Monday, October 8, 2012

I talked to a bunch of third graders...and I liked it.

I went into school the other day to talk to Alex's class about Autism.  Nothing instills fear in me as much as talking to a small hoard of third graders.  Kids---they are unpredictable, they are young and for the most part, they say what's on their mind.

They scare me.

Earlier in the year we had an incident where Alex was bullied and that spurred the question of, "What do the kids know about Autism?  Do they know anything?  Do they even know he has it?"  The answers came back as no, no and no.  The kids knew nothing.

I though that maybe if they knew something, heck anything, there may be some compassion.  They may have some understanding of why he does what he does and maybe with understanding would come some form of acceptance.    

I'll be the first to tell you, I worked with our school to do this.  Our teachers are great and in some ways I am really blessed.  They get it.  They get Alex.  They get me and they are willing to work with the things I suggest.

I had a PowerPoint presentation and from that presentation, I made a book for each child in Alex's class.  I wanted each one of them to have something to bring home so their parents could see what we went over in class.  Truth be told, I did it in the hopes that the parents would know what I talked about, and maybe just maybe, there would be further discussion at home.

A thing of beauty.  

Anyway, it turned out to be really interesting.  And enlightening.  For all of us.  The kids were really interested.  The teacher had told the students on Monday I would be coming in, later in the week, and asked if they had any questions about Autism.  None of the kids new a stitch.  They wanted to know things like:
  • Can I catch it?
  • How do you get it?
  • What is it and where does it come from?

So when I went in last week, we had the presentation on the White Board.  They use this all the time in class and its basically a computer screen on a white board (imagine that) on the wall.  The kids all sat around in a circle eating their snacks and before I could even start a boy asked, "What is it?"

I was nervous, scared and worried.  Alex had elected to stay and listen and I was scared to death he would be upset or have a meltdown.  

"Well, my name is Mrs. Cole and I'm Alex's mom.  I'm here to talk a little bit about Autism.  You all had some really good questions for your teacher earlier in the week.  I guess you should know that the reason why I'm here talking to you about Autism is because Alex has Autism.  Did you guys know that?"

I was met with wide eyes and blank stares and a few kids chomping their Doritos's.  Alex was quiet.  He was in the back of the class and his para was next to him, keeping a close eye on him.    

"So you had questions about how do you get Autism and if you can catch it.  Those are really good questions..."

Still, twenty-three sets of eyes, all wide open, all with blank stares, looking right at me.  It was like looking down the barrel of a gun.

"A person is born with Autism.  You can't catch it.  You just have it.  It's like you have brown eyes or blond hair.  You have what you were born with.  When a person is born with Autism, it means their brain is a little different.  Its just the way a person is born.  So just like your hair or eye color, you're born with it.  It's not good or bad, its just different."

"Let me ask you guys a question, do you guys know the gaming devices, what are they Nintendo and PlayStation??"

They all started talking at once.  I think at first they wondered how an old person like me would even know about Nintendo or PlayStation.  Either way, you would have thought I told them Halloween was in twenty minutes.

They all started talking, "Oh My God, yeah!  We have those at home!  Do you know we have both?!?  You can't play them with each other....my dad says its a conspiracy."  No lie, that's what one kid said.  It was perfect.

All the kids were talking about which games they liked to play and which ones were better....

"Well yeah, OK, lets go back to those two kinds of games.  They both have different operating systems.  They are the same but different, right?  And like the brain, you can't see those differences, they are on the inside, right?  Just like the operating systems of the games---the differences are on the inside."

I had them thinking.  They were really quite and pondering.  The Doritos's were left off to the side of a criss-crossed applesauce set of legs.

"Well, lets say our brains are like those operating systems.  Lets say for this class you all have brains with a Nintendo Operating System, OK?  And let's say that Alex's brain, his brain, he has a PlayStation Operating System.  You guys following?"

Now a lot of heads were nodding up and down and there were a few hushed, "Ohhh's."

