Singing Surprise

Singing

Sunday at church Emma and Ethan, along with their cousins, performed the special music for the congregation.  They sang, “How Great is Our God” and did a beautiful job. They blessed everyone with their praises to God but the biggest blessing was an unexpected vocalist that decided to join in. Caleb was sitting next to me and I noticed he was intently watching the other kids sing and attempting to sing along with them!

This is not the first time that we have noticed music helping Caleb find his voice.  A few months ago he discovered the twins karaoke machine and we were amazed at how well he did trying to sing every word as he watched the lyrics on the screen. Here he is singing along to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on the karaoke machine. It’s one of his favorite songs!

What a blessing!  I know God has a plan for Caleb’s life and I am starting to think that this plan may include singing or music.

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Caleb’s school year is coming to an end and as we look back and reflect on this past year we are amazed at how well things turned out. I think back to last August when the school year was just starting and I remember our concerns over whether we were making the right decision or not. This was the first year that Caleb was mainstreamed into a general ed 3rd grade classroom.

This is scary for the parents of a child with Autism because you worry that other kids may tease your child or that your child will be so disruptive that the teachers, other students or parents will complain. Dwight and I were not sure how Caleb would adjust to being in a classroom and wondered if he would be happy and accept the new setting.

Change is always hard for a child with Autism and there were lots of changes for Caleb to adjust to. There would be a much larger class with more students and more noise and distractions. There would be a more rigid schedule with more academic demands and more rules to follow.

Dwight and I felt that it was very important to be open and honest with the Caleb’s classmates. We wanted to share with them what Autism was (and what it wasn’t) and also suggest ways they could include Caleb and communicate with him.

We visited the classroom the first week of school and gave a short talk to the class explaining that Caleb was like them in many ways : He likes pizza, swimming and Spongebob SquarePants.

Next we pointed out that there are some things that were “different” about Caleb:  He may flap his hands or make other gestures when he is excited. He cannot talk so communication is often difficult … these difficulties may cause Caleb to get frustrated and mad and he may cry or show other signs that he is upset.

We taught them some simple sign language that they might be able to use to talk to Caleb and gave them some games and activities he enjoys and ways they can play with him and interact with him. We told them that the reason we wanted to have Caleb in their class was not just for academic reasons, but also because Caleb needed to learn how to play and make friends. They all seemed eager to help Caleb and Dwight and I hoped that they would continue to have that enthusiasm throughout the year.

A couple months into the school year I went on a field trip with the class and I was amazed at how well Caleb was accepted. The students were all so helpful and kind to him and they would even give him high-fives and fist bumps. It was so neat to see how Caleb’s classmates interacted with him. He had made one special friend, Colin Lee, who really helped Caleb and told me that Caleb was his “best buddy”.

I think the students have gained a lot from Caleb being in their class too. One of the girls told me that she wants to be an aide or therapist and work with kids with Autism when she grows up. Most of these kids had never heard of Autism before Caleb came into their class. They were even a little scared of Caleb at first. But now they don’t even notice the differences in Caleb because they have become used to him and they accept him the way he is.

Caleb’s teacher, aides and support staff are wonderful and have really helped accommodate Caleb so he can be in the classroom with his peers. His teacher, Mr. Henry, has been amazing with Caleb. His flexibility and patience has helped Caleb feel welcome in the class and he has now started to look to Mr. Henry for instruction which is huge!

A few weeks ago the class started writing a play about their school year. One of the things they all agreed upon was how much Caleb had been an important part of their year and how much their perception and interaction with him had changed since the year started. When Dwight and I, along with Caleb’s grandmothers, went and saw them perform the play they had written we were overwhelmed with joy as we watched the kids talk about Caleb and how much they enjoyed having him in their class. When they concluded by singing the song from Toy Story “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” we all had tears in our eyes as we realized how blessed we were.

Here is a video clip of that portion of the play along with the song. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Birthday Wishes

We always have a hard time knowing what to buy for Caleb for Christmas and his birthday since he can’t verbally tell us what he wants.  With Drew, Emma, and Ethan it’s a constant stream of “Oh, mom … come see this commercial! I really want THAT for my birthday!” or the excited chatter from the toy aisle at Wal-mart,  “Mom, mom! You gotta come see this cool new toy! Oh, and this one too …”  Many times Caleb will open a present, take one look at the toy and then toss it aside and go onto the next one.  We can’t tell if he doesn’t like the toy or if he was expecting or wishing for a certain toy so he keeps unwrapping hoping that the next gift he unwraps will be that toy he has dreamt of.

Although Caleb can’t verbally give us ideas for his birthday or Christmas list we have known that there had to be toys on TV or in the stores that he wanted.  We knew that he probably had a mental wish list of toys, DVD’s etc. that he wanted to ask for but didn’t know how.  The challenge to Dwight and I as parents has been trying to find a way to access this mental wish list and provide ways for Caleb to tell us what toys he would like to have.

Caleb has always liked computers and recently has been fascinated with watching clips of Mickey Mouse, Rolie Polie Olie and Spongebob on the internet. He found YouTube with the help of his older brother, Drew, and he was in heaven.  He then started using the Google search and looking up his favorite characters to watch videos, see photos of the DVD jackets and his favorite thing … reading the credits (he loves to read the credits and see who the producer, editor, director, etc. for that particular episode is).

One day when I logged onto Amazon I was looking at the “recently viewed” items on my account and noticed all these DVD’s of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Spongebob. I realized that since Caleb had been using my computer to “surf the net” he was logged in under my account in Amazon.   I went to YouTube and saw similar video clips.  All of the sudden it hit me that I could tell what videos and movies that Caleb liked best and use this information to find presents that he would like.

I also noticed that he really enjoyed watching this clip of an animated Mr. Potato Head and he even showed it to me one time and kept rewinding and watching it over and over and laughing hysterically. I had to admit this Mr. Potato Head was pretty cool and since he seemed to like watching the video I thought he might like it for his upcoming birthday so I went ahead and ordered it along with a few of the videos he had recently viewed on Amazon.

When Caleb opened the DVD’s of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and Spongebob he was excited and started to run off with them to put them in his DVD player. “Wait, Caleb … you still have another present to open” we said as we handed him the wrapped Mr. Potato Head. He took the gift and slowly tore one strip of the wrapping paper. He saw the writing on the box and realized what was inside and his face lit up. He quickly tore the rest of the wrapping paper off and looked up at Dwight and I was a huge grin on his face and his blue eyes were dancing with excitement.  Caleb’s birthday wish had come true and he had gotten the gift he had dreamed of.   “Happy Birthday Caleb !” we all said as we helped him take Mr. Potato Head out of box.

Here is a video clip of Caleb playing with his new toy :