Category Archives: Homeschooling

Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and Birmingham Scrollworks

For the past two years, the youngest son has been taking percussion classes at Birmingham Scrollworks . I have talked about his Drum Wizard before in this post and watching his progress has been really fun for me. Here they are in a pic I took during class one day. The great thing for me as I’ve watched him learn music, hasn’t just been in monitoring his ability to play, but watching him develop confidence in himself along with an understanding of music and how it works and what he can do to help keep that passion alive as he grows. Observing him as he starts to identify himself as a musician, has really been rewarding.

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Scrollworks is a 501c3 non-profit music school. We serve kids who are often unable to get music lessons otherwise, foster kids, low-income, disabled, etc.
We use donated instruments via a type of instrument “library” where a small deposit is paid once for the instrument and given back upon its return. Once the kids have progressed in their skills, they try out for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and play together as a group, occasionally doing community performances.

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This coming April 2, 2016, we will be having a fundraiser, the first ever Forte Music Festival, at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. Tickets will be $15 and includes food, drinks, and live music from local musicians. There will be a silent auction, which I’m proud to say I have had a hand in soliciting donations to be included. The funds raised from this will go towards music books, instrument repair, consumables, and basic expenses to keep the school going.

Scrollworks is dedicated to making music instruction and ensemble playing available to all, thereby developing character and sense of community. Young people of diverse racial, social, cultural, and economic backgrounds are encouraged to explore and cultivate their musical talent and contribute to Alabama’s musical culture. Over 200 students participate each year. Many have been denied music education in their neighborhood schools. Since our founding in 2007, the MYOCA has generated two Alabama Symphony Orchestra Rising Stars, as well as placing almost two dozen students in the prestigious Alabama School of Fine Arts.

Art programs are important, and music is important not just for kids but for humanity, especially in a time when schools are cutting these programs in order to focus on kids being able to pass tests.

Some of the donations we have received so far are:

Gift certificates to Cantina, Vecchia, Bottle and Bone, and Yogurt Mountain
Bowling passes, Vulcan Park passes, Barons tickets, Red Mountain Theater tickets, Red Mountain Adventure Park, Santa Fe Day Spa, Splash Adventure, Alabama Ballet, Paper Source, Birmingham Zoo, and Oriental Trading Co

We have received art related items from Virginia Jones Photography, dsart.com, Naked Art, Ashley Homestore, Stampin’ Up, Leon Loard, and Make ME That.

We have a gift certificate to Hanna’s Garden Shop and spring is the perfect time for it.

As time goes by, and more donations roll in, we will be keeping you guys updated. You should consider following Scrollworks on social media for regular updates. You can find them here:
Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/scrollworksmusicbham/
Learn! http://myorch.org/
Like!http://www.facebook.com/Scrollworks
Subscribe! https://www.youtube.com/myorch
Follow! https://twitter.com/scrollworks

If you’re interested in donating, whether it be instruments for our kids, music books or other music related items, cash, or items for our silent auction, you can contact me directly though my contact form and I can put you in touch or you can email from the myorch website. Any shares on this post would be appreciated, as well.

You can also access the Donor Form Here if you would like to get the ball rolling directly without having to email anyone.

If you’re interested in attending the Forte Music Festival, tickets can be purchased through this eventbrite link. .

Remember, please don’t hesitate to contact me if necessary and I can put you in touch with the right people. I’m always happy to help.

PFI Classes , an Update! Graduating Improv 301

It’s been a while since Superman started comedy classes.
He doesn’t drive, so I sit in on a bunch of them. I try to kind of sit off to the side and not interrupt, and read a book…a cookbook, cause they’re a perfect match to my attention span.

It’s been fun, trying not to listen, like getting a free show every week. Watching his class learn to work together has been fun, and seeing them progress with their funny has been good, too. I’m probably supposed to mention how great Ty, the instructor, was, here, in making it all come together.

That is Ty, on the right.

That is Ty, on the right.

Something was happening in that picture. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but something was coming together in his head and I remember thinking “He’s really getting it.” He was also making eye contact and engaging conversation, which is a big deal for people with Autism.

