It’s IEP Time Again (Nobody Panic)

Last week, Aaron and I met with Cordy’s teachers for her annual IEP review. I know many parents who have felt like they needed to armor-up and prepare for battle before walking into their child’s IEP meeting each year, but we’ve always been fortunate to have never felt that way. Our school has always been welcoming to special needs, and I feel like the staff there genuinely wants to do whatever is reasonably in their power to help Cordy succeed.

It’s one more reason why I believe Cordy’s special-needs preschool teacher should be on the list for sainthood. If it wasn’t for her, and her incredible ability to look deep into this child and see her potential, we wouldn’t be at this elementary school. Yes, it’s on the other side of Columbus from us, but her preschool teacher knew the right school for Cordy and made sure it happened.

That’s not to say there haven’t been bumps in the road. Cordy has thrown some challenging behaviors their way at times, and there have been a couple of teachers that she did not click with at all. But in general, the school has been tolerant, gentle in discipline, and works hard to understand her unique quirks.

So really, we don’t mind attending IEP meetings. When Cordy was first given an educational diagnosis of autism at three years old, her future was murky at best. The special needs department couldn’t promise that she’d ever be in mainstream classes, or have any chance of graduating from high school, much less attend college. But thanks to the early intervention in preschool, we quickly learned how much she was capable of, and her preschool teacher told us she had high hopes of her being fully mainstreamed at some point.

Pre-K graduationCordy’s pre-K graduation

Her current school agreed with her preschool teacher’s analysis. While she missed the mark to be fully mainstreamed in kindergarten, she did have some inclusion time with a kindergarten class, and otherwise had one-on-one teaching with her special needs teacher, Ms. M. I was disappointed at the time, but it turned out to be the best possible arrangement for Cordy. Because of the one-on-one teaching, Ms. M began to see just how bright Cordy was, and began suggesting to us that she was gifted. She taught her at an advanced level, which eventually led to being tested for gifted identification in math and reading.

At this point, Ms. M gave us more hope: this child will graduate from high school, she told us, and there’s every reason to believe she could go to college. She said she was always cautious to make that kind of a prediction, and that she’s never been wrong.

In first grade, Cordy was fully mainstreamed, and this teacher also saw that she needed an advanced curriculum. Keep her challenged at the right level, and Cordy’s too engaged to let her anxiety bother her as much. In second grade, she started going to third grade for reading, and was further evaluated for gifted services. It was also during this year that Cordy was due to be re-evaluated by the school psychologist to determine if she was still eligible for special needs services.

This was a big year. Cordy was identified as superior cognitive by the gifted department (to go along with already being identified as gifted in a handful of subject areas), and the psychologist confirmed her high IQ, saying it was the highest he had ever scored an elementary school student in eleven years. She still met the requirements for special needs, too, primarily due to her severe anxiety and deficit in social skills.

So coming to the table again last week for her IEP meeting was something we looked forward to. Cordy is in a self-contained gifted education classroom this year, which we hoped would keep her engaged enough to keep her sensory issues and anxiety in check. The transition at the start of the year was very rough, though. Previous classes hadn’t provided the same level of challenge to her, so she was scared by suddenly being forced to work hard in class. This led to escape attempts – mostly asking to go to the bathroom where she would hide out for 10-15 minutes to avoid classwork. Her team (including her external team of her pediatrician and her psychologist) worked together to find ways to reduce this behavior and help her feel more comfortable in the class.

During the IEP meeting, we learned that the adjustments made by her team are working and that she has been doing better in class. Her gifted teacher said she could see Cordy was putting more effort into her work and trying to keep her anxiety in check. Her special needs teacher said that she hasn’t seen her as much in the last two weeks, but that Cordy still has her “take 5” pass she can use to visit the resource room whenever she feels she needs a break. Both teachers, who happen to have rooms right across the hall from each other, have collaborated to ensure that Cordy’s special needs – on both ends of the spectrum – are being met, with each handling her area of expertise.

This is individualized education at work. Two teachers, both contributing to Cordy’s education in their own areas, working together for continuity, and sharing what’s working and what isn’t working with each other. During the meeting, both teachers expressed that they are really enjoying working together for Cordy, and they feel it’s having a positive effect.

