Category Archives: School

Leaps and Bounds

As I sat last month and watched JD perform with his kindergarten class I couldn’t help but think once again about how much he has progressed.  I filmed his little show, zoomed in on his fidgeting and spinning, thinking it would be so fun to show all of you how well he is doing.  When I came home to put it online I somehow accidentally deleted all the video and was so darn upset about it I didn’t post anything at all.

With my nursing program starting at the university it hasn’t left much time for blogging.  I really do like to spend all my extra time with the kids.  Lets face it, if I don’t even do the laundry or clean house when I’m in school then things like blogging are really not going to get done.  I decided however that since we are halfway through the school year and our little guy turns 6 next week it is time to dust off the old blog page and post a quick update.  I can’t believe it’s almost been 3 years since that horrible burn but oh baby how we’ve grown since then.

Here’s the skinny on Deeds and Magpie:

Deeds is now as tall as some of his cousins were when they were almost 8 years old.  The sweet boy is really a gentle giant just like his daddy and I’m sure will one day tower over his mommy (and it’s not like I’m a small fry).  He has been liking LOVING kindergarten and academically he’s doing amazing.  A far cry from being told he probably wouldn’t be able to speak, now we can’t get him to stop and we love it.  He is an amazing big brother and while he still has some very autistic moments that little sister doesn’t understand they get along quite well and love to play games together.

Our latest bit of fun combines my love of Disney and his love of video games.  They got the Disney Infinity play set recently and Deeds loves to ask me to play with him.  It’s so fun to connect with him on a new and unexpected level.  It is really something I look forward too.  Even on days like today when I could only play for 10 minutes with him.

Magpie is still feisty as ever and such a good girl.   Since Deeds has been seizure free for a couple of months I think she was getting bored.  That is until I did respite for a family who had a special needs son and we had him at our house for a few days over the holiday break.  Magpie LOVED IT!  She followed his wheelchair around, responded to his seizures and was on her best service dog behavior the entire time.  It was fun to see her snap back into things.  She is quite the fixture at church and everyone is so used to her now she gets told hello as much as the rest of us do.  Lately we have seen quite a few dogs in public places that aren’t service dogs and it has caught her off guard when another dog barks in a store or something but she’s such a pro at this point it’s usually no biggie.  Sure she still has her teenager days, but most of the time she is her spunky self.

I hope it isn’t as long between updates next time, but with the fun of Nursing school I’ve learned that my life isn’t always my own right now.  Hope you enjoy the pic’s and know we still love and think of all of you often!  You helped our guy and changed his life, it’s something that won’t ever be forgotten by us.

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Service Dog article in the UVU Review

Walking into class at the University this morning I noticed the cover story for the school paper had an article about animals on campus so of course I snatched it up and read it.  I started to write a letter in response just pointing out a couple of things other than just the moral issues with passing your pet off as a service dog.  My quick letter got pretty long so I decided to just do a blog post too.  Lucky you guys, two posts in two days, and during a semester to boot!  Enjoy.

UVU Review article

As the mother of a little boy with a service dog I wanted to say that I appreciate your article and the obvious research you did on the subject.  My son has quite a few “invisible” disabilities including epilepsy and autism, if you were to spot him across the hall he would look like any other child but he has some major struggles.  His service dog Magpie has quite literally been a life saver for him and she is his constant companion, including when he is with mommy on campus or in the family study room of the library.  She has many tasks she can perform for him and having her has changed our life.

Deeds and little sister with Magpie

Deeds and little sister with Magpie

I do want to point out another danger of those who abuse the system and not focus on the moral standards.  Not only is it jeopardizing the rights of those with legitimate service dogs as well as future interactions they might have, but it can also be a safety hazard.  Dogs that have not been properly trained as service animals, even the best behaved pet, can put service dogs and their owners at serious risk.

If you have your pet on campus and they never cause a problem because they never see another dog you just can’t predict how they might react when someone with a service dog walks by.  Even a working dog, like my son’s that has been certified and working for two years sometimes gets excited when another dog is around in public.  They are dogs after all, and not robots.   These situations are rare, and usually so small others might not notice at all.  Once in the two years we’ve had her she was startled by a dog in a building that lunged at her and she barked.  When she starts to lose focus we have a simple command we use that she always immediately responds to and focuses back on her job.  Now imagine a dog that isn’t trained becomes startled or caught off guard in a building (school or otherwise).  The owner might not be keeping an eye out for situations like that and all it takes is one slip of the leash and barking lunge to trigger a huge problem.

