Friday, 6 June 2008

A day in the life of.......

These relentless rainy days are the worst. The nightmare of every parent of young children, childcare workers and school teachers. ( For those of you that don't know, I teach kids with autism and have the "high support" class)

I guess we get a bit complacent in Sydney and view outside play not only as a right but a daily need for children (and for those of us that care for them). So we pay no attention to the miracle of long sunny day after long sunny day... and when the rain finally comes..... as it did this week, we find it can be a rude visitor that overstays it's welcome. Sydney likes to get all it's raining done in large chunks so we can get back to those clear blue skies, so we love the first day or two, the idea of rain, the feeling of relief that it inevitably brings, and then get much less tolerant by day 3 and then when we are on our 4th or 5th day of constant rain, the world begins to turn upside down.

A damp start to the day then. But a sweet tableau on arrival, a mum sitting on the floor trying to engage one of the other kids (let's call him rock star - he's very good looking) in play. Rock Star was busy trying to stack the toys in two tall piles and experimenting with height vs base area ratios. For him, the ideal achievement was to get as much height with as little touching the ground as possible, resulting in inevitable crashes of large piles of toys. A large, clunky sound from Elmo and a rather deformed looking B1 who popped back to his bannana-ry shape after a ship was taken out of his head.

Enter (let's call her) Floss. Filipino. Two very messy pig tails (she can't tolerate the hair brush) sticking out perpendicular to her head. She sees me and does a little jump and flap of excitement - her way of saying "Good morning Barbara. I like you" and then starts whinging at me to find her favourite Dorothy the Dinosaur song book.  Said book found, she finds a spot to look and point at the pictures singing "Ya, ya, YA" which is the only sound she ever makes. Apart from lengthy wailing.

Not-at-ease comes in with his mum. He is a difficult kid. One of those tragic cases of autism where the kid develops normally through the first few years of life and then all of a sudden starts losing skills. The parents watch in horror as the child they know disappears in front of their eyes and a complicated and very unsettled little person takes their place. Not-at-ease does not feel right in his own body. The proportions somehow aren't right. His joints think they need to be carrying someone much heavier, so they feel restless and constantly want extra weight. Not-at-ease searches the room for things to push against, to make his bones feel right. He touches things with his fingertips and leans into it to feel pressure through his fingers and wrists, he taps things to his mouth, he puts his head into my knee cap and leans in to get a strong pressure through the top of his head, he puts his head between the legs of anyone standing near and pushes against them with his shoulders. He will grab the front of your shirt and pull very hard to try to let you know something (but what????? I can never seem to give him what he seeks.) A day trying to help not-at-ease feel a little easier in him self sends your blood pressure sky high and is physically exhausting.

The day starts with our usual song and dance routine. That is, I sing and dance and the kids look at me and judge my performance by either staying in their seats (yes, an excellent performance today Barbara) or by popping up out of their seats and wandering round the room (not-so-good today-Barb. Could tell your heart was not in it). The teachers assistant sits behind them and plays "whac-a-mole"  - only with kids - and hopefully we more or less muddle through and the kids more or less sit, and something more or less is learned.

We, all of us, are ready to get outside when morning tea time comes. Only no outside play!! AGHHHH! 

Normally on Thursdays we spend some time at a soft play centre but due to this miserable weather, it was very crowded yesterday. Rockstar has got a habit of tipping anything with wheels upside down to spin the wheels, including prams. Not-at-ease is a constant forager and will eat food off any table or the floor. Mr Wiggle constantly tries to climb in  the ball pit which is only for toddlers, and the little fella climbs the walls of the jumping castle and then sits on top and bounces up there. He likes to watch everyone shouting at him to get down. We usually try to go at least busy times so there are not many other kids around as we expect all of the these things to happen. When we arrived, the teacher assistant and I looked at the room full of prams and kids parties and decided that it would be fool-hardy mission even for brave people such as us. Poor little Mr Wiggle wept and wailed the whole way home. He was the only one cluey enough to realise that we had dangled the promise of an hour in the ball pit in front of his face and then taken it away again. He thought it was very unfair. Fair enough.

So, here's a priceless moment from the day (I have great stories after each day of work and if I ever stop finding them funny you may have to kill me).  Rock Star has a big bucket of beautiful glass beads that someone gave to us. He is busy making a cartoon graphic out of the black and yellow beads (like the Walt Disney castle or the Pixar logo - only this one says Ragdoll). At one point he had either messed the whole thing up or had run out of the right beads to continue. Frustrated, he messes up the whole logo , lucky I had already taken a photo - and then picks up the bucket of beads and tips them over his head. Very Rock Star. Just like in Down With Love where Catcher Block tips the champagne bucket of ice over himself.  Apparantly Rock Star thought it was a pretty neat move because as soon as I had cleaned the mess he did it again. And he also did it with a jigsaw puzzle, and then with a box of plastic shapes. 

So, that's my day. Each day.

That's why I took a mental health day on Wednesday. When things are fine I am usually OK, but when I'm tipped over already, it's a hard place to be.


Kami said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I have a good friend with an autistic child and I can't imagine the patience it must take to work all day with several. Although I am sure it is not easy, you make it seem almost magical. I love the way you write.

Thank you for your comments on my blog too. I love the way you write those too. I treasure them.

tonya said...

I have such deep respect for you and your profession.

My daughter was considered borderline PDD-NOS, but with intensive OT and a lot of other social integration work, etc, things are much, much better now. But damn, some days at the OT center were really hard, and we were only there for an hour at a time. My DD is sensory-seeking, so your description of Not-at-ease is my daily life. And yes, it is tiring, both physically and mentally. Today was a BAD day, in fact. Hoping tomorrow is better.

I love how you see the magic in each child, and respect them even when they are exhausting.

luna said...

amazing, the work you do. major props to you for finding such grace in what must be such a challenging job. hope your weather shapes up a bit.

thanks for your sweet comment as well.

mrsmuelly said...

Wow, what an amazing job you have...and do. Thank you for sharing. I can't imagine the patience it takes, but it sounds incredibly rewarding. I hope the sun has come back now.

Pamela Jeanne said...

You have my utmost respect and admiration. I have a hard enough time keeping myself under control when the weather is bad...