"So what that means is this, when your brain receives information from the world, lets say right now--me talking, the lawnmower outside, the hum of the computer, the rattling of your snack bags, all of it---your brain processes it with a Nintendo operating system.  Well, Alex's brain takes all that same information---me talking, the lawnmower outside, the hum of the computer, the rattling of your snack bags, all of it---he processes all that same information....but with a PlayStation operating system.  Ya still with me?"

I had twenty-three nodding heads and dead silence.  I could tell they were getting it, they were totally getting it.

"So what that means is....you all process information one way, and he processes that same information a different way.  It's not wrong, its not bad, its just different."

A hand went up.  "Is that why Alex uses headsets?"

It was like the floodgates had opened.  "Yeah, is that why he wears those things???  Can we see them?  Is that why he wiggles?  And shakes?  And leaves the class sometimes?  Hey, can we try the headsets?"

The kids knew.  They knew he was different, they always have.  They just didn't know why.  And they were afraid to ask, you could see it on their faces as plain as day.  All this time---they knew.

"Yeah, that's it.  His brain processes things differently from you so he responds differently.  So when you see him wiggle or.....you know how he pulls his shirt up over his mouth sometimes?"  And I had the kids.  They all looked around and were a bit uncomfortable here---Alex pulls his shirt up over his face as a stim.  The kids got it, they understood it.  They knew it was weird, it was different, it was kinda sorta not right.  They all knew it but they didn't know what to do or if it was even OK to ask why he does what he does.

"Well with Autism, sometimes the brain can get overloaded.  When that happens he needs a break.  That's when he leaves.  He goes down to the OT room and takes a break.  It gives his brain time to catch up with his body.  He's not in trouble or anything.  His body and brain just need a little extra time to catch up with everyone else."

And that, hands down, was the start of a the best time I've ever spent in the classroom.

I went through why he does what he does and how they can help.  How to be a friend, what to do with him and what not to do.  And that sometimes being a friend is work but in the end it would be worth it.

The whole time I kept my eye on Alex.  I was so worried about how he felt, about what I was saying.  I was outing him.

To be clear:  I asked him before I even agreed to talk to the class if he was OK with it.  I asked if he wanted me to do it and he agreed.  He wanted me to come in and talk to the class, he just didn't want to be there.  At the last minute, that morning, he changed his mind and we all agreed that we would keep to his wishes.  We would do what he wanted to do.  This was not about us.  This was about us helping him and if he was not happy with that, or uncomfortable in any way, then the deal was off.

The amazing part was?  As soon as the kids asked to see his headsets, Alex piped up from the back of the classroom, "You wanna see them?  That would be awesome!  Let me show you how they work...."  He worked his way from the back of the room to the center, with his headsets, and started showing them to the other kids.  And he smiled, a big happy smile.

And in that moment I found hope.

I found hope.




Things we did that worked:
  • We respected what Alex wanted, every step of the way.  
  • The teacher asked the students questions about what they knew, and didn't know, about Autism a few days prior to me coming in.  I worked those questions into the presentation. 
  • I did a PowerPoint so the kids had something to look at.
  • The PowerPoint was turned into school prior to me coming in so they knew what was going to be discussed.  No surprises.  
  • A booklet, made directly from the PowerPoint, that went home with each child so their parents could see what we talked about.
  • Using the comparison of a Nintendo Operating System to a PlayStation Operating System to define the differences in their brains.  For whatever reason, they totally understood what I was saying.  
  • We kept it short.  The whole thing lasted 25 minutes, tops. 
  • I could not have done this without our teachers and their support and understanding.  

I did forget to mention---around slide 13, where I talk about making friends, I went over "Social Rules" and how they are very difficult to understand.  That with Autism, he often needs help understanding what those rules really are.  It can be anything from standing in line, to playing a game of tag, to getting food from the cafeteria.  That all the rules they understand and just 'get' they are difficult for him.  I tied that back in to the areas where they can help.   