Service dogs being attacked, or even threatened by other dogs can not only cause physical harm to the dog, or the handler, but can also cause emotional trauma that requires the dog to be retired prematurely.  A dog that becomes scared in public, anxious or aggressive cannot focus on the fulfillment of the medical needs it is trained for.  There is also a great financial repercussion to having to retire a service dog.  My son’s service dog cost $22,000 to train, and we personally helped raise over $13,300 of that for the non-profit we got her from.  In addition to the cost of the dog there was the cost associated with the two weeks in Ohio we spent being trained on handling her.  Other issues also include the time that the person with the disability will now be without a service dog, which is a piece of medical equipment for them.  For the pet owner the disruption to their lives might be minimal, for someone like my son the disruption would be tremendous.

Deeds and Magpie in the Library at UVU where they spent a lot of time during the spring.

Deeds and Magpie in the Library at UVU where they spent a lot of time during the spring.

It is not just the service dogs that are trained when they enter a person’s life, the handler is also trained.  A doctor wouldn’t hand you an oxygen tank and say “good luck” and it’s the same with a service animal.  A fantastic list of Service Dog Handler Etiquette is listed at http://people.umass.edu/ebarney/responsibilities.htm

The last thing I want to point out is how to act or what to do if you encounter a service dog in public, here are some great tips to remember as a rule of thumb:

  • Speak to the handler first before talking or interacting with the dog.
  • Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog, this has happened to us quite a bit and it not only upsets our son but it can really make Magpie lose focus.
  • DO NOT TOUCH the service dog without asking first, and if you aren’t granted permission then please do not pet them anyway.  Some dogs get distracted easier than others so their handlers might not ever allow touching.  I’ve also heard it put this way: You wouldn’t go up and start playing with someone’s wheel chair so don’t touch my service dog.  In our case it helps our son socialize with others, especially kids his own age.  If someone asks to pet Magpie we have them ask him directly and if he says it is okay then go for it!  If I’m trying to get through a grocery store on the other hand and maybe have kids with me and I’m rushing, OR Magpie might be having a rough day, don’t be offended if the answer is no.
  • Do not EVER offer food to the service dog, even dog food.
  • Do not ask personal questions about the handler’s disability.  Think your questions through before you ask them.  We commonly hear “What is wrong with your son?”  My husband and I don’t think there is anything WRONG with our son.   Sometimes we will still educate and share his story but it can be personal so think about what you are asking.
  • Don’t be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.  Everyone has bad days, or can be in a rush.  Please be courteous.
  • Some service dogs wear a “Gentle Leader” that slips around their neck and then over their nose.  No it is not a muzzle, and no it does not mean the dog is not well-trained.  With Magpie we use it in areas where we know her focus might be distracted easily (on campus, Disneyland, etc) and it is just a reminder for her to pay attention and she can feel subtle tugs on the leash much easier.
  •  If a service dog happens to slip out of working mode and barks, growls or has a quick disturbance please remember that you should find out what happened before taking action.  Our son’s dog is black and there have been times she gets stepped on when people don’t notice her.  While she doesn’t bark when it happens I wouldn’t blame her if she did.  The dog could also be asleep and dreaming, or maybe someone provoked it.  Get facts first.
Studying with Mommy on campus

Studying with Mommy on UVU campus

If anything ever happened to Magpie it would break Deeds heart.  It has taken us two years to build a strong bond between.  It has not always been easy, especially for poor little sister who just wants to play with Magpie all the time but has had to learn the difference between a pet dog (which we do have at home as well) and her brothers working dog.  Please keep service dog teams safe and leave you pets at home.   Having Magpie in public with the children can be quite a daunting task, especially if I am the only adult there.  It takes a lot of focus from me as a mother, including extra preparations anytime we have to go anywhere.  Please help me out by not having your pet imitate a service dog.  If your dog misbehaves when you go out the next time we try to go somewhere as a family we may approach difficulties we weren’t expecting.

