Competitions, slight regression and Mason

It has been an interesting week/weekend.  Minnie had her second competition and since it was local, this time Mickey attended. School saw a bit of regression last week, but we are seemingly back on track.  Mason the dog has lost his mind.

That was a grammatically weak opening paragraph, but I am mentally tired and the pollen (yellow snow) numbers are at an all time high here and my head has been throbbing for days :-). Let’s start with a bit of regression – Mickey struggled a bit last week.  I shouldn’t be surprised, every single time I write of how well he is doing, he has a setback.  But, it was really one incident that was problematic and then the consequences of that choice.  That was Tuesday afternoon and by Friday he was back on track. So, I am not going to dwell on it too much.  Today I got a note from his teacher saying Mickey was annoyed with him over an assignment, but was keeping it together well.

This weekend was abnormal because Minnie had her second dance competition, but this time it was local rather than out of state.  That meant Mickey got to come see her dance too.  This would have been fun, except the competition ran really late Friday night and her production team (ages 6-18) didn’t perform until well after 10:00 pm.  This is really late for Minnie and the other younger members.  This is also really late for Mickey.  He gets very whiny starting around his 8 pm bedtime.  You can imagine how pleasant he was by 10 pm.  She performed again on Sunday with just the mini team.  They did well, with a top 5 finish and a special judges award.  We spent most of the weekend at the competition supporting her team members during their routines.  Mickey joined us for some, and skipped some and that is just fine.  He was there to support his sister and he enjoyed the parts he was there for.

And Mason….I have written some about Mason before.  He is the sweetest, most unflappable dog ever.  Last week was our 5 year anniversary of having found him at our local rescue group.  We brought him home as a 10 month old puppy and found that he was exactly what my animal obsessed daughter needed and exactly what my raging melting down son needed to calm.  Mason walks into a raging meltdown – not away.  He calms Mickey instantly.  He never barks, he never growls, he never snaps.  He is very chill.  Then last week, he had two instances of aggression – both while sound asleep.  He and Minnie have slept together almost since day 1 (sleeping with Mickey is not an option because he moves entirely too much).  They cuddle together, with Mason often scooting under her head/arms/leg.  So, last Tuesday Minnie rolled over and Mason growled and snapped at her.  No damage was done, but it was a little scary.  Since it was so out of character we assumed he had a nightmare or she rolled over on his tail or something that hurt him and we thought no more about it.  Two days later, on Thursday night it happened again – only this time he got her on the nose.  She was bleeding when I got to the room. Both had been asleep, but both were still curled up together and he was very calm.  She was crying and hysterical trying to convince me that Mason hadn’t done it and begging me not to make him sleep in his crate.  For the record, he didn’t clamp down on her – he snapped and got her with his teeth, but there is no bite mark – just several scratches where his teeth got her nose.

I took him to the vet yesterday to have him checked out and we could find nothing wrong.  No obvious cause of pain – no inflamed gums, no obvious injury, nothing on physical exam.  We ran blood work, but that is seemingly normal too.  Two years ago, he did have a bad neck/back injury (from jumping up on furniture – we think), but he cried a lot and was in obvious pain suddenly one morning.  This could be bothering him again, as the doctor said that it might flare up periodically, but he is running and jumping fine, so I don’t think that is it. During waking hours his behavior has not changed at all – chill, easy going, loving, snuggly – no lethargy, no real change in appetite (maybe a little less than usual, but it is hard to tell because he free feeds – only eats when he is hungry – so we don’t feed him at set times, he just always has food in his bowl).  This is just an issue when he is asleep.

If any dog lovers have suggestions, I am all ears.  Minnie is very annoyed with me because I won’t let him sleep with her until we figure this out.  He slept with me two nights and has spent two nights in his crate.  But, he doesn’t snuggle with me the way he does with her, so I haven’t seen the snapping.  She has a queen sized bed, so he has plenty of options other than to snuggle up close to her, but he doesn’t choose to take them. She is not a wild sleeper either.  He is not food aggressive, nor territorial at all, so I doubt he has grown territorial about her bed.  If she comes to sleep with me, he follows her.  In fact, he spends 80% of his time with her – all our animals do.  They love me and Mickey, but in truth we are just poor substitutes for Minnie.  They flock to her on the couch, in her room, in the kitchen.  Both Mason and Sherbert follow her wherever she goes. He also spends zero time in her room if she isn’t in there. Which is why this makes no sense to me.  He was calm and still snuggling her when I got to her room, so he wasn’t agitated or annoyed with her.  We love Mason, so we really must find a solution and he hates his crate and always has, so none of us love the idea of him sleeping there.  In fact, Minnie slept next to crate on the hard tile floor in the living room last night because I put Mason in there.  Obviously, my main concern is Minnie’s safety, but we very much love Mason and want to figure out what has happened that has him so out of sorts when he is sleeping.


