NHL, Middle School Graduate

Posted by TechyDad on June 23, 2017 under Education, NHL, School

NHLMiddleSchoolThree years ago, we were very nervous. Our son was about to graduate from elementary school and move to middle school. Elementary school had been one fight after another. We moved schools after our son was attacked and the principal tried sweeping it under the rug. We fought with the new school’s principal to get a 504 plan and got yelled at by him because we went above his head when he was dragged his feet. We were denied an IEP because our son’s intelligence meant that they didn’t think he was suffering academically (despite him suffering socially and emotionally – both qualifiers for IEPs). We fought to get his aide changed when the one he was assigned thought yelling at our son repeatedly was acceptable.

Even when things did seem to go NHL’s way, it never lasted. Good aides and teachers had to leave. Quiet moments were punctuated by new crises. We could never enjoy the good times because we knew that something bad was just around the corner.

Needless to say, we were afraid going into middle school. How would NHL handle the increased workload? How would he deal with changing classrooms multiple times a day? How would he deal with the different teachers and students? So much could go wrong that we braced ourselves for a disaster of epic proportions.

Then, the most amazing thing happened: Nothing.

Well, nothing bad at least. NHL’s aide, JG, met him at orientation and they quickly hit it off. JG went above and beyond, even taking it upon himself to learn about autism so he would understand NHL better. He was there by NHL’s side every day, but wasn’t overbearing. He knew when to pull NHL back and when to let him be himself. He slowly, carefully guided NHL all the while walking that all-too-thin line of friend, mentor, and teacher.

Speaking of teachers, NHL’s were incredible also. They saw the potential in him and worked to bring it out. They struck up a strong rapport with him and gained his trust – something that wasn’t easy to do. After years of struggle in elementary school, NHL’s love of learning was like a candle that was about to flicker out. All of his middle school teachers have turned that flickering candle into a raging bonfire. He loves school again so much that when he had the flu one year, he was upset that he couldn’t go to school for a week. That was the worst part of the flu to him. Not the aches and the fever, but missing out on learning more.

The multiple classes actually worked in NHL’s favor. As with many people on the autism spectrum, NHL loves his schedules. He doesn’t deal well if they aren’t strictly adhered to (at least, not without prior warning). In elementary school, though, the teacher’s schedule might say that math ends at 1pm, but since the same teacher teaches all subjects, she might go long. NHL did not like that at all. In the middle school, though, the bell rings when the class is over. The teacher might be able to shout out a homework assignment as the kids leave, but he/she can’t decide that the kids all need to stay for ten more minutes. The schedule is strictly enforced and NHL thrived with that.

He also thrived with the subject matter. In elementary school, they would often go over the same material over and over to make sure that all of the kids understood it. This left NHL bored. He understood it the first time and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t being allowed to learn more. In middle school, though, the pace was picked up which suited NHL just fine. His mind was a sponge that was finally being given the water it so desperately wanted to absorb. He also was placed in honors classes in the seventh and eighth grades which helped surround him with more students who were intent on learning and not messing around.

When it comes to the students, he found people who were willing to accept him quirks and all. I had the pleasure of going on four field trips with him during his middle school career and each time I loved seeing him interact with his peers. NHL is like me in so many ways that I feared he’d be like me socially. I was bullied and reacted by withdrawing within myself. The less I showed the outside world, the less ammunition I thought I’d give my bullies. I desperately wanted to socialize, but always felt embarrassed by my every action.

NHL, on the other hand, feels no such embarrassment. Yes, this can lead to times when he does things that are inappropriate, but it also means that he doesn’t hold back when forging friendships. I liked that the students seemed to forgive NHL his excesses and still wanted to interact with him. To give one example, during a recent trip to Montreal with his class, I was in charge of NHL and three other students at the Jean-Talon Market. There was so much to see and eat, that the kids wanted to see everything. Unfortunately, part of the stop involved completing a scavenger hunt. NHL can’t help himself when it comes to scavenger hunts. He feels compelled to speed through whatever area he’s in until he’s completed it. NHL’s classmates were getting visibly upset with his constant verbal tugs to move onto the next thing so he could fill in the next line. The one girl in the group, who’s been friendly with NHL for years, threatened to judo chop him if he didn’t stop. And yet, later that day when we went shopping in the underground market, she voluntarily joined NHL and I with another of his friends on our shopping adventure. She knew how to express her frustration with NHL without completely severing herself from him.