Good Deeds

Deeds has been going to his morning preforming arts kindergarten and the afternoon public school kindergarten for about two weeks now.  The first week with just the afternoon was a bit rough at home so it was good to know we made the right choice to enroll him in the extra mornings too so that he was still on the full day schedule he has been used to for the past two years.  It has been really fun to hear him talking about singing, tae kwon do, and even dancing.  He is one of only two boys in the morning but it doesn’t seem to phase him in the least.  The other afternoon he even told me that at dance he learned how to sashay.  I asked him to show be and he threw his arms out to the side with wild abandon and took a large sweeping side step.  I clapped and told him good job and the look of absolute pride on his face just melted my heart.

While numbers are a strong point with Deeds it’s been a bit of a battle to get him to learn to read and write.  He can, he just doesn’t really want to take the time to do it.  He aced his first spelling test, spelling the words “I”, “red”, and “am” correctly (ah, kindergarten spelling rocks) but like most other kids he likes to flip letters a lot but I’m sure he’ll get there.  Two of the most common flipped letters for kids learning to write are J and D… so sometimes when he comes home the name on his paper can be all kinds of basackwards.

When picking him up this afternoon from the public school I asked his teacher about the IEP he is on since we’ve never gotten communication about if they started it or how it was going.  She said they have been coming into the class but she was wondering how we would feel if we changed it to a consultation, only when he needs it basis.  I asked if he was doing that well and she smiled at me and said he was one of the brightest in the class and was making friends like a champion!  I told her that if she was seeing him focus and do that well that I was okay with only pulling him out as needed, when he was overstimulated or needing extra time.    Honestly it took all the willpower I had not to burst into tears and hug her right then and there!  She has NO IDEA how far he has come but her enthusiasm and encouragement was just the boost this mama needed.

Our little guy has not only tackled many of his challenges, but he has hit them so hard they shatter.  He is a great example to us!

For those wondering about Magpie.  I know I haven’t really mentioned her a lot on here lately.  She is still doing great.  A little bored again when he is gone all day and so getting into some mischief at home that we are having to watch for, but she is still a miracle worker and sometimes I just need to remember she is a dog, not a robot.  I can’t leave that fresh loaf of bread on the counter to cool and leaver he downstairs for an hour and not expect her to devour the entire thing.   It was never an issue before but now that she’s gotten away with it a couple times she is being a stinker about it and so the retraining begins.

Deeds has been seizure free for a while now so she hasn’t had to do alerting, and he also hasn’t wandered lately so that is awesome too.  Maybe wandering looses its magic when you know a big black dog is going to track you down and slobber all over you when she finds you.  😉

We still use her for meltdowns at home and in public and anytime we are out and about he wants her right there next to him.  We’ve started to bump into a lot more service dogs in public and at first that caught her off guard since I think she assumed she was the only one allowed, but now she listens when we tell her to just ignore them and keep working.  She is just so playful and so when another dog is around it takes all the focus in her furry body to stay on task and not go bounding over barking to play!   I needed her a bunch last week when Deeds decided to start chewing the skin off his thumb at church.  I didn’t notice till he was almost bleeding and so I kept having her do behavior disruption with him and it really helped.  Hopefully the chewing on his own hands doesn’t become an issue.  He did it to the thumb he still sucks when he is upset, and he couldn’t suck it for a while without a lot of pain so I’m honestly hoping that discourages him from gnawing on any other appendages.

Our little family is doing great.  We are in full blown school mode and getting ready for our little cabin weekend, halloween (our costumes are going to rock) and sister’s upcoming 4th birthday party.   We’ll keep you posted!

Kindergarten Kid

This week marks a big milestone for our boy.  He starts kindergarten and will be in a typical class.  I can’t think about this upcoming week without getting incredibly teary eyed.  I find it odd since he has already been in school, full-time, for two years, and for a year before that he was in intensive therapy as well.  Three years he’s worked with therapists and teachers.  Three years he has learned the basics from how to chew and swallow to sitting still relatively still during classes.

