Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Turning Points

I'm wondering if we've reached a turning point with Cate's sensitivity issues.  She has always been sensitive to loud noises and crowds.  In the past it has frequently kept her from doing fun activities but we have always kept trying and looking for ways to help her.  In the last year I think we've seen big gains in her sensitivity and the key is completely "does she want to do it" now.  If you take her to a school assembly to listen to someone talk about safety - I'll bet the noise and crowd get to her and she needs to be removed to the library because she doesn't really care.  Take her to the Aquarium on a busy day and I'll bet she is perfectly fine because she loves animals. 
Last night was "Special Populations" night at the state fair close to our house so kids/adults with special needs and a chaperone got in free, the first 1000 kids got free ride stamps and free hot dog meal tickets.  Couldn't pass up that deal and it got even better because since we didn't need the meal ticket  they stamped all 4 of us for free admission and rides.  We had visited the fair with friends on Saturday but it had been pretty quiet and not very crowded.  Cate had done fine and for the first time ever she decided she loved the rides.  Lucy on the other hand was terrified and wouldn't ride anything, even the little train or the carousel.  Lucy definitely has some of the same noise and crowd sensitivities that Cate has battled.  Lucy spent much of the time on Saturday with her hands over her ears just like Cate would have done at 3 yrs old, heck even 5 yrs old.  Well back to last night - Cate never hesitated, she wanted to ride those rides again and was perfectly happy to walk past blaring speakers, shooting games and through tight crowds to get there.  Her only issue last night was patience - she didn't want to wait in line (something we hadn't had to do on Saturday).  I had been surprised that Lucy even wanted to go to the fair, I was prepared (OK thrilled with the idea) to send Ric with Cate and stay home with Lucy, but she was insistent she wanted to watch Cate.  At first Lucy was making me hold her, hands over her ears refusing to do rides but then all of sudden she said "I want to ride on the dragons, they are my favorite" - mmm you've never done then but OK - hurry get her on before she changes her mind!

Lucy of course loved it!!  So after that she wanted to ride anything that didn't go up high like the elephants that are Cate's favorite.

I guess Cate is just growing up - maybe her sensitivity never had anything to do with having Down Syndrome, maybe all along it was just a matter of age and maturity.  I hope we continue to see her adapt to situations that have sensory overload and get to do the things she wants to do.  It has been worth every failed trip and bout of crying to get to this point where we get to see that amazing smile as she circles around on an elephant high above us.  It gives me hope that Lucy will start to come out of it as well in the next couple years so that we can go to the movies and carnivals or fairs.  I'd guess that want will still have a lot to do with it for Cate - she will tune into those sensory problems when she doesn't want to be in the situation and turn them out when she does.  For now as long as she is trying new things and being a little adventurous I'll take what I can get.

ps - sorry I've been MIA for the last week, I was fighting a cold and trying to catch up on work and home was taking all the energy I would muster.  I do have some things to say and hope to be back on a regular blog schedule by the weekend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Making Pizzas! (and even a dairy free cheese pizza for Lucy)

One of my absolute favorite things in the world is pizza - I like cheapo pizza pizza, fancy topping thin crust pizza, NY style, Chicago style, you name it.  I mean really what is not to like about gooey cheese, bread & getting to pick toppings.  One of my favorite alternate pizza recipes is from my favorite food blog  My girls call it pizza bowls but the real name Pizza Pot Pies, they this dish is so perfect for a family dinner because it is actually possible for the kids to make their own - I just put dishes of all the "toppings" out then let them scoop the sauce in and pile in some toppings before I put the crust on top.  A while back, I had this excellent plan to make these one night and Ric got me all the ingredients I needed including some Publix bakery pizza dough - the best.  So here I am with my awesome plan and I think I'll surprise the girls one night on the way home after school.  As soon as I picked up Cate I had a smiling hiding just waiting for the cheer from the back seat.  I picked up Lucy and couldn't wait more than a couple minutes before I said "guess what girls we are having pizza bowls tonight"!!! After a moment of silence I heard - "no" and "I want real pizza".  I was crushed, they loved making them the last couple times and it had been so long I thought they'd be excited but that is what I get for anticipating my girls moods.  I thought maybe they'd get into it once they saw all the stuff but they never did.  They insisted on regular pizza's so much that I gave up the fight and just took the crust and made it into 4 individual pizzas.  We still have fun making them but I am craving my Pizza Pot Pies so I will be having that unannounced for dinner soon!

