Category Archives: Caring for my family

Finding Darin

Raising Darin might be the most refining activity of my life. No other project requires me to stand apart from everyone and determine what is right so carefully.

The past 4 years have been huge in this area. Discovering how much teachers, school, and autism understanding can affect his behavior has transformed our lives.

It started with our amazing teacher Ms Lowe, the first teacher Darin had in Friendswood, for 2nd grade. It continued with Ms Leslie at Windsong in 4th & 5th, as well as Kyle working with Darin at home. Those 4 people figured out how Darin could learn academics, manage his behaviors, and learn to play & stay on task himself.

This all led to a great summer 2018.

Then came the Fall.

Fall 2018 was a nightmare. Darin moved from Windsong to Friendswood Junior High.

By day 2 of 6th grade, I knew his teacher, Ms Byrd, lacked all the understanding of Ms Lowe, Ms Stamper, and Ms Leslie. She was using methods tested and determined ineffective with Darin.

By week 7, I was so concerned I had held multiple team meetings and reached out to the Special Ed Director.

That’s when it became unbearable. Darin was trying to communicate something (all behavior is communication) and I didn’t know what. But he was regressing to disrupted behavior we hadn’t seen since 2013. He started peeing on the floor at school. He threw multiple things at our TV.

When I entered a team meeting at school week 9, I found out he had been removed to a separate classroom without other students, and with one adult at a time. No one would nail down what day that began, but someone mentioned 3 weeks in passing…

Coincidence? I think not. All the worst had happened in the last 3 week…

Honestly, the stress was killing my gut. All day I dreaded the report of his day at school.

After the meeting on 10/23, I was driving around crying. I couldn’t imagine his day in an isolated room.

So on 10/26, I sent a recording device to hear his day. Maybe it was better than my fears. Maybe he really required reinforcements every minute to stay on task. Maybe the staff was doing all they could to manage him.

Or maybe not.

Over the weekend of 10/26-10/28, I listened to a recording of his day from 7:45a-2:30p.

It started out pretty good.

  • A sweet paraeducator sat chatting with him before school started, while he listened to music on his iPad.
  • Once school started, he continued with music on the iPad for about 15 min.
  • Then a teacher came in to work on Spelling for 15 min… he was engaged, compliant, and DIDN’T get any reinforcement for 15 mins. Good job, Darin!
  • Then he got back on his iPad with music for 30 min.

At this point, I think “wow, he is a lot more compliant during lessons than I’ve been told” and “he is using his iPad a lot”. Not criminal.

  • Then his main teacher comes in and works with him about 20 min. He’s happy and laughing, and engaged. Once again no reinforcements or special prompts were used.
  • The lesson is totally unplanned. But again not criminal, just disappointing.
    • Then he gets his iPad again… about 10:30 in the morning… after about 35 mins of instruction, and 45 mins of iPad… and HIS INSTRUCTION FOR THE DAY WAS COMPLETE.
    • He spent 2 class periods listening to his iPad music, alone with a Para, with minimal conversation and nothing offered to do.
    • Then he was taken out of the room for lunch.
    • When he returned, he was yelled at and his iPad was removed. He was passed between a para & the teacher, who both yelled at him… and the teacher told him to lay on the floor, put his noise in the corner, that he wasn’t going to be wanted by the person picking him up, that if he peed on the floor he wouldn’t get to go home.
    • So he peed. And the teacher reported that he was just laying on the floor with his iPad and he peed out of the blue.

    This was psychological manipulation, threatening of being held hostage, fear-mongering, and gas-lighting.

    This was all my worst nightmare.

    But it was also a clear understanding of what he was communicating to me by his crazy behavior in the past few weeks.

    So I told him this…

    • that I understood him
    • that I was sorry
    • that I didn’t know they were treating him this way

    And I started pointing out how I was trying to be different…

    • “I am listening and trying to help you”
    • “I am not ignoring you”
    • “I am here for you”

    The transformation was spectacular.

    He really started calming down.

    And clinging to me. If I tried to go to the gym in the evening, he wanted to go along. He barely let me out of his sign.

    But he was otherwise calm.

    Then he spread his trust to Arabella. About 2 weeks after this discovery, I really noticed this change:

    We went to Jumping Jungle, and he barely played away from Arabella & I, and eventually just sat in her lap.

    Within 2 more weeks, Darin’s whole demeanor had changed at home. We took him to visit a small church, without a special needs class to attend, and he remained with us in the service quietly for 95% of the time, only leaving to get a drink & returning quietly.

    It has now been 2 months of building trust and learning better how to really understand Darin and here is what I have concluded:

    1. I am so thankful for the 4 great years of teachers who made it easy for me to spot when things were not right.
    2. When you cannot speak up, it is so easy for someone in authority to shape the narrative about you…. it is abuse and I will fight for accountability.
    3. Listening and showing Darin I understand him has great rewards! So far, we have experienced some of the greatest holidays of our family’s life, and the difference is wonderful.

    It’s hard to be thankful for anything horrible, but I am thankful to understand Darin better and what that has led to.

    This has also led me to be super protective of him, and unwilling to take chances with his emotional safety.