Middle school prep

So, this is the point in my blog where I usually come back to say that Mickey is struggling since hearing of his transition plan. Four times we have gotten close to transitioning and four times he has lost his everloving mind very soon after. Even when he says it is what he wants. So, how has Mickey taken this bit of news?

Well, he his excitement hasn’t slowed at all. In fact, it has been his best week+ in months. He went to his teacher and asked for extra work to bring his grades up. He brought two Fs up to Bs. He and his teacher have attempted to work out their differences. He has earned more computer time than ever. He has told everybody in the neighborhood and at dance about his move. 

This is awesome. The only people he hasn’t discussed it with is anyone at school. After his teacher admitting that he was pushing Mike so that he could succeed in his new placement, we chose to not bring it up. He may know from the office (they know because they scheduled his IEP meeting), but I don’t want his teacher “pushing” him. His version of pushing looks a lot like antagonizing Mickey until he melts down, rather than helping him use coping skills. Their relationship is far too precarious to add that to the mix. We don’t have our meeting until 4/26 and Mickey would rather not discuss it with him until then. That has my full support. So, a nice positive update for a change. Fingers crossed it can stay that way. Yes, Mickey is a little nervous and I expect that will ramp up a bit, but until then we are going to ride the wave of excitement and motivation I am seeing. 

School updates

Those who have been reading for a while may recall that we had an IEP meeting in September where we talked about transitioning Mickey from his current highly restrictive school placement (far more restrictive than he needs and with zero opportunities for extra curricular activities or even “specials” like art or music). Exit criteria was given to Mickey for him to work on.  What wasn’t defined is the period of time he had to meet that criteria (a week? a month? 3 months?).  I also think I wrote about his teacher interfering in Mickey’s relationship with his girlfriend and the subsequent growing dislike Mickey has for his teacher.  This has lead to some issues – specifically pre-holiday, but in the last two months, Mickey’s dislike and distrust has grown to hatred with open hostility toward his teacher.

It is worth mentioning that Mickey loves most adults.  In fact, in the five plus years that I have known him, I can only think of two other adults that he hated.  The two adults were a bus monitor, who by all accounts had no business being a bus monitor for special needs kids – she lasted about 7 weeks and just never showed back up to work.  The other was the director of the daycare where he was bullied who told him that if he would act better, the other kids wouldn’t have a reason to bully him….so, in both cases, his extreme dislike felt justified.

I can’t get him to explain his dislike for his teacher, but I suspect it is a combination of several factors: this is a male teacher, and while he likes males, he is used to female authority figures (at home and at school), the teacher did interfere in his relationship with D. and never did anything to fix it before D moved to her new school, the teacher admitted he was pushing Mickey harder than the others because he thought he was capable and in an effort to prep him for transition.  I also suspect that there may be a historical aspect to this dislike – Mickey’s memories of his early years are very foggy, but when he struggles to explain his dislike, it can sometimes be attributed to some memory he can’t express.  Maybe the teacher reminds him of someone, or it could be his teachers habit of placing hands on the back of Mickey’s neck to guide him to or from a situation – this drives Mickey nuts.  He also has had to restrain Mickey more than any teacher in history – for offenses that wouldn’t necessarily need restraining if interventions were put in place before the explosion.  His teacher, by his own admission, does push him sometimes – rather than taking the time to try to de-escalate the situation.  This is the opposite of what the program he is in is designed to do, but it has become a real problem.

If I had my preference, we would change teachers, but his school only has one for his grade level and while there is clearly a serious personality conflict, we were still working on the assumption that we would be transitioning, so I was hoping to wait it out.  But, in the meantime – overall behavior is great but at least twice a week since after the holiday break, Mickey and the teacher have gotten into it. I have talked to the teacher and the administration and expressed my concerns that it seems the teacher is pushing Mickey when he is already agitated, rather than encouraging coping skills to calm the situation.  His teacher from last year has had to step in repeatedly when she hears Mickey ramping up and is able to diffuse the situation, but when she isn’t available, it always seems to turn physical between them.  So, for those reasons and the fact that his teacher is the one that determines his status on his exit criteria, the transition has been off the table.

