“Strict” is Subjective

I have this saying… Mostly something I tell myself, but… it’s relevant to the point i’m trying to make with today’s blog post. As an ABA person, you are rendered a professional multiple personality. On one hand, you have to hyper sensitive and empathetic. You have to be totally and completely understanding of each child’s individual plight. Oh you bit me so hard I’m bleeding, and now you want a hug? Of course! Because I still love you with all my heart and soul. Really, stuff like that happens. I literally rocked and sang to a kid while I was in an Urgent Care, getting stitches from an injury he caused me because he hated fluorescent lights SOOO much, and I just felt so bad for him.

So, uber-sensitive, hyper nurturing, fix you will all my ooey-gooey love is one side.

The other side? It’s… less fun. It is STRICT. Hard-nosed. It is almost inhuman how desensitized to screaming I am. It is insane how well I can ignore you spitting on my face (gross, I know). It’s not mean necessarily, it’s just… detached, bland, and unfeeling. Or at least that’s how I think it’s probably perceived. In all reality, my oogey-gooey insides are bubbling behind the surface.

I’ll tell you, (especially working with older kids now) I have most definitely been called every name in the book. One of the most common is “mean”, or “mean teacher”. And really, that one sucks. Swear words don’t hurt my feelings, but being called mean is just really lame. I’m not mean, and I know that. I am strict. There is a difference, albeit a slight one.

Mean is someone who doesn’t care, or does “mean things” just for the sake of doing them. To get a reaction, to win the power struggle, to prove a point.

Strict is someone with high expectations, and follow through, among other traits.

Ugh. Sometimes I get all… theoretical in these blog posts. Probably what you’re actually wondering about is that picture! Oh… that picture.

It’s from today. One of my students was upset. I tried giving this student choices, but he didn’t respond. I truly wanted to help him feel better, but anything I offered was met with silence. This always bums me out. If you would/could just tell me, I’d do anything in my power to do it! Actually, I told this student just that. I reminded him about all the other times when I was willing to listen, hoping that would remind him of the rapport we had.

Nope. No thank you, mean teacher, you suck and I’m throwing this at your head.

So, pretty quickly, things start getting slowly moved toward the edges of shelves… and BOOM! They started falling to the floor.

photoMean Response: Yell at child for making a mess.
My response: “I hope you make a good choice. You can still tell me what I can do to help.”


Mean Response: Move student out to hall, shame him, or anything else to stop him from doing what he’s doing.
My response: “You can dump out whatever you want, but you’ll have to clean up everything before you go home.”

Then I went and sat down, while this kid proceeded to make my classroom look like Pintrest exploded. And I ignored him the whole time.

This is where strictness gets subjective.

One strict person would have PREVENTED the destruction. I didn’t. I let him do it. Why, you may be asking. Why in the heck would you let that happen, especially if you’re “so strict”? My staff were thinking this probably. In fact, I know they were because they looked at me like I was a complete psychopath when I told them to ignore what was happening. We have discussed in the past how I have a much higher tolerance for messes than others, but this was extreme. No big deal; I look like a psychopath daily.

Well, I chose to let the things be destroyed for many reasons. First, I know that physically this sixth grader is 150% of my weight and is an entire head taller than me. I cannot physically stop him. That is, unless I restrain him. Which I wasn’t going to do. So, I placed boundaries: “dump what you want, but you’ll pick it up”, and I let him work through whatever was going on.

So, after that, this student and I spent around 3 hours cleaning the classroom. Just for context, that picture is about 1/3 of the mess. Here’s a brief snippet of what we’ve got:

  •  Bins (1 of each): beans, pom poms, feathers, rocks, water beads
  • 2000 flashcards (literally), taken out of bags and all mixed up
  • 5 jigsaw puzzles
  • 3 bins of random toys
  • Drawer of pencils
  • Drawer of crayons

I helped him clean up once he asked me, and I’ll tell you…truly, I was not mad at him. I knew what I was getting myself in for by holding my boundaries. IT WAS NOT FUN. It wasn’t fun for me, and it wasn’t fun for him. But… he cleaned it up. He knew he was going to have to. It wasn’t a fight, it wasn’t even that big of a deal. He just cleaned it up.