At Giant Steps we saw just that.  GIANT STEPS.  The little boy who went through testing to get into that program two years ago is gone, and an amazing little guy with unlimited potential and confidence has shown up in his place.  Amazing teachers, therapists and aids held his hand and taught him diligently for the past few years and so I can only imagine they are almost as proud as we are!  At three years old I honestly never thought he would live away from home.  Neurologists said because of his brain damage he would hit walls with his speech, maybe being stunted with his communication his entire life.  Well he must have hit them so hard they shattered.  They said he might never be able to do simple things like button his own buttons or tie his shoes.  The buttons just started to happen this year and I foresee those shoelaces getting conquered very soon.  He has taught me one very important lesson:

Never underestimate him, there are no limits to the ways he has, does and will shock and amaze those around him.

Days can still be hard, and I know we still have a lot of road ahead of us…. but I am so proud of all the work he has done already to get to where he is.  He will be in class with other kids who may be attending school for the first time ever and even with the years of classes behind him, this is also a new thing for us.  More students, fewer teachers and shorter days could present challenges for him, but he’s already shown us what he can do and I am excited for all the new learning opportunities he is going to have.

Some of you may have heard this but it’s a good example of one of his strengths.

At his Kindergarten assessment the other day the teacher asked him to count as high as he could go.  Around 80 I told her, from across the room, that he would just keep going.  She sweetly said she wanted him to go as high as he could and that one kid even went to 200 that day. I chuckled and said okay, turning back to the forms I was filling out.

Soon I heard this:

“150, 151, 152, 153….” Deeds counted, slowing down to a stop.  He had his face up to the ceiling and was obviously concentrating very hard on something.  The teacher interrupted his thoughts and said “That’s okay if you need to stop.  Is that as high as you can go JD?”

“Well, if I keep going to 999 then it’s 1000 next, then it’s 1001, 1002…” he quickly replied before getting interrupted by the teacher.  She was laughing as she said, “Okay, well thank you. That’s probably good enough JD.”

I wondered if I should have pointed out that he could get to 200 counting by 2’s.  In the end I decided that maybe with Deeds it’s best she learn by him just doing things.

We sure love our little guy and can’t wait for him to embark on this new adventure.  We’re rooting for him and know he can handle whatever life throws his way.

Kindergarten IEP

Today is the first time I’ve ever left an IEP meeting without wanting to cry.  It’s not that they have ever been that  bad, I mean I have heard nightmare stories, it’s just I always second guess things.  We thought they were actually going to simply mainstream Deeds into kindergarten next year with no back up services and it had us a bit apprehensive.  While our little guy WILL be able to go into a typical classroom (WAHOOOOOO for progress) he is going to get just a little support during the transition.  We were thrilled and left feeling really at peace with him going to public school next year.  We will miss the amazing teachers, staff and small classrooms at Giant Steps but we are excited for Deeds to get a chance to interact with the other “neuro-typical” children in the neighborhood and start making friends there as well.

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While looking over all the testing that’s been done in the past three years since Deeds has been diagnosed with autism it is really shocking how much he has progressed.  He is an inspiration to us and it’s amazing to see him now, and to see how far he has come.  Our little man is a true success story, showing how early intervention, therapy, hard work and supportive family can really change some kids on the spectrum.  Change isn’t even a strong enough word, transform is better.

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After the IEP Jeremy and I decided to hang out in the classroom and volunteer for a couple of hours.  With the last semester of school keeping me busy all the time it was nice to be back in his classroom and seeing him work hard.  He was a bit silly since both parents were there but the real treat for him was that Magpie got to come too.  She loved it and snoozed in the corner during APE.

It amazes me what a good dog she is.  I know that sounds weird but sometimes at home she is like any other pet would be.  You catch her snatching toast off the counter, chewing on something she shouldn’t (all our seedlings for the garden) and then in public she is the worlds best behaved service dog.  All business, and it shocks people when they see the silly lab at home versus the professional working dog in public.  Just like anyone she has days where even in public she isn’t on her game, but even during those days she is typically fantastic and just takes a little longer to pay attention.

I am really hoping this summer we can get some fun blog posts up since I’m not at the school full-time.  I know some people still check often to get updates on Magpie and Deeds so I hope to keep you all more informed.  Many supporters have turned into extended family for us and we appreciate you all.

