October 27, 2014

Paul Prendergast Karate

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:18 am by autismmommytherapist

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Given that my youngest son (who has high-functioning autism) literally has more energy than any human being on earth, I am always in search of outlets for that energy. As luck would have it Zach’s case manager happened to mention Paul Prendergast Karate to me two years ago, and I decided to give them a call.

I explained Zach’s dual diagnosis of ADHD/autism and launched into a litany of his strengths and weaknesses, a monologue which I’m certain lasted for at least ten minutes. At the end I finally took a breath, remembered the concept that a conversation is generally two-sided, and waited.

The words “bring him in we can’t wait to meet him” were music to my ears.

I decided to interview Master Paul recently because I like to promote people and businesses whom I deem “autism-friendly” whenever possible. Master Paul shared with me that he was a self-described “lazy kid” who took to karate with gusto after his first lesson, an enthusiasm he summoned later in life when he acknowledged the hospitality business was not for him. He realized he truly wanted to work with kids, help them to be their best selves, and facilitate their realizing their dreams.

And out of that desire, Paul Prendergast Karate was born.

During the course of the interview Master Paul told me that he had been a “terrible student who probably has undiagnosed ADD,” a situation he felt was never handled well by his teachers. He recalled an incident in which a teacher called him “retarded” for not understanding a biology concept, and remembers the sting of it to this day.

But instead of letting this episode destroy him, in typical PPK fashion he has instead allowed it to shape how he wants his special needs students to be treated.

And that philosophy translates to making certain he and all his instructors treat those with special needs (and those without) with compassion and respect, and has engendered a neverending quest to solicit their best from them.

The key to the success of this philosophy is of course communication, both between staff members and between staff and family. Families are encouraged to share victories with the instructors so the students can be recognized in class; they are also encouraged to share any difficulties transpiring in their lives so staff can be sensitive to their needs.

There are weekly staff meetings to discuss students’ progress, where Master Paul encourages his instructors to “know their students; if they’re not getting it, figure out why.” Feeling that every child is an individual means the instruction is tailored to the students’ needs. Master Paul shared with me that he likes to be “proactive and not have to put out fires”- he encourages his staff to find the successes in each session, then use praise and reward to help children achieve their goals. His catch phrase is “behavior recognized and rewarded is often repeated.”

Amen to that.

I personally feel that karate has aided Zach immensely, from helping him focus to emphasizing the importance of respect (plus it tires him out, which I especially love.) Although it hasn’t helped him learn to clean his room (they’ll work on that with you if you want) I’ve come to see a more confident child emerge over the last two years, and I credit PPK with contributing to this growth. I don’t know how long Zach will wish to pursue karate, but at the moment he’s happy, his mom is thrilled, and my kid gets to feel good about what he’s doing several times per week.

In the end, there’s not much more you can ask for from an after-school activity.

Brick location: (732) 477-8451

Toms River location: (732) 255-0563

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January 26, 2013

Say Uncle

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , at 11:35 am by autismmommytherapist

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Last week my boys and I had a rare visit from their Uncle Erik (my brother), who is usually either on tour or recording somebody in his studio, so doesn’t get to make as many visits home as he’d like. Although the boys talk on the phone to him (or in Justin’s case, listen), I’m always concerned that since they see him about once a year, they might not really remember him, or feel he merits their attention.

After last week, I’ll remove that worry from my list of perennial concerns for good.

My brother was gracious enough to come see Zach perform in karate class, in which he excelled so much with his punches and jabs I thought he’d send one of the instructors to the hospital. Zach kept looking through the window to make sure we were still there (we were), and absolutely ate up the fact that his uncle was watching him feint and par.

After putting him through several rigorous rounds of Star Wars fighting at home (guess who was Luke, and guess who won) we finally wore him out enough for bed, which became a family affair. At his final parting with my sibling I saw my youngest become emotional, and my heart lurched a bit at bedtime when I heard him whisper “no tears” to himself, in true Jedi warrior fashion. He has a full heart my little one, and he knows it will be a while before we further exhaust his uncle at Disney later this year.

It may take my brother that long to recover from all their light saber fights.

But I have to admit the true star of the evening bedtime ritual was Justin. My eldest, who for years pretty much ignored everyone not directly in his inner circle (mom, dad, teachers and cute therapists) has become more social, and fare more aware of things as of late. In the last two years of visits from Erik he always looks from his face to mine a half dozen times as if to say “I know you two are related”. Bedtime is usually a sacred ritual for Justin, one which generally involves only his mother and sometimes his father (if Justin’s in a magnanimous mood). But last week was different.

That evening, my mom, brother and I all sat in Justin’s room for my mother’s rendition of “Rainbow Sea”, the book of the week (well, really the year), and my son was beside himself with joy. I watched happily as my child, who in theory is supposed to have great difficulty with eye contact, stared gleefully at the members of his family as the story unfolded, absolutely rapturous that this generally private ritual was being shared. As the story concluded hugs were dispensed, adults were pushed to the door (take a hint people), and my beaming boy dove into his sleeping bag, thrilled to death with the attention.

And yes, he has severe autism.

