Friday, February 24, 2012

Kindergarten progress

Since we have reached winter break of the 2011-2012 school year, I wanted to include an update on how Diego is doing in school.
A big help for us are the new daily charts that are sent home with his communication notebook.  The staff staples a sheet in the book that details for us what he ate, his bathroom use (doing great!), which class or therapy he had that day, and at least one or two highlights of the day.  It is exactly the type of update I like to see since he is not able to relay all that info to us.  I think back to when I was young and my Dad asked us how school was every day and just saying “good” was not enough.  He wanted details and now I do too.

Diego is actually doing some basic addition and subtraction, writing numbers more clearly and had his first oral presentation just a few weeks ago.  He had to tell the class some of the highlights of a book they read.  From what I understand the teacher prompted him to answer some question about the book they read and he had to use a poster as his guide.  Reading continues to be a challenge as he mixes up some words and usually does not want to do that part of his homework.  The teacher also sent home a really cute CD with all the songs they use in class (days of the week, labeling with the alphabet and so on) to demonstrate just how much he has memorized.

I’ll be the first to admit that all that he has done has exceeded my expectations.  I thought when we met last April to prepare his goals for kindergarten that we had set a realistic standard for him and that he would be challenged.  I look at his paperwork and am delighted to say he is doing all we thought he might do and more!  He’s blowing the standard out of the water and I’m so proud of him… It is a testament to all the work he puts in and how well his teacher is guiding the class. 

As a side note, he now tells me “one secoooond” when I ask him to give me the iPad or my phone (he plays angry birds on my phone now too).  He also uses “whatever” in response to us and although many parents might be bothered we think it’s great as it illustrates just what many other kids his age are telling their parents…

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Diego, 2011

In 2011, we witnessed some important progress as well as some major milestones for Diego.  He graduated from preschool in June, was enrolled in kindergarten in September and by the end of December had shown just how much he was learning in his new school program.  Despite a rather ominous start to his elementary-level education (a negative encounter we had with a school official at his Turning 5 meeting) we were both relieved and impressed to witness the effort by his teacher, aides and therapists.  This year’s teacher has done well with handling his transition issues and has made us feel comfortable with his placement.

So what has he been working on?  I included some shots of him practicing his handwriting (Handwriting without Tears worksheets!) and counting since I happened to be home for a few days at the end of the year while he did his homework.  It’s funny because I don’t remember having homework in kindergarten but we feel the continuation of the lesson at home is always helpful.  Also, you can see a shot of his newest PT / OT toy, his safety trampoline (handlebar attached) where he practices his jumping to a workout video… 

Adding his name at the top

The Buzz toy helps him think

Go Diego!

I sometimes refer to Diego and his younger brother (now 2.5 years old) as the Bash Brothers.  They will quickly go from playing together to fighting and then right back to laughing within minutes.  Just yesterday, after I intervened during one of their fights I decided to bring the little guy downstairs since they weren’t getting along.  As I carried him down he shouted “Bye Diego…I love you!” Their pretend play is really helping Diego practice some of the work he does during his group speech therapy sessions.

I know as we move forward and start preparing for his yearly IEP review in the spring that last year’s experience will only serve to help us as we continue to advocate for Diego.  All of his work and playtime at home that I described has made a really big impression on me.  I browse through his current IEP and see that he has already met and exceeded a lot of his goals.  He consistently surprises us with comments or some new skill or habit.  There is no limit to his potential and now we have to make sure we do not get in his way…  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making his mark

Last week we had the honor of attending an art show opening that is displaying some really great work done by individuals with developmental delays and disabilities.  The Artshare for Heartshare event is now in its third year and is done to help raise much needed funds for the city-wide program that serves people of all ages with many different disabilities.  This was such a big night for our family because Diego had a drawing featured at the event!
As Diego's second and final year of preschool (2010-2011) was winding down, all of the children in his school were creating different art projects that the teachers and therapists were to vote on to determine which project would represent the school at the event.  We were so happy to find out that his drawing won and would be featured at an art studio in New York City!  After months of waiting, we finally got to go and meet some of the other artists and their families as well as see some amazing drawings, paintings and handmade jewelry.  Since we had not yet seen what he drew that day in school, we scanned the gallery looking for his name and we were amazed at what we saw:  