As of today, the last day of July 2015, he has been through 3 eight-week rounds of classes.
In that time, he did an audition, took in an all day Saturday cram session, and just this week, performed on stage with his classmates. I really don’t think he has an ounce of stage fright. In fact, the stage show provided a very sensory rich environment, lights, crowd, noise, loud music, after show time, everyone is expected to hang around and mingle, and he didn’t bat an eye. He also didn’t wear his earmuffs. Making sure he was there to do his part was more important to him than acknowledging his sensory issues. Beyond huge. After all, the show must go on.

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This is a pic of David. He is a founder of PFI. He doesn’t teach the lower level classes, so the newer students don’t see him often. If I remember right, I think Ty said he teaches the grad level classes, which come at different times later.

I’m not sure what I will do with my time when SM starts those. I think, eventually, he will drive himself around, but it may still be a few years, and that’s OK! Until then, I will keep doing what I need to do to help him realize his dreams. Some of our young people with Autism end up not driving at all, and I am not going to pressure him if he’s not ready. As far as I’m concerned, he is doing GREAT! He’s really come a long way from that non-verbal four year old who was trapped inside of himself.

At the end of level 3, the students do a show together. They get up on stage at the Rare Martini and do skits in front of a crowd and it’s like what they have been doing all along in class only better.

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All that aside, now I’m going to go into a few things from the perspective of one who has a loved one with Autism. Improv theater is a very social thing, which seems at odds with Autism, considering that it is a communication disorder and many Auties (Superman included)  struggle with reading others’ facial expressions, body languages, verbal inflections, etc., everything that we typical people learn as children without being taught. They also often struggle with social situations and understanding how to participate appropriately in conversations. Pair that up with major sensory dysfunction, and you have someone who constantly struggles in ways that we can only imagine.

(They are also, often, unfailingly honest. If you want a friend who skips the BS and tells you the truth, pick an Autie but make sure you aren’t easily offended or quick to get your feelings hurt.)

Back to the social aspect. For these shows, the actors all work as a team. They do skits based off whatever gets thrown at them, So, for the last year, I’ve been observing Superman in that environment. I’ve noticed several things.

His self-confidence is up. He’s doing more things for himself that require social interaction like handling his pharmacy things, calling his doctors, making his own purchases, etc.

He’s let go of a few things that we have previously said aren’t very funny. One that comes to mind is his “falsetto” voice when he pretends to be me. I’m not going to say that he doesn’t still do certain things anyway, but they covered the falsetto voice in class one night, and he listened. He soaks that info up like a sponge.

He is starting to pay attention to people in public. For example, a couple of his PEERS support people came to the class performance and he noticed that one of them had on a pretty, red dress.

He is not necessarily engaging strangers, but he’s no longer spazzing when they stand too close, try to engage him, try to speak to us, etc

He is accepting changes more smoothly. I’m not saying that when the microwave handle broke off in his hand, that he didn’t freak out, but he came back and said “There is a different way to open the microwave.”

So, all things considered, it’s almost like he’s getting therapy every week, but it’s not boring therapy that might be too easy for him. It fits him well, and I’m looking forward to watching him progress.

And by the way? Ty really was awesome at making it all come together.

 

 

 

Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, AL gets FIVE stars in my book

Sometimes, I think maybe this blog should be “52 Weeks of Bama” because, well, we like to go, and we don’t always stay close to home. See, I grew up in the country and sometimes, I have to get out in the hills just to re-center myself. This week was one of those weeks.

Last week, a dear friend surprised me with a gift of some cash and said “Do something for the boys.”
I narrowed it down to two things. A trip 2 hours north to Cathedral Caverns or a membership to the Birmingham Zoo. The zoo membership would give us unlimited visits for a year, but I picked a day trip to Cathedral Caverns, instead. I used to go caving back when I was 18 or so, and have been on commercial cave tours, too. I called them ahead of time to find out about how easy the tour is because we occasionally have some mobility issues and some irrational fears. On the phone, the young lady I spoke with said they have golf carts that a person can ride on if they are unable to tolerate the actual walk in the cave, which is paved throughout and has handrails, too.

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Here we are, starting out. Mr. Incredible passed on the day trip in favor of a quiet day, napping and watching whatever he wanted on the tv, uninterrupted. So, before we left, I set the crock pot with some supper for him, because when the boys and I go on a jaunt, who knows when we will actually be home? Not us…and you can bank on us getting food out as our way of finishing off the day. It’s just how we roll.

About 10 miles from the house, I saw something on the roadside and turned around to go back and get it. I had to exit the interstate, get back on, etc. I don’t normally stop to pick up roadside treasures, but did it for these. Check it out!