Until yesterday, that is.  I got a call from the county coordinator for the Autism program we were hoping to transition to.  The administration at Mickey’s school called her and wants to start the transition process.  We did a lot of discussing whether there was benefit to transitioning before the end of the year (there are 11 weeks left of school, however there are also the standardized testing week and spring break in there).  They won’t move him before the testing, so that would only leave 4 weeks of school for him to transition – and as much as I would like to get him out of his current setting, it is likely more disruptive than helpful for him to do half days at a school he won’t be at in the fall anyway.  So, we made the decision to move him at the start of middle school in August.

Not only will he be transitioning back to a “regular” school, but for the first time since 1st grade, it is his home school.  He will be able to attend with his neighborhood friends.  We set up an IEP meeting this morning to discuss all the details of the program, how his day will be structured and whether we think it best to start slow and do half day where he is and a half day at his new school or whether to just have a fresh start at his new school (this is what we are leaning toward, as he will have a new teacher next year if he stays at his school, so there isn’t a deep connection there that we feel would be helpful).

I hung up the phone and cried.  I don’t know why it hit me so hard, but I felt hope for his education for the first time in a very long time.  His school (prior to the issues with his teacher this year) has been good to him.  He has grown tremendously there, but academically I fear he has fallen behind.  He is capable of functioning in a less restrictive environment and he needs to have options for band or chorus, which he desperately wants to do.  This program will keep him in a small class setting and will offer paraprofessional support when he is able to go to general education classrooms (which could be up to 2/3rds of the day, if he is doing well).  He will have a daily social skills class too, which he needs.  The thing it offers him that means the most is options – it is flexible – if he can’t handle 2/3 of a day in gen ed, he can do much less.  If things are going well, he can be increased as well.  It also means shorter bus rides and the options for “normal” stuff like clubs, spirit nights, dances, football games, etc.  He may or may not want to participate in those things, but I want him to have the option.

Since this is coming from the county level and exit criteria has been met, per them, unless he does something to royally screw this up, we are moving.  I am beside myself and so is he.  So, we are going to wrap this week up on a positive note.  Yes, we have nearly 5 months before it actually happens and 6 weeks before we have an IEP meeting to formalize the plan, and never having been part of this program, we have no idea how he will do in it, plus middle school is a huge transition anyway,  but this is a great thing. Mickey said “so for the first time I can tell people where I go to school and not be embarrassed or have to explain what kind of school it is because it is a regular school?”.  Yep, kiddo – the same school your mom and uncle attended, your friends from the neighborhood and dance attend and your sister will attend.  Your regular old assigned school.  Welcome to your home school Mickey.  I see great opportunities in your future.

Winter break

Last week was winter break for us. This is the first time that we have had a full week – our winter break is usually just 2 days. I had some rollover vacation time that I wasn’t able to use last year, so I took the first week off from work that I have taken consecutively in years. A couple of notes from our week: 

10 days is too long of a vacation for Mickey 
Dance competitions are a whole new world 
Run Disney events may not be something Mickey is cut out for, but Minnie clearly is 
Momma is exhausted 

To begin our break Minnie had her very first dance competition in Chattanooga, TN. We attended a competition locally last year to support our school, but two hours and Mickey’s head was ready to explode from the loud music and chaos. For that reason, we opted to have Mickey stay with Grandma and Grandpa. The plan was that we would drive up Friday evening, compete Saturday and Sunday. Sunday evening I would leave Minnie with teammates and I would drive back down to pick up Mickey for a day of sightseeing with the dance team on Monday. That way he missed the long hours of competition but still got to do the fun stuff. 

The competition was….interesting? I am not sure what to say. We had fun. Minnie and her team danced well – as did the older girls. This was a large national competition and we are a small dance studio. The other teams were….I don’t know…glitzier, more dedicated to competition, etc. Our school offers competition, but the main focus is dance – not competition. Our teams rehearse once a week during an hour long class and each of the girls take additional classes in ballet, jazz, contemporary and/or hip hop. So, competition is just a bit of what we do. The costumes, the production values, the scenery, etc. were almost all significantly more extensive than we are used to. The mini team, which Minnie is on, placed top 8th overall – out of 23. They weren’t expected to place. Production (which Minnie also dances in) also came in 8th. So, we felt pretty good about that. We just felt a bit out of our league. 

