Issue 54: Ways to Survive ASD Parenting and Stay Thankful
Issue 58: Winning Ways to Share the Love with All of Your Children
Issue 81: When Special Education Fails to Be Special
Ok, so you are probably thinking it's some state-of-the-art techy calculator, or maybe a durable pair of sneakers. Nope. Brace yourselves. It's a lunchbox. Say what? Not just any lunchbox mind you. But let me start with why a lunchbox is so important in our house.
Jeremiah suffers from hangry often. He is triggered by hunger and thirst in ways that make Dracula look like an innocent bystander at an all-you-can-drink blood bank. Seriously. Before anyone knows why he is behaving the way he is, he has lost his gold star day and temper and then it's all downhill from there. I wish I was exaggerating. And he eats a lot! This is a good thing considering two years ago he was 60 pounds and not eating at all with a G-tube, so hear me when I say that I am not complaining. But let's face it, six hours is a long time to be away from a refrigerator or pantry when you are a teenage boy.
So a lunchbox is supremely important in our house. And I believe we have found the best one on the market for the money. And there were tons out there to sift through too. Dear Lord, just search lunchbox on Amazon and be prepared to scroll for thrity minutes or more. Michaela agreed with our choice and bought herself one when she graduated college and started working 10-hour shifts.
What's so great about it? Well, besides the fact that it's under $20, it's a rectangle! What's with most lunch bags with the oval bottom. Tupperware is square people! Leftovers don't fit in the bottoms of those bags without turning them sideways and risking them spilling, or worse yet, risking your peas running into your chicken and your green beans touching your mashed potatoes. Heavens no! LOL!
Second, it has a secret insulated compartment in the lid, a pouch on the front, and a netting pouch on the back...lots of room. And you can use the adjustable strap (that's not made for only vertically challenged people), or you can remove the strap and carry it by the handle on top.
Then there is this zippered pouch between the top and bottom compartments that holds the ice packs so your napkin or sandwich doesn't get soggy.
But the best part is how big the bag itself is without Jerry looking like he is carrying travel luggage to school. Here are the before and after pictures of packing his lunch inside.
If you can't tell how much I packed in there, here is what all is inside.
And if we hadn't been out of mini cans of soda, cheese sticks, and yogurts, those would be in there too! LOL! By the way, I know this looks like a lot of food, but Jerry doesn't eat breakfast before he leaves in the morning and so they let him snack when he gets hungry around 10 am. Then lunch is at noon and more snacking usually happens around 1:30! And he gets so thirsty! I pack him a mini can of soda, a 16-ounce bottle of Crystal Light, a 12-ounce greet tea, and a Capri Sun (or two). And it all fits in this bag with his lunch and snacks!
Best of all (I know I said that before), it's washable. I probably washed this bag every other week last school year. Jerry just throws his dirty utensils back in the bag when he is done or doesn't close his half-eaten bag of chips before throwing them inside and zipping the bag shut. It's always an adventure cleaning out his lunchbag after school (queue Psycho movie music).
It was the perfect bag for him starting high school. While he is not opposed to character lunchboxes and still likes Paw Patrol and Scooby Doo, this lunch bag is for big kids. It also comes in 8 different colors. Micky got a purple one.
Anyway, that's my idea of the best back-to-school supply this year.
Today is day three of the new school year and, so far, we are off to a great start. His first two days were gold star days.
We had an awesome summer, probably the best we've had since Jeremiah was very little. Usually, the countdown to summer vacation is a tearful, anxiety-filled one, wondering how I will get through 80-something days in a row of 24/7 behavior issues. But not this summer. We went to Adventure Island swimming, we went to the movies, we did some gardening, played some games, had a bunch of lazy days at home, and I have to say, I was genuinely sad to see him go back that first day. I missed him!
He was ready though. By August 1st, he was obsessing over the countdown of days until open house, pacing the house and talking to himself about who his teacher might be, who would be in his class, what I would pack him for lunch, if quiet time would still be a thing this year, etc...
