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    Jen & Rob write about living life 'Upside Downer'. Follow us through our honest, whimsical, and real observations as we raise two kids (one w/autism)
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The ebb and flow

We’re now a few weeks into Sam School.

We have had our fair share of frustration along the way. This transition has been overflowing with learning opportunities for Sam AND for Jen & I.

We have found that the biggest successes are coming from the activities we have scheduled weekly. Here’s the biggest winners so far:

  • Reading time with Auntie Margo:
    Jen’s Aunt comes by weekly for reading time. She sits with Sam and reads books that he has selected. In coming weeks, Margo will bring books to read to him. Margo also volunteers for the SMART reading program at PPS schools.
  • Gymnastics:
    Sam has fallen in love with gymnastics and we have found an amazing place where he can get 1 on 1 instruction from an awesome instructor at SPECRTA Gymnastics. Karissa is the director/instructor and we look forward to seeing the progress Sam makes not only with confidence, but to help him with his muscle tone, spatial awareness, and balance.

We’ll be plugging more weekly/regularly scheduled activities as we move toward October and November. By the time Winter rolls around, I think we’ll have a great routine.

This past week Sam had the opportunity to visit the Portland Mini Maker Faire at OMSI with Jen. He was able to make a robot bug, cheese, did some leather work, visited a robot panda, saw Darth Vader, and many more projects.

We also took a trip to Portland Store Fixtures (as seen in the photo at the top of this blog post) where Sam surrounded himself with an abundance of mannequins.

A trip to the wood craft store allowed me to plan out some projects but also turned into an exciting adventure for Sam when we bought some things for us to make a wooden toy truck together (hopefully next week we’ll have time to cut, drill, and create this toy).

Sam’s love of thrift store shopping makes for some fun adventures sprinkled throughout the week.

iPhone Photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

The difficult times came when Sam was ‘off’. When he gets angry, or things are not going the way that he wants, his behavior turns from sweet, silly, and fun to destructive, beast. He gets physical because it is easier for him to process his anger and frustration through the destruction or violence. We continue to work with him to use words to express his feelings. We’re making progress every day but this is a huge challenge that is exhausting for us as it is for him.

Here’s hoping that we get routines dialed in over the next few weeks.

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Sam School is IN session!

We kicked off Sam’s new experience this past Wednesday.
It seemed like the best choice; making his first day coincide with Zoe’s first day at her new school.
I’ll share a little about the first few days but the most important thing I have to share is that, after kind of ‘functioning’ on 3 to 4 hours of sleep for his first day of Sam School, Sam and I had a great time! Not only was it a successful first day but it was also exactly what I needed to boost my confidence. I know, without question, that I am equipped to do this job and… That Jen & I made the right decision to pull Sam out of mainstream public school!

So here we go…

Early start! Zoe was up at 6:20am and everything went by in a blur. Before I knew it, our little family piled into the car and drove Zoe to school. Her new school is located about 20 – 25 minutes away (during morning traffic). After drop off and popping our heads into the parent coffee social, Sam, Jen & I made our way back home and soon Sam & I were off doing our thing.

Before this day arrived, Jen and I had decided that we are beginning Sam’s new journey with a period of decompression. During this time, we’ll work on testing out routines that he can rely on, shelving the routines that fail, and fine tuning the existing ones. We’re also constantly ensuring that we leave room for unpredictability wherever possible. Sounds a lot like ‘everyday life’, right?

Back to our first day.  I had to disguise my errands so I just turned them into adventures with educational opportunities. We started at Costco. Here are a few glimpses into what happened there:

  • Sam asked me questions about the prices of things he really liked. We discussed the cost/value of things and I mentioned the words ‘budget’ and ‘savings’ a lot. I could tell that these concepts were a bit more complex for him right now so I tried to break it down a little. This gave me the opportunity to talk about his ‘piggy bank’ and how many coins something would cost. We have a long way to go here, but then I never had it broken down for me in a relational way when I was a kid, so I feel very confident that we’ll be able to help Sam have a good relationship with money.
  • Sam likes to say that something costs ‘Ninety Nine Cents’ and of course Costco was the perfect place to satisfy his fixation. Most every price displayed seemed to have ’99’ in the price. This may sound pretty basic, but helping him recognize numbers is a major goal. He often asks “What this cost?” and “What this price say?” and I keep telling him. He learns a great deal about things this way.

After the Costco excursion, we drove out to Tryon Creek State Park in SW Portland. Sam LOVES being outdoors and once we parked and headed toward the nature center he said “Hey Dad? It’s a beautiful day with colors and sunshine!”

