Saturday, September 05, 2009

Water Water

There is no denying it, we've been having adventures all over, ad I have had little time to write about them. But allow me to back up, and first tackle the best of the best: the Beach.

The beach is something of a give-and-take. Joey loves the beach. He loves the water. He loves the waves. He loves the pool. He loves getting on rides and eating ice cream and popcorn and getting lots of attention from Mom and Dad and Grandma. However, he has just the vaguest suggestion of schedule. Everything around him is new, different, unfamiliar. He doing different things, seeing different people, eating different foods. It can be very overwhelming, especially if he decides he doesn't like what he is doing, seeing, or eating.

To mitigate some of these issues, we brought toys, books, linens, and favorite clothes from home. Oh, and movies. Mom got the boys these great personal dvd players (only one of them stopped working almost right away- Fisher Price isn't what it used to be), so we have movies for them to watch, which made life easier on all of us.

There is nothing quite so wonderful as watching Joey in the ocean. He takes such delight in it! So I surprised that, when given the choice, he wanted to be in the pool. Perhaps being able to be deeper in the water, the calm water perhaps, is attractive; but there is still the sea, in constant motion. Joey spends too many of his days in a state of anxiety and stress, trying to learn, trying to do what he needs to do, and struggling to do it. To relax and just be a little boy- what a breath I hope it is for him.

Sheer joy is what you see in boys at the beach. Of course, they each have their own ways and likes. Andy prefers games. Joey prefers rides. Andy likes an evening darting in the surf in search of shells, Joey prefers bobbing in the pool. To each their own, and it is available to them, at their own leisure.

It was, all in all, a beautiful week of boys, and sand, and crabs, and games, and lights, and feeding the gulls. May we all have such moments in our lives, reminders of what we all work so hard for.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Life With Andy

Wordless Wednesday: Beach Fun

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Proving it before the fact

We're back from Eligibility. Special education is a funny thing. You have to provide huge amounts of evidence, and missing a single piece can mean the whole process is derailed, especially if the problem is not academics, but Everything Else.

IDEA is now supposed to cover "functional skills"- a child's ability to participate in a classroom environment with his peers. It is not supposed to be just grade-based. There are many facets to education; you can get all the answers right, and not be able to button your coat or handle the group dynamics, and you should be able to get help to be successful and learn the skills you need to do these things. However, it is far easier to prove an academic problem before hand. It tends to show up on their lovely little standardized tests with nice, neat little numbers to measure.

Having a highly intelligent child complicate things. A child who compensates in a 1:1 setting during testing to come into the "normal" range may actually be able to display real giftedness if given the appropriate accommodations. But how do you prove it? How do you prove a child will have trouble in a classroom until they are actually in one? Do you have to allow a child to fail before providing them with the help they need to succeed?

According to the school, you do.

We had evidence of problems ahead. We had a strongly worded diagnosis and letter from our psychiatrist. We had recommendations and information about Andy in group situations and the problems he had from an occupational therapist who has worked with him for three years. We filled out forms about the behaviors we were seeing at home. It came down to Andy's teacher from last year. You remember, the one who was teaching her first class ever? And her opinion of Andy's behavior based her experience of... one class. In a group of 18 children.

Since her scores all came out "normal", we have no evidence that ADHD is impacting Andy in the classroom. Well, except for the OT's notes. And the psychiatrist's experience.

So we have to let him loose on a teacher and a class with no accommodations for the start of school.

It's not all bad news. His teacher, Mrs. B, was in the meeting, as was Mrs. Huff, so she's well-warned. She also got a look at him (she let us go see her classroom), so she has some idea what we're in for. She does email. We already have the next meeting scheduled, because the guidance counselor looked around the table and made it clear that her prognosis was we would be returning to the table within weeks. The roadblock was exactly where we knew it would be.

I still have a massive headache from the lack of logic and sense here. What is the point of having committees and real people talking about a child, with a child clearly in need of support, if they can't give that child service due to a first-time teacher in a completely different setting can't fill out a form accurately?

