Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"May I Take Your Order?"

Do you remember being a kid and finally able to read the menu at a restaurant so that you could order all on your own?  Well, what do you do if you aren't a full reader yet and you can't speak verbally but you want to order your own meal?  You could sign your request to your mom, but maybe you want to do it for yourself because you've turned into Mr. Independent lately.

That is Owen.  He likes restaurants.  He likes people.  He wants to give his own order to the person at the counter or the server who comes to the table.  He loves interacting with others.  But most restaurants have menus with writing.   However we have started to see restaurants that changed their kids' menu to include pictures.  Kids can see exactly what there is to eat and make their own choice about their meal.

This is a big deal to our family.  And I know it's important to others.  In order for Owen to be his own person, he has to be able to make choices for himself.  It starts at home with picking out his own clothing, choosing the movie he wants to watch or the activity he wants to do, or making his lunch for school with the items he'd like to eat.  When it comes to restaurants, the ability to make your own choice is exactly why you go there.  When you can't speak and a server most likely doesn't know sign language, your ability to choose is taken away.  With picture menus, it really does give him back his voice in order to do something that I know I take for granted.  We have incorporated menu choice into his talker as well so that way Owen always has a voice.

My husband recently directed an international conference in Monterey, CA.  Owen and I joined him at the tail end of it and the staff at the Hyatt Regency there went out of their way to make us feel welcomed.  They asked Solito how they might make it easy for Owen to enjoy meals at their hotel restaurant and when he explained that a picture menu would be helpful, they made him one!

If you are looking for something simple for your iPhone to assist a loved one at a restaurant, try this app that will allow you to create your own menus on your phone.  I am still searching for a good option on Android platform, so if you know of one, please leave a comment!

Sometimes the simple things are the biggest things in the world to someone.  I wish more restaurants would invest in this kind menu.  A big, big shout out to Red Robin, Bubba Gump's, Village Inn, Uno's, Rainforest Cafe, for their awesome menus!

*If you have a restaurant near you that uses a picture menu, please share with me.  I'd like to reach out to all of those restaurants and encourage them to keep using these menus.

Red Robin
Red Robin
Village Inn
Bubba Gump's
Rainforest Cafe
Pizzeria Uno's
Owen's specially made menu from Hyatt Regency

Friday, June 3, 2016

Another School Year in the Books

Last week Owen finished up 1st grade.  I can't believe I just wrote seems like just yesterday he turned 3 and was going to preschool for the first time.  But no, he really is a school age boy!

This year held new anxieties for me because he started a new school in a new state.  I felt like we were going to be going over the same things from Kindergarten---a new team trying to understand Owen and his intricacies.  But the team at his new school helped us transition rather quickly during the summer and first few weeks of school.  Their ability to communicate frequently by sending texts, pictures, and short videos really alleviated many of my concerns about not knowing how he was doing and what he was doing.

Gym class, balancing boards!
Sharing his all about me project with help from his aide, Miss S.
He had 2 general education teachers who were doing a job share for the school year and they both were excellent in including Owen and his 2 other classmates with IEPs.  The three boys spent a majority of the day in the 1st grade classroom, did the same work as their peers and were involved in all the class projects like Flat Stanley and a social studies project about Washington D.C., complete with replicas of buildings like the White House and the Capitol.

Painting the Capitol building replica
Attention to detail is important!
Halloween parade with his buddy D.
I watched Owen really blossom this year.  He is actually reading and knows all the words his classmates are supposed to know.  He may not verbalize it, but he shows us in other ways, including iPad apps that he knows what he's doing.  He is working hard at math, which is his toughest subject, to understand the 1:1 correspondence of numbers, although he knows all them in order by sight up to 30.  His writing has gotten better and he is more willing to write things including his name without putting a fight.

On the class walk to the park
With his gen ed teacher Mrs. O
Some big changes happened in terms of his independence and his new found love of art class.  He has never been a kid that liked to color.  No matter what we tried, he didn't want any part of it.  He would tolerate painting for a short period of time.  This year he had an amazing art teacher who allowed the kids to really explore things on their own and she made sure to tell them that their interpretation was never wrong.  Owen loved going to art class and he made some fantastic pieces with very little help.  Because of art class, he is willing to color with markers in coloring books, try to stay in the lines and even wants to learn to work scissors.  

Blue Fish from Dr. Seuss project
African Elephant
Owen's level of independence in certain areas has shocked me, quite frankly.  Last year at this time we had just started putting him in undies and it was a slow process.  He was having more accidents than success.  By the end of school this year, we have a kid that can go into any bathroom and take care of business, down to washing and drying his hands.  I literally just stand there and let him handle himself.  He comes to us and signs potty and goes right into the bathroom at home or heads to the restroom in a restaurant or other public place.  We still watch the time and make sure he goes every few hours, but a lot of the time, he's the one telling us it's time.  He even transitioned last month to wearing undies at night and we have not had any accidents.  It's amazing.  I can't believe what a difference a year makes.  His peers were also pretty instrumental in this too because he would use the restroom with them and know that he was supposed to do the things they did.

