Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mr. Charlie

This is just an update of sorts on the name-sake of our little blog here.

Our Charlie.

So, he's seven now.  In Kindergarten.  Growing up so much, learning new things, trying new things.  We are very proud of Charlie.

A new phase we have going on is independent dressing, over and over and over again every day.  Here he is wearing his swim trunks over some other shorts and a shirt of Calvin's.  He can also put his shoes and sock on all by himself.
I realize I have not shared much about our school experience this year.  He attended preschool (mostly) at a segregated school site dedicated to children with special needs age preschool through 23.  It is a fabulous school, but we decided to have him go to his "neighborhood" school starting in Kindergarten for a mainstream experience.  His new school was a big jump from the preschool environment, and a big adjustment.  In the beginning he did not have an aid, but it was soon apparent he needed an aid for his hours spent in the regular ed class.

Despite a start that needed some tweaking, I have to say, we are so glad we made this decision.  Charlie is flourishing.  He spends the first 2 1/2 hours of the day in a "special day class", which is a class with just students with special learning needs.  His best friend B, who also has Down Syndrome, is also in his class.  Actually, all three Kindergartners in the special day class have Down Syndrome.  They all sit next to each other in the front row of the class in tiny little desks complete with stacked and duck taped phone books for foot rests.  (How cute is that!)  In his special day class Charlie works on academics suited specially for his level.  He loves his teacher (and so do we!), and he has the special opportunity to have friends who are truly on his same "wave length", so to speak.

Here he is feeling clever about escaping his turn for a Flowbee haircut.
At the first recess his 1:1 aid arrives, he leaves special day, and goes to Kindergarten for the rest of the day.  From the beginning the mainstream experience has been the most challenging.  Having an aid has made all the difference for him when it comes to being able to access the curriculum and what is going on with the rest of the class.  But despite its challenges, the experience has been wonderful.  An amazing investment in so many ways.

The children love him.  Having meaningful interactions with other children has been an area that Charlie is growing in.  I know he lacks confidence with a bit of a language barrier (he is very difficult to understand), and just the fast pace at which other children play can be intimidating.  But more and more he is playing with the other children, interacting with them, enjoying them.  And they... they just care for him.  Different or not, he is one of them.

Hiding again!  This time underneath the kitchen sink in the box we use for paper recycling.  I could hear muffled giggling, so first check the washer, dryer, and fridge--all places he's hidden from us before.  He keeps us on our toes!
His language has absolutely exploded!  He of course still does speech therapy as a part of his IEP, and clarity of speech is still a big issue, but his vocabulary and content of conversation is vast.  One of the newer things is he has started asking questions when he is curious about something, or just objects to something, "But why, mom?!"  He is using descriptive language to talk about his day, or to explain something he wants to do.  One thing I love hearing out of him is just how positive he can be.  I suppose with seven years of people cheering his every accomplishment it is no wonder he is so positive in his interactions.  "Great job, Miles!  You did it!"  We hear this out of him all the time in different scenarios.  (Okay, so he is not all happy, happy, joy, joy.  Oh No!  But hey, I can emphasize the positive.)

He is learning.  The Kindergarten curriculum is, quite honestly, way beyond his level.  BUT, even in Kindergarten class Charlie is working on many concepts along side his peers.  He recently mastered A-B patterns.  He is counting to 15, and counting up to five objects.  He is learning his letters, and can spell his best friends name (still working on his).  He is especially excited about Kindergarten science, which is all very physical and concrete.  He has explained to us the orbit of the earth around the sun, and more recently the life cycle of frogs.

Avoiding the camera in a way only a a kid with Down Syndrome can do!
He is nurtured.  I mentioned speech therapy, but Charlie also has a great Occupational Therapist at school who has helped him learn to grasp a pencil correctly, cut with scissors, button and snap, and the proper way to write letters.  He is enjoying music, art, p.e., gardening, field trips, and a host of other special activities that are offered at our little neighborhood school.

He is wanted.  How could you not want him?  We loved Charlie's old school, but it was a long bus ride from our home, so Ray and I were unable to "be a part" of his education easily.  This was our first reason for seeking an education at a neighborhood school.  Our second reason was that we agree with research that finds interaction with "typical" kids opens the door for a host of experiences and skills for many children with special needs.  At our school the mainstream experience is a routine and expected part of a day for a Kindergarten student with special needs.  His school has been enthusiastic about making sure Charlie has the support he needs for a successful experience (instead of letting an unsuccessful experience be impetus for not mainstreaming).  His special day class teacher is a-mazing.  And his Kindergarten teacher equally so.  The older students in the special day class love him, his Kindergarten peers all high five or hug him as we wave goodbye at the end of the day.  I just get the feeling that the whole school is proud and glad to have him aboard.

The "twins".  At age seven, Charlie is now in size 5T.  So is Calvin.  Charlie is about 1/2 taller... maybe.
Whew!  What a fun report.

Charlie is doing so well in so many ways.  He is challenging  (think 50lbs yet physically semi-dependent, uncensored raw-emotions, impulsive, forgetful, and very capable, yet not so clued in to safety or cause and effect) but the challenges are dwarfed by the Joy (think the Best Snuggles Ever, kisses for no reason, a willing "helper" who has such pure intentions, a magical imagination, and the brightest, giggliest eyes you ever did see.).  Every single day is a joy.  Lucky, lucky us.  I really need to do a series of updates to tell it all.  We'll see if that happens.  For now, I leave you with a little Charlie-ism from today:

We were driving through town to pick up Calvin from preschool when the entire Humboldt State University running team descended upon the intersection on their training run.  There must of have thirty guys all running pretty fast.  Such a sight caused quite a stir in the back seats.  Charlie was especially excited and yelled:
"Oh!  I love running!  Just like dinosaurs, kitty cats, and snails!!!"

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