    • We tried a new school, specifically for kids with autism, Children’s Oasis Education Program. After 2 days, I had seen multiple red flags that they were no more equipped than Ms Byrd.
    • In 2019, I am working on a plan for him to be taught at home by special educators and myself, and we will combine this with community activities to provide a full life of learning, support, and love.

    This is not the path I foresaw, but it is the road before me. By His grace, I will walk it in hope that He has always given me what I need for Darin.

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    Feeling stupid not generalizing

    So this week, I had 2 typical experiences in new settings in close enough time, that they shined light on each other….

    1. Darin went to day camp and got in lots of trouble the 1st day. Then I figured out he didn’t have 1-on-1 support, that was added, and he was able to continue with daycamp.
    2. We tried putting Darin in a class at church, so we could listen to the sermon, and he lasted 10 mins… and Joel missed the rest of the service sitting in the hall with him.

    And it clicked for me:
    Church is the only setting where we try to put him in a class without 1-on-1 support, pretending in that setting he is typical.
    We don’t do it at school, or day camp, or VBS.
    But week after week, we are shocked it goes terrible at church.

    Unfortunately, this realization was not accompanied by a solution.

    Interestingly, the sermon at the church we visited today was about Act 6:1-13, where the 1st church had to address unmet needs within the church.

    I wish this didn’t feel like a unique need that not everyone shares. I don’t want to be the one with the need.

    What are other special needs kids doing within small churches?

    A year in Maine

    Have you ever been on a vacation & wished you could stay longer?

    This year has been like an extended vacation for me. It’s my first year not to work full-time since Holden was 1 yr old.

    It has truly been the best way to see Maine – river swimming in the summer, fire-building outside as the leaves change, hibernating for the winter in ‘Narnia’, and now watching the green & pink explode.
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    But the best part has been getting to know the people here. They live and think distinctly different than I’ve ever lived. They value things I have never known.

    While moving back and forth across the country was an expensive way to experience this, I am so thankful for this year.

    Life Redesign – Goal 4: Review of OnceAMonthMeals.com

    I tried out Once A Month cooking using Once A Month Meals Traditional Menu – January 2014. 20140205-105525.jpg

    Pros:

    • It has been really nice to have food to take out of the freezer for dinner.
    • Most of the meals have been really tasty.

    Cons:

    • The calculations on both the shopping list & the recipes were not 100% accurate. Probably 80%… but when you are cooking for 8-10 hrs, 20% can be very frustrating.
      • The biggest deal has been portions for eating – meals that had me put one recipe in 4 gallon bags only have fed 3-4 people. So I should have realized when it said “10 servings” on the recipe, I should put it in 2 gallon bags – only getting 2 dinners, not 4 out of it.
      • The most confusing part was that they had me cook a certain # of lbs of each meat ahead of time, but it was portioned in recipes in cups… So it didn’t spread out quite right. Luckily, I had frozen precooked chicken in my freezer…

    Overall, I think the method is good… I think the recipes & variety are great!

    I’ll probably try it one more time to see how it goes.

    Life Redesign – Goal 3: Begin spending time getting to know the hearts of women in my church – 1 month report & New Goal 5: Get consistent with bible study.

    Mixed reviews on this one…

    I have really enjoyed meeting for lunch with several ladies from church. I was really excited when I got invited to lunch with 3 ladies… I hadn’t realized how much initiating I had been doing.

    Several ladies got together to plan a bible study. They are open to trying my beloved method through Kay Arthur’s Precept Ministries International of inductive bible study. But to do that, I’ve got to step up and lead it… which also means I have to keep up with my homework! I’ve spent my 10 years attending Precept bible studies at Houston’s First Baptist Church and Sagemont Church, and since I worked full-time, I never made myself do all the homework.
    So this is good for me… I need to do the homework. I have the time. I need to make it important.
    So we will be doing Matthew Chapters 1-13 for the next 8 weeks.20140205-102400.jpg

    I guess this meets Goal 5: Get consistent with bible study

    This month has also been hard. I have experience some spiritual attack that made me want to walk away. I have put myself out there and been criticized, and I realize it would be so much easier to leave the church work to Joel.

    Then I must remember:
    I was called to follow The Lord and minister with my life BEFORE Joel. Before kids.

    I don’t have the option to turn away. Turning away will be like deciding not to be me.

    Our adoption stories

    Here are the stories of our adoption:

    1. When Darin joined our family
    2. Making adjustments for Darin
    3. Ode to Darin’s birth mother
    4. Missing Darin’s birth mother

    Adoption in movies

    One of my favorite thing in movies is seeing adoption as a subplot, not the focus.

    I appreciate this since it normalizes adoption, decreasing the stigma that family is blood and adoption is weird.

    Some of my favorites are:

    But I recently saw a Facebook post by my friend Nancy that added another perspective to the adoption movie conversation:
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    At first, I was confused. I also have an adopted child, and love Despicable Me.

    But then I thought about Hannah’s experience of being in a orphanage.

    I realized that while I love that society can see adoption stories in movie, parts of the stories may be too close to home for a child joining a new family.

    Always good to gain perspective!