Kickball Hero!
Trying out the drums in music
We are still working hard on speech.  It is very, very slow, so we continue to utilize his iPad app.  His classmates are used to it and they have no problem having a conversation with Owen this way.  He made some good friends this year and it was funny to be at some of the classroom events or parties and meet parents who would say "Oh, you're Owen's mom?!  C. just LOVES Owen and she says they have a lot of fun on the playground together."  Owen got invited to 3 birthday parties this year and even tried his first movie theater experience for one of them.  He's been to the movies twice since then and loved it both times.

Owen's class award
It's fun watching him grow from a preschooler to an elementary age student.  He is making leaps and bounds in his academic side but also being even more social, giving his opinion via sign or his "talker" and showing that he can and will do things for himself.  I love seeing the changes and as much as I want him to stay little, I also like seeing this new side of him too.  Our only sadness about next year is that his SLP Mr. Mike is moving up to a high school position and his special education teacher Miss N. will be taking the school year off to be with her 2 small boys.  Life is all about change and I know Owen will likely handle things quite well.  

On to 2nd grade.........but first, we summer!

Last day of 1st grade!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Last week Owen turned 7.  I honestly don't know where the time has gone.  I think the same thing every year, but this year really did go fast.  I don't know if it's because we moved, he started a new school, I picked up more work responsibilities, or what, but the time has flown.  I look at him all the time and realize that he's turning into a big kid.

We took cupcakes into both his regular and special education classrooms on his birthday to celebrate with all his people at school.  His teacher sent me the cutest video of his classmates serenading him that day.  We had a dinner of quesadillas and tortilla chips, his favorite, at home, went to the park for play, and of course ended the day with a cupcake.

We held his birthday party at a local inflatable place where his friends jumped and climbed and generally had a great time with each other.  We had 13 classmates (out of 20 in the entire class that we invited!) come and celebrate with Owen.  I got to meet some other parents and heard lots of "I. loves Owen, we hear about him more than we hear about any other classmate!"  I even exchanged phone numbers with a couple of moms who want to get together this summer so our kids can play together outside of school.  My heart definitely full that day!

In the last year, he's changed quite a bit.  He has given up a lot of things that most people would consider "babyish".  It took him a bit longer to do this simply because while he might chronologically  be 7, he isn't cognitively 7.  He is more like a 5 year old, so he still loves trains while a lot of his friends at school have moved on from that.  He has moved away from Sesame Street and is very much into super heroes like Batman.  This is something he picked up from his classmates, which is another reason why I like that he spends a majority of his day in the regular education classroom--he learns what things his friends are enjoying.

Reflecting back on these last 7 years, I realize now that I am in a place very different than where I was in the first couple of years.  I'm much more concerned with making sure Owen asserts his independence, giving him new opportunities, allowing him to make choices for himself, which I think is what every other kid his age is working towards.  The worrying about him never stops, it just changes a bit.  It is still very hard for me to let go, but with each passing year, I realize that I have to do just that.  No matter what he will always be my baby, but he needs to grow into his own person.  All I can do is be there to help, encourage him, and be a soft place to land when he falls.

I fell in love with this baby who has transformed himself into a boy.  I am proud of who he is becoming.  It's an absolute pleasure and honor to be his mama.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I Don't Want to be Rich

"Why doesn't he talk?" asked the little boy in the fitness club child care area when I came to pick Owen up last night.

I sighed.  And then trying to keep my emotions in check, I said that Owen was born this way.  Talking is hard for him.  I asked him if there was something in his life that was hard for him.  He thought for a second and then said, "Oh math is hard and I can't climb big trees."  So I did my best to say that everyone has something that's hard for them and talking is hard for Owen.  This kid was too little to explain what Down syndrome is and frankly, I wasn't in the mood to bust out my advocate hat.  All I wanted to do was collect my kid and head home.

If I had a quarter for every time someone asked me that question, I'd be rich.  But I don't want to be rich.

In my heart of hearts, I want a child that can talk to me.  Tell me what he did at school, instead of me trying to read the few words in his communication binder.  Or that he wants potato chips instead of tortilla chips because all he signed was the word chip.  Or that he is annoyed on the bus in the morning because it's too loud, instead of being mad all day at school and refusing to do his work.

Just when I feel like I'm in an OK place with this and I'm checking my emotions, I'm reminded that Owen doesn't speak and people notice it.  Sometimes it just plain hurts.  There is no other way to describe it.  And please don't tell me to be patient or that speech will come.  You have no idea how patronizing that is, when that is exactly what I'm doing and you also don't know that it will come.

I love Owen.  Very much.  I am proud of him and all the things he's accomplished.  The happiness and joy that I feel when I'm around him is pretty amazing.  There are just things that I wish were easier, for him, for me.  I try hard not to be jealous or selfish about this.  I struggle here and I don't know that that is going to change.