A Tale of Two Classrooms

I have a new comment on my initial post about Alex Barton. You can read the post from ablp3391 (using your AIM tag is apparently a new way of being “anonymous”, as you cannot email the person or find out anything about them) for yourself, and take whatever action or inaction that you feel would best suit the situation. But such extreme ignorance- an ignorance apparently shared by Wendy Portillo and her school district at Port St. Lucie, as they apparently share the attitude of the commenter- cannot go unanswered here, where I work so hard to help people understand autism and the ways my son works hard to include himself in society.

Allow me to present you a less extreme case of a Tale of Two Classrooms.

When Andy started preschool, we had some very serious issues of sensory integration dysfunction, and as we now know, hyperactivity and attention deficit. He lasted about a week in his first preschool. His teachers had nothing good to say about him, and it was so traumatic for him that we regressed I hard-won toilet training.

Then came Classroom One.

We regained our ground and put Andy back in school with Mrs. Sch. At his new preschool. The school worked better for him because there was a lot more movement required, which he needed, but also because of Mrs. Sch. On the first day, she made clear that she just wanted to get an idea of him, before talking to me. On the second day, she pulled me aside and said, “OK. Is there something you want to tell me about Andy?” At that point I filled her in and told her the recommendations we had from the OT.

Mrs. Sch. now knew she had a child with special needs in her classroom. She listened to me. As the teacher, Mrs. Sch. was the adult, I control of her classroom, with the goal of meeting the needs of her students. She took that goal and duty very seriously, and changed her classroom and her routines to accommodate my child, ad in turn benefited all of her children. They were transitioned properly, had a clear schedule and daily routine, and even tape Xs on the floor to show them where to sit. These things, and all the rest of the adjustments she made over the year when I was able to provide more information, were good for everyone. Andy made leaps and bounds of progress not just in academic-based skills, but also in social skills and attention.

This last year, we had Classroom Two.

Andy was placed with a teacher who, at the last minute, had to be replaced, and we had Mrs. B, a first-time preschool teacher. Mrs. B has the makings of a fine preschool teacher, and I have no real complaints, but the marked difference in Andy was clear. The schedule was not as clearly posted for the students. The circle was not marked. The classroom had a lot of distractions on the walls. The noise level was higher. Transitions were often abrupt. When I provided the recommendations from the OT, I saw no difference in the classroom environment. We may have gained academic skills, but the sensory integration and social interaction pieces showed some regression, and certainly no progress.

Mrs. B was also aware that she had a special needs student in her classroom. Instead of listening to the parents and experts who provided advice and support, even if the school did not, she chose to run her classroom without this help. As a result, we had more days when Andy had trouble, both in school and (more often) immediately afterwards. Some of these problems will easily send Andy to the discipline office when he arrives at Kindergarten.

In looking at these two classrooms, we see what can happen to students who are not given appropriate support by their teachers. The accommodations needed to support social skills can be very simple, and simplifying and clarifying schedules, roles, and expectations is not just good for kids with special needs: all children benefit from having clarity. Also, Andy learns at a pace similar to that of his peers. Our biggest problem last year was that Joey did not- he was learning academic skills faster than his peers. And that interaction thing? No, Joey doesn’t interact the same way as other people do. But with a little support from his teachers, he can make and maintain friendships, and is learning the same way you might, on-the-job.

So, ablp3391, yes, I do find Wendy Portillo responsible for supporting the students in her classroom. If she was finding it difficult, sending him to the principals office was not an appropriate strategy. Listening to parents and doing some research- there are lots of resources out there now for how to teach autistic students- would have been far more appropriate, far more constructive, and far more proactive. Besides, that is part of the job of being a teacher. I know. I am one.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We're back

I'll get some posts up as soon as I can. In the coming attractions:

We go to the Beach.

We have a really rockin' and gorgeous time.

The car dies.

We make it home anyway, because people in Salisbury totally rock.

But right now, I have to get ready to teach in the morning. See you guys later!