Here are some pictures from our fun:
all our ingredients

Lucy spreads on some pizza sauce - this one has no cheese ingredients, I didn't check the dough but Lucy can handle baked products with small quantities of milk or eggs

love the motor skills practice for Cate!

piling on their toppings - both girls like pepperoni but LOVE olives and mushrooms

making them share the olives!

Lucy adds the "lucy cheese"

Daiya dairy free mozzarella is the best we've tried - it actually melts and doesn't smell awful!  Lucy likes it.

Cate eating, I mean adding her cheese


and fun!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yes, I'm pretty sure I had lost my mind

A few months ago I saw a post on one of the DS mom's blogs about the chores she had her child doing.  In it she had a picture of her young child much younger than Cate emptying the dishwasher as one of her chores.  She was able to handle this chore because the dishes were all stored in a floor cabinet instead of a high cabinet.  After seeing the genius in this arrangement I started to plot how I could make it happen.  If the everyday plates and bowls were in a cabinet that Cate & Lucy could reach easily then not only could they empty 75% of the dishwasher without help, they could also set the table without me having to put out all the dishes.  I liked this idea a lot and the timing is perfect because my dishes are in a pretty bad state so if they break a few oh darn that just gets me closer to buying new ones it will be worth it as it contributes to their learning process.  The concept was much more appealing than the reality though because the perfect cabinet at floor level close to the dishwasher was full of platters, chip bowls, mixing bowls, measuring cups, our electric knife and who knew what else was lurking back there. 

Well, last week I had a bad few days which included some horrible homework sessions with Cate and a few three year old tantrum periods with Lucy (including one where she had at least 30 people staring at me like I was a monster) that just left me in tears.  I needed some control in a bad way.  So what do I do to gain that control?  Did I read some helpful parenting books about avoiding tantrums or teaching math to children with DS?  Nope I removed every single item from my kitchen and put it all in the dinning room.  When I was done every drawer and cabinet was empty and all available surfaces in the dinning room covered.  I pulled up the bumpy shelf that drives me nuts as it snags and bubbles and threw away an entire garbage bag of junk like old ketchup packets and bowls of old Easter candy.  By the time I started washing the cabinet I was completely beat and starting to wonder what I was thinking.  After I finished cleaning - and by the way does anyone know how the inside of kitchen cabinets get so dirty, yuk - and walked into the dining room which was almost impossible to walk through, I was positive I had completely lost my mind.

Lucky for me my mother is a saint.  She gave up her day to come to my house on Sunday and help me put this chaos back together.  I'm pretty sure without her help I would have still had an unusable kitchen and dining room for an entire week.  Together we put down new old-fashion adhesive shelf liner (which I'm sure I'll regret at some point but right now I just don't care as long as I don't have to fight it every time I pick up the last plate or the glass on the end) and started the process of planning out the most efficient use of space.  I have a ton of cabinet space which is awesome but the cabinets are so deep that there are many dark black hole areas and large portions where stuff is stacked in front of and on top of other stuff.  Not to mention the huge cabinet filled with a hundred pieces of plastic storage most of which did not have lids and all of which had been throw in while slamming the door shut to keep the rest from falling out.  But with my mothers organizational super powers and motivation to keep me moving, we did it!  We actually got everything back in or discarded before dinner on Sunday night.  Ric bought us a new plastic storage set so I got rid of 90% of everything else - amazing how many throw away containers, I wash and don't throw away!
the new Tupperware cabinet - lids in the big while container, dipper cups in the little one
floor level dish cabinet for Cate & Lucy's expanded chore list

lunch box cabinet with little baskets from dollar store for the napkins & sandwich cutters plus a bin for the bagged snacks

My mother is so awesome that not only did she help with this project she brought over a casserole and cooked it at my house so we had a family dinner that I didn't have to prepare!  And the girls set the table pretty decently with almost no help!  So the future looks bright as far as kitchen organization is concerned but the questions remains - How long will it stay organized? and Will this little bit of control make a dent on my stress factor?
I think I'll lay off the projects for a couple weeks - I have some Project Runway and Chopped episodes to catch up on before the new fall season starts!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cate's Crusaders and the 2012 Buddy Walk

Because I'm too lazy to write a new post I'm just going to recreate the letter I sent out asking for support for this year's Buddy Walk but I do think that it summarizes my feelings about the Buddy Walk very accurately.  I basically sent this to every person in my email address book without taking the time to filter so I apologize if you have already been pelted with this letter!  But we love the Buddy Walk - Cate actually asks for it throughout the year and both girls love to wear their Buddy Walk shirts. 
Cate at 2010 Buddy Walk
Part of our team for 2011 Buddy Walk at start line