I could go on and on about how wonderful middle school was for NHL. Were there bumps? Sure. Still, they were so few and far between that we actually found ourselves relaxing. We didn’t react to every small speedbump as if it meant that everything was going to grind to a halt. We began to (*gasp*) trust that his teachers and aide could address it – which they did. They thought of us as all being part of a team whose job it was to make NHL excel and they worked WITH us to make that happen instead of working against us because they thought they knew better. And guess what? When we all worked together, we succeeded in making NHL succeed.

Finally, I’ve talked about everyone but NHL. Middle school would still have been a disaster had it not been for NHL. All the support mechanisms in the world won’t help someone if they don’t apply themselves. After his first marking period was over, NHL received the honor roll, but the middle of the three levels. He immediately declared that he was getting the highest level the next marking period. I tried to caution him that we just wanted him to do his best and he didn’t need to worry about grades as much. I didn’t want him to be disappointed. Silly me. Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield, NHL kept setting goals for himself and knocking them down. One marking period, his science grade went DOWN because he “only” got a 97 on the final exam.

NHL applied himself again and again, learning everything his teachers taught him and making it look easy. He struck up friendships and pushed himself more and more. Every time we thought “there’s no way NHL will be able to deal with this”, he not only dealt with it, but aced it. Sure, there were times when he held back his meltdowns until he came home. Times when his happy-go-lucky attitude switched to angry, at-the-end-of-his-rope teen the minute he entered B’s car. Still, we were happy to take that bullet because it meant that NHL was coping better in school itself. (We also worked with his teachers to find the sources of these delayed meltdowns and fix them in the future. Yay, team!)

So now NHL is off to high school. He’s leaving behind the familiar and facing the unknown again. We are nervous only because middle school has set such a high bar. Still, we know what NHL is capable of. He has such great potential inside of him and is am amazing young man. I can’t wait* to see him grow into an exceptional high school kid.

Congratulations, NHL!

* Well, maybe I can wait a little. Stop growing up so quickly NHL. That goes for you too, JSL.

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Fried Laptop, Learning From Mistakes, And Overwhelming Guilt

Posted by TechyDad on March 6, 2017 under Computers, Fatherhood, Guilt, NHL, Parenting

On Wednesday night, NHL was playing a game on my laptop while I made dinner. Suddenly, he shouted that my laptop turned off and wouldn’t turn back on again. I checked and, sure enough, my laptop was dead.

After questioning NHL, he admitted that he tried to plug it in, but wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he shoved the round power plug into a rectangular USB port.

Normally, this wouldn’t have been much of a problem. The power plug requires a metal contact inside the plug itself and the connectors in the USB drive sit atop a plastic piece. Unfortunately, that plastic piece had gone missing and one of the USB connectors entered the power plug.

You might be able to guess what happened next. A surge of electricity flowed through sensitive computer components not designed to handle such currents. My best guess is that the motherboard was fried.

I opened the computer and looked it over. While I couldn’t find and visible damage, given the nonresponsiveness of the laptop, a fried motherboard makes the most sense.

Replacing the motherboard would cost half as much as a new computer. Even then it might not work right as other components might have been fried. So it looks like it’s time for a new laptop for me.

As for NHL, he was, understandably, upset. I’ll admit that, at first, I wanted him to feel bad about it. Making mistakes teaches you nothing if you don’t take the mistake to heart. Too many people are all too eager to blame their mistakes on others and thus don’t learn from them.

After awhile, though, I saw that this had progressed past simple “feeling bad for his mistake” and had turned into full blown “nothing I do is right and I always mess everything up.”

I know that mindset all too well. It’s easy to get stuck like that and spiral downward quickly. At that moment, I set aside any anger I felt over what happened to my laptop and put on my parenting hat.

I told NHL that I understood how he felt and that I’ve felt that way many, many times before. It can be easy to sink into a depression over your mistakes, but that doesn’t help. I told him that, when I feel like this, I intentionally set those thoughts aside for awhile. I picture it like I’m packaging up my feelings/thoughts and placing them on a shelf in my mind.

Once I calm down and can rationally assess what happened, I pick the thoughts up again, figure out what went wrong and how I can do better next time. I make sure I take those lessons to heart but then I put all feelings of guilt aside so as to not let them overwhelm me. This isn’t to say that I don’t feel guilty. I do and will apologize immediately to anyone that I need to. However, for my own self-preservation, I need to be sure to keep myself out of the guilt spiral.
NHL seems to have recovered from his bout with the guilt spiral. I don’t know just yet if he’s taken the lesson to heart. (The lesson being: “Always pay attention where you’re plugging things into.”)

