Stephen I. Starr at EIP pre-school
Got some very interesting e-mail from my AR and Twitter peeps. Rather than answer you each individually, I've decided to write a blog post to give you all some insight into what my life is like as a Realtor battling with my kids learning disabilities. So go get comfy 'cause this is gonna' be a looooong post (LOL). Got a question? You can comment, e-mail, or tweet me (@CTannStarr).
No one really knows what anyone else is going through. We look at the surface and make assumptions because we process information based upon what we know and/or what we think or understand to be true. We all have "typical behaviors." When you are a parent with a learning disabled child (or in my case two of them) your life becomes "atypical." Your behavior and mannerisms adjust to accommodate your loved ones to the point where you don't have a lot of time to adhere to the usual games of cat and mouse regarding tact and diplomacy. You become more blunt and direct, especially when you discover that your atypical children have no guile. They do not understand gray. They understand black and white. Yes or no. True or false. On and off. Likes and dislikes. Right and wrong. They are very honest with their emotions. Sometimes brutally honest. When you become friends (or are a parent) to someone who is brutally honest, your emotions are going to be taken for one hell of a ride.
When you deal with Autism and PDD-NOS issues, one can not approach it with the attitude of "being a little bit pregnant." You are either prego, or you are not. You are either in it to win a educational milestone victory, or not. I can not speak for all parents. I can only speak for myself and I must say that the process of evaluating my children, the activities, tools and commitments to appointments I must keep in order for professionals to measure their level of functioning has been exhausting. It never ends, which means that my time is very precious and valuable to me. I can't stand when people waste my time because it usually means that something very important to me and my family was put off to make time for a no-show.
Any developmental disability is a condition that significantly interferes with a child's ability to function. Children are already a handful, so imagine them with peculiar quirks far off the beaten path of mainstream child like behavior. Language and speech are not the same thing. Unfortunately, a lot of people take that fact for granted. I did until I had to deal with this issue with my little people, who I love dearly. The funny thing is, now that I am dealing with it, I have been blessed to discover how rich the five fold aspects of non-linguistic, verbal, paralinguistic, language and speech really are. I now say exactly what I mean, even if it is not articulated to the best of my ability, because I live with kids who take me literally. Don't read into this something that I didn't say. I have the prerogative of changing my mind and this option is at my disposal every single minute of the day. I will use it (LOL). But I digress... getting back to the little minions:
The curious thing about taking Stephen to a specialized pre-school to help him overcome his disabilities is the fact that he has a pre-school personality for the event. Being 2.7 years old in an Early Intervention Program I'm sure he has no idea that he is doing it, but I can tell because of his patterns of stimming. Stimming = Self-Stimulatory Behavior. In his specific case, he has a series of very interesting "tells" and gets very excited about the fact that I have his back-pack or that we are going to see Susana for Special Instruction and/or go to Personal Touch for his speech and occupational therapy.
For that matter, so does his older brother Noah, but his "tells" are far more subtle and sophisticated. I believe it is because he is only moderately Autistic. The PDD-NOS in Step is more severe, which is unusual because I was taught and under the assumption that it would be relatively mild compared to Autism. I guess that's why they describe it as being on a spectrum. The range can be wide... In sum and substance, I usually joke that my children should never play poker or be introduced to any type of gambling game. They are both very obsessive and transparent little people, so I have to be very careful with them (LOL).
Because of their openness and honesty-by-default mindset I am learning a lot about myself and others through the eyes of my children. I have also discovered that they are very good at reading adults so I find that I never go wrong when I take my cues from them. If my kids don't like someone I instantly pass on associating with them. I wont hesitate and I wont think twice about it. I have walked away from doing business with people my kids instantly withdrew from. They rarely withdraw from anyone, so when they do it is time for me to go.
What I love most about my little Mini-Realtors in training is the fact that their communication delays have made me more aware of the power of communication. My 2 year old rarely speaks, so they are teaching hm sign language with his speech therapy. Little dude has two speech therapists. Very cool. That means I am learning sign language by default from two professionals. My 6 year old engages in echolalia. He's a mimic. We refer to him as the two legged recorder. He has no idea what more than half of the words mean, but if something catches his attention, he internalizes it and can repeat it back word for word and with perfect diction. We don't know if he has total recall because my son can not answer a compound question, however he can sing songs from The Lion King in five different languages. Perfectly. In a beautiful singing voice... How crazy is that?