The Nature Center offers some excellent curiosities and made it easy for me to open some dialog with Sam about things like beaver pelts, raccoon prints, trees, ferns, deer, birds… It’s all there. When Sam was done he said “I want to walk in nature outside now”

Here are a few glimpses into what happened during our walk:

  • Sam was drawn to the educational information posts that are found at certain spots along the trail. He loved opening and closing them and asked questions about each one. The most entertaining one came about after learning about Raccoons and the word ‘Nocturnal’. We discussed what it means to be nocturnal and Sam made the connection that, he too was sometimes nocturnal.

We returned home after having lunch together and Sam got to spend some time with his Uncle Ryan.

The first day was a success. Everyone was happy; Mama was thrilled that Zoe loved school, I survived, Sam had lots of fun.

The second day found us with a few bumps in the road emotionally (for Sam) but we spent a bit of time together the first half of the day and after lunch he got to go to OMSI with Uncle Ryan.

Sam’s ‘bumps in the road’ came during his time with Uncle. Sometimes Sam will find himself in a situation where things are not going the way he had envisioned them to. So he reacts to that scenario in different ways. In this case, he wanted to ‘run away’ from his Uncle but the problem, of course, is safety. He did that twice and the stress had built to the boiling point. When they returned home, Sam burst into tears. He felt a great deal of remorse and guilt and asked to go out with me alone. He needed to reset. So we went out to get some groceries at a store that also had things like Monster High & Barbie Dolls, Lego & Nerf Guns.  Reset complete.

Friday was a short day for Sam School because Zoe has half days.

We started our morning adventures at SPIN Laundry Lounge.  Both of our kids LOVE Spin. How could they not?
Sam was an exceptional helper. He insisted on helping load the washing machines and taking the clothes out of the dryer (wet clothes are not his thing, so I happily handled that task).

The cafe in the lounge didn’t have their gluten free/dairy free treats available yet so we decided to go for a walk up North Mississippi Avenue.

We spent the next half hour walking up and down this street, looking into businesses, going into a few of the shops that were open early, and talking about our plans for the day. Once the laundry was done, it was time to hit the destination that Sam had been waiting for all week… SCRAP!

A quick note about SNAP – This place has been such an excellent place for creating things. Zoe attended a summer camp here a few years back and both kids LOVE looking at all the odds and ends and using their imaginations to dream up wild creations with the wares they have for sale here. I have lost count of how many hours we’ve spend making stuff & I love this place!

Here’s a little glimpse into how I turned this into important learning opportunities for Sam:

  • Before arriving at SCRAP, I explained to Sam that we have a ‘budget’. I explained that we have $4 to spend there and that he can’t spend more than that on supplies. I went into greater detail with things like:
    – “You will want to look at how much things cost. If you don’t see the price, ask me and I will help you find it”
    – “You might find something you LOVE, but it might cost too much. Remember that there are treasures everywhere at SCRAP and you shouldn’t feel pressure, just have fun!”
  • We hit his two favorite spots first: Doll Parts & Costume Parts. They also happen to be filled with higher priced items because many of the parts are vintage/hard to find. When Sam picked up a few $2 doll parts I held up four fingers and explained “This is how many dollars you have to spend. put two of my fingers down and tell me how much you have left after buying the one doll head?” Sam got it and put the doll head back.
  • We encountered things we didn’t expect to buy, but I asked Sam to tell me what he wanted to do with these items and he explained his plans for them. His explanations mapped out great plans so we had to get them.

I found some things for me, a cool vintage patch for Zoe, and we still ended up paying $4.25 (My treasures pushed us over and well… Dad gets to break the rules).

We wrapped up the day with some down time at home before we piled into the car to pick up Zoe.

It was a fantastic week.
We wrapped up our week with a lovely dinner with dear friends on an abnormally hot September evening.

Next week we’ll look forward to dialing in some daily/weekly routines; incorporating daily physical fitness, scheduling adventures with Uncle, mapping out time with the other folks who are on our ‘team’, and chores around the house.

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summer sweetness

I’m standing on the edge and looking down into the valley below. The colors are bright & vibrant, a canvass that feels warm & inviting. I’m excited to get down there but the narrow path that leads us there looks a little treacherous. My heart pounds & I wonder if I should have even taken the path? I come to my senses and the resolve to make the journey That’s kind of how this all feels right now.

Beginning tomorrow, we will embark on that path that seems a little scary & a little daunting. Zoe goes to a new school and Sam begins the decompression of not returning to school.