I remember when he wouldn’t even hold a writing utensil.  Now a picture he drew (“Sleepy Hollow” is the title) is up on display at an art gallery.  To see that picture hanging there is a testimony to his ability, talent and resiliency.  As proud and happy as we felt to be there, I was blown away by some comments that one of his former therapists made to us as we were discussing Diego’s time at the school.  She told us how everyone at his old school really misses him and they often speak about him, his sense of humor and how he is someone who really left his mark.  We could not agree more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wit and Wisdom compilation

Today, September 20, 2011, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids is being released.  This book is a compilation of stories written by parents that are dedicated to making a difference, and I am one of the authors featured in the publication.  As many of you know, my older son Diego was diagnosed with autism in 2008 and I am committed to sharing our story to bring about change.  By that I mean a shift in how we both perceive and act towards people that posses a different way of thinking.  The other contributors to this anthology are special needs parents just like me, relating their experiences of life with their exceptional children.  The book is available for purchase at, and I invite you to come discover the world of special needs parents and support our cause by purchasing a copy.  Click here or on the link provided on the right side of this page and you will be directed to the page at Amazon.

When I was originally invited to participate in this project, there were a few ideas I was kicking around, trying to decide which particular topic I wanted to discuss.  A few weeks later, the decision was made for me.  We had just attended a meeting to discuss Diego’s placement for kindergarten for the upcoming school year.  During our meeting, the education official (who was actually a school psychologist) made some very negative comments, leaving me to wonder how someone working in that capacity could know so little about autism.  I left that meeting saddened by the way he spoke about Diego’s future but determined not to dwell on the negativity.  Later that same day I decided that my entry in the book would be about our encounter that morning.  That story and everything else I write is intended to foster hope for the future by slowly chipping away at what seems to be a mountain of ignorance that exists in regard to intellectual disabilities and autism in particular.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Moving forward

In a little more than two weeks Diego will begin his kindergarten program, the culmination of a tumultuous Turning 5 process that was anything but smooth.  Those issues, having finally been resolved are for another story.  Here I want to mark the momentous occasion by sharing a few photos of our son from this past weekend.  I was standing behind him as he started to run through the sprinklers at the park.  I quickly grabbed my phone to get some action shots as I felt they perfectly captured our situation.  Here is Diego, plowing ahead despite everything that may try and hold him back.  Although he craves routine, he has just enough of an adventurous streak in him to try something new.  Plus he loves the water!  

I continue to marvel at his progress and more importantly his potential.  I know he possesses all the pre-academic skills he will need for the upcoming school year and we will closely monitor the new school, teachers and therapists to ensure he gets the type of help he needs.  For now, we will enjoy the few weeks he has before school starts and try to convince ourselves we are not nervous about sending the little guy off to kindergarten…

Friday, August 5, 2011

Graduating from preschool

In just a few days Diego will finish his two year preschool program.  That in itself is a major accomplishment for our son, a sweet little boy that struggled to sit still and focus on tasks and made requests using one-word approximations and hand gestures.  Now with two years of preschool we have witnessed so many positive changes and have marveled at his ability to use language more consistently.  As I look back to the few months that preceded his enrollment in preschool, I remember just how nervous we were about sending him.  When originally touring schools in the spring and summer of 2009, the program we ended up choosing for him stood out because of the staff.  We felt welcome right from the start.  Despite our anxiety about how he would handle the separation from us during the day, we felt Diego would receive excellent care and that definitely turned out to be true.  We will be forever grateful to his teacher, aides and therapists for all their hard work.

As an example of just how much progress he has made, I’m going to include the following story:

Not too long ago I used to wonder when Diego would start calling me by name.  Would he use “Dad” or “Daddy”?  Perhaps even “Papá”.  I knew whatever he decided would be fine by me and since he turned 5 this year I figured it was only a matter of time before he began to use one of them.  Sure enough, one afternoon at the end of April we were getting ready to leave for music class and Diego said “Daddy” for the first time without prompting!  He wanted me to hurry up and put my shoes on so we could leave.  I know I’ll never forget that moment, I ran up and gave him a high five and then started hugging him.  I was beaming with joy the rest of the day.  It took five years but that feeling I had was more than worth the wait. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Special needs preschool

There are some schools out there that are making a difference in the lives of special needs kids and their families. Our son is in preschool and while I know there may be classes in the future that are not as helpful and accommodating as the one he is in now, I wanted to illustrate how dedicated the staff has been with Diego and our family.

I have a page up over at Examiner and click here to read about his school.