Kaitlyn is absolutely excited to go to school on Wednesdays this nine weeks. Or at least that is what she told me this morning. When I asked her why, he answer was simple: “It’s STEM Wednesday, dad!” Well, ok then.
Kaitlyn has always gravitated toward math and science, and that is something that Amber and I have encouraged her to do and supported her on. There is just something about using her analytic mind and figuring out how to solve problems on a scientific level that has always appealed to her (don’t ask her to do any “common sense” problem solving. She is not wired to excel at those kinds of problems and deems them to be inconsequential to her daily life.).
A few weeks back, Kaitlyn went out back and started collecting rocks, twigs, and grass to take to school in a large freezer bag. She told us that she needed it for her gifted science class. Fine by us, less for to clean up. About a week later, we got an email from the teacher with pictures attached; the class was split into pairs and tasked with building a bird nest out of the materials they all brought in. There was really no “set” way that they were supposed to do it, just work together to build it. Kaitlyn really enjoyed doing that project.
Their second STEM project was to build a cup pyramid using rubber bands (and cups, of course!), and Kaitlyn got a kick out of that, too.
Which all leads to today. Kaitlyn just couldn’t wait to see what today’s STEM project was going to be. She seems to love the challenge of what they are assigned to do, and loves the process of completing the assignment.
It’s great that the school is exposing the kids to STEM activities at such an early age. Challenging them, especially kids like Kaitlyn, is important. It helps to keep them motivated and interested in going to school everyday. From our perspective, emphasizing areas where Kaitlyn already excels only serves to enhance what we are building with her and encouraging her to do.
I can already see that this summer will probably be one where Kaitlyn and I work on several projects that are STEM-related. I can’t wait, either.
Kaitlyn coined a new word over the weekend, and I think it perfectly embodies how she is feeling, and how I suspect a lot of students in her class and grade are feeling today. Her new word is “nervocited,” and it is a combination of “nervous” and “excited,” and she used it to describe how she feels going into this week’s Florida Standards Assessments testing (FSA). As parents, Amber and I use different, more colorful words for these types of tests.
Throughout the entire school year, pretty much every lesson taught, every piece of homework completed, and every test taken has been with this week in mind. And I think it is a little ridiculous. Teachers are hamstrung from really impacting their students more than they do (they are doing the best they can while staying within the guidelines of the testing structure), and students are missing out on tremendous learning experiences (my teachers always seemed to be able to do a fine job in getting us ready for our testing times while making school fun).
As is always the case with Kaitlyn, she is really stressed about the testing. She sets such lofty expectations for herself, and Amber and I know that she gets way too worked up about things like this. We try to impress upon her that the most important thing is that she remain calm, and she will do great.
I don’t know if the new FSA testing will be better or worse for students and teachers than the old FCAT was, but if the buildup is any indication, it will be more unnecessary stress on students and teachers. Since this is the first year of the testing, there is no baseline on which students will be graded, so that will be fun I’m sure (that was the case about a month ago when I last spoke to Kaitlyn’s teacher about the testing).
Amber and I are ready for Kaitlyn to come home from school every night looking like the guy on the right over there, and that will be if the testing went well! No student in third grade should have this level of stress at 8 or 9 years old; all that does is decrease the likelihood that they will continue to enjoy going to school, although I have a feeling that won’t ever be a problem for Kaitlyn.
This is going to be a tough week in our house.
A week from today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. Around the world, houses, like ours, and landmarks will be bathed in blue to help raise awareness for autism. As we have in past years, Amber and I will surely wear blue to work, and we will probably make sure Kaitlyn wears blue to school.
I have written a lot about World Autism Awareness Day in past years (here, here, here, here, and here) both happily sharing our experiences and of places that have gone blue for the day, and also of disappointment in the lack of participation by others. Those emotions are sure to be there again next Thursday.
For us, autism awareness is not a one-day or one-month thing, and autism does not leave our lives on April 3. Amber and I do everything we can to raise awareness every day, and by reading these entries, you are helping, too. And we thank you.
The public’s collective understanding of autism and those on the spectrum, like Kaitlyn, is getting stronger and stronger. There is still a long way to go, but each baby step brings us that much closer to understanding and acceptance.
Those on the spectrum are blessed with so many amazing attributes. Kaitlyn is one of the most caring and compassionate people I know; she has a huge heart for everyone, and truly sees the best in everyone. She is extremely smart and driven to succeed in school. She has a love of the world around her, and a deep commitment to making the world a better place. Her love of dolphins is admirable, too. Kaitlyn does have challenges, too, and chief among them is low self-esteem and self-confidence, which Amber and I work constantly on improving in her. She is coming to understand her Asperger’s more, and that scares her sometimes, which just crushes Amber and I.
We are fortunate to have a great support system in place here, and that was very evident when I shared Kaitlyn’s angst earlier this month; the support we received from our Facebook friends was tremendous, and the comments on there meant the world to us.
While we are surrounded by so many great people, not every family in our situation is. Every day, they face uncertainty and are filled with doubt that they are doing a great job. If that is you and you are reading this, you are doing a great job just be being there for your loved one on the spectrum; if you are the family or friend of someone who cares for someone on the spectrum, reach our to them and be there for them. Encourage them.
Autism Awareness is about more than just one day, it is the continued support of those on the spectrum and those who devote their lives daily to ensuring that their loved one is not slighted or doesn’t live in fear of being “different.”
Kaitlyn certainly had a blast on her Spring Break last week. Between daily bike rides and a trip to Sea World and the American Girl store, it is safe to say that she had a great time. And Amber and I are happy that she was able to spend some time away from us, which gave her a chance to miss us and for us to miss her. Kaitlyn has already begun planning for next year’s Spring Break, and from the looks of it, she plans to exceed the fun from this year. She has even come up with a schedule for the week, but that will have to be approved by us, Amber’s mom, and Amber’s dad before it will be finalized.
Of course, it also gave Kaitlyn a chance to have some additional flexibility with her daily schedule and with what rules were in place.
Kaitlyn being gone for a week also means that Amber and I have to spend some time doing a little reprogramming. Because she thrives on routine and structure, deviations can be troublesome at times. Amber and I have come to expect that.
For example, it can take us close to a week to get Kaitlyn back on track after family visits for a weekend; it is both enjoyable and overwhelming to her to have family come visit for any length. With that knowledge, you can only imagine the uphill climb Amber and I have been on since the weekend.
Most of what has needed work since the weekend has just been getting Kaitlyn back on a regular evening schedule. It has been somewhat difficult to get her to get unwound at night, and even her reading time has been an adventure, which is way out of character.
I have little doubt that we will get Kaitlyn back on track sooner rather than later. Hopefully the process will be accelerated since she started back to school today, and will be around her friends and be back to a regular routine.