On Sunday, I picked up Mickey as planned – after rave reviews from Grandma and Grandpa on how well behaved he was(!). I drove back to TN and Monday morning a group of us took in the sights in Chattanooga. We drive through Chattanooga each trip to Indiana, but the kids had never spent any time there, so this was exciting. We did Ruby Falls (and discovered that Mickey is claustrophobic). We did Rock City, even with Mickey’s fear of heights, he thought it was kind of cool. And we did the incline railway. Fun was had – sights were seen and we left Monday evening exhausted. 
On Tuesday morning we left for Disney. This would be our longest trip to date. We have long discovered that Mickey does best in 4 day increments. But, we had the time so we thought we would give it a shot. Tuesday night we ate at T-Rex in Disney Springs, which Mickey had been anxious to try (Minnie and I ate there with friends a couple of years ago). Wednesday through Sunday we were in the parks. The kids also ran their first Run Disney race (kids run – Mickey mile). Mickey had talked of little else for weeks. He had even convinced himself that he was going to win (reality doesn’t always have a place in Mickey’s thought process – he isn’t a runner, he hadn’t trained and he had no idea what the run was all about). The morning of the race though, he lost his mind – anxiety got to him, fear that he couldn’t complete the race, that he wouldn’t get his medal, etc. As we arrived at the event, his anxiety continued to amp up until I was sure a meltdown was in our future. He insisted on lining up at the front of the corral, but complained that people were pushing him and getting too close. I suggested he move toward the back and he said he couldn’t win from back there. I told him there was no winner, just completion and he yelled at me. Then the run started 10 minutes late, and every minute that ticked by was agony for me and Mickey – as he was fighting to hold it together. 

When they finally started, I could only hope that he would make it and I headed to the finish line and the anxiety started to get to me. What if he melted down? What if he fell or someone knocked into him? He was so on edge, I wasn’t confident in his coping skills. This is my life – worrying about how he is coping, all while trying to get him to expand his comfort zone. Well, Minnie came in well before Mickey and I grew more concerned. 3 long minutes after her finish ticked by and then I finally saw Mickey round the track to the finish. He was walking and red faced (it was very hot out), but when he saw the finish he picked up the pace and jogged in – hi-fiving Minnie Mouse on the way. He cried when I got to him and said it was awful. But, you know what? He did it. He wore that medal for the next 3 days – he was so proud. So, I am glad he did it. I am glad I didn’t let him talk himself out of it. I am glad I didn’t let my anxiety – because of his anxiety – let me pull him. He wore his shirt to school yesterday and proudly told his class of his accomplishment. He isn’t sure if he wants to do more RunDisney runs, but I don’t care if he does or doesn’t. He tried something new, he worked through tons of triggers, he utilized coping skill after coping skill and he finished. Here he is showing Buzz his medal. 

That is kind of a metaphor for our week. Saturday afternoon and Sunday were tough for him at the parks too. He had been out of routine for way too long, but he had also set a goal of 30 characters he wanted to meet and get autographs from. I tried to help him stick with his plan, but we had to abandon a bit Saturday late afternoon when he was just unable to cope anymore. So, we formulated a new plan to meet his goal Sunday morning. Then I got a phone call that my beloved Godmother had unexpectedly passed away Saturday evening, which put an additional damper on the trip. But, still we we ended the week with 31 individual characters and autographs. He was thrilled. He was also so far beyond done that it was a rough trip home. Minnie had been sick for part of the week and Mickey was just in a foul mood. But, it is Disney and that is their happy place – even when one is sick and one is cranky. They had a blast. We were all exhausted as we headed back for school/work yesterday. 

Minnie, my mom and I are headed to Northern Indiana Thursday night for the services for my Godmother. I am not brave enough yet to fly with Mickey and he said he isn’t ready to try. My brother can’t be alone, so Mickey will stay with my dad and brother. This will be Minnie’s first plane ride, and though she knows the reason that we are going is sad, she is pretty excited about the plane ride. My Godmother was a larger than life character with a booming laugh and a sense of humor that couldn’t be rivaled. Unfortunately, my kids never got to meet her, so they aren’t feeling the loss other than to know that I am sad and that my mother has lost her best friend of 50 years. It is interesting to note that I learned my very first dirty joke from her (unknowingly – I was eavesdropping when she told it to my mom and it stuck – even if I didn’t fully understand it at the time). Even more interesting is that it is a Disney joke – so I did find some humor in the fact that I was at Disney World when her daughter called to tell me the news. 

This is me, my parents and my Godparents at my Christening