Trying to understand Autism is not easy. I am mentally exhausted, emotionally drained and tired most nights. Blogging relaxes me. Jogging relaxes me. Creating music and art makes me happy. Joking with my friends is priceless because my life is very serious more often than not. The funny thing is, my habits are becoming my kids habits. They now have an expectation to help me create work because this is what they have been exposed to: my constant working. They sincerely believe they are supposed to be doing exactly what they see I and my hubby do. They insist upon it, in fact - quite forcefully at times. My life is always very interesting because of it (LOL).
Lets take a moment to Wiki two points of order because I really want you to understand exactly what I mean. I quote: Echolalia is the repetition of vocalizations made by another person. Echolalia can be present in Autism, Tourette syndrome, Aphasia, Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, Developmental Disability, Schizophrenia, Asperger syndrome and, occasionally, other forms of psychopathology. It is also frequently found in blind visually impaired children, although most will outgrow this behavior. When done involuntarily, echolalia may be considered a tic. The word "echolalia" is derived from the Greek ἠχώ meaning "echo" or "to repeat" and λαλιά (laliá) meaning "babbling meaningless talk" (of onomatopoeic origin from the verb λαλέω (laléo) meaning "to talk").
Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is one of the pervasive developmental disorders and Autism spectrum disorders. PDD-NOS is a diagnosis for people who are well-described by the "PDD" label, but can't be categorized by any other disorder. It is usually milder than autism and has similar symptoms to autism, with some symptoms present, and others absent. The boundaries between PDD-NOS and non-autistic conditions are not fully resolved. End quote.
I wish Stephen's condition was more mild than Noah's but it is not. His manifestations require twice as much therapy plus the government originally authorized a shadow at school for him just to help supervise Step and guard against the storm of self-destructive behavior that periodically erupts (e.g. head banging, kicks, slaps, scratching and an occasional bite or two). He loves school and is quite a flirt there, so they let the state shadow go (for now) because he is doing very well.
Having two speech delayed kids is a challenge. When I take my kids to work with me, they are not just learning a profession, they are learning how to apply language in a socially appropriate manner in a variety of settings. When I take my kids to work with me, they are being introduced into a world they have an expectation to be functioning in. Because of the obsessiveness inherent in both of their learning disorders, I do not have the luxury of waiting until they are teenagers to start asking them what they want to be. I have to show them different professions now. I have to make them aware of what is going on in the world now because my kids are anal retentive in their disorders and obsess about patterns and details. They function in an extreme environment of habits and schedules. They do not tolerate a break in their routines unless they are on a field trip or carefully planned adventure where the destination is fun.
Noah is crazy about computers, buildings, cars, construction trucks, music and dance. He loves art. He loves photography. He thinks he is Bob-The-Builder-Realtor-Man-Of-Action and is Open House crazy. Noah glows with happiness around new construction. Sometimes we sit and watch new construction activity like some people watch television. I let him have the Nikon all of the time. Little dude can take some pretty good pictures. He becomes very serious if you give him a camera, almost as anal retentive with detail as his Mama. I even used one of his photographs on a post once in AR (giving him the credit). He was thrilled to see his picture posted on-line. My boy is a YouTube / Disney fan. He knows his work and will walk around with his paintings and photographs reminding me that they belong to him. He will Google his name, or the Lion King and play in YouTube for hours. Very cool to see him so proud and happy. CTS10866 is my YouTube channel and he knows how to find it. He enjoys seeing his family and our little real estate outings on-line.
Stephen is crazy about Handy Mandy and Hannah Montana. He walks around with screw drivers and Allen-keys trying to take apart my apartment and has a HM Toolbox. My boys have thrown away the toy tools and have taken to filling it with my computer tools. I have to buy Hannah Montana yogurt cups when we go shopping. I refuse to buy him a Hannah tee shirt, but I have thought about it more than once. He really does love her. Maybe as a PJ, but then I balk because I know one day some stupid relative or friend will take a picture of him in it and he'll be embarrassed when he gets older. I am number one on the list as a stupid relative who would do so (LOL).
When the boys observe me creating blog posts they come right over and put their collective two cents in. Noah tells me not to use a picture and starts insisting which one should go where. If I give Stephen a turn at it he points and states either "this one" or "that one." Little dude also fights me for the mouse and skype headset while I'm working all the time. He thinks blogging is a family sport where participants must wrestle to gain possession of the keyboard, mouse and headset. I don't mind the nightly ritual of fighting over the computers because real estate has taught my child to select between two objects. My 2 year old has learned how to compare and decide what he wants...
Real Estate is not just my profession, it is a tool that I use to help my children overcome their disabilities and learn. The best bonus is their love for YouTibe, Disney and scrolling through the photographs on AcriveRain.
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