One funny story shared from the meeting (because every teacher at this school has a “Cordy story”): her gifted teacher told us that one day it was announced that there would be a meeting after school in her classroom. Cordy asked what they were meeting about. Her teacher, knowing that Cordy has recently been trying to learn humor and had been saying funny things to the teacher lately, replied in a joking manner, “Oh, we’re all meeting to talk about you, Cordy, and everything you’ve been doing wrong.”

Cordy completely fell apart, of course, unable to get the joke, and the teacher was left to backpedal and reassure her that she was just joking. Afterwards, she told the special needs team what happened, and they looked at her in shock and said, “Nooooo! Why did you think that would be okay? She doesn’t understand when you’re joking about her!” Cordy’s teacher did apologize to Cordy for upsetting her, and she told us it was a good lesson learned about just how far she could go with humor around Cordy. Yep. The kid still can’t handle sarcasm or any humor about her.

On the not-so-funny side, we learned that Cordy is still struggling in math, and her fear of math is what has prompted the most anxiety attacks. It seems last year’s battle with math is still with her. It’s so frustrating that a kid who is gifted in math is having so much trouble with it. Had she only learned one way of doing problems, instead of needing to be taught and reinforcing several different models, she probably wouldn’t be so confused.

She’s still having trouble with executive functioning skills, too, often forgetting to bring everything she needs home or write down everything she needs to do. We discussed ways to help support this, with additional accommodations possible if it gets worse. On the upside, all kids in this class are learning to play chess this year, and Cordy not only loves to play chess, but seems to have a talent for it.

The hardest part for me, though, was when I asked if she has any friends in the class. There are kids who are friendly with her, we were told, but she doesn’t appear to have any friends. I knew this would likely be the answer, but it was still hard to accept. Cordy doesn’t have any good friends, at school or in our neighborhood. That could partially be our fault, for not trying to encourage more playdates, but Cordy also struggles with knowing how to be a friend. Her thinking can be so rigid at times that many kids don’t want to be friends with her.

She attends a social skills class once a week, which has helped her conversation skills, however I think she feels it’s too much effort to make friends and so would rather be by herself where she doesn’t have to work to be more neurotypical. Her teachers are aware that I want her to develop friendships, and her gifted teacher believes that she might find friendships through playing chess or other shared interest activities in the class. Many of the kids are nice to her – there’s just no visible desire to want to spend a lot of time with her.

We wrapped up the meeting by going over her goals for this period and making some adjustments. I’ll add it’s not a perfect IEP meeting. There are still many areas I feel aren’t covered well enough, but it’s not due to lack of interest from the teachers, but lack of school resources. Ideally, her class would have textbooks so she could read the material they’re learning instead of relying more on auditory teaching. (She is a poor auditory learner, but picks up anything she reads in a book.) But there are no textbooks or written materials for the kids to use for many subjects.

And ideally she’d have an aide with her more during the day to help support her when she hits the wall with anxiety, but that’s a battle waged by many parents before us with poor outcomes. I don’t have the energy to fight on all fronts – we must choose our battles and right now this isn’t one to put my energy into.

So, we make due with the limited resources and cherish and support the best resources we do have: her teachers, her aides (when she does occasionally see them), and her principal. Unfortunately, her principal will be retiring soon, so next year’s IEP meeting may be an entirely different situation depending on who the district chooses for the position. (And oh, I’ll be ready if they put up any resistance to the sunny collaboration we’ve got going on at the moment.)

For now, things are going well. Cordy is struggling a little in her class, but just like years before, I think she’ll rise to the challenge and grow from this experience. For a kid with such an uncertain future at the start of her school years, she’s making it clearer with each new year that she’s capable of so much.

4th grade school photoThis year’s school photo. (Ignore the flash screen reflected in her glasses.)

An Unexpected Typical Development

Cordy is a hugger. Well, she likes to hug those she knows and trusts, and has always been fairly affectionate with those in her family. When she was younger, we had to spend a lot of time teaching her about personal space, as she likes to get right up next to people when talking them.