OH and one more bit of amazing news for everyone, Deeds has been seizure free since December!  We are thrilled, and so is his neurologist.  We hope this means we’ve figured out his medication for the time being and it continues for a while.

 

Quick post with pictures

I know there are many of you wondering where we went, how the autism carnival and soccer game were and what we are up to now.  We are still here but our lives are as busy as ever.  Between mommy’s incredibly demanding course load at the university this year and daddy working a multitude of part-time jobs we haven’t had a lot of free time and when we have we are often spending it together as a family and not blogging.  Lucky for you I got stuck home for a couple days with a stomach bug so TADA, a quick post!

Rest assured Deeds and Magpie are doing fantastically and here are a bunch of photo’s for your viewing pleasure.  I will work on a much more detailed post next week when we mark the one year anniversary of getting Magpie (can you believe it’s been a year!).

All our love!

 

It’s SO CLOSE

Today I was at the university all day.  While studying for my last final I was able to attend an autism conference.  It was pretty amazing to be able to take study breaks that included wonderful breakout sessions on many different topics in regards to autism.  Even included lunch and the best part was that since I am a student I got in free.  YAY!

When I got home tonight I asked Deeds how many days till Disneyland and he gleefully replied “TWO!”  I asked who was going with us and he listed off all of us but forgot Magpie.  He always includes her so I prompted him and asked who else was going.  He then shouted “MICKEY MOUSE!”  I chuckled and was just thrilled he was so excited to go on Monday.  We’ll see how excited he is after the long drive out there.

Mommy goofing off after work in Peter Pan's Flight at Disney World twelve years ago.

This mommy is getting really excited not only because it is a dream coming true but also because once we start that drive it means I’m actually done with Chemistry!  We will be leaving in the morning on Monday right after I take my final.

We will be taking the computer so I’ll try to make sure we blog every night so that you can follow Deeds and Magpie on their first trip to the magical land of Disney.

Until then I’ll be studying my little heart out.

Survival Mode and Field Trips

Usually the last four-six weeks of a semester I go into survival mode.  I’m constantly stressed and studying on top of “normal” life and sadly things fall through the cracks.  I forget appointments, dinner is whatever is fastest or what daddy makes and the house turns into an utter disaster zone.  This semester survival mode started in the first six weeks and I am struggling to keep up with everything.  I’m normally a fantastic student but this time around I’m already sure I’m going to have to retake one of my classes.  I’ll pass, but not with a high enough grade to be considered for the nursing program I’m trying to get into.  I’m telling you all this so that you aren’t shocked if there aren’t a lot of posts from us in the following weeks/months.  The semester isn’t over till April 26th so we have a way to go.  Maybe it’s time to recruit daddy to write some more posts.

Last week I did get the chance to chaperone a field trip with Deeds class.  He was so excited because I was able to bring Magpie.  Let me give you a little back story about training really fast:

When we went through training Magpie had an issue with a large stuffed tiger at the mall.  She planted her paws and let out a huge bark (the first we’d heard from her) and caught us off guard.  The lead trainer from 4 Paws saw it and was fantastic and showed us how to help her past it and she was fine around the stuffed tiger the rest of the time.  He told us that Magpie didn’t know it was stuffed and with the tiger not blinking and in the stance it was in Mag’s felt threatened.  He warned us to beware of any kind of large animal that doesn’t blink, that she might get defensive around it.

Flash forward to the field-trip….

We went to the huge Cabela’s store that is in our area.  It’s huge and inside has massive fish tanks, almost like a mini aquarium.  What I forgot was inside is a 2 story “mountain” covered in all different kinds of real taxidermy animals.  Some, like the bears, are in aggressive stances.  Not to mention all the deer, moose, etc… I had good treats with me just in case all the kids started to cause her any issues and I’m glad I did.  I kept waiting for her to react but she was so focused on the fact that I actually had treats that when she finally noticed the animals I guess she didn’t care.  Looked over at the bear, sniffed the air, and then sat down and looked at me for a treat.  It was awesome.  She also helped calm one down one little girl who was struggling during the time there (that’s a girl Magpie!).

