Our Talk with Christopher Ulmer of Special Books by Special Kids: A Seriously Not Boring Interview

ulmerinterview

 

My youngest son and I recently had the opportunity to talk via Skype with Christopher Ulmer, aka “Mr. Chris,” of Special Books by Special Kids. Usually Chris interviews other people, so we thought it would be fun to turn the tables and be the ones asking the questions to learn more about him and his students. For those of you who may not know who he is,  Chris is an exceptional education teacher in Florida. His unique and affirming teaching style as well as his extraordinary class of students has captured the hearts of many and become a viral sensation. The first video to gain widespread attention showcased his “compliment time” with the students at the start of each school day, and it was featured first at “The Mighty” and then in an article on ABC News. From there the message spread all over the mainstream media, reaching far beyond the typical “Awareness” circles, and Chris even made an appearance on Rachel Ray’s television show. The messages from Mr. Chris and his students continue to spread all over the internet, and the page has even been mentioned on unexpected sites like MTV, prompting Ashton Kutcher to say, “Mr. Chris, you’re a great teacher.”

Two videos from our conversation are embedded at the bottom of this post. In the first video he talks with my youngest son (his older brother decided not to participate because this isn’t his kind of thing 😉 ). Noodle Dog makes an appearance, there is some Minecraft talk in the middle, and an eyeball crossing contest at the end. Chris described his teaching philosophy and what influenced his decision to become an exceptional education teacher. I was also finally able to ask something I have long wondered about; it seems, when watching the SBSK videos, that teaching in a private school setting allows a level of flexibility in the classroom that wouldn’t be able to occur in a public school setting (for many reasons). He addresses that, as well as whether or not they have any sort of standardized testing. He also recalls an excellent and entertaining musical concert performed by his students, and all the work that went into it. You will have to watch the video to hear the fun story.

Update: here is the short “highlights” version of just the silly parts. 🙂

 

Continue reading

In the Blink of an Eye: Autism and Wandering

017

We had a little scare yesterday. I went to pick the Ninjas up from camp and found the littlest Ninja waiting outside the building by himself. He explained matter-of-factly that he was just really ready to leave, so he decided to go look for me. It didn’t even occur to him that he was doing something wrong until he saw how upset I was.

For anyone who has ever questioned why I am so hyper-vigilant with my son, this is why. Because incidents like this can happen far too easily.

I immediately brought him inside to the director of the camp and the three of us had a talk. The director was horrified, apologetic, embarrassed, and very concerned. They had let their guard down for just a second, and it happened in the blink of an eye.

It usually does. Children with Autism can be prone to wandering behavior, and that can put them at risk. Caregivers must put strict measures into place to help ensure a secure environment. Turn your back for just a moment and you could have a dangerous situation on your hands. We want to keep these precious children safe!

In the case of my young Ninja he can be impulsive, distractable, and not have a clear grasp of danger. He is also creative and wonderfully inquisitive and notices things the rest of us do not. Unfortunately that can mean that if he is busy noticing something interesting he does NOT notice if he wanders off or gets left behind. It has happened to me, and it was frightening.

I explained this about the Ninja when we first came to camp, and stated that a watchful eye was needed during transitions. I know from experience that dangerous situations can happen to even the most vigilant and nurturing of caregivers. People often assume that the Ninja functions on a certain level because he is able to be mainstreamed, and can forget that he still requires a certain level of care. He was once accidentally locked outside his school because he was behind a climbing wall and didn’t hear his teacher call the class inside at the end of recess. When he realized what happened he was left pounding on the door, crying and alone. Within a few minutes another teacher let him in, but it left him (and me) shaken.

While I am upset that these incidents occurred I am also grateful that my son escaped harm. I want to help prevent similar incidents from happening to ANY child. That is why I am talking about this. Not to shame or chastise anyone, but to help raise awareness.

When a parent tells you that a child in your care is prone to wandering, BELIEVE them.

I am still pleased with the camp and the leadership. They have been supportive and accepting of BOTH Ninjas. They’re also going to put more strict safety measures in place from now on. Still, when I stop and think about it I get chills. The adult watching the door looked away for just a second yesterday, and that’s all it took. My son slipped out in the blink of an eye.

It makes me want to sleep with one eye open from now on, just to be safe.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like this post? Don’t forget to “Follow” Seriously Not Boring or subscribe to email updates. You can check out our Seriously Not Boring Facebook page and give us a “Like” there too, or follow @SrslyNotBoring on Twitter. Thanks for stopping by! 

The Warrior Ranger: Be brave and be yourself

image
The brave Pink Warrior Ranger

Happy Halloween! I wanted to share with you this awesome picture of a brave, unique young man and real-life superhero. He has enjoyed the Power Rangers since he was very little, and his favorites happened to be the Pink and Yellow Rangers. It didn’t bother him that they were girls, he just knew that they were awesome. He also greatly respects and admires his mother, and her favorite color is pink. To top it all off, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So this cool dude came up with a plan to wear this Pink Ranger costume to his elementary school.