While she’s a sensory avoider in many areas (like anyone messing with her hair, or loud noises), when it comes to hugs she’s a sensory seeker.  I’ve always considered us lucky that in the world of autism, where so many kids don’t like to be touched, Cordy is a child who likes hugs.

Snoopy at Castaway BaySnoopy always gets hugs from her, too.

Over the weekend, we attended a memorial service, with a lot of family and friends present. This was more of a party than a somber memorial service, and it was occasionally loud and crowded. I worried that Cordy would not do well with the noise and crowd. At first, she kept herself away from the crowd, choosing to spin in a chair instead, but then she started wandering around through the people.

At one point, she walked past Aaron and I as we were telling someone about our upcoming trip to Disney. I reached out to Cordy, wrapping one arm around her and pulling her closer to me. I gave her a big hug with a very quick kiss on her head. Usually, she’d wrap her arms around me and attempt to squeeze the life out of me, or hold tight while she lifted her feet and hung on me. But not this time.

This time, she squirmed and broke free of the hug. And then as she turned away and walked off, she uttered those words that most parents dread hearing, the words that signify a move to another phase of childhood: “Mom, you’re embarrassing me!”


I was embarrassing her? How is that even possible?

The first “you’re embarrassing me” is, I’m told, usually a sad moment for many parents. It’s the moment when your child is fully realizing their individuality as they mature, seeing themselves as separate from their parents and demanding to be treated in a way that protects that new identity they’re trying to create in the world among their peers.

But this…this wasn’t a sad moment at all. I felt the momentary sting of having my oldest child push away from my affections, but then as I considered her actions and words, I wanted to celebrate. Why? Cordy’s social and emotional development has been far from typical for much of her life, but in that moment, she had a very typical and age-appropriate response.

In other words: it’s progress towards understanding and developing typical social behavior. We know she’s on the verge of puberty, and several experts have told us that the hormones of the teenage years make everyone act different, but for kids with autism it can sometimes be dramatically better or dramatically worse. So far, we’re leaning towards the “better” category, as she starts noticing the behaviors of others around her and makes her own attempts at social behavior.

It’s encouraging. So very, very encouraging. In the last year she’s worked harder than ever to understand what’s accepted and what isn’t when she’s out in public. She’s been attending a social skills class for girls with social/emotional disabilities, and that class has been nothing but positive for her. She’s one of the group members that looks forward to her weekly class, enjoys stumbling through social missteps with the other girls in her group, and will now point out the frowned on social behaviors of others.

I may still feel sad at later attempts to push away from me when I try to hug her. But for this instance, I could only smile and be proud of her.

Bad Decisions All Around

I know I’m one of those parents that some people dread. I try to be actively involved in nearly everything concerning my children. Because Cordy has never been a “one size fits most” child, I’ve had to become that parent who is usually right there to oversee things and make sure that the situation works for her.

I meet the teachers before the start of school to make sure they’re aware of my kids’ strengths and weaknesses. (And to point out important things like Cordy’s artificial dye restriction.) I like to find out ahead of time if a party will be too loud or too overwhelming, or if we need to bring our own snacks. We pack lunches for school so we know what ingredients our kids are eating. And I’m glad we have doctors who view us as partners and assume I’ve done my research on whatever we discuss, because I have, and I’m not afraid to bring up any concerns.

Yes, I’m a bit of a control freak. I’ll admit it. But many would agree that Cordy has benefited from my (“our” actually – Aaron can be pretty fierce, too) watching out for her interests. Changes we’ve made to her diet and her environment have made it possible for her to be mainstreamed and excel in school, reducing unwanted behaviors and improving focus and concentration.

Occasionally, though, I do something dumb and later regret my decision to let go a little. Last week was one of those moments. Our elementary school was hosting a flu immunization clinic for all the students, run by Columbus Public Health. Forms were sent home to grant permission. Both kids routinely get the flu vaccine, although their pediatrician usually gives it to them. They get flumist, the intranasal vaccine, instead of the flu shot, mostly because the flumist ingredients are all food grade ingredients plus one sulfa antibiotic, as opposed to the flu shot which has some more questionable ingredients (questionable for Cordy’s sensitivities) in it.