So that's it, I hope in some small way this helps if you are going into the classroom.

103 comments:

  1. Brilliant Mommy. So proud of you! This is perfect.

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  2. This was such a good idea. Your such a great mom!

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  3. Fantasict,Brilliant,Clever, Smart, Impressive are all the adjectives that come to mind as I am reading this.
    BRAVO!

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  4. So proud of you, Lizbeth. You totally need to take your show on the road!

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    1. Haha! I may have a coronary first. Who knew talking to a bunch of kids could be so nerve-wracking?!?

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  5. Time to turn that into a book. Brilliant. So proud of you and Alex and those kids.

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  6. Tears Lizbeth, you brought me to tears again as I sit here shoveling shredded wheat in my nouth because we are *newsflash* late AS USUAL getting this train wreck off to school. Hope :)

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    1. We are always late getting out the door and the thing is? We start early and it's always something.....and thanks. :)

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  7. This is fantastic. I may or may not have sprung a leak somewhere in the upper portion of my face. Well done, my friend. Very, very well done!

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    1. Haha!!! Thanks, I hope it helps some people.

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  8. Brilliant and so helpful. Will definitely be sharing this with family, friends and everyone I know.

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  9. Fantastic! So glad the kids were so receptive. I have to wonder if there's a window of opportunity for this. If there's an expiration date on how old the kids get before they care to know or not. I hope not, but I do wonder.

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    1. You know, I DO think there is a window for this kind of thing. And what you use is dependent on the ages of the kids....I wish that window was bigger and let in more light. Maybe then we'd have more understanding...that's my hope anyway.

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  10. All. Kinds. Of. Awesome. So amazed--how brilliant to use the gaming analogy!! Glad it went well. And that hope?! It is priceless.

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  11. This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this!

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  12. Most excellent, my friend. Will be sharing this with the school.

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    1. Thanks Flan, I was thinking of you, you know that???

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  13. *clapping*

    So glad you made the most of a great teaching moment. This will help a lot of children-- so glad it helped Alex. :)

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  14. I love this. Every last word. Alex has a thoughtful and creative advocate in his corner. Thank you so much for sharing!!

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  15. This was simply awesome! I have described the brain many times using a computer as reference, but a gaming system makes SO much more sense. I am glad everything went well--kids do surprise us sometimes!

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    1. I was really amazed at how well they got that analogy. I originally didn't have it in the PPT and just talked about it. I was afraid they wouldn't get it. They TOTALLY got it. I added it here so it makes more sense.

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  16. Just fantastic, and it gives me hope too. And I really need it right now xxx

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  17. You are awesome. You made great strides in helping the world understand our kids. Thank you. (and I am pinning it!)

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  18. Thanks so much for sharing this. I am thinking that 'soon' I will need to go into my girls class to talk about this, and it'll be a real help. Sounds like you will have made a real difference to Alex's life x

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  19. You rock x 1000!! I wish I could give you an award for this. It makes so much sense. I too, am leaking profusely from my eyes (darn you!) and the analogy of the gaming operating systems was perfect. Doing the books - extra, super good stuff, my friend. This is my favorite of all your posts! xoxo

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    1. Thanks Karen, that means a lot. Hugs.

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  20. Thanks for the pointers. A good friend of mine recently gave a talk to her son's school (I was there for moral support!). She did great, although didn't get the questions from the kids because one of the teachers hurried them all out of the room as soon as my friend stopped talking. I was so pissed off. However, besides that fact... the school is very supportive, as are the kids.
    I am glad that it worked out for you and Alex.

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    1. Yeah, I had great help from the teachers. They were awesome. We had the kids eating their snacks and made it really informal so they were asking questions all over the place.

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  21. I've got you signed up for 8 schools already here in St. louis. I'm calling it the 'Lizbeth Tour'!!! I'm thinking of taking you national.