So yes, I am a psychopath for letting every single thing in my classroom end up dumped out on my floor after I spent over 40 hours meticulously organizing all of it. Yes, I am completely insane for not trying harder to stop it… but, it worked out okay. Actually, it worked out well. At one point, this kid said “I need to apologize to the whole class because I took away the other students learning opportunities”. Bam! Insight. It was all worth it to hear that. And while I had to be bland, detached and unfeeling for some of it, I let parts of my ooey gooey seep out to process with this guy. And we are still best friends.

So, all in all, worst day ever to forget deodorant.



A Little Autism Inspiration

One thing I got from my dad is a love of story telling. My last few jobs have involved a large amount of commuting, and to pass the time (and keep my brain from turning into mush) I developed a love for digital story telling; podcasts, talk radio, speeches, etc. One story telling platform I’ve always loved is TED. TED (Technology Education Design, for those who aren’t familiar) hosts talks – called “TED Talks” – where individuals come and talk about something they know something about.

TED talks are equal parts thought provoking, inspirational, and funny. For almost any topic you can think of, there’s a TED playlist for it. My top 3? Autism, Education, and Women. 🙂

So, I’m sharing the Autism Playlist with you… a little inspiration, and a little food for thought on this manic Monday!


Listed Here: All Across the Autism Spectrum Playlist



Collaboration and IEP’s

vanilla ice

First thing is first, that poster is AWESOME. Okay, now onto our real business.

I used to sit on one side of the table. It was the side of the table that was probably easier to sit on. In an IEP, things get divided into silos. Teams form. And as an ABA person, I always chose to be on the side of the table that represented “Team Johnny”, or “Team Sarah”. We had that attitude too.

I’ve prepped parents before they entered their first IEP, when their child was transitioning from early intervention services into kindergarten. Coached them. Told them what kind of push back they may hear for the things they were asking for. I’d give homework assignments; know the laws, know your rights. Make informed decisions. Know what you’re fighting for!

This is something I feel mixed emotions about.

As an ABA person, I work in a field that enables me to give a ton of individualized attention to a child, and therefore provide different (not necessarily better) treatments/interventions/education. For me, this is why I like ABA. I can put a ton of energy into that child’s case. I love being able to do this.

I love advocating for my kids (yes, they are MY kids in my mind!). And that attitude has historically awakened the momma bear inside of me during an IEP. Being an advocate is powerful.

I want to do anything I possibly can to alleviate stress off of a family. And, if my knowledge about accommodations, special education minutes, or anything else helps alleviate stress… then by golly, I’m gonna do it.

So that’s the positive side.


The overwhelming negative? I’ve ganged up on teachers before. Coming from a treatment center background, I get to have a 2:1 staffing ratio to give all that great individualized attention I talk about. A general education teacher in a public school? It’s them, and maybe one aid, with a class of 20 kids or easily more. If you’re super lucky (as I am right now), you get a 3:1 staffing ratio in a school setting.

My big mean momma bear has come out more than once, and that makes me feel kind of bad, now.

So, you may be thinking… “Oh yeah, Kristyn. You get a job at a school instead of a treatment center and now you see the error in your ways? Yeah right.” Okay, you may actually be partially right.

I am NOT saying that staffing ratios, salaries, training of support staff or anything else are an excuse for a child to get anything less than exactly what they need. I am NOT saying cut all the teacher’s a break and settle on your IEP.