So here you go - this is what came to my mind last night as I deleted the very nice letter someone at the Down Syndrome Association had thoughtfully put together to be persuasive:

Our family has walked in the Atlanta Buddy Walk every year since Cate was born. I can still remember the discussion with Ric after we learned about the Buddy Walk in 2006. We just didn't know if we wanted to go to it. I will admit, I was scared by the prospect of going to an event where I would see so many people with Down Syndrome. By that time I was head over heels in love with Cate. I knew in my heart she was amazing, that she was beautiful, and that I would do anything I could for her. But we all grew up with the stereotypes of DS, even as I knew how amazing Cate was, I still had that lingering fear of what an adult with DS might be like. Did I want a real glimpse into that world while I was holding my sweet baby in my arms? What If we got there and I couldn't understand the young people with DS? What if what I saw made me fear for Cate's future? I am sad my past self had these doubts and fears but I don't think I'm alone in that internal debate.

So eventually Ric & I gathered up our courage, packed up our 9 month old little girl and headed to the Buddy Walk to face our fears. Do you know what we found? Not a group of people to be feared that is for sure. We saw the light, we saw the hope, we saw a very bright future. The families at the Buddy Walk were truly happy. They weren't putting on a brave face or making the best of it - they were living great lives. We saw adults and kids dancing, eating, and laughing just like at any community event or celebration. As I cautiously eavesdropped on the conversations around me, I found I could understand the young people with DS as they had completely normal conversations with friends and family and if even if I could get 100% of the words they were effectively communicating in other ways. The people at this event weren't just raising money for a cause, they were celebrating Down Syndrome. While I had accepted Cate's diagnosis, I had not come to a point where I was celebrating it so this was an interesting new revelation for me. It would take another year or two before I would celebrate Down Syndrome with them but as I watched Cate fight to learn to crawl, to walk, to talk I began to see why the Buddy Walk is more than a fund raiser. We do the Buddy Walk to show how proud we are of our kids and how wonderful we know they are as people. In the 6 Buddy Walks we've been too we've celebrated so many different milestones for Cate. In 2007 we were meeting up with friends of babies in our DS playgroup, in 2008 we had a little girl who could crawl, in 2009 Cate walked part of the Buddy Walk as a Big Sister, in 2010 she ran part of it as we chased her around the square, and in 2011 we actually had a team to walk with us that wasn't just family. This year we celebrate an awesome first grader, a great swimmer, a beautiful cheerleader – we celebrate that Cate is the perfect fit into our family.

Please consider sponsoring Cate's Crusaders in the 2012 Atlanta Buddy Walk. The DSAA is a big part of our DS community offering us so much like playgroups, mom's morning out groups, adult social activities, and support to some important organizations that we use like the Emory DS Clinic and GiGi's playhouse.

Just click on the Web site link below and visit my personal Buddy Walk page to make your tax-deductible donation.

Cate's Crusaders - 2012 Buddy Walk

Thank you for your support!

Here are some cute pics from the last two year's buddy walk:

daddy and Cate scoping out the dancers

look how little Lucy was!!!

2012 - Cate having fun walking

I love how big this t-shirt looks on Lucy just last year!

our dear friends walking with us

Lucy & Grandpa

Cate didn't actually want to wear the medal this year!

Lucy loved her medal!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Math progress

We've had a little break through!    As I mentioned in a previous post, Cate has been having so much trouble with counting this year.  Her class goal is to count and write numbers up to 120 by the 9th week of school - they can use a number chart to help.  Her class is also counting by 10s, 5s and now starting 2s.  Cate on the other hand can only make it to 12 then starts making mistakes, so forget skip counting.  After a few weeks of completely frustrated homework where I'd make her say the numbers 1 - 120 while pointing to them on the number chart, we finally found a method that words.  You'd think that after I'd been through similar thing before - Cate doesn't like an activity, Cate refuses to cooperate, Mom continues to force the same activity with no results, Cate regresses, Mom finally figures out a new approach, Cate figures out the activity - so I wouldn't wait as long to try a new strategy.  I guess this is why I'm a mom not a teacher - slow learning curve here!