Flu shot

Photo credit: Jim Gathany (CDC)

Flumist is the standard vaccine for these school-based vaccine clinics now. Only those who have medical reasons to not receive the live vaccine are given the inactivated vaccine injection. (And it makes sense – as a nurse, would I rather stick a bunch of kids with needles or squirt a little liquid up their nose? I know which I’d prefer.) Our kids weren’t scheduled to see the doctor until later in the season for their checkups, so I looked over the form carefully. Flumist would be given to healthy kids – my kids are amazingly healthy, so I put my trust in the health department and signed the forms.

Well, I should have realized that would go poorly.

When I picked the kids up that day, Mira ran out and immediately told me she was sniffly because of the flumist. Then Cordy came out looking pale and pouting. Her teacher told me that she was given the flu shot instead of flumist, and she was very brave. I asked why, and was told that Cordy told the health department worker that she has autism, so they gave her the flu shot because she has a “chronic medical condition.” Wha?

Her teacher sighed and said Cordy would have received flumist instead if she would have stayed quiet. While I laughed with her teacher over Cordy’s willingness to offer up information, I was also furious with the health department.

I’m primarily angry that Columbus Public Health demonstrated poor clinical decision making. The health history/permission form that I turned in for Cordy was exactly the same as Mira’s health history – no risk factors noted. Based on the health history provided, there was no reason for Cordy to receive a different form of the vaccine. The statement of a nine year old minor does not override the health history filled out by the parent/legal guardian. At the very least, a call should have been made to verify the information, which would have given me the chance to refuse the vaccination for her based on the new information. My phone number was on the form, but I received no call.

Would they have given her a flu shot if I had marked that she was allergic to eggs and she told them she eats them all the time? Any inconsistency in the health record should be checked before choosing route of administration.

Beyond that, I’m astonished that autism is a justification for the inactivated flu shot over the live vaccine flumist. We can argue round and round over autism as neurological disorder or as a facet of neurodiversity, but you can’t consider it a chronic medical condition. Autism doesn’t cause immunosuppression or respiratory weakness. Medically, Cordy is healthier than most kids – she has a strong resistance to most viruses and rarely gets sick. There may be some children with autism who are more medically fragile, but that’s likely due to an additional diagnosis other than just autism spectrum disorder.

So the kid with sensory issues and extreme anxiety was the one who got stuck with a needle. That makes no sense to me. And while I can’t say if it’s connected or not, her behavior did seem off the next few days, and two days after the shot she acted out in a way at school that was absolutely atypical for her and shocked everyone.

I did write a complaint to Columbus Public Health and was met with a dismissive “I do apologize that this was not the experience you expected” response. (Hint: that’s not an apology.) The email then went on to tell me that they follow CDC recommendations and to remind me that I gave permission for them to do what they did, even quoting the part on the form that said “Columbus Public Health staff will decide which vaccine type is best for each child based on the health information you provide and the vaccine available.” Well, yes, I expected them to choose the vaccine based on the health information I provided. That’s precisely the problem – they didn’t do that.

I’m not trying to claim I’m totally in the right in this situation. I screwed up, and I blame myself for not questioning them first. I placed my trust in Columbus Public Health when I shouldn’t have, and I feel terrible that Cordy had to suffer through that shot when she didn’t need to. I should have been at the school when it was done or I should have not signed the form and waited to vaccinate at our pediatrician’s office, where they would give her flumist. (Apparently against the CDC recommendations?) I mistakenly thought they’d call if there were any issues.

But I still believe Columbus Public Health is partially to blame. If a child says something that doesn’t match up with what they expect to see on the health history, they should refuse to do the vaccination or at least call the parent for clarification. It wouldn’t take that long to call and check. If they want to include autism as a “chronic medical condition” they need to be more clear upfront, because I don’t consider it a chronic medical condition, and our pediatrician doesn’t, either.  I also think it’s a problem that they don’t allow parents the ability to specify which vaccine type they want, or which they will not allow.

Lesson learned. Sometimes it’s OK to be that parent.