On our part, there was some apprehension for another reason. I can't lie. We were praying and hoping that Jeremiah would be accepted into another school, for various reasons. We applied for a different school back in April and even toured the new school, John and I at least. We were thrilled. They were more like a real school, with classroom transitions, real textbooks assigned to each student, testing to see where they are at academically and track their progress, teachers with Bachelor's or Masters in education, an actual lunchroom that makes and serves hot lunches daily, a library, a computer lab, tons of school clubs covering a wide array of student interests, a sports program, and PE, art, and music, all of which he currently does not have unless a volunteer just happens to come in and teach it to the kids sporadically. It's just more well-rounded. They also go year-round with only about 6 weeks of summer, understanding the importance of continuity and routine for special needs kids. And during that six weeks of summer they have a half-day camp-style program for the kids that keeps them learning while they have fun and is taught by newly graduated education majors at out local university. To make up for the rest of the summer, they have a fall break, two weeks at spring break, and three weeks at Christmas.
And did I mention that it is FREE?! Jeremiah's current tuition is a whopping $17,000 a year! That's more than a calendar year's tuition at the University of South Florida for perspective.
Most importantly, this other school has a transition program that far exceeds the one where he is now. At age 18, Jeremiah will begin transitioning from school into a real-life job skill training phase that will last until he is 22. At the school he is currently at, the adult students remain in the same academic classroom learning the same curriculum as their younger school-aged peers for the entire school day. Once a month or so, they are taken on random field trips to our local Publix to bag groceries for an hour or two or to a locally-owned restaurant to learn how to serve customers and bus tables.
At the school we tried to get Jeremiah into, they have a transition program that starts before the kids even turn 18. We saw their job skills classroom and it was amazing. They have a full-service coffee-shop where the students learn to barista and the teachers and other school personnel can place orders to be filled. The kids even learn to work the cash register and credit card machine as the school employees pay for their drinks. They also have their own eBay store and they teach the kids how to list things for sale or auction and then how to mail the items once they have sold. They have a sewing center for kids who like to sew to learn how to make garments or repair them. This is all in addition to a completely separate culinary classroom where kids interested in cooking can go and learn that skill as well.
And the students don't sit in a typical classroom after they turn 18 and graduate high school either. They have a transition building where the students spend half of every school day. There they learn job etiquette, basic job skills, social skills, financial independence skills, and so much more. Notice I said they spend only half the day in that classroom. That's because they spend the second half of every single school day at an actual job site working supervised. And the school is paired with the sheriff's department, Moffitt Hospital, a local coffee shop, and more so that the kids have options. Now can you see why we were so stoked?!
But alas, we are not the only ones who know this school is a Godsend. There is an insane waiting list to get in. Jeremiah was in the lottery for two of their three campuses in May, but he did not get selected. He is now on the waiting list and, whenever a spot opens in his grade level, another lottery will be held for those students waiting to get into that grade level. So we wait and take it one day at a time until then, knowing that, for whatever reason, God has chosen not to open that door yet. The fact that we could even consider this new school is a miracle in and of itself really. Years ago, before we considered Jerry's current school, we looked into this other one. But Jeremiah's behavior was so out-of-control and unpredictable, we feared it would not be a good fit for him. Now, that is not the case at all. Praise God!
Here's the bottom line. No one, absolutely no one can be responsible for your child's education other than you...the parent...whether they are typical or special needs. You are their best educator and their best advocate. Period. So what to do? Well, we are working on that. I can live knowing that he does not have routine lessons in art, music, or PE, but I feel obligated to do something about where he will be and what he will be learning after he turns 18. I want him to be as independent as he possibly can be and teach him skills for life that will set him up for success in the future long after John and I have passed. Again, we are working on that very proactively right now and have some great ideas in mind and will reveal them when we are further along in the planning process.
For now, we are past the disappointment that he is at the same school this year and resigned to it being God's will for such a time as this. Instead, we will make the most of it, help his teachers anyway we can, support the school through our volunteer hours, and by golly, have a good attitude doing it (most days). LOL! God's still working on me with that!
We were thrilled to know that his teacher this year is Mr. Edward, the para in his room from last year. Mr. Edward is the uncle to one of Michaela's friends that she was homeschooled with and who was in several plays with through our local homeschool co-op. He has a great plan for this year, has a child with special needs himself, will challenge Jeremiah and expect more from him than Jeremiah thinks he is capable of, understands that they are entering young adulthood, and most importantly, he is a CHRISTIAN. God is good. Here are some pictures of Jerry's new classroom and with Mr. Edward and his para Ms. Ashley.
I am a Christian. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an author. In that order.