Charlie has been on the gluten-free casein-free diet since June of 1999, when he was 2 years old. I grew up eating white rice every night; my sister and I always thought we had a "night off" when we had scalloped (never mashed) potatoes or tuna casserole the nights my mom worked the late shift. So feeding Charlie a basically Asian diet (complete with Vietnamese spring rolls and sushi besides the rice and stir-fry has been doable, with the occasional challenges such as a good pizza.
Or the fast-food empire that is Charlie's response when Jim asks "What's your favorite American restaurant?"
Since the summer of 1999, Jim and I have been perfecting our craft at ordering a plain, bunless, cheeseless, anything-less hamburger. We used to go out of our way to explain "our son has allergies"--"food intolerances, it's not exactly like allergies"---"he'll get really sick if he eats any bread"---to just cutting to the quick: "Hamburger, no bun, no sauce, no cheese, no nothing just the burger." (And learned that "plain hamburger" means you get a bare burger on a bun.) Now that we have lived in this house for almost three years--that is, we have lived three minutes from the same McDonalds for almost three years--we have perfected our order to the elegantly economical:
"Meat in a box."
When we know what Charlie needs, it's easy to give the order--to use the right words to get him the right things.
So at Charlie's IEP meeting this morning, what Charlie needed was the right, challenging, high-standard, age-appropriate mix of goals and objectives for his education, and that's what I put in my order for.
Three different reading curricula to teach sight words and phonetics. A solid writing and drawing program. Opposites and attributes and categories and following complicated directions, talking about the weather, beginning math skills, age-appropriate play skills and age-appropriate games, peer interations. Age-appropriate articulation without prompting or assistance in varied settings; age-appropriate language skills of listening comprehension, vocabulary, functional language, grammar.
That's just a rough overview without the details of data collection and mastery criteria, and the behavior intervention plan, and the present levels of performance, and the activity schedule, and the list of goals and objectives to work on at home (which also include household chores--Charlie took out the garbage as requested on Sunday) and self-help skills and using his new computer and more play skills (catch is just the start).
I made my requests and offered observations and asked questions and listened as others did too--all very easy to do, not so much because I've had too much practice putting in my order, but because, after almost nine years of being Charlie's mother, I seem to be learning how simply to declare what he needs; to state what he can, can't, and can learn to do; and to ask for those services that can teach him too.
We never order Charlie the Happy Meal--don't want him to have the soda and he needs more than the little hamburger--but the individualized "meat in a box and a large fries" meal plan suits his stomach well.
There is always the possibility of change and variety--of going to Burger King rather than that favorite American restaurant. After a vigorous ABA session, Charlie and I picked up Jim at the train and drove to the hospital to visit Grandma and Grandpa, whose knee-replacement surgery on Monday went well. Charlie held tightly onto his Aunt Kathy's hand and smiled hi and bye to Great Aunt Joan and Great Uncle John; he gave Grandma tulips and sang another round of "Happy Birthday" for Grandpa. He had to wait until past 8pm (when visiting hours were over) for dinner and, when those golden arches failed to appear, Jim drove into the drive-thru lane of a rival chain.
"We want not a hamburger, a Whopper, but no bun, nothing on it, not a 'plain hamburger' er Whopper, we want meat in a box."
flashed on the screen and I was reminded of Burger King's old "Where's the beef?" campaign as Charlie munched at his dinner. All that Charlie gets is the beef, though we've made our share of mistakes and gone through all manner of misunderstandings in figuring out how best to ask for that one simple thing.
Though we had Charlie's IEP meeting today, some more goals and other additions need to be made; these will only make the thick sheaf of pages thicker by a lot. What satisfies Charlie is indeed equal to one whopper of a meal or an educational program. Especially when it's a meal plan that may be "LOW" in things nice but non-essential (a shiney facility with shiney gizmos) and that is "MINUS ALL" but the beef, and that is expert in the essential--great teachers, great teaching, high standards age-appropriate for a boy who is 8 1/2 going on 9 and who has quite the appetite for learning.