So I will try to pick myself up and appreciate what I have in front of me......a child that is healthy, that figures out a way to let me know how much he loves me, that is the life of any room he enters, that knows himself and has better self esteem than most adults I know.  I am learning, he is teaching me, I just need to continue to follow his lead.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Ferris Wheel, a Monorail, and a Boat Trip....Oh My!

What do you do when you have a $400 credit on an airline that doesn't go to very many places?  Well, you take your family to visit Seattle, WA, of course!

Solito had been to the area during the summer, shortly after he started his new job.  But Owen and I hadn't been to WA yet and it had been a dream of mine to visit after being a religious viewer of the Real World:  Seattle back in the day.

We picked Owen's spring break, knowing that it was smack in the middle of rainy season (when isn't it, though?!) and figured we'd go out when the rain held off and head indoors to a few places when the weather didn't cooperate.  We actually were quite lucky in that the rain wasn't really bad when it came and our plan worked out quite well, especially since we purchased the City Pass.

We had a direct flight and Owen did a fantastic job, watching his Kindle, playing games, looking out the window, and having lunch.  After we checked in to our hotel, we took a little walk around the place, which has a nice nature trail as well as ponds and a miniature waterfall.  Then we took the hotel shuttle to the light rail station and headed to the city!

We hit Pike Place Market first and watched them throw the fish at the fish market.  We checked out random shops, including a book store that had the funniest book in the window--"The Gas We Pass".  Pike Place is pretty amazing with just about everything you can think of crammed into all its levels, including many restaurants.  We found the original Starbucks--huge line out front and an amazing cheese shop, Beecher's, that has full size windows to allow you to watch the cheese making process.  We wandered around for an hour or so and then walked down the street to meet some online friends........Leah from Our Cora Bean and Cindy from Adventures with Beth.  It's pretty neat to meet some of the people you have followed in the blogging world and this was no exception---we had a great time together!

Who knew watching cheese being made was so fascinating?!

With Leah!
The whole gang...Cindy's family, Leah's family, and mine
On Sunday, we decided to take the monorail to go to the Space Needle since it wasn't raining, but it was quite windy.  Owen loved the elevator ride up and down and he enjoyed walking around the outdoor viewing area once.  He played a video game as well.  We went down the street to the Pacific Science Center where we looked at bugs, dinosaurs, musical instruments, and how wind velocity works.  There is something there for everyone, including the parents.

On Monday, it was still windy but the sun came out in the morning, so we decided it would be the perfect time to go on the Great Wheel, a giant ferris wheel with views of Pike Place market and the Seattle harbor.  We waited in line for about 5 minutes and then got into an enclosed car of our own.  It was a quiet morning, so they let us ride for nearly 25 minutes!  Owen loved checking everything out and liked seeing all the boats coming in and out of the harbor.

Afterwards we walked down the street to the aquarium.  This was one of Owen's favorite places....he loves fish and water.  They had a wave action area that he could not get enough of and we got to see 2 different feedings in the main aquarium area and the seal pen.  Owen liked the main feeding because he got to high five the diver through the glass!  We also saw jellies and touched some starfish.

Later we drove up to Deception Pass, which has a beautiful view of Skagit Bay, Whidbey Island, and Fidalgo Island.  There is a bridge that both vehicles and pedestrians can cross.  I tried walking about 1/4 of the way across before the vehicle vibrations freaked me out.  Owen wanted no part of it at all!

That evening we found a great seafood restaurant, Ivar's, in a city right on the water, Mulkiteo.  There's a ferry that runs right off the dock there and we enjoyed watching it while having dinner and walked on the dock after we were done.

On Tuesday, we went to Everett pier to catch a boat for a whale watching tour.  We whizzed past Whidbey Island and saw 2 bald eagles, 8 CA sea lions, and 2 different gray whales.  Watching the whales spout and then seeing their of the most amazing sights I've ever seen!  Owen loved being on the boat and he was so excited to see the sea lions.

Bald eagles!

We have a spout!
Still spouting
Tail has flapped over
Whale tail....amazing creatures!

After some lunch, we decided to head to the Boeing Future of Flight center.  You can take a 90 minute Boeing factory tour, but Owen was too short (there's a height requirement!) and we figured it might not be something he would like.  Instead we were able to check out all the exhibits, including an old airplane pilot area.  The coolest thing was heading to the viewing deck on top of the building.  We randomly happened to be there on the day they decided to send off the "Dreamlifter", the world's longest cargo loader.  It was pretty amazing to be there to watch it take off!

We loved Seattle and that part of Washington.  We enjoyed checking out the city and visiting with some new friends.  I loved crossing off another state and now I have four left to visit while Owen has now visited 23 states (AZ, CA, CO, DE, FL, HI, IN, IA, KS, MD, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, PA, SD, WA, WI, WY).  At this rate, he'll have all 50 visited by the time he finishes high school!

Mt. Rainer on the way home!