Friday, September 29, 2006

The Case of the Cat on the Motorboat

Preschoolers come up with the best stories. I have the privilege of working in two preschools every day (Mon-Fri) - one in the morning, one in the afternoon. I go to the schools to support kids on the spectrum who are in mainstream classes. During lunchtime at one of the preschools today, I was half listening to this little comedian boy on one side of me, and half listening to the adorable boy I was there to support. I was basically trying to get the two boys to socialize during lunchtime, but they both ended up talking at me at the same time, vying for attention. I was trying hard to understand both of them, when suddenly I realized Comedian Boy was telling me about his cat flying off a motor boat.

I was like, "Wait, whoa, whoa, what? Your cat flew off a motorboat?"

So he starts the story again from the beginning. His family went out on a motorboat - only he doesn't say motorboat, he says "mozobo." So the family took their cat mozobo-ing with them. (??Who takes a cat mozobo-ing??) They went really fast in the mozobo, and the cat flew out.

I lost it. Once you get the image in your head - I mean a really clear image of a cat flying out of a speeding motorboat - it's really hard not to start cracking up. One of the other teachers overheard me say, "So that's a true story? Your cat really flew out of a motorboat?" The other teacher and I made eye contact for a second and started cracking up. But we tried really hard to contain our laughter, because we were both thinking the same thing: "Oh, no! Maybe we shouldn't be laughing. Maybe it's a true story, and the little boy's cat really did fly off a mozobo!"

So I asked the boy again if it really happened, and he said, "Yep." I asked what happened to the cat. (I'm picturing the family jumping into the water, rescuing the cat). The kid thinks for a few seconds, and says matter of factly, "He died."

So now I really don't know if I should be laughing, but the image of the cat flying out of the motorboat is stuck in my head.

I'm 70% sure this story is mostly fiction. The kid is seriously going to be a comedian. When I remembered the story later in the day, I started cracking up again. I laughed harder than I have in months, and it felt really good.

But what if it's true? What if the family really did bring their cat motorboating, and what if the boy's cat really did fly off the motorboat and die?

Still, you gotta' admit, it's pretty funny.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Amazing Moments in Autism #1

Remember the toothpicks scene from Rainman? I had an experience like that with one of my 5-year-old students, only with dogs and fewer of them.

We're walking down 1st Avenue. Jude is 'scripting' - repeating various phrases he's memorized from cartoons, computer games, and electronic Elmo toys. "It's a watermelon. It's a pineapple. They're getting on the train. We're going to the zoo. Bye bye! See ya later!" This is generally how he communicates. (And I seriously want to throw all those Elmo toys out the window of his parents' 29th floor apartment. "Bye bye! See ya later!"). Jude is taking in nothing from the environment around us as he scripts. Or so it seems. Just as I begin feeling exasperated from hearing, "Bye bye! See ya' later!" in a high-pitched Elmo tone for the 30th time, Jude busts out with one of his amazing talents.

We walk by a dogwalker with a bunch of dogs on the sidewalk. Jude doesn't look at the dogs at all. To try to break up his scripting, I say, "Hey! Look Jude! A bunch of dogs!" He doesn't appear to be listening to me at all, but then he glances at the dogs for half a second and says, "Twelve dogs. It's a watermelon. It's a pineapple. They're getting on the train. We're going to the zoo. Bye bye! See ya later!" If I hadn't been watching him carefully, I wouldn't have even noticed Jude's split second glance at the dogs.

I start counting the dogs. They're moving all around, and I'm looking back as we pass the dogs, going "one, two three," in my head. I re-count the dogs to be sure my number is accurate. Fifteen seconds or so later, and halfway down the block, I feel pretty confident that my tally is correct. Twelve dogs.

I don't know why I even bother to verify these things anymore. He's always right, and he's always immediately confident in his calculation. But how the hell does he do it? How do you glance at a bunch of moving dogs for a nanosecond and immediately know that there are twelve? What's going on in his brain to make him be able to do that? I'm not particularly bad with numbers myself. I've been known to count things for no apparent reason on occassion, and I sort of understand that it can be relaxing. But this kid blew me away.

It's easy to assume that kids with autism are taking in nothing from their environment. But in a way, they're really taking in everything. It can just be hard for them to communicate all the details of what they're experiencing. They see, hear and feel details most of us miss. Jude doesn't think in terms of "a bunch of dogs." He has a hard time seeing the big picture. But he gets the details right every single time - right down to the perfect, annoying pitch of Elmo's voice. "Bye bye!"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Best Teacher Blog Post Ever

I can't believe I only just discovered this. Thanks to the Science Teacher Formerly Known as Ms. Frizzle for leading me to this Hedgetoad gem, "Why I Miss Teaching Junior High." There are no words.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Teacher Licensing Issues - Still

They are driving me mad. Beating me down to the ground. Not the autistic preschoolers. The adults who run the New York City Department of Education and the New York State Education Department. Two completely out of control bureaucracies with employees who only give cookie cutter responses - if they give responses at all. It's dehumanizing. So dehumanizing I can't even muster up the energy to write complete sentences. I want out. Of this state. Of this city. Of this system.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

New Job

Back. Exhausted! Started new job with preschoolers with autism. Lots to tell, but no time to tell it yet. Major tantrum from one kid wore me out today. How do you tell parents that they are overcoddling their kids and encouraging bad behavior at home? I already know I need to have this conversation with one kid's parents. I can't be the only one who pushes him to change his behavior, or he'll make my life a nightmare. Autism and bad behavior. Two different things. Oh, and potty training. The best part of my new job.