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They must have fallen off a work truck. These things are like gold for kids with Autism and were well worth the extra ten mins it took to go back for them. I’ll clean them up and will find them a home.
If you have a few cases of these or a source for them, feel free to give me a holler. I’ll hand them out to kids at an event. You’d be surprised at what a set of these things can do for an Autie kid to be able to handle crowds.

My mom used to always pick up stuff off the road. Her favorite thing? Milk crates and 5 gallon buckets!  It’s interesting to me, the things that remind me of her now that she’s gone.

We got back on the road and kept going until we got to Steele, where we exited for bathroom breaks and because there is a Loves there. Why Loves? Because I have a weakness for truck stop tchotchkes! I have never bought any, but do love to look.

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While I’m on the subject of bathroom breaks, I want to add something.
A lot of kids with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder really hate public toilets. Those sensors on the back? The damn things go off at unpredictable moments and the toilets are already so loud they hurt sensitive ears and They.Scare.Our.Kids.
OK, they don’t scare Superman anymore (though he still hates the unpredictability of it) but little kids, yes! So, here’s what we learned to do. Cover it up with a piece of TP. Simple.

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It will not go off until you remove the TP, which means it can at least take the unpredictability out of the whole thing. It will still be loud, and parents, PLEASE make sure your kids know that when they go by themselves, they need to let the toilet flush by removing the TP. Please don’t make me regret sharing this tip with you or some engineer, somewhere, will be paid to find a way to work around our workaround.

I’m sure I didn’t invent this. I did, however, figure it out on my own when my little one was actually little and he asked me about the sensor. Instead of telling him the truth, I told him that when you stand up, it takes a picture of your butt to make sure you wiped good. Oh boy, I am STILL regretting that one but it doesn’t make it any less hilarious!

We got off at Gadsden and headed north. There were some interesting things along that highway. There’s a drive in theater in Boaz, lots of interesting looking, locally owned restaurants, a car lot (Boaz area again) that sells cars for inexpensive cash prices, and also a place that has vintage cars, including what looked like an old ambulance. It was a good drive, one we had never made before.

Right before we got to the park, there was an overlook area with parking.

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The park has a good sized pavilion with lots of picnic tables, enough to accommodate large groups. We set up a picnic with some junk food, but I, at least, ate LC junk food…

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According to Superman, picnics are relaxing. I think that means we will go on more of them.

We moseyed down to the shop to see when the next tour was, and we had about an hour. We walked around, looking at rocks and gift shop jewelery and I sent the boys back to the van to get a couple of pennies for the penny press. Any time there is a penny press, we press a penny. I got the one with the bat on it. There was a man who was very interested in the press machine, so I had the oldest show him his when it was finished. He sounded like he might have been French. We saw him when he pulled in to the parking lot, he got out of a car with New York license plate and a Yakima roof rack. He got out and went straight to a sunny place and lay down in it before he did anything else.

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You can’t really tell how steep the incline was from this image, but it was steep enough that I knew we wouldn’t be able to manage without a little support. While the boys were getting pennies, I approached the guy in the shop and told him that my son has Autism and with that, some depth perception issues. He immediately volunteered a seat on the golf cart. I didn’t even have to ask.
When they got back from the van, I introduced them and made sure that my son knew there would be no worries.

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Meet Alex, our tour guide. This young man is 16. He loves Auburn and wants to be a park ranger.  He plays football and baseball and goes to work at the park almost every day. His voice booms across the crowd so nobody misses a thing while they are on their tour. Alex was the tour guide recently for a blogger at AL.com but I didn’t know that before we went. The above write up covers aspects of the tour that I won’t be. I look at almost everything we do from a different perspective, that of a parent with an adult son with a disability.

Now, back to Alex. You know I like to people watch and one of the things I noticed about him was how he interacted with my son. Even while I write this, it makes me tear up. I don’t know if he has any experience with Autie kids, but if he was acting instinctively, then he was spot on. He gave him ample warning when there were steep areas, when he should hold on tight, and at one point even asked him to sit in the front with him so he could see certain areas and also make sure he didn’t knock his head on the wall. What he did NOT do is treat him like he didn’t think he could understand, like he was any different,  he didn’t insist that he interact with him, and he didn’t talk to me instead of him. He did, at one point, ask me if there were any seizure issues because he played a strobe light show at the end. I wish there were more Alexes in the world. Lots more.

