From Blocks to Brilliance: Nurturing the Talents of a Special Lego Master

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From Blocks to Brilliance: Nurturing the Talents of a Special Lego Master


     It is Autism Awareness month, and I have often said, kids with autism have superpowers. This is the case with this young boy. His superpower is building things. He can create all sorts of things and after watching a video of something being built, he can make amazing creations with Legos. He is in first grade and very smart. This family lives in Michigan, and he seemed like the perfect child to shine a light on and focus on all the positive things he can do. I am adding pictures of some of his Lego creations in the comment section that his mom shared with me.

     Although I have not personally met him, his mother was “Miss Sarah” to my oldest grandchild, and was an important person in his early daycare learning.  My daughter suggested I should interview her. She taught kids for over 10 years, with a degree in Child Development, and after they got her son’s Autism diagnosis, she switched careers to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy. This therapy helps kids with autism learn skills and lessen problematic behavior like hurting themselves or others. It is designed to help them in social situations and 1/1 moments.  She says she made her career change for two reasons, first to learn and educate herself more to give her son everything he needs and understand his feelings. The second reason was that she taught neurotypical children for so long that it was her time to help children who needed extra care. She says working as an ABA therapist was rewarding and helped at home. She realized that she needed the flexibility to help in her son’s classroom. Her current job provides flexibility to volunteer in her son’s classroom and see how he interacts with other children.

     Her son started ABA Therapy, when he was 4 and did it for about a year before he went to kindergarten. Children with autism can have HUGE emotions, and at home, they worked with him by having him use his voice and taught him to understand and control his feelings. This is extremely difficult but it is essential.

     He is in first grade and a split-class program. In the morning he goes to the general education classroom for math and their morning meeting. He is in a special education classroom for the rest of the day. He can get overwhelmed with large groups, so a smaller class size is perfect for now. The goal is for him to stay in the general education classroom all day.

Q: What is one thing you wish teachers know about your child that is not on the IEP?

A: That he will shut down at times if he feels overwhelmed. If someone is asking him too many questions or multiple people are asking him at once, he will shut down and refuse to answer. He sticks to a schedule, if it is altered, just let him know. Don’t just change it and not let him know, it can cause him a lot of stress and anxiety.


Q: Scores on tests do not define the child. What is something your child is really good at that is not reflected on tests?

A: He is crazy smart and wants to learn everything there is about the world. He has autism and ADHD so sitting and taking a test is very hard for him. But if you ask him the questions, he will answer you right away. He is amazing at building all sorts of different things, he will make tanks, robots, houses, cars, etc. with Legos. He can watch a video of something being built and he will go and build the exact same thing he just saw without any issues.


Q: How important is homework for your child? Is it just a burden, or is it a helpful learning tool?

A: For Jax, it is more of a burden. He is at school from 8:55 am to 3:55 pm. He is told to sit down, sit still, do math, work on writing, reading, etc. When he gets home, he needs to be able to decompress. Homework is a challenge because he is being told all day to do schoolwork, home for him is his place of safety. A place where he can take a break from all the demands that are placed during the day. The more we push the homework, the more the behaviors escalate. When he gets homework, it isn’t even graded, he gets it returned with a smiley face on it. It is frustrating as a parent, because we try to help, but we also know that too many demands can really affect him and the rest of his evening.


Q: How old was your child when you first knew he/she had special needs?

A: When he was about 2.5/3 years old, we started to notice some things that he did (‘Ticks’) that were different than other children his age. Being a parent with a degree in Child Development made it easier to notice these. We pushed and pushed for the doctors to help with a diagnosis and kept being told that we had to wait until he was 5. According to them, they cannot properly evaluate children under the age of 5 because they are still in their key development ages. Finally, we found answers when he was about 3.5, after pushing and pushing for help. UofM Motts Children’s Hospital is who helped us reach our diagnoses. I will forever be grateful for them, they listened to us as parents. They didn’t push us aside and they dedicated their time to help diagnose and guide us with Jax’s diagnosis.


Q: What is one piece of advice you have for someone who has a newly diagnosed child?