Now, I just need to hunt for a new laptop.

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Don’t Let Amelek Win – NHL’s Bar Mitzvah Speech

Posted by TechyDad on September 21, 2016 under Bar Mitzvah, Judaism, NHL

bitsela-7br-800x603During NHL’s Bar Mitzvah, he gave a speech, called a Dvar Torah, about the Torah portion that had just been read. I asked him for permission to reprint it here and he agreed. So, without further ado, here is NHL’s Dvar Torah:


In my portion, it says:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the lord your God grants you safety from all of your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heredity portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Why Amalek? Why do we need to blot out the memory of Amalek? Why not other groups who have persecuted Jewish people throughout history? For example, why not the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites for hundreds of years? Or other groups who attacked the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness? Why is Amalek singled out for this treatment?

When Amalek attacked, they did not attack the Israelites’ military. They did not single out the strong fighters or other military targets. Instead, they went after the weak and defenseless people straggling behind the group. Other groups attacked directly instead of aiming for innocent civilians.

The Torah says that we should blot out the memory of Amalek. However, the Torah also says not to forget. How can we do both? If we blot out their memory, doesn’t that mean they would be forgotten? And if we do not forget, doesn’t that mean that we have not blotted out their memory? While it is true that blotting out their memory means eliminating them completely as a people, we also must remember what they did because other people can do what Amalek did.

There is a famous saying by Spanish-American philosopher and poet George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, Amalek was not unique. There have been many other events in history that mirrored Amalek’s actions. Haman tried to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire by using power over them from King Achashverosh. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler tried to kill many different people, including the Jews, using Germany’s military might. During the Sudan civil war of 1985, Salva Dut was around 11 years old when he was fleeing to Kenya though the Akobo Dessert. Looters from another tribe stole everything that the people traveling with Salva had including their clothes, food, and water. Then, they killed Salva’s uncle – the only family Salva had with him – right in front of him.

So why is it so important to remember? Won’t these tragedies still occur even if we recall each and every one of them? Do we have any power to stop them or are they inevitable? The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We can make a difference if we act and it is easier to act when we remember what has happened before.

Mordechai and Esther led the charge to stop Haman. Their actions stopped Haman’s plot and saved the lives of many Jews. During the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler helped save 1,200 Jews. Schindler ran a factory that employed many Jews. When the Jewish people were being sent off to the Concentration Camps, Schindler bribed German officials to protect his employees and their families. This was very risky for him to do. If Schindler did nothing, he would have been just fine because he was a member of the Nazi Party. If Schindler was caught, he would have been killed for defying the Nazis. By the end of the war, his employees and their families were safe. Schindler had spent his entire fortune and had to rely on support from other people including the Jews he had saved. Schindler was named Righteous Among the Nations and was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to receive this honor.

Another example of people standing up for what it right no matter the risk was the Underground Railroad during the nineteenth century. The members of the underground railroad helped escaped slaves get to Canada where they could be free. This was very illegal at the time. Armed bounty hunters and federal law enforcement agents were hunting the escaped slaves. If the escapees were caught, they would be taken back into slavery and anyone found assisting them would have gotten in huge trouble. Despite this risk, the people running the Underground Railroad still hid, fed, and provided shelter for the escaped slaves.

So, does this edict to not forget only apply to Jews? After all, some might say we should only look after our own people. What business is it of ours if other people suffer? Pastor Martin Niemöller was an outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler. He spent 7 years in Nazi concentration camps and is most remembered for the following quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

His point was that if you do not stick up for others when they need help, there will not be enough people to speak for you when you require assistance. Therefore, we should concern ourselves with the plights of others, even when it has no impact on our day to day lives.

So, what kinds of situations does this apply to? It is easy to say “I will definitely stand up if another Holocaust happens.” But do we? Time after time we turn the other way when groups of people are persecuted. We do nothing because we believe it has nothing to do with us or we convince ourselves that we have too many problems of our own to deal with. Sometimes we remark about how awful the situation is and how somebody should do something, after which we do nothing and just continue with our day to day lives. It can be very easy to say you will act, but hard to break out of your average routine.