I think that one of the things that is making my heart ache just a little is that this weekend signals the end of Summer.
This past summer break has been pretty lovely and I want it to keep it going into the Fall. That’s just not possible right now.

Jen and I are still working on mapping out what Sam Schooling is going to look like. I would imagine it will take a few months to create a good foundation and then I feel adamant that we’ll never look back or yearn for something that looks remotely close to what school used to look like for Sam.

I have some projects in the works that I look forward to sharing in the weeks to come. The kids rooms will finally take shape, some projects for my woodworking endeavors, and the project that has been dogging me all summer… the water table. This will give Sam a space in the back yard to make potions and give his dolls baths and such. I have a feeling that the warm weather will be sticking around for a month or more so I’ve got to get cracking on that.

In the meantime, we will begin this month by embarking on the search for a new team of therapists. We need to get Sam back into a regular routine with Occupational, Speech and Physical Therapies. We would have done these more over the past year, but we lack the funds to keep paying out of pocket for the kind of therapy that he needs. This is one of the most frustrating hurdles especially when he makes huge progress after these therapies.

So, I am working on creative ways to raise the funds for this vital component of ‘Sam School’ and am open to any suggestions you might have. My latest idea is to take the proceeds from the sale of my woodworking creations and use them to fund therapy sessions.

Here we go!

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We’re going to call it “Sam Schooling”

Did you just hear the sound of Jen & I exhaling?
Don’t worry! Everything is fine!

This is what’s going on:
Jen and I just returned from a meeting with the Principal of the school where Sam attends school. We have informed him that Sam will no longer be attending the school this year and that we are going to be embarking on home schooling him.

Here’s the great thing about this Principal… He was supportive and agreed with our decision. The one thing that really stood out was his comment that he made about seeing videos and photos of Sam this summer (we follow each other on Instagram). He said “When I started seeing how expressive he was in the pictures and photos, the way he smiles so wide, I realized that this was a side of Sam I never really saw at school.”

That was profound to hear and a testament to just how amazing this man is… He IS a champion for the kids and we will miss our daily interaction with him.

I cannot begin to tell you just how huge the relief was for Jen and I. To have the support from a respected educator means the world to us.

So here we go!
We are doing this!

We are going to do our best to document the adventure because I hope that it may help someone else out there? If anything, it’ll help to have a platform for us to share information, ideas, and get feedback.

In all of the research into ‘home schooling’ a special needs child we had been drawn to a movement that is called ‘Unschooling’ but once we dug deeper into this movement, we decided that there isn’t a specific formula we can follow because Sam is… well… Sam.

So Jen came up with the term “Sam Schooling” and I dig it so that’s what we’re going to call it.

So here’s a basic overview of what we’ll be doing (and I will get into more detail on the day to day as we move forward into the Fall):

  • Physical Fitness – This will happen daily, several times throughout the day. There will be lots of nature walks, hikes, swimming instruction, climbing on play structures, and more.
  • Therapies – We’ll be assembling a team of therapists to provide Sam with private Speech, Occupational & Physical Therapy.
  • Sam’s Team – We have folks who will come regularly throughout the week and they will work with him on reading, taking him on field trips, working on epic art projects & so much more.

You may be wondering why we have decided to embark on this adventure?

For the past 2 years we have noticed that, while Sam does ‘well’ at school, he is not thriving. While Sam’s developmental delays result in delayed academic achievements, the main concern came from the fact that he was not thriving. Sam’s senses were overloaded when a classmate would have an emotional outburst (he is and has been an intense empath) and one of these episodes would derail him emotionally & behaviorally for days.

When Sam is at home during the Summer (or even during long breaks from school) we have noticed that his development explodes by leaps and bounds. So naturally, this path we decided to take seems really promising.

What it all comes down to is this… It is simply not possible for the school district to work with us on the type of educational plan that would really help Sam. They do not have the resources or staffing to provide the kind of specialized instruction that our son needs to thrive. So we’re doing it our way.

We look forward to sharing this journey with you!

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… and we’re back!

[Rob]: In the last days of summer we return after a long hiatus from the upsidedowner blog. So much has happened since our last post that it’s dizzying.

Zoe is 11 and Sam is 9.
We’ll have one in middle school and another in the 4th grade

Summer has been filled with creeks, lakes, beach, ocean, thrift stores, trips to Target, art projects, a big road trip, friends, and the excitement of new adventures on the horizon.

Over the next few days I will be sharing tales about the new shift in our family and our upcoming adventures in education.

It’s nice to be back and I look forward to making sure that you hear from all of us!

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