Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Magical Memories

It's official. We are the best parents in the world. Or at least we were for a short time not too many days ago. What was it that elevated us to Super Mom/Dad status? We surprised our kids with the ultimate family trip that most (all?) kids dream of taking: A TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD!!!

Here's how it all came about...

We didn't want to just blurt out the news of our upcoming trip. That's boring and why not make the kids work a little and earn their surprise? So, after dinner one night, I casually mentioned that I'd forgotten to give them a letter that had come in the mail. It was addressed to all three of them. Now I had their attention!

Take a look at what they found when they opened the letter (which didn't come in the mail at all and was indeed from us):

Dad and I have some big news for you three.
What is it, you ask? Hmmm...you'll just have to see.

The bad news is you'll miss some of your stuff...
Dance and swim lessons, hockey play-offs, it's tough.

You'd like the good news? Okay then, let's do it.
Get to work. Solve the clues. Come on and hop to it!

Remember it's teamwork. Solve all clues together.
For clue #1 what tells us the weather? 
(here's where they went to our indoor thermometer and found clue #2 folded up neatly waiting for them)

Such smart kids we have and thank goodness for that.
Because school you'll be missing, 5 full days, in fact.

For clue # 2 you'd better keep looking.
Where does Mom keep her pans for her muffin cooking?
(this one was tough - I was sure they'd get it right away but eventually I had to point them to the oven drawer)

You've done it again. Way to work as a team.  
But more clues are needed or so it would seem.

Some old folks you know have been missing you tons.
Now solve this puzzle to find out which ones.
(they worked together to solve a simple fill in the blank puzzle ANSWER: Grammy & Papa)

You'd better check out a couple more places
To find the next clue...look where you see faces. 
(Trickier...they knew to look for pictures of faces but, darn it, we have a lot of family photos around. They got it eventually)  

Let's recap. So far what is it you know?
You'll miss stuff, no school, Grammy & Papa miss you so.

Have you figured it out? Well, here's what to do. 
Open the freezer drawer for one last big clue.

Take a look at this video to watch the kids open the presents they found in the freezer (their final clue). It takes them a while to put it together and realize what it all means but when they get it, they really get it. What a reaction! (warning this video may does contain slight nudity - apologies in advance for my boy, Jack's exhibitionism. Can you say, caught up in the moment?):

    


And then the countdown began...




To the most magical trip of all...



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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Carter's Story Part 5: The Big Move

Part 1          Part 2          Part 3          Part 4

After weighing things out, and exhausting all possible scenarios (and ourselves in the process), my husband and I came to a decision. We had to try to somehow make it work for Carter to attend the private school we'd found for him in the greater Toronto area. We did not want to look back in five, six...ten years and say, "If only we had..."

And that's why, just over fifteen months ago, our family moved from our home town; the area where my husband and I grew up, where our family and friends live, where my husband's business is located, to a place an hour and a half away, on the other side of Toronto.

Some might say that it was drastic to move away from all that we know and love, and from our family's main source of income. Maybe that's true, but we felt we had to give it a shot.

We've lived here, in our new location, for just over a year and Carter has been attending his new school for that long as well. He even attended during the summer months.

Is the situation ideal? As ideal as it can be. Five days a week my husband commutes back and forth across Toronto for work, to and from the place we used to call home. What should normally take an hour and a half can often turn into a three hour drive (or longer), depending on traffic. Enough said.

Has Carter found success at his new school? So far, yes (thank goodness!). And he is being challenged academically while receiving support with his talker.

I got tired of the "Not I" response that I received when asking who would help Carter, but I didn't know where to turn for support. So, my husband and I took things into our own hands to try and solve the problem ourselves.

We continue to watch with excitement as Carter's communication skills develop. A natural goofball, Carter's sense of humour has blossomed with his new found capability to speak more freely with his talker. He tells jokes, gets into potty humour with his brother and sister (underwear anyone?) and he loves to comment and contribute to conversations as best as he can. There's still a lot he needs to learn in terms of language skills but he's proven his capability for learning and I'm confident he'll continue to make progress now that he is in a supportive school environment.

In the meantime, Carter is likely to be found with his younger brother and sister doing one of his many favourite things, like splashing in the pool in the summer, downhill skiing in the winter, perusing books, playing cars or hanging out with his partner in crime, Bentley (service dog extraordinaire).

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Carter's Story Part 4: A Device for Carter But Who Will Help Us?

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3

When Carter’s voice output device finally arrived, it would have been icing on the cake if he had tapped the buttons to tell us what's been on his mind all these years. Unfortunately that's not how things went. Carter would essentially be learning a new language now that he had his device. It would require a lot of practise and repetition in order for him to become competent in using it. We were going to need help, but finding support would prove to be the biggest challenge of all.  

I would soon find out that speech therapists who specialize in AAC are few and far between. It would only be through the government funded childhood development centres that we would find a therapist knowledgeable about high tech voice output devices like Carter's. Ironically, as a result of purchasing Carter's device we were no longer eligible to receive AAC speech therapy services at our local centre (read more about that here).

Throughout Carter's childhood I've gratefully accepted whatever services and professional help that's been available to him. I've done my best to work with those supporting him, but the truth is, some of the services have been inadequate and some have simply been inaccessible.

Perhaps the problem lies with budget cuts or a lack of funding for programs, or the fact that Carter has complex needs in specific areas. Or perhaps it's due to the people we've had to deal with. Whatever the reason, I've found that when asking, "Who will help us?" I've very often felt like I was a part of the children's fable, The Little Red Hen because of the answer I kept receiving, "Not I."

Carter working with his siblings & the SLPS at the AAC Inst.
I couldn't accept that answer so off we went to the AAC Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Carter received services there over the Christmas break and again at March break that year. The support continued via web conferencing after that, but even with the strategies and suggestions provided by the Institute's speech therapists, we were missing a vital piece to the puzzle. We still had no local support. We were at a standstill. 

Just over two years ago, my husband and I became so frustrated with Carter's school situation, combined with the lack of support around his communication needs, that I decided to research other alternatives. What would it take for Carter to be challenged academically while receiving support with his talker?

My search began within our local school board, but I quickly realized that they could not provide what Carter needed. I decided to investigate private schools and I found a few that warranted visiting.

One school in particular stood out from the rest and after sitting down with the school's administrators to hear about their mandate, about the services Carter would receive, and about the supports that would be put in place if he were to attend, I came away feeling elated by what I'd learned but at the same time feeling like I wanted to cry.

My husband's reaction after the meeting was one I will never forget. He shook his head, then looked at me and said, "Now what do we do?"

Of the schools we'd investigated, this one was a good fit, no, a great fit. We both knew it, but there was one major problem - the school's location.

Click here for Part 5 of Carter's Story: The Big Move