What I am saying is…
Make everyone an equal partner. The teacher and speech pathologist need to have just as much of a say as mom, as dad, as the ABA person, as the OT, and everyone else.
Hold people to their domain. As an ABA person, I help with behavior. An OT helps with sensory. A mom does everything. An old supervisor of mine used to call this “who has the ‘D'”. The ‘D’ was the decision-making power. Based on our strengths as a team, we would get the ‘D’ after a discussion and everyone felt like their ideas were heard. While with our kids there is a lot of cross over between disciplines, which is great! It means a wealth of ideas. However, give the ‘D’ to the expert.
Be responsible to each otherMeaning, it’s super easy to not take responsibility for something when there is a group. Psych people out there, have you ever heard of the Bystander Effect? It’s alive and well in an IEP. Even if someone else COULD do it, if you said you would, if you’re the best person to do it… Do it! If someone else said they would, hold them accountable to do so, and don’t step on toes.
Follow up, follow through. helen keller

Beautiful things can happen when we work together!

collaboration tree

He Is Not Just For Me

We’ve had a jammed packed summer full of lots of family time and adventures away from home.  It is not a secret that I’m actually very happy to be back in the swing of school and schedules because we all function much better with structure.  I still feel like I’m catching up on EVERYTHING from being gone so much, and while I am a home body, I also have loved all the things we’ve learned and experienced this summer.  My boys got to spend lots of time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends and nurturing all of those relationships are so important to both Darren and me.

Sometimes being away from home for a long period of time is stressful, I think especially for moms.  Your kids are out of their routine (which is so important for most spectrum kiddos) and you don’t have your normal space and food and DVR selections and toys.  I took on the adventure to drive 14 hours with my sister-in-law, Jenna, with our three boys under 5 all the way to my inlaws’ lake house in Washington.  You are already tired after reading that one line, huh.  I know, me too.

Anyways, I ventured to the lake house without Darren for 10 days.  He joined us the last part of our two week adventure to help us drive back home.  There were lots of family around, but NOT having my very best partner in tackling whatever comes our way with the boys was exhausting.  The first morning after we had arrived to the lake house I had in my mind that we were going to go play on the beach.  After all, I didn’t just drive all this way for us to sit on the couch and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  Luke wasn’t having that.

We are now getting to the age that when Luke isn’t having it… Graham doesn’t like it either.  So here I was, tired and frustrated that all my boys wanted to do was watch TV! We could do that at home every. single. day.  So I put both of them under my arms and carried them down the 50 stairs to the beach.  Both of them screaming.  I was determined for them to love the beach right then.  Ha, what was I thinking?!

Luke ran back up half those stairs and planted it on a step and cried and had a meltdown.  “I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared.” was repeated over and over again for who knows how long. I was so frustrated at this point.  I usually have a lot of patience with my boys, but it has run dry from the 14 hour car ride.  I mumbled under my breath, “If you are just going to cry, I should just send you on a plane back to your dad.” I didn’t think he heard it…

After a negotiation and a pep talk from Jenna, I realized that his lake trip might just be watching Mickey Mouse and that I needed to be okay with that.  Later that night he stubbed his toe, darn it, and started crying.  He turned to me and said “I’m gonna miss ya mom…. please don’t send me on the airplane. I’m really gonna miss ya.” He had heard every word that I had mumbled under my breath and I felt awful.  I quickly talked him through it all and resolved to be better.

Two days into it, Luke finally decided to join us in the water. It was on his own terms and he was happy.  One particular afternoon he decided he wanted to go tubing and I was thrilled.  He had loved it earlier in the summer at Lake Powell, so I was all on board.  I just figured Luke and I could go out on the water and have Poppy (Darren’s dad) drive us and my brother in law Rick spot us for a quick spin.  But much to my surprise my nephew Isaac wanted to come with us too.  Isaac is thirteen.  A teenager that had plenty of other activities he could have been doing, but he wanted to come with us.  Luke was so excited!! We went for our spin and the giggles coming from Luke were priceless.  Isaac and I were both cracking up at scene.


As we pulled into the dock and unloaded off the tube, my brother-in-law Rick (Jenna’s husband and Isaac’s dad), pulled me aside and said “You know Luke is just so good for my boys.  He makes their hearts soft at a time when they really need it to be.  All of us are just rooting to see this little boy succeed.”