Becoming a Behavior Detective and Advocating for My Daughter at School

The start of each school year brings anxiety for any parent and child, I think. But when your child has special needs, that anxiety is magnified.

Early on, it wasn’t so difficult. Cordy was in a special needs class for kindergarten because of her autism/ADHD, with limited inclusion time in a traditional kindergarten classroom. Her inclusion time was carefully supervised and we had daily reports on how it was going. We wanted to see her do well and get more inclusion time, but there wasn’t much pressure for her to do well since she’d never been in a typical class before.

After doing well with her inclusion time in kindergarten, first grade was entirely a success. It was her first year being fully mainstreamed. She briefly started her day in the special needs classroom, then spent the remainder of the day in her first grade classroom, with a quick check-in at the end of the day with the special needs teacher. There were a few small bumps along the way — most involving keeping Cordy focused — but none of them were dramatic and through good communication with her teachers, we got past each of them easily.

So when second grade came along, we again prepared for the transition and new experiences coming her way. The teacher knew Cordy from lunchroom duty, and Cordy seemed to like her already. Many of the same kids from her first grade class would be in this class, too, and we assumed second grade was going to be just as smooth as first grade.

Never assume.

The school year started well at first, but we soon were getting reports of problems from the special needs teacher. Cordy was distracted. There were occasional outbursts from her. She was hiding under her desk at times and refused to come out.

Cordy’s aide (who was a shared aide & wasn’t always available) was first called on to calm her down and get her focused with the class again. But soon the teacher couldn’t handle the distraction and would send her out of the class. We worried that her second grade teacher was frustrated with the behavior issues and had written her off as a trouble child.

Then, not even a month into the school year, Cordy laid down on the ground when it was time to line up for recess and refused to go back inside. When the principal asked her to stand up, she stuck out her tongue. This resulted in losing her second recess and spending that time in the behavioral management classroom. For my perfectionist child, this punishment was interpreted by her to mean that she was a failure at everything. She even signed her behavior management paper with the extra words “worst child.”

She Signed it Worst Child

For a month, I felt like we were losing all of the progress we had made. Cordy was beginning to dread going to school. We had to enforce consequences for bad behavior at school, while trying to determine what had changed and why she was acting out so much. Many evenings I’d cry after putting the kids to bed, feeling helpless, unsure of how to guide my child back from being so lost.

And then one day Cordy needed to get something out of her classroom before we left, so I went into the room with her. I stood next to her desk, taking in the entire environment around me, and suddenly it started to make sense. Her desk was the closest to the door, furthest from the teacher. The desk was also right next to the pencil sharpener and the coat racks.

Now imagine that situation as a child who struggles to tune-out all of the sensory input around her. The grinding of a pencil being sharpened. The rustling of coats being pushed aside and unzipping of backpacks to grab forgotten items. Doors shutting, people talking, and footsteps as people shuffle past the open door in the hallway. A fan providing a steady hum to circulate the hot air in the room. General classroom noise of kids whispering to each other, papers being shifted around, chairs creaking, etc. And a teacher attempting to be heard over the noise by raising her voice to make sure everyone hears her.

Becoming a Behavior Detective and Advocating for My Daughter at School

It’s no wonder she was distracted. Cordy has trouble focusing and is easily upset by too much sensory input. She interpreted her teacher’s loud voice as yelling directly at her. The background noises irritated her and triggered anxiety attacks, causing her to hide under her desk or shriek in class. Taking away her recess times only confirmed in her mind that she was a problem who is different from other kids, and deprived her of the physical activity she needed during recess (stimming) to release that anxiety and help her find focus to get through the remainder of her day. Her brain was short-circuiting before she reached midday, keeping her in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

I was convinced at this point that the only way to improve the situation was by changing the situation. I spoke with her special needs teacher and then with the principal about switching her to the other second grade class, explaining my hypothesis that she was acting out based on sensory overload and anxiety. I had gathered all of the evidence, matching up behaviors with probable causes, and was prepared to advocate for my sensitive child until some change was made.

Thankfully, they agreed. They’ve known Cordy since pre-K, so they knew she’s a kid who enjoys school and loves to learn. They could also see the behaviors were not because she was a difficult child, but instead were the symptom of her struggling with a difficult situation. We agreed to move her to the other second grade class immediately.