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The only part of the cave that is not wheelchair accessible is a staired portion with 43 steps. It leads up to a hole in the wall where the ceiling is low and well-lit. They have this area set up so that you can see fossils in the ceiling. It’s covered in fossilized fish bones! Very, very cool and interesting enough that Superman climbed those stairs in spite of his fears just so he could check it out.

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The cave itself is beautiful and rich with history. There has been a lot of love invested into it over the years in order to make it a place for people from all over to be able to enjoy.  It’s worth the drive for any day trip and it’s one we will make again.  I hope every park is as easy to navigate with Autism as this one was, and I hope every park has someone there who has the kind of compassion and character that I found at this one.

Go here to check out Cathedral Caverns on the Alabama State parks website.

 

Positively Funny, Inc., Birmingham Improv and Comedy School

When he was in the fourth grade, Superman started talking about being a comedian. He isn’t going to remember it, but he got his inspiration from watching Josh Blue win “Last Comic Standing”. I got called to the school so many times that year, you wouldn’t believe it.
It turns out that on Show and Tell days, instead of showing and telling, Superman would get in front of the class and perform what he called “The Superman Show”. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t a reason to admonish him, I thought it was pure brilliance. I still do.

Many people don’t realize the huge amount of tests that autistic kids go through, but one is the measure of their memory. Superman tests very low on being able to remember things. I have been thinking about this as the years have gone by, because his ability to memorize scripts would be limited. Memorizing a script for stage is different from what autie kids do that is called “Scripting”. That is many of their uncanny ability to recite movies, line for line, and even act them out.

One day about six months ago, I thought of Improv and I started researching local improv troupes. I stumbled upon PSI.

Positively Funny performs every Tuesday night at a club downtown called The Rare Martini. I called them up and asked about their classes and their shows and took him in that night to see them perform. They engage their audience and he was very interactive with the actors. He even got up on stage and did a skit with them.
He had so much fun that I knew when we left that he was going to want to take classes. He did.

The next week, the Sparks clinic called and said that they were starting a different class we had been on the waiting list for for several months, so we had to put Improv on the back burner. I actually used it as an incentive to get him to complete the class at Sparks. If you are unfamiliar with the Sparks Clinic, they are a developmental clinic located in downtown Bham, close to UAB and in that hub where all of the medical stuff is. They have autism clinics, Down Syndrome clinics, social skills programs, and even a dental clinic designed to suit all manner of disabled patients. Much of the work there is done by medical students and supervised by senior faculty. Learn more HERE

One of the things that attracted me to PFI was their work as a not-for-profit called Perform-4A-Purpose. P4AP  takes on the issues that teens often deal with in our society, bullying, suicide, and school violence. To learn more about P4AP, go here and check it out It was this that sold me on them, because instinct told me that a group that works on those issues would likely be very accepting of an autistic teen who wants to realize his dreams. I wasn’t disappointed in the way they took him right in at the show.

He started his first class tonight. I’m trying to blend in to the corner of the room and just type on my tablet and write this blog. I normally blog with headphones on and music in my ears, but not tonight.
I hope the semester stays as good as this or better because he is having fun and feels accepted and is acting more free than I’ve seen in a long time. Now, normally, he is pretty free, all things considered, but this is different. It’s like music to my heart. The instructor went on in the beginning about the fact that this class is a judgment free zone.
PFI has a show coming up next Tuesday, October 7. It is the three year anniversary of their shows at the Rare Martini. This will be a special show, a fundraiser, to gather money for a project on teen suicide called “The Color of a Ghost.” Bring dollar bills and stuff your favorite actor’s tip jar to fund this project.
This material will be distributed for free to schools. Check it out yourself here.

One last thing, PFI also does parties and special events and they have a corporate training program as well. You should check them out to see about booking them for an event.

Superman says he hopes these classes make him more funny. I think if he just has a great time, that’s all that matters to me.

Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center at UAB

This past Sunday, my youngest and I attended a concert at the UAB Department of Music’s Alys Stephens Center.  The concert was free and was being performed by Iron Giant Percussion,  an award-winning band based out of Bham AND the band that has our Drum Wizard as a member.

The little one was very excited, and kept going on about how great everything is and how much he loves life and how this was his first concert and on and on. I didn’t even have to force him to comb his hair for the event. We should go to concerts every day!