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    1. Bwahhhhh!!!! Can we get a book signing deal? Wait, I don't have a book.....

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  22. Fantastic. You and your son's school have been brilliant in working together to get this done. Do you want to come over to the UK and do a tour! Deb

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    1. Would love to! I'm staying with you, right???

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  23. I hate you

    *sniff*

    I think there's something in my eye...

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  24. Wow. This is EXACTLY why I'm going to school for my degree; to speak with children at school, parents, and teachers about autism and how to include those kids with invisible special needs. Your speech and presentation are inspiring and I hope you know I'm going to be studying your work. :)

    Such a fantastic and wonderful thing you did!

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    1. Thank you. If you need anything let me know!

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  25. And I should add, I have a 9 year old, a soon-to-be-6-in-December year old, and a 2.5 year old. All three of my boys are on the spectrum, from Asperger's to classic autism to ADHD to sensory issues to severe anxiety. So seeing how you approached this is of major interest to me.

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  26. Love it. Fantastic job! If I ever have the opportunity to teach kids about Wesley, I hope I can do as good a job!

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  27. Ah-MAZING. What a wonderful job you did explaining it. I never thought to use the operating system idea. Thank you!

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    1. I don't know how I thought of it. Like most things it just showed up...I think when I was typing or something.....

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  28. I'm giving you a standing ovation right now! Great job! I love the idea of the take home booklet. Even if it gets only one parent talking to their child and becoming more knowledgable it is well worth it. I hope that you are giving yourself a huge pat on the back, because you deserve it!

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  29. This is such a good idea and so well done! You are awesome. I may end up stealing this idea when Mini Meerkat is older and hopefully will actually last in school.

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  30. I was crying about five seconds into reading this post. I love, love, love it. And your analogy was pure genius! I am seriously thinking I should do this for Danny's class.

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  31. A standing on my chair cheering for you and Alex right now as my brain races to figure out all of the people I need to forward this post to! Congrats Supermomma!

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  32. Wow! You are all kinds of amazing! I love it all and am so happy that it worked out for you. Can't wait to hear about all the positive interactions Alex will be having with his peers! Shellin Sista

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    1. I hope so!!! And OMG, I'm so excited, 2 weeks!!!!!

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  33. That was soooo awesome!! Alex is very very lucky to have you as a mom!

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  34. Thank you.
    For a) all your awesome, b) working with kids that age - you have changed the world! You have made the world a better place through what you have done. I honestly believe that. And c) for the inspiration and hope.
    HUGE thanks for all this and so much more.

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    1. Thanks and I hope it helps. That was my main goal---to help him. If this helps others out here then I'm happy.

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  35. Wow- crying over here;) What a GREAT share today. Thank you immensely!
    Our daughter is still in preschool, but I look to the future and this gave me HOPE.
    This is great to share and I intend to do just that.

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  36. This is so completely brilliant. Tearing up over here, so happy for you & your son who will now have a much easier time of it in a class full of kids who have the tools to understand. xoxoxo.

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  37. Wonderful! Understanding is the first step toward acceptance...kudos to you for taking this step and so very happy that it worked out so well. Grateful to you for sharing!

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  38. This is an absolutely wonderful story! What a wonderful Mom. Would that every class would hear about every disability. No way. But, today, you and Alex won! And the fact that Alex chose to be in class while you gave that talk? What courage! Good on you both!

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    1. I know, right?!? I was scared to death when he said he wanted to stay but in the end it worked out better because he got to see and hear it...and realize it wasn't bad but it was all good.

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  39. This is so fabulous. I love that you did this. I think that all students should have these kinds of presentations. I think it is so cool that you made it into a booklet for them to take home. GREAT idea!