They also suggested sending her to third grade during reading, reasoning that because she was testing far beyond second grade in her reading ability, more challenging work could keep her engaged so she’s less affected by the sensory environment. The idea of her going to another class for reading made me nervous, but they assured me she would always have her aide for that part of the day to ease the transition. I also asked that she no longer lose recess for behavior issues, but instead lose other privileges, like computer time, so that she could reset herself with time on the playground.

The changes were implemented the next week and the transition was smooth, other than Cordy announcing to her old class, “You’re all too loud, so I’m leaving this class!” Oops.

We saw results on the first day, when my normally moody child came out of the school with a smile on her face and told me, “School was great today! I love my new teacher. He has a quiet, calm voice.” The remainder of the school year wasn’t perfect by any means, but there were no further calls home from school or major disruptions in the class. Changing the situation worked to change the behavior.

Having a daughter with autism/ADHD has changed how I think of education and how I view a child’s behaviors. I’ve learned that a classroom setting is not one-size-fits-all, and that behavior problems in school can be clues to a mismatch between child and classroom. The child who was happy in first grade and now a “behavior problem” in second grade probably isn’t trying to cause trouble. Instead, there’s something bothering her, and finding the source of the behavior can help correct it.

The greatest lesson I learned from last year is to stay involved in your child’s school and be an active part of setting up the right routine and environment for your child. We’ve always kept in touch with the special needs teacher and the principal, and it’s that relationship we’ve had with them that helped us get such quick action. If you see a behavior change in your child at school, consider what the underlying problem could be. In our case, we knew Cordy needed fewer distractions and a change of classroom. Other parents may find insecurity is the cause, either due to bullying or self-doubt over more difficult material.

Since learning to be a behavior detective last year, I’m feeling confident that third grade will be better. We met with the teachers ahead of time to discuss strategies for keeping Cordy’s focus and how to handle her anxiety. They’re aware of what to look for as well as what could be causing her behaviors. If there are problems, they’ll contact us to work on solutions together. We’re a strong team going into this year, and our early planning and communication will hopefully ensure a positive and productive third grade experience.

Learning To Be Social

Back in June, Cordy had to go through a re-evaluation in order to continue receiving county assistance for her therapy. Basically, they wanted her to be tested again to make sure she still had autism and it wasn’t just a fluke when she was four years old. (Hahahaha…the county has such a sense of humor!)

We received the full report a few weeks ago, and it’s taken some time to read through all 13 pages of descriptions of her behaviors and test scores and what they mean. There’s no doubt she still has autism. Her psychologist said she’d be diagnosed with Asperger’s under the old guidelines, but she’s using the new DSM-V so it now falls under the blanket diagnosis “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

It didn’t bother me to see that her diagnosis remains. We expected that. Cordy has autism, it’s a part of who she is, and while I’d love for the difficulties caused by autism to go away someday, I know it’s going to stick with her. It’s not something that most kids grow out of. I’ll admit that autism can throw a lot of barriers in the way of everyday life, but it’s also true that Cordy wouldn’t be the same quirky, funny, and smart little girl without it. Really, autism is just a name for the unique way her brain works, both good and bad.

What did trouble me, however, was seeing a high occurrence of symptoms of other co-morbid conditions: ADHD (both types), severe anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, manic behavior and depression. At the moment these are all considered to be related to her autism and not separate issues. I can’t help but think, though, how these issues could eventually wreck havoc on her as she gets older. Puberty is hard for any kid to go through, but when you’re different, it has to be so much harder.

She’s at the age now where she should be making friends and wanting to spend time with those friends. But she doesn’t express any interest in hanging out with kids from school. She can name a few kids who are friendly with her, but I haven’t seen these kids seek her out when we’re at school events. Mira has birthday parties surrounded by friends. Cordy can’t think of anyone to invite for hers. Making friends is not a primary goal of going to school, but I had hoped she would be a little more social than she currently is.