Deeds and Magpie checking out the fish

I joked with a teacher that I was glad she wouldn’t have to do a track in there because it smelled so much in the store with all the outdoors equipment and animals she was constantly sniffing around (I should know better than to joke like that).   There were a lot of parents there with the 6 teachers so the ratio was actually pretty close to one on one.  Until it was time to leave.  We drove our own car so Deeds got to just come home with us.  On our way out the door we got stopped once from someone who recognized Magpie from the news when she was so sick, and then again right after by two men asking a TON of questions about Magpie and service dogs in general.  Normally I would sit and chat for a second happy to educate but by this point all the other adults and kids were outside loading up and it was just me with Deeds and his 2-year-old little sister.  I turned around and the kids were gone so I took off after where I saw them last (hearing a rude comment from one of the guys, clueless apparently that I was alone with kids and one of them obviously had special needs).  Sadly we haven’t practiced tracking much so I didn’t even think to hype Magpie up or anything, I just started to get a little frantic in my own search and then I noticed she started to pull me.  She picked up that she needed to find her boy and she lead me right to him!  YAY…. Finding 2-year-old little sister took the aid of 2 employees since Magpie isn’t trained to track her.  At least when she heard the employee call her name she yelled back “I just here mommy!”

Gwen, pre-escape

Magpie just did amazing! First with all the fish and the animals everywhere, then with the track.   Note to self however, keep the tether with me so once we get separated from the rest of the class I can hook up Deeds, I left it in the car.

 

 

Deeds loves crafts

Deeds helped me make some gifts for his teachers and he had a blast.  They didn’t turn out perfect, lots of bumps and air bubbles but he put a lot of love into them.  Deeds helped pick out the papers, spread the glue, and pick the stickers.  He had a lot of fun, and I learned too let go and not sweat the small stuff.  I wouldn’t have thought he would have so much fun.  I’m glad I did them while he was awake so he could help.

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This last week I also made these for his bedroom wall.

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His grandma plans on making him a quilt for his birthday next week that matches the letters.  He will just love the sock monkeys.  Best part is that I found the wood letters on sale for only a dollar each and the scrap book paper was only $0.25.  They turned out amazing.

School has been going well for Deeds.  We are so happy he’s back in classes.  This past week when I went into volunteer I actually saw him pretending with some playdough and a stick that it was a birthday cake and a candle.  I got a little choked up.  While this may not mean much to some , to us it was a big deal to actually see him imagining and pretending for the first time.  He has scripted before but never actually made up his own imaginary play all by himself that we have ever seen.

He’s making so many improvements and we can’t wait what to see what this means for his future.  So many amazing blessings.

Poor Magpie still stays home wile Deeds is at school  and I can tell she misses him very much.  She is always waiting by the door for him when he comes home.

M-A-G-P-I-E

Daddy picking up Deeds after his first day at the new school

Deeds has been able to write his name “JD” for a couple of months now.  It’s getting more and more recognizable.  Yesterday after he got home from his first full day of school he was playing with daddy and Magpie in his room.  They decided to color and next thing I know Jeremy comes down stairs and shows me this:

I told Jer that he could work on improving his handwriting and then he told me that Deeds did it.  I chuckled and asked if he held his hand and helped him and he said no.  Beaming with pride my sweet husband then explained how Deeds just started to write it.  He got stuck on the G, and Jeremy had to help him sound it out and then he forgot the E at first but other than that he did it all on his own.  I didn’t even know he could write all those letters let alone put them together!

When Deeds was in early intervention one of his terapists (we love you Kimber!) told us not to work too much on letters and numbers with him but to focus on other things he needed help with, that he would probably figure it all out on his own because of his love of shapes and puzzles.  I am glad we listened to her and helped him with other areas because she was right.  He isn’t even 4 years old yet and he is sure putting things together.  To go from a kid we had to teach how to color to this brings tears to my eyes.  I also love that the first word he chose to write other than his name was Magpie’s, so sweet.

I should probably credit some of this spelling love to Super Why!  a show on PBS Kids that Deeds discovered on his iPad while we were in Ohio.  It’s one of those shows I don’t feel guilty about letting him watch a few in a row because I can tell he is really picking up what they are teaching during the show.

We are excited about the extra help and structure being in school full time will bring to him.  Little sister sure missed him today but I’m sure it won’t take her long to realize she has mommy all to herself for the first time ever.