I need to remember these moments, because if someone had told me years ago a visit from my sibling would unfurl in this manner, with both my boys delighted to see him, craving contact and attention from their fun uncle, I wouldn’t have believed it. That night is a reminder that as much as I try to project Justin’s future for his own benefit, I can’t entirely guess what progress he’ll make, what new skills he’ll master. He’ll continue to shatter my expectations for him, and I have to remember that fact as I try to plot out the best trajectory of his life. Justin will always be full of surprises.

And thankfully, as time goes on, there seem to be more and more good ones.

October 7, 2012

Karate Kid

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , at 4:35 pm by autismmommytherapist

I shift in my seat to catch a better glimpse of my youngest boy through the large glass window, and hear the word “CHEOP!” ring out into their classroom, an order which is quickly obeyed by a dozen five and six-year-olds who respond in kind. For a few brief moments following this command every child is miraculously still, and perfectly tuned into their karate instructor.  All too soon however the magical moment is broken, and I watch as twelve students respond to instructions (for the most part) to line up for drills, and am pleased to see that Zach complies.

We had endured (and by “we”, I mean mostly “I”) a few rough classes the week before, with Zach’s infractions resulting in several time-outs that caused him to miss out on some of the most entertaining aspects of the class.  I’m hoping his mini-derailments are minor aberrations from his usual behavior, because he loves coming here, and I truly feel it will help his development in the long run.

And honestly, I love this weekly forty-five minute glimpse into his world, and I’m loathe to relinquish it.

For the last few months Zach’s father and I had entertained various possible outlets to help our youngest release some of his incredible wealth of energy (trust me, this was as much for his good as it was for ours), and although we once again considered team sports, we eventually decided to attempt the “solo route” for a while.  In the past we had tried soccer with Zach when he was three, an experience which generally resulted in our blond-haired boy running across three regulation soccer fields with his “girlfriend” in tow, followed by their fathers in hot pursuit.

While this was an amusing way for me to spend a Saturday morning, at the end of the day we couldn’t justify signing him up again, as he demonstrated absolutely zero interest in any aspect of the game. We also attempted baseball in the spring, and realized once again that Zach was far more captivated by the prospect of chasing his “buddy” around the field than actually learning the nuances of our nation’s favorite pastime.

When it comes to team sports, it seems as if he’ll take after his mama.

I had brought this dilemma to my son’s child study team several months prior to the end of the school year, and in typical fashion, they had some great suggestions for me.  Summer swim team was suggested, but I just couldn’t work out the logistics of being in two places simultaneously (if someone could ever figure out how to clone me for camp pick-ups, I’d be eternally grateful).  The team’s second suggestion of karate however was an available option year-round. I figured if Jeff and I could convince him not to use his acquired knowledge on either his older brother or us, it would be a viable option.

So far, we’ve all managed to avoid being karate-chopped.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I shift once more in a seat that looks far more comfortable than it really is, and remind myself that for Zach, learning self-regulation and discipline is far more of a marathon than a sprint (as it is for most children, but especially for him), and that I need to be more patient.  I’d read up a bit on karate prior to signing Zach up for lessons, and I had felt its emphasis on increasing self-control as well as strengthening the body and mind would be hugely beneficial to my boy.

Truly, particularly with the holidays right around the corner, who couldn’t use a bit more self-control these days?

I finally give up on finding my seat’s sweet spot and stand, moving out of my boy’s direct line of sight so as not to distract him.  I watch as he executes a perfect jab-hook-jab, and note his satisfied smile as he is rewarded with the word “perfect”, and reminded to run to the back of the line.  His grin overtakes his entire face, and I know he has taken pride in his performance.  His mom is proud of him too.

As a former teacher, I’m a sucker for even the tiniest accomplishment.

I think about that word “perfect”, and know it’s not a peak we’ll ever strive for in our house, and not because both boys have their own distinct versions of autism. I happen to think striving for perfection is overrated, as are my efforts to reattain my pre-baby stomach, or at times remember both boys’ names.   I lump perfection in the same class as trying to attain any semblance of “normal”, which I have yet to see defined by any family I know, with or without a child who is differently-abled.

If you know any, I’d love to meet them.

No, in this household we’re shooting for simpler goals.  I hope Zach’s participation in this class brings him slightly closer to my hopes for him, and those of his father.  I wish for him the ability to follow the crowd when necessary, yet retain his precious individuality.  I want him to learn how to discipline himself when required in a way that enables him to grow, yet doesn’t curtail his exuberant essence.  Mostly, I dream that he’ll take pride in his accomplishments whatever they are, and that they bring him joy.

I will note here that none of these wishes are promised in the Paul Prendergast Karate contract.

A few minutes after I conclude my musings the class is called into a circle.   I know that my son will soon come bounding out of class, still retaining an overflow of energy, yet somewhat satiated from his exertions.  Without my asking he will tell me he did a good job today, yet will look to me to confirm his words.  Gladly, I will.  Then I’ll take his hand, whisk him past items in a glass case that his “karate dollars” will eventually buy him (just not today), and settle him into his car seat for home.

He will be happy.  And his mother will be too.