The bigger tragedies can seem overwhelming, but what about day to day injustices? Surely those are more manageable. And yet we still find it all too easy to look the other way if we see someone who is being bullied or someone whose life has taken a bad turn. For example, someone that is homeless and is asking for money to feed their family. While it may be easy to walk away and think that this has nothing to do with you, how would you feel if you were the one being bullied or that was homeless. Wouldn’t you want people to help you?

Fighting against indifference and taking action can be very difficult. Oftentimes the urge to do nothing is overpowering. However, this is all the more reason why we need to heed the Torah’s words and do not forget. So the next time you come upon someone who needs help, don’t let Amalek win. Do everything in your power to help those in need.

 

NOTE: The Bar Mitzvah Torah Reader image above is copyright Bitsela, used courtesy of free-bitsela.com.

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So Proud Of My Bar Mitzvah Man

Posted by TechyDad on September 19, 2016 under Bar Mitzvah, Judaism, NHL, Religion

On Saturday, NHL was called to the Torah for the first time. This rite of passage welcomes him as a man in the eyes of Judaism. I’m still beaming with pride.

To clarify, all that is required is that you get called up to the Torah, say an opening blessing and a closing blessing and you’re done. That’s the most basic requirement. There are traditions that the Bar Mitzvah boy (or Bat Mitzvah girl) read from the Torah and sing a Haftorah portion (an excerpt from one of the books of the prophets that is linked in some way to the Torah portion), but this doesn’t need to be done at all.

So what did NHL do? First, he led the service as we took out the Torah. Then, he read from the Torah (a long passage, might I add) as B and I were called up. Next, came his big moment. He was called up for the first time as a member of the Jewish community. He sang the opening prayers, read from the Torah again, and then sang the closing prayers. After this, he gave a speech about his Torah portion (a Dvar Torah) before reading his Haftorah.

As he walked across the stage to speak with the rabbi, we got to pelt NHL with candy as a traditional wish for the target to have a sweet life. It’s also a favorite among kids who then get to storm the front to gather candy. NHL was lucky that we chose the soft Sunkist Fruit Gems. My parents packed projectiles that included Hershey’s Kisses. Those things sting – or at least would have if I hadn’t been smart enough to duck behind the podium right after finishing my Haftorah. Back to NHL, though, I am happy to report that I hit him with my first throw.

Moving on, we said the traditional parental blessing over NHL and sang a quick song thanking God for letting us see this wonderful day. NHL sang the Ashrei (another prayer) before we put the Torah away and, later on, sang some closing prayers with his brother and cousins.

So how did he do?

From his practice sessions, I was confident that NHL knew his stuff.  I was sure that he was ready, albeit nervous – a perfectly normal reaction to such a momentous occasion. Still, as NHL often does, he blew away my expectations. He nailed all of the Hebrew readings and many people commented on how great his speech was. More than one specifically said that it greatly moved them. I will admit that I helped him craft the speech, but I was more a guiding force – helping direct him on the best way to make his point. The content and especially the delivery was all NHL. (NHL has given me permission to publish his speech on my blog so look for that later this week.)

I’m having trouble coming up with words to say how proud I am of NHL. He has put in a tremendous amount of effort into his Bar Mitzvah preparations. He would practice in the car on the way to school and then again at night after his homework was done. He went to temple with me countless Saturdays during which he didn’t just observe the service, but interjected himself into it. That Ashrei prayer I mentioned earlier? He was the regular reader of that virtually every Saturday we attended services. And after that prayer, he would walk around behind the Torah shaking everyone’s hands. So many other Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids show up at temple for the first time on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah day and then vanish forever. NHL has showed that he likes having a place in the synagogue. Though, I might give him a week off this coming Saturday – he’s earned it.

And the reading from the Torah that NHL did? Reading Hebrew is hard enough with vowels. Believe me, I know. I can read Hebrew but at a snail’s pace. I rely on having memorized virtually all of the prayers over the years. If I had to lead a service going solely by reading the Hebrew, the three hour long morning service would likely take a good ten hours or more. When you read from the Torah, though, all of the vowels are removed. Consider that for a moment. D y knw hw hrd t s t rd nglsh wtht vwls? Srsly. t’s xtrmly dffclt t d.*  Now take some text in a completely different language and remove the vowels. Or better yet, here’s a glimpse of NHL’s text from a photo taken at one of his practice sessions (since photos weren’t permitted on the big day):

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Could you read that? I certainly couldn’t. I know that NHL memorized much, if not all, of it, but the sheer fact that he fit that much in his brain and still had room for everything else is amazing. I’m in awe of my son and will be telling him how proud I am of him until he’s sick of it. Then I will proceed to tell him a dozen more times before considering whether I should lay off of it for a couple of minutes.

