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Saturday, September 28, 2019

My high school freshman

I thought I'd make good use of being up with Janey in the middle of the night to update a bit here!  I can't sleep lately either, so I don't really mind her being awake as much as I sometimes can.

How are things going, you might ask?  Quite well, really.  And I am knocking on wood all over the place saying that.

Janey started high school earlier this month.  I was VERY nervous about it.  She hadn't gone to a new school for many years, and the high school we picked is far away from our house.  But it had the program we wanted, as I've written about. And so far, so good!  The bus has been more reliable than it usually is, despite having to navigate all kinds of complicated Boston traffic and roads to get her to and from school.  We are getting good reports from her teacher, who although I haven't met him in person yet seems great.  We get a page each day, partly self-reported with stamps by Janey, telling us what activities she had, whether she ate much lunch or not, and whether it was a great day, a good day or a not so good day.  There's only been a couple not so good days!  Her teacher (sort of like her home room teacher, as she has several teachers and they rotate around the 4 or 5 connected rooms that are for her program of 40 kids) writes a little note every day and is great at being touch by email, and that makes me so happy.  I love knowing a bit about how Janey is doing each day.

She even has electives!  She didn't elect them, but they were well chosen.  She has dance almost every day, which is just a dream come true.  I've always wanted Janey to get more of a chance to dance.  She has Very Special Arts most days, which is music and art for special needs kids, and she swims several times a week.  Every Friday, there is some kind of outing.  We send in a little money for it.  She has gone to the corner store a few times, and this Friday to the Dollar Tree!  I love the idea of her getting out and about.

Janey has seemed happy at home most of the time since starting school, also.  Her main activity lately is what you might call close watching of two movies---"Coco" and "The Emperor's New Groove".  She watches them both at least once a day, and seems to have memorized them.  She remembers right where she left off if interrupted, and recites the scene she is about to see when she goes back to watch.  As with so many of the things Janey likes, we agree with her taste.  Coco is a fantastic movie, all about music and (this struck me the other day) the power of music to reach those who might not talk much, in this case the title character of the movie, Coco, who is the main character's great-grandmother, who has dementia.  The Emperor's New Groove is just plain funny, and Janey seems to appreciate the humor a lot.  As she got ready to watch it just now, she recited the beginning "I was the nicest guy on earth and they ruined my life for no reason!"  After school earlier, she spent about an hour with nothing on, no TV or music, happily reciting lines from the movies and singing song clips.  I love listening to her do that.  I know it's echolalia, but it's not the kind of echolalia she used to do more of, frantic and unable to stop sounding.  This echolalia is very varied, and seems to just be thinking aloud, a stream of consciousness recitation of what's in her head.  Every now and then, there's a line I think is from school.."Can you guys please come over to the kitchen?" or things like that.

A few weeks ago, my parents visited, and I could tell at one point Janey was in the exact rare mood to show my father something he hadn't seen before, Janey's flash card abilities.  I held up a big pile of picture flash cards, one after the other, and said "this is a...." and she named what was on the card.  ALL of the cards.  The few she got wrong were close guesses, like calling a fox a dog or a tiger a lion.  There were words in there I wasn't sure she knew at all, but she did.  My father was surprised and impressed.

I've been reading more about RPM (rapid prompting method) and it seems like what Janey will sometimes do with the flash cards is similar to what kids do in RPM sessions, from what I can see.  I have to ask rapidly what's on the cards, I have to move right away to the next one.  It almost feels like magic---the way to glimpse what is in Janey's mind that for whatever reason she can't usually tell me.  But it also seems to have the limitations I've heard several people mention about RPM.  It's not really a skill that carries over much into every day life, at least in terms of what Janey readily says.  The words she uses for the cards are not words that are really part of her limited regular vocabulary, and I am not sure how I can make them part of it.  It seems like a lot of the value of the cards is to help people understand Janey's mind, to show she knows more than it might appear. But if she wasn't in the mood for doing it, she just wouldn't, and I wouldn't be able to push her to do so, even if I were so inclined, which I'm not.  I wish, as I have wished for so many years, that I better understood Janey's mind.

On a personal note, I was finally officially diagnosed this past week with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that among other things causes one's eyes and ears to be extremely dry, and also causes severe fatigue.  I've had the symptoms for a while, and a new rheumatologist I'm seeing gave the official name to it, although it's been tossed around as likely for years.  I mention this for a few reasons.  One is curiosity if anyone else out there has the autism/autoimmune disease connection, for any autoimmune diseases (I have some antibodies showing I might another more serious autoimmune condition or might get it at some point, but thankfully not now, but they all tie together quite a bit).  The other reason is just, well, sort of to talk about how a child's autism interacts with a parent's own health issues.  My tiredness, which at times have made it so hard staying awake when Janey needed me awake that it's part of why Tony retired as soon as he was able to, has along the years made this journey with Janey a bit tougher.  There isn't a cure for Sjogren's, but I am glad to have a reason and an explanation for some of my issues.  And I hope if any of you have symptoms you might be inclined to dismiss as just being part of the stress and tiredness that comes along with special needs parenting, you will seek out a medical opinion and keep trying to get answers.  It took me a LONG time to get really proactive about my own health.

I've rambled here, I'm sure partly because it's 1:20 in the morning and Janey is still going strong, but as always, I've enjoyed virtually talking with you, my friends, my sisters and brothers by means of our shared challenges and joys in life.