I've heard a joke few times that goes something like this, "Everybody has a purpose in life. Yours might just be to serve as a cautionary tale."
Sometimes I feel like my purpose in life is to provide comic relief. I'm clumsy, I can be forgetful, and I'm great at missing the point of a joke. I also manged to show up for Max's parent-teacher conference a little early.... Okay, make that an entire week early. And I did it on the day of a record low pressure windstorm.
It wasn't a complete loss though, I got to meet some of the other people who work with Max at school. It's always great to see how much they enjoy be working with Max and how much they like him. They were really nice about my mistake, and nobody mentioned it on the day of the actual meeting.
I suppose I was a more than a little nervous about the meeting. At the IEP last year a lot of questions were asked about how to reach Max. I told them music and reading seemed to be his strengths. I said he loves computers. But I felt like they wanted more answers than I could give them. When the autism coordinator showed up for the meeting she had a lot of ideas, but I felt a little like I was letting people down.
Tuesday's meeting was very different. His regular teacher and the speech teacher were very excited to see me. They both said he is much more focused than last year, and needs far fewer breaks to get through a day. His schedule this year is more intense and keeps him much busier, and he is rising to the task.
They are using a penny chart with Max. It has five pennies and put velcro on the backs. He has to get five pennies on the chart and then he gets a small reward.
The speech teacher showed me a video of him him working on a computer and reading sentences with her. They said he hadn't been having a great day when they filmed it, and he did need some prompting, but it was still impressive to me.
When he finished a task, he would even say, "Penny on!" to remind them.
I have noticed Max has been coming home from school as something of whirling dervish. Sometimes he has been having a hard time sitting still enough to get through dinner. I wonder if this isn't a result of him staying on task better at school. Perhaps when he gets home he just needs to let it all out.
There has also been some backsliding with potty training, both at home and at school, but that isn't uncommon in kids with autism. His teacher said she would make a "first, then' chart for Max to take home. It will have symbols on that will let Max know what he gets to do after he uses the potty. I'm also thinking of how to make a penny chart of my own.
The biggest difference I see between the meeting last year and this year is we all have a much better idea of how to engage Max. A lot less, "How do we do do this?" and a lot more, "This is what we are doing. This is what is working."
The future, of course, remains uncertain. There is no telling how far Max will go, but we can see a way into his world now, and that fills me with hope.