Congratulations, NHL. You did amazing on Saturday and I’m so proud of my Bar Mitzvah Man!

 

 

 

* For those really confused: “Do you know how hard it is to read English without vowels? Seriously. It’s extremely difficult to do.”

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Happy Birthday To My Teenage Son

Posted by TechyDad on August 17, 2016 under Birthday, NHL

Today is NHL’s birthday. It’s not just any birthday, though. It’s his 13th birthday. This means that NHL is officially a teenager. How did this happen? It seems like only yesterday that little NHL came home from the hospital with us.

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A year later we celebrated his first birthday and he discovered the joys of cake. And that the messier the food, the better.

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As the years progressed, NHL grew bigger and bigger. Eventually, he started school and discovered the joys of learning. NHL loved math and would work it into every project that he could. We would get lovely artwork sent home from school with “1 + 1 = 2” painted in the middle because NHL always wanted to show off his math skills. He loved school and loved playing. He was getting bigger and more expressive. We’d constantly be in awe over what a bright, sweet, and cute kid he was turning into.

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Years later, after many attempts to figure out what was going on with NHL, we received an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. This changed both NHL’s world and my own as I quickly realized that I’m an Aspie as well. Suddenly, all of the “difficulties” that NHL was facing in school, at home, and out in the world made more sense and we found the proper tools to help equip him to tackle challenges that neurotypical kids (and adults) saw as just mundane day-to-day events. It seemed like every hurdle we climbed over was replaced by another, bigger one. Through it all, NHL kept up his love of learning.

This only increased once he hit middle school.  I’ll be honest, we were terrified of the prospect of middle school. The chaotic hallways, overwhelming workload, and rotating mix of teachers/classmates seemed like they would conspire to crush our child. We pictured him having a meltdown in the crowded hallways as he struggled to open his locker while being buffeted by kids rushing to his class and the bell threatening to ring any second. Yes, he would have a one-on-one aide, but would the aide know how to support our child while still letting him handle enough on his own?

In hindsight, we needn’t have worried. The aide was great. He and NHL hit it off immediately and got along great. And those class-to-class transitions we feared? It turned out that he thrived on them. NHL loves schedules. He wants to know just what is happening and when. In elementary school, his teacher could make math run long if need be and postpone English. This would cause NHL to flip out over the schedule being broken. (Being able to roll with schedule changes is one of the many things that neurotypical people take for granted.) In middle school, though, once the bell rang, math was over. The math teacher couldn’t declare that the class was running over for 10 more minutes because all of the kids had to get to their next class.

In his first semester of middle school, NHL got silver honor roll, having gotten one B on a report card otherwise filled with A’s. After his honor roll ceremony, he told us that next semester he’d get gold. We reassured him that what was important was that he did his best. He insisted that he’d get gold next time. And he did. He worked harder, raised his grade to all A’s, and got gold honor roll that very next semester. And the semester after that.  In fact, in the two years he’s been in middle school, he’s only had two B’s. The rest of his report cards were straight A’s.

When he’s not acing tests with a GPA that makes me both jealous (I only got one straight A semester in school) and proud, NHL loves watching TV and playing video games. He’s a total binge watcher. He’ll find a show he likes on Netflix or Hulu and will watch every available episode (usually while his brother complains that NHL is hogging the remote) until he’s an expert on everything there is to know about the show. He’ll also play and ace video game after video game. When it’s just us in the car, he loves telling me – in excruciatingly exacting details – just what is going on in the video games he’s playing. I’ll admit to only half-listening most times (in my defense, I’m driving while listening and the safe operation of the vehicle does take precedence), but I love how excited he gets over his games. He’s a geek and is proud of it.

Speaking of being a geek, NHL also loves playing Munchkin and other games with me. Unfortunately, time doesn’t allow for much in the way of game-play recently, but we still get a game in every so often and I love seeing his smile as he beats me yet again. (I never let him win. He’s just good at the game.)

Now, NHL is a teenager. In one month, he’ll be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. I couldn’t be prouder of NHL. He’s smart, kind, and unashamed of being a geek. In so many ways, he’s my mini-me. He’s turning into such a wonderful young man, but he’ll always be my sweet baby.wp-1471394318472.jpg

Happy birthday, NHL!

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