A: Take a breath. When you first get the news, it can knock the air right out of you. No one “wants” a special needs child. But that isn’t how life works. As a parent, you have to advocate for your child, no matter their diagnosis. It’s okay to cry and have your moments because it is hard and it can be frustrating at times. Just as we tell our children that it is ok to have a moment and take a minute for themselves; we as parents need to follow that advice as well. Some days are going to be hard and will push you to your limits. On other days; will bring you so much love and joy you feel like your heart will burst. Just remember, they love you beyond words, they don’t notice the mess-ups or the mistakes we as parents make. They notice the time you spend with them, the love you give them, and the protection you have as a parent.


Q: What is one meal that everyone in your family likes to eat?

A: Pizza, you can never go wrong with pizza. It is very hard at meal times with a special needs child. My son is on different medications that alter his appetite and he is a very picky eater. But pizza, pizza is a winner all around!


Q: What advice do you have for interacting with children with special needs?

A: Be patient. They will tell you all sorts of things, they will talk your ear off or they will be dead silent. Give them grace as they try to navigate the world and the areas around them. Don’t stare or point fingers if they make a random noise or action with their body. Understand that those are things they don’t always have control over and sometimes they don’t even realize they did it. Just be there, no judgment, have patience, be understanding, be accepting, most of all, just have fun with them.


Q: What activities do you recommend to other parents to foster self-care?

A: Some of the things that work for me are just having some time to myself. Whether I am grocery shopping or reading a book. Take the time for yourself! You dedicate your life to your children (with or without special needs), you need to be their advocate, their support, their safe place. You cannot be those things if you are not taking care of yourself. Take the time if you need a minute to gather yourself. Ask for help!! Understand that the better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your child.


Q: Are there any support groups that you recommend for parents or children?

A: I use a lot of Facebook support groups. There are so many out there for children with special needs. They have links to support groups for play dates and recommendations for activities and things you can do that won’t be over-stimulating for your child.


Q: What are your favorite family activities?

A: We love spending time up north on the lake. Both of my kids are fish and for Jax that is his safe space. It is out of the city and it is calm all around. He can truly be 100% himself there and he feels it. We also enjoy snuggling together and watching movies. Jax is so interested in the world around us and learning more and more. We watch all sorts of movies, but some of the favorites are the documentaries on Disney +. The ones about what lives in the ocean, things about space, movies about all sorts of animals. It is a great source of educational information, but also fun to watch.

When it comes down to it, being a parent is hard enough as it is. Being a parent of a child with special needs can be incredibly hard. You just have to remind yourself that you are strong enough to handle this. You are their advocate, their superhero, their love for you is unconditional. You have to have hard skin because there will always be someone out there who will say ignorant things about your child. It will hurt and it will sting, but you have to shrug them off and tell yourself that they are the ones that aren’t special enough to be in your child’s life. The ones who are special enough will be there to support you and your child. Lean on your support system, lean on your spouse, lean on your friends, it is going to be hard but you got this! 


     This mom has some valuable words of wisdom for parents of kids with special needs, especially regarding protecting your peace. She said you must have hard skin, and lean on your support system. She said the better you care for yourself, the better you care for your child. This is so true for every parent to hear. Just having time to yourself is an important self-care tool. She said you are their advocate, their superhero and their love for you is unconditional. She uses two main Facebook support groups. They are:” Parents of Autism Spectrum Disorder” and “It Takes a Village.”

     We talked about the importance of mental health with all students. We both agree schools should have some mental health classes for everyone including what mental health is, what it feels like, and tools to strengthen mental health. This is important for all students, to have these skills before they leave school and enter the workforce.

     Early intervention is so important, and this mom noticed her son might be having some difficulties between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. She was his first and best advocate and pushed the doctors to make a diagnosis. Her proactive approach has greatly enriched her son’s life, and he is learning strategies to help him along the way. In ABA therapy, he learned to say when he needed a break. For example, he is so focused on his building with Legos that he does not like anyone in his space. This is a huge goal for someone young to know when he needs a minute to regroup.  As a first grader, he is on his way to success with a support system of school and parents. The goal is to be in general education classes all day, and the future looks bright for this. This talented boy has a skill set of extreme focus and building skills. His mother told me that after watching the Iron Man movie, he went to his room and built an Iron Man replica. I certainly don’t have that skill set, nor does my brain work that way, but seeing such talent is worth shining a very bright light on. Take time today to discover all the gifts someone with exceptional needs has and shine a light on that person.