At this point I think the best description would be the words written by his proud mother:

So proud of this child who, true to himself, wore this costume to school. When the teasing peaked, the critics were silenced when he told them he wore it for Breast Cancer Awareness. His critics became his defenders as his teacher is battling this disease. 

That’s right. The other reason that this brave little individual wore pink to school was to support his beloved teacher who was fighting breast cancer. By the way, he is only in SECOND grade. So young, but already such a leader. He has also overcome many obstacles in his own life. I can’t give you details, but believe me when I say that he is a fighter! This little guy has a big heart and and even bigger strength of character. He courageously stood up for someone he cared about AND was true to himself. He didn’t care that what he wore was unusual, he just knew that it made him happy and it was something he wanted to do. Even if it was “different.” Even if he might get teased. THAT is strength. That is beauty. That is uniqueness. And that is SERIOUSLY not boring.

Rock on, young Ranger! Way to be a Warrior!

The Awesome Older Brother

Happy Halloween2
My little pumpkin on his first Halloween

My firstborn son is AWESOME. Here is a picture of him on his first Halloween… isn’t he ADORABLE? Sometimes I miss that sweet baby and those fat cheeks, but I am massively proud of the young man that he is becoming (almost 10!). He is smart, kind, creative, responsible, caring, funny, and even occasionally snarky (but in a good way). He has a strong sense of right and wrong and hates to see other people in uncomfortable situations (which has the unfortunate side effect of limiting our movie choices at times). He feels things very deeply and doesn’t always talk about it, but shows it it other ways. He also still loves to hug his mamma, and will reach out to hold my hand when we walk down the street. There is still a hint of little boy left in him and I am trying to cherish every moment. Sometimes when he thinks no one is looking I hear him singing to himself. Every time I find myself getting annoyed at the noise I remember that all too soon he will be grown-up and the singing will stop, so I smile and enjoy the music.

My oldest son is also an incredible companion and occasional caretaker for his younger brother, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Siblings of children with special needs are quite often the unsung heroes of the family. They can be amazing advocates for their siblings, and learn about patience, compassion and diversity as the result of their upbringing.

IMG_3766

Continue reading

Jellyfish in the Baby Pool: Protecting my child with special needs

pool fun

All parents want to protect their children. We are constantly on guard, looking for potential threats. Parenting a child with special needs often requires an extra measure of caution, because problems can hide in the most innocent of places. Where some parents see fun and merriment, we may only see danger, potential meltdowns, or sensory overload.

An experience we had many years ago on a family vacation comes to mind as an analogy. My husband and I took our two small sons to the beach and it was a lot more work than we expected, partly because our toddler and preschooler had distinctly different sensory needs at that stage. My oldest child spent most of his time avoiding the sand and crying “Dirty, dirty…” under his breath. My youngest, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the sand. He would sit and eat it by the handfuls.

sticky fingers                      sand feast

After a while I was exhausted and decided it was time for “easy.” We headed to what I thought would be a safe haven: the baby pool at the beach club. After a few minutes of play I stepped on something squishy at the bottom of the pool. I picked it up, and to my horror realized I was holding a jellyfish. A JELLYFISH. In the BABY POOL! A man saw my reaction and said nonchalantly, “Oh yeah. my kid was playing with that. It doesn’t have any tentacles!” I was appalled. Why would anyone take a risk like that with the safety of small children? Not to mention the fact that a baby pool doesn’t need any extra organic material, if you know what I’m saying. Not wanting to take that man’s word for it that no one could get stung, I disposed of the jellyfish. It was a wake-up call to me that there was something potentially dangerous in an environment that should be protected.

As my children got older, and my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I realized that the world is full of “jellyfish in the baby pool,” so to speak. Other parents of children with special needs know what I am talking about. Experiences that may be perfectly safe or enjoyable for typical children can be dangerous or overwhelming for a child who is physically or neurologically different.

Dinner out as a family? Lots of ways you could get stung by jellyfish. Taking your kids with you grocery shopping? Jellyfish. Public school? Jellyfish. Amusement parks? Jellyfish. Trick or Treating? Jellyfish. Dentist appointments? Jellyfish. Enjoying the latest Disney movie at the theater? Jellyfish. Haircuts? Jellyfish. Playing outside with other children? Jellyfish. Easter egg hunts? Have mercy. (If your child can get through the waiting for the start of the hunt then you sure as heck better have some emergency eggs stashed in your pockets just in case the hunt itself doesn’t go well.)  Chuck E. Cheese? Actually, never mind that last one. I’m pretty sure all parents feel the same way about that place.

Continue reading