During the evaluation, the psychologist told me about a social skills group she runs just for girls. The girls are roughly 8-12 years old, so having an all-girls group is generally beneficial for this age range when gender-specific friendships begin to strengthen. And when boys are yucky and then start to be seen as dreamy. The girls all have different issues (not all have autism) and as a group they learn how to properly interact with others, make friends, and play together in a way that everyone enjoys. Without hesitation I asked if we could get Cordy into the group. It sounded like a perfect fit for her.

This week was her first social skills group meeting. Cordy wasn’t so thrilled of the idea of more therapy, especially when this therapy doesn’t have the big foam pit like she has at OT. The group meets shortly after school, too, when she’s already tired and cranky, and she protested that having to go to this was taking away valuable reading time from her.

When we opened the door to the waiting area , I found a mostly-full room of people. The moms were sitting in the waiting room chairs, while the kids were doing all sorts of things independently. Some were playing with the large wooden cube toy in the middle of the room, some were on electronic devices, and others were hanging close to their moms. There were several boys in the room, too, but it was obvious they were siblings and weren’t staying.

Cordy immediately saw the cube toy and went to play with it. I quietly took a seat, not interrupting all of the conversations going on in the room. All of the other moms were chatting with each other over what they had been doing on their two week break and the back-to-school routine. One handed out a couple of thank you notes for those who had attended her daughter’s birthday party. They all appeared to know each other fairly  well; I felt a little like the outsider in the room as I listened to their conversations and tried to blend in to the chair.

Finally, one turned to me and asked, “Your daughter is new to the group, right? Dr. B mentioned there would be a new girl.”

I nodded, nervous about making the right first impression. “Yes, she is. She had a re-eval with Dr. B this summer. Dr. B recommended more social skills practice and thought she’d be perfect for this group.”

The woman smiled and said, “Well, she’ll love this group. They’re all hot messes!” The other moms in the room laughed and nodded in understanding. A wave of relief passed over me and I instantly felt more relaxed.

Yes, she called our daughters hot messes. But that’s the kind of humor that I’ve seen several special needs moms use to get through each day. Sometimes we need to laugh.

I watched Cordy playing by the other kids. She was talking to herself and not engaged with the other girls who were nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with her. Some of the girls were talking to each other, which gave me hope that one day Cordy would see a room of kids and willingly choose to talk to others and make friends.

Soon Dr. B arrived and called all of the girls back. I was hoping that I could get to know some of the moms while the kids were working in their group, but the room quickly cleared out. Only two other moms remained, and one of the remaining ones got up from my side of the room to sit closer to the other woman and talk. I reached for my trusty awkward situation management tool – my iPhone – and pretended I wasn’t listening intently to their conversation, when I really was.

Thankfully, after about five minutes they began slowly working me into their conversation. It felt great to chat with other special needs moms in person. They understood the challenges I have each day. None of us judge for the strange ways we sometimes have to do things to accommodate our sensitive kids, cause they’re doing the same.

I soon realized that one of them had a daughter so similar to Cordy it was frightening. Both have extreme anxiety, same diagnosis, similar sensory issues – and they’re the same age. I truly enjoyed the conversation. Just as Cordy doesn’t have a lot of friends, I also don’t have a lot of other mom friends living within the city.

When Dr. B released the kids, Cordy came out and immediately told me she had a great time. I asked what they did, and she said they introduced themselves to each other, set ground rules for the group, and then played a game together. Cordy also told me she made a friend in the group – who happened to be the girl who seemed to be so similar to Cordy. Interesting. Of course, she couldn’t tell me the other girl’s name or what is was that she liked about her, but hey, it’s a start.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this group will be fantastic for Cordy, and maybe even me, too. I’m hoping she’ll learn how to play within a group and not get upset if things don’t go her way. It would be amazing if Cordy could have friends that she wanted to see outside of when they happened to be right next to her. And I’m hoping to learn better ways to support her through this, and maybe pick up some new wisdom from the other moms.

Hopeful. Ever hopeful.

I’m grateful that we stumbled into this group. I don’t want to change my daughter into someone else, but instead give her the tools to better interact with this world around her, a world which she won’t ever be able to fully escape. With the right tools and support, this kid will do great things.

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