So after my last post I realized that I needed a new strategy before I went crazy so that day when I picked up Cate, I parked and went inside to chat with Cate's para-pro.  Turns out she had lots of good ideas and together we came up with a winner!  The first thing she said is not to try to do 1 - 120 with Cate at the same time.  DUH!!!!  I know better than that.  The other thing we discussed was making sure she was moving during the activity so she didn't tune out.   Our new math homework consists of a "treasure hunt".  I had a whole container of dry beans and pasta left over for a sensory table I made for the kids at Ric's birthday pool party so I put them all in a big bowl (with a lid for storage),  Then I took index cards and cut them into small squares.  I printed a number on each from 1 - 30) and buried them in the beans.  Cate then digs out each number from the beans and says the number out loud.  If she gets it wrong, I correct her and put the card back in the beans.  At first we just did 1 - 20, she pulled them all out then she put them in order as I said them.  The first time - she named all 20 number perfectly and identified them to put in line on the first try.  I didn't know whether to be thrilled she knew the numbers, mad at her since she hadn't been doing it every night for 3 weeks, or mad at myself for going 3 weeks without changing the activity.  After a couple days we moved to 1 - 30 cards and started doing number lines.  She pulls a few cards then I put them on the desk with spaces for the missing ones.  Then as she pulls the numbers she puts them into their spaces.  It still takes some help but she is getting better all the time.  Last night I tried a trial to see if there was real progress - we recited the number chart again.  Cate got probably 75% correct by me pointing to each number.  That is a huge improvement over where she was a week ago.

So the moral of the story is I need to learn my lesson - while repetition is important for Cate, (she may need to hear something 5 times where her typical peer might get it in 2) when we get to a frustration level for either of us we need to move on to an alternative task -  RIGHT AWAY not after hours of pulling my hair out.

By the way - Lucy loves this "game" too.  She can do 1 - 10 already and is working on 11 - 15 now!  It is pretty obvious she is learning from Cate these days not me.  We count a lot, in the car, on the swings, whenever I can fit it in.  Cate drops the #13 when she free counts to 20 probably 75% of the time.   So now I've noticed that Lucy is doing the same thing.  She can count to 21 but 100% of the time she misses 13!

I have a picture of the bean bowl project but I haven't downloaded it yet so here are a couple shots of "Dr. Cate" the other day to hold you over.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writing Sample & School update

I'm very happy to report that I have nothing to report! 
The first month of school has gone by with very little fanfare.  Cate has even said "I'm coming back" a couple times already as we drive away from carpool.   She is doing well in her behavior ratings and has gotten greens (good behavior) all except one day - as I write this I am at the same time breathing a sigh of relief and hoping I didn't just jinxed myself.  We have had to make one accommodation for her so far - she is only doing 5 spelling words per week instead of the 10 the rest of the class has to test on.  Cate just can't handle more than 5 right now - the whole concept of a spelling test is a little hit or miss with her.  Home work is already taking about 30 minutes for us right now because we have to add in some reading practice on top of the teachers spelling and math assignments. 

We are doing pretty good 5 words - we follow the teacher's "homework" for studying them which includes reading and spelling out load on Monday, writing 3 times each on Tuesday, sky writing on Weds, trying to write with the work covered on Thurs, test on Friday.  She has been getting 3/5 so far every week because she is transposing letters.  Which is weird because she never does that at home even when I give her practice tests - at home she might give me the wrong vowel or give up on the word before she says the last letter but never transposes.  We'll keep trying though. 

Our biggest challenge right now is counting.  Her class goal is to count & write numbers to 120 by the end of the quarter.  Cate can only count to 12 without any mistakes or help.  Get her in the teens and all bets are off - we think part of it is speech related because the sounds she makes for the numbers are very similar.  The rest is that she just doesn't care - she will name the number correct if you point to it on a number chart 90% of the time for the first one you ask her, 75% for the 5th one you ask her, 50% for the 10th one - you get the picture, she doesn't like the exercise and tunes out guessing the longer it goes on.   I'd say on any given day when I have her say the numbers out load while pointing to them from 1 - 120 she probably gets 75% or less correct.  So we work on it every night but haven't made much progress.  Anyone who has any creative ideas please let me know - it is a very frustrating thing to teach counting to a child who doesn't want to learn it.

Outside school things were a little crazy last weekend with family visiting and parties/dinners for Ric, my mom's and my birthdays in less than a week.  Which leads me to my writing sample which I am LOVING!!!  Cate wrote this birthday card for me - grandma spelled the words (actually for most of them she only gave her the letter sounds) but the writing is all her.  Her writing is definitely greatly improved since last year although her free form is much better then when she tries to write in between lines.

This one is Lucy's card - her lines and circles are pretty good too but her thing is stickers!