When we arrived, it was early, as we like to be early to the events so we can explore, and we picked our seats. The theater is very nice, and honestly, I was afraid we should have dressed up when we saw the ushers handing out programs. Honestly, I’ve never been to a concert that didn’t have a mosh pit or where I didn’t end up sweaty by the end of the night. When we got inside, though, people were dressed as casually as we were so it wasn’t a problem.

Here was the view from our seats:

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After we were seated (we had to change seats multiple times till we found ones where the center tom in front blocked one particular light at the back of the stage. Then the youngest saw the balcony, so up we went.

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Look how long his hair is getting. He wants to be like his dad. I can think of worse.

But the thing is, he didn’t love it from up there, either. The lights were even brighter, so back down we went and took our original seats, behind some friends we know from Scrollworks. We chatted for a bit, then the show started. I only took this one pic of the show plus one other at the end, and that’s when I realized that the noise my phone makes when I take a pic seemed horribly LOUD when the click went off during a lull in music.

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So there is the band. He was excited to get to see the Drum Wiz in action, but he was pretty squirmy in his seat, regardless.

It was a great show! All except for that one song… We didn’t know cacti could be used as instruments before, but we know now! It was fun and they are really a talented group. It’s no wonder they win awards with their work.

Seriously,  if you’re planning an event in Birmingham, Iron Giant Percussion would be worth giving a call.

Check out their website at http://www.irongiantpercussion.com/

Throughout the show, while I listened to the music, I found myself focused on the right hand wall beside the stage. The lights would cast the drummers’ shadows across the wall and I’ve always loved shadows.

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One day, I’ll have a better camera and I’ll be able to get some really good close ups.

So, the schedule at the Alys Stephens Center may be worth really looking into if you live around Bham. The program they handed us has a lot of “Faculty recitals” that are free but the website has a lot of concerts with affordable ticket prices.

http://alysstephens.org/

The concert was about 1.5 hours and then we left, heading home to be greeted by a most beautiful moon. It was almost ten, so the boy felt like he had had a late night, concert going experience.

The Frankendrum Project

My youngest son is 11. He is taking percussion classes in Birmingham with an organization called Birmingham Scrollworks.  Drums are expensive. I am resourceful!

I’ve decided that rather than taking the money from our savings account to buy a drum set, I will slowly piece some together from pieces we pick up in the thrift store. We call these our Frankendrums.

(I really want to add “And this is their story” right here…)

Recently, I headed out to the Roebuck area to hit up some thrift stores in search of drums (and, at times, random things that make great gifts for the boys). The thrift store scene in that area is pretty good, from Roebuck Parkway to Pinson, there are 5 big shops. I didn’t have great luck at United, but when I went to America’s Thrift, I found these.

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I’m not a pro, but I was a percussionist in the high school band and I thought these looked pretty good. I snapped a pic, then fired off a text to our Drum Wizard and asked him his opinion. The small toms, I wasn’t sure about because there’s no bass with hardware for them to sit on and I wasn’t sure if hardware is universal. If so, chances are, I’ll find a bass with missing toms sometime and can attach them.  After a bit, he texted me back that they looked pretty good and that ten bucks was a fine price for the floor tom, for sure. I loaded them into my basket and went up front and paid.

As I exited the store, these two ladies came charging out of the wig shop next door, making a ruckus and chasing after me. All I could think was “Shit! These must be their drums.” So I threw them into my van and booked it outta there.
OK, no, I didn’t. I stopped and listened to their story. Here is what I gathered.
They were very excited and one or both of them had a set of drums at home that may or may not have been broken and/or incomplete. They wanted to make me a deal BUT one of them kept telling me the drums were broken and the other one kept telling her “Shh! Don’t tell her that! Just get her to come to the house! *I* have some drums, and they’re not broken.” They continued to argue about the drums that they might have had.

They kept talking over one another and jockeying for who would sell me drums, so I took their number in case I wanted to call them later. I still haven’t called, but I do still have their number. I’ll probably just keep looking, but THEY were fascinating!

So, my next stop was Big Saver, and they had this drum and stand…

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The Drum Wizard said it was a no go, though. He said those white heads don’t hold up and to pass. So, I passed. He saved me 12 bucks! I was going to buy that one until he said to wait.

So, we keep looking. In the meantime, the boy can get his room clean and ready to sling his hair around and drum like a rock star.