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  40. This was fabulous to read. This is a step we are working on. Often the schools my sons have attended have discouraged talking to the class about Autism and how it effects my son. Even though he's nonverbal. This was good inspiration for me to keep trying

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    1. Please keep trying. I found the kids really, really, really wanted to know WHY he was different. No matter how much you teach inclusion, kids don't really get a full grasp of what that means. When I explained what Autism was, they all got it. I mean, they UNDERSTOOD.

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  41. I have so much admiration for you! What a fantastic post!!! Would be lovely to know how things are going for your Son as a result of your fantastic work.. Best wishes to you and your family! x

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    1. Thank you. I suspect some of them will have forgotten by lunchtime but if one or two kids understand? Then it was worth it.

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  42. This was awesome. Absolutely awesome. Been thinking so hard abour the need to explain...too early for us but still not too early too think abput..
    So where can I get your book?

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  43. Absolutely brilliant. My heart is so full of happiness for you and I'm so proud of you for figuring out how to get kids to relate to autism. Bravo! Bravo!

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  44. This was awesome!! I'm so glad it went so well! The gaming analogy was perfect, way to get the kids to understand!! I'm so happy for you and Alex! The part were he started showing the kids his headphones really... *sniff* damn you!! *shakes fist*

    Love and hugs - you rocked it!!

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  45. I SO love it when someone else does my work for me. I'm going to just use all of this in Casey's class (and eventually Abby's...remind me to change "autism" to "down syndrome") and say it's ME who is brilliant.

    Thank you.

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  46. Holy cow, you're AMAZING! The operating system analogy was brilliant. I'm excited to see how things develop in Alex's class.

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  47. School's should hire you to come give talks in all the classes!!!!

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  48. That's totally fantastic!!!! Made my day xxx

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  49. We've done this same thing with my son's classes the last few years. I couldn't believe how many kids thought they could catch it! However, I am forwarding this link to his teachers because now that he is in the 4th grade the gaming systems analogy is so perfect! I want to add it in!!! Thank you! :)

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  50. Thank you so much for this! I too am mom to a third grader with Asperger's and this is absolutely wonderful!!!

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  51. LURVE! So stealing...Borrowing this!

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  52. OMG...BRILLIANT, totally brilliant! Alex' difference helped him engage with the others by the end of your brilliant talk with his 'awesome' headsets. Love it! BTW....you're allowed Doritos in school?!! Not so here!

    I'll be sharing this post:-)

    xx Jazzy

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  53. That's amazing! I got all teary eyed and junk reading this. (Gross!) You rock, mamacita!

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  54. I love that the theme underlying it all-- was all about being a friend!!

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  55. This is such good information!! My Aspie was not diagnosed until 18. His teachers/counselors just kept telling me he was lazy and to put the responsiblity on him to participate in his own education.

    I wish I had known then what I know now. You have inspired me to talk to the local grade schools about this and if they have any needs for this kind of talk.

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  56. Love, love, love, love, love. You did amazing and the support your son gains now will stick with him for years to come.

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  57. Just read this... I am so happy to know you and your family. This is amazing and only hope that all the children at our school can hear this. I know my kids would really benefit. Thanks for all you do - and it makes me want to give you and Alex a hug. What an amazing duo! Keep on rockin on. :)

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  58. I feel like this post was made for me and my son. He is in second grade and has been getting a lot of questions from classmates about his quirks/schedule. I spoke to his teachers about coming in to speak to the class. I was able to view your ppt file one time, but it's not linking anymore. Would you be able to post/send me your outline? I know you worked hard on it and if it's proprietary, I understand. I know your son has asked that you not write anymore and just want you to know, you'll be missed.

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  59. Hello! I know this is kinda off topic however , I'd figured I'd ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or
    vice-versa? My site covers a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you're interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Superb blog by the way!

    Check out my weblog: garden shed paint ideas

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  60. Hello I am a service coordinator and work with many children with autism. I have a parent who was asked to speak with her daughters kindergarten class and I think your PPT would be awesome to look at and get ideas from but it is no longer on here...please help?

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    1. Yes, please put it back on here, thanks!

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