I burst into tears.  It was just what I needed to hear at that moment.  I was tired and feeling bad about all the meltdowns that were happening multiple times a day.  I was feeling like we were annoying and such a burden, but I was wrong, and it got me thinking.

Luke isn’t just for me.


This little boy has found his way into the hearts of people all ages and it amazes me.  I’m learning that his autism diagnosis doesn’t scare people away like I initially thought it would, it draws them in.  It has drawn in all of his teenage nephews and neices to be more aware of kids with special needs.  It has made his grandparents look out and sympathize with families in their communities.  My single brothers will drive almost an hour to just have a trampoline date with him and Graham and laugh their guts out. My girlfriends cheer and support and love him like no other.  Our babysitter can’t wait to see his new tricks or see how the train tracks are arranged that week. Even kids his own age are just drawn to him.  I’m not quite sure what it is about Luke that makes others love him, but he has a gift.


And seeing all of this motivates me to keep going on the really tough days when we are battling like crazy to conquer the three bites he needs to take at dinner time.

Recently we stopped services with our ABA provider and it was such a hard transition for me.  It had been our safe place to land for the last two years, but it was time for Luke to embark on a new adventure.  The last afternoon as I pulled into the parking lot, I was sobbing and thinking how grateful I was for these remarkable people (Sarah, Cody, Courtney) that we had to say goodbye to.  As I whispered into Sarah’s ear right before we left “how can you repay someone that has changed your life.” She handed me a card.  It is a card I will cherish forever.  She said lots of sweet things and once again I learned…

Luke isn’t just for me.

He is here to help teachers like Sarah keep doing what they are doing and continue to change other families’ lives.  I recently was made aware that one of my younger cousins has now started doing peer tutoring with special needs kids and has an interest in autism because of Luke.  As I dropped Luke off at his new full time school, I stopped and chatted with the founder for a second.  Just sharing a brief tidbit of our story and how much we appreciate the program they have.  She couldn’t stop saying “I have chills” and I knew that Luke isn’t just for me, his story and love is to be shared.


So to all of my spectrum mamas that struggle like I do on family vacations or carpool drop off and don’t get me started about church, remember that your beautiful child isn’t just for you to love and learn from.  That the instinct feelings you may have inside of you to say “sorry” four million times about their whining or their quirks (maybe that’s just me) isn’t necessary.  You and I can see all past the “ugly” stuff and love our children with this fierce love that’s indescribable, and I think other people can see past the “ugly” too.

Thank you Rick, for sharing your thoughts that day, because truly I learned that Luke isn’t just for me.  His love and journey is to be shared.

How I have learned to embrace Minecraft and Legos

Just when you had given up on me… the TEACHER is  back.

School has started and now I have my routine back. THANK GOODNESS FOR ROUTINES.

Alright… so I was thinking about what I could post about and not much came to mind. But then I realized that I did a post on embracing strengths a while ago and wanted to elaborate on one thing.

Since I teach middle school, my students are all obsessed with Minecraft. I had no idea what Minecraft was until I started teaching. The kids talk about it nonstop. They love it. To go along with Minecraft, a lot of my students love Legos as well.

During my first year of teaching I was assigning a project on Ancient Civilizations. Basically it went like this…

“Blah blah blah blah Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, Greece, Rome, blah blah blah. Do a project please. You can do blah blah blah a poster, a powerpoint, or you can build something from that Ancient Civilzation. Blah blah blah blah.”

Then a student said, “Hey teacher, can I use Minecraft to build an Egyptian  pyramid? I will make it have trap doors and everything.”

Then I said, “Uh yes, this sounds like the best idea ever.”

Then another student asked if he could use Legos to build a pyramid. Uh yes, obviously.

DUDE. They were the coolest projects ever. I had one student build the Colosseum. It was unreal! Another built and ancient city in India.

These projects definitely showed that they understood how these cities were set up and what they took away from my lessons.

So… embrace Legos! Embrace Minecraft! Maybe your student will have an awesome teacher like me someday that will let them use it as a way to do a end of unit project!