Story Ever!. Here is the back of Mrs. D'Nealian's postcard to J, probably written on a plane somewhere between here and Chicago:
(Postcard has been cropped to protect personal information. It is signed, "Love, Mrs. D'Nealian")
Is it just me who is struck by the importance of this type of small, simple action on the part of this teacher? Please keep in mind that Mrs. D'Nealian has never had an autistic student before. She is a general ed. teacher, and J had a mainstream placement for Kindergarten.

And, truth be told, Mrs. D'Nealian is one of a long line of perfect people who have entered our lives as a result of being part of J's "community". Some examples:
J's first therapist just sent us pictures of her new baby, still in touch after moving away two years ago.
J's second therapist had both of my sons walk down the aisle in her wedding. That was the day that J took a bite out of the wedding cake. The bride's response? She laughed the loudest of anyone.
J's third therapist is a lasting friend, and even gave our other son, T, his first fish (named Tony).
J's fourth therapist is also a lasting friend, and is the source of one of our great dogs, Marley (hey, there seems to be a pattern developing here.)
J's fifth (and last) therapist weathered some storms of defiance from a newly assertive J with a stiff upper lip, and still took the time to come see the Autism Hub presentation in January.
J still gets mopey from time to time and mentions that he misses N, his former SLT.
J's Special Ed Coordinator at school has proven to have his best interests in mind, and even took it upon herself to start a district-based Autism Parents group for the purpose of sharing information and putting together some simple social activities for our kids (such as an Easter Egg hunt).
J has had some wonderful aides at school, who have been by his side through much of his period of positive development over the last two years of his full inclusion at school.
J's therapeutic horsemanship teacher has also become his swim instructor, and she and her sister are also housesitters for us now. She also is working in the same capacity with Baby C now (Yikes! Don't ask about that yet).
I know I am forgetting some people here, there have been so many that have been a positive force in our family's life.

They don't tell you this stuff at the time of diagnosis, do they? They don't tell you all of the good things that come along with the challenges and difficulties. Maybe they should. It is my understanding that some parents of children born with Down Syndrome are given a "Congratulations" gift bag on the birth of their child. How would autistic children benefit if the same were to happen with our kids?

Of course, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that J received two postcards that day, and leaving out mention of the second would be a travesty. You see, J's Grandma and Poppa have been the most impactful on J's life of anyone. From simply accepting him for who he is and all the foibles that come along with him, to dedicating themselves to taking both older boys on a surprise "adventure" every Saturday that they are in town (they are part-time residents of our area), to the big trip coming up in a couple of weeks. Grandma and Poppa are taking our two older boys to Colorado, without Mom and Dad! Its a big adventure!
Grandma and Poppa know J and T are nervous about their biggest adventure of all. Grandma and Poppa know that J loves trains, and that he will be excited to see one in Breckenridge. Grandma and Poppa know J responds well to things that are written down and is able to reference images easily. Grandma and Poppa are perfect grandparents for J and T.



Do'C said...

"Ask yourself the last time you received two postcards the same day! Heck, when is the last time you received one postcard?"

Does advertising count? Just kidding.

Wonderful post Steve. And, I have to say, those are some way cool grandparents.

Sharon said...

"They don't tell you all of the good things that come along with the challenges and difficulties. Maybe they should."

True! I watch Duncan and how he deals with the world, and all the utterly cute and special things he does, and the ideas he has, and his care for others and his determination to learn, and his many special interests, and I am so glad he is as he is.

We're home-educating now because he's autistic, which is great for us. I'm blogging because of it, which is great for me. His siblings are more empathetic, caring and accepting than they might have been. We have met some wonderful people along the way, and seen the best in those family members who offer support and enjoy engaging with him.

Obviously lots of people are very fond of your son. His grandparents are such stars. Duncan would love the train adventure!

Kev said...

My autistic child's adopted Grandpa and Grandma have sent xyr over 20 postcards from America. Xe loved every one and carried each one around with xyr until xe allowed us to pin it to xyr bedroom wall, where they still are now, messages of love every one of them.

Sharon said...

That is so lovely Kev. They are good people who love their adopted grandchild.

Perhaps we could exchange some postcards for our children? Is there any way to do it that would preserve their safety and limit it to people we know and trust?

Maddy said...

Best wishes

Niksmom said...

This is so spectacular that it made me cry! And I laughed lound and hard at the wedding cake incident!

Yes, we discovered very early on the gifts and people that touch our lives because of and through Nik. Kind of makes me feel sorry for all those "typical" families sometimes. Sure, they have friends, neighbors, and relatives but they don't have as many people who are TRULY there cheering on their kids' least little successes.