Friday, November 19, 2010


So I walked into my meeting today- with Joey's principal- with a list of demands in hand. Because this is getting really frickin' ridiculous. And I'm getting really, really tired of Joey coming home so upset and frustrated that he tries to jump in front of moving cars.

I walked out with several items Joey needs being ordered Monday morning (because they want to make sure they are ordering everything they think they might want to try); a meeting set up next week with the Director of Student Services about getting an autism resource room and teacher for Joey's school AND a competent OT for Joey right now; and the principal is going to have the teachers reconsider the lack of safe space in one of the classrooms Joey is in. Oh, and because Joey has been running to the principal's office, he is thinking about just setting up a corner in his office for Joey to run to, thus making Joey's paths more predictable when he bolts.

Yeah, things are looking like they might be in motion at last. The biggest thing is not if there will be an autism room, but when, and what we do for Joey in the meantime.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

If I Ran The Zoo

When I win the Big Lottery, I am opening a school. It will be open to anyone who wants specialized and individualized instruction for their kids. It will have a good size campus, with the main area fenced (but plenty of other space to explore as needed). The staff will include teachers with specialized training in a variety of needs and abilities, a small army of well-trained paraprofessionals, fully trained administrative staff (not just in administering, but also in the needs and abilities being served by the school). It will include a number of specialized spaces, such as OT gyms and specialized classrooms, as well as more flexible spaces which can be opened or divided as the students grow and change. On-staff will also be specialized support staff, including a contingent of occupational, physical, speech-language, communication, behavioral, and mental health therapists.

In other words, each child will have a team of experts working with the family and the child to determine what is needed, what is wanted, and how to best support and teach the child. Since this school is not just for "special needs kids", there will be opportunities for education in a wide variety of settings and environments.

The school will include residential opportunities, so academic instruction timing can be tailored to the child. Do you have a little one who is a night owl? Cool. Is morning their best moment? Great. Do they prefer to sleep late and get things done in the afternoon? Lovely. Working around sleep issues and those little nappers? No problem.

The school will also offer opportunities for families who decide to send their child to "regular" schools: before-care, after-care, etc. These students will be evaluated for needed supports and additional instructional needs (academic, social, functional, etc) so that their needs for instruction are incorporated into their individualized program, and they are treated as students, not just as warm bodies (as they might be in a daycare or "regular" before- or after-care).

The programs will take into consideration the interests of the individual children, using strengths and interests to spur learning and overcoming challenges. Staff will understand how to use, say, Pokemon to teach math and history.

The school will teach 7 days per week. If you wish to take your child out on specific days, that will be worked into you child's individual program, but consistency is considered key. It will also meet year-round. Taking your child out for vacation- and when, and for how long- is up to the family and the needs of the child. Staff will be available to provide home support for families, so go ahead and leap on that opportunity to take your kids to see Grandma, or go to DisneyWorld.

The curriculum will include a number of things seen as beneficial generally, but that are not usually offered in public schools. Sign Language will be part of the general curriculum, just as many schools now teach Spanish. Instruction will include lessons on respect, human diversity, kindness, and being thoughtful and considerate of others. Social skills will be part of the actual, planned curriculum for all students, tailored to their needs. Families will be offered the option of having religious or spiritual instruction for their children. Cultural instruction will be another important facet of the curriculum.

Transition into the "real world" starts from when you begin at the school. A child's strengths and aptitudes will be considered and encouraged from the start. The school will provide a variety of avenues to employment or further education, based on the needs and desires of the student. Apprenticeships, mentoring, vocational instruction, self-advocacy instruction, fieldtrips and fieldwork opportunities, etc. will be available for experimentation and support of the child right from the start. Your budding paleontologist at age 6 might strike up and interest in other kinds of detail-oriented logic-heavy fields of interest by the time they are 20; but encouraging them to explore logic and focus using dinosaurs at age 6 is a great way to introduce them to wider opportunities by the time they are 20.

Age is not a deciding factor for when they will graduate for our school. Hopefully by the time the kids who enter our kindergarden reach the age of 18, our school will have garnered support and funding to open higher learning opportunities to continue to support the needs and instruction of our students. However, focusing on educating all the students who come to us, we know that we will have students who will require support for learning independence and functional skills beyond their 22nd birthday. That will not be considered a problem at all. We will hopefully continue to instruct and offer support for our students well into their adult lives, even those without "special needs".

However, the goal is to teach these children to support themselves independently, to effectively self-advocate, and to be able to hone their own skills and interests as adults. The vast majority of our students would leave us after they complete high-school level education to satisfaction, and go out into the world.

But hopefully, they will be stronger, better people for having spent their precious childhood days with us, in an environment that understood and supported them, and taught them how to understand and support themselves.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mama Bear Growls

I have a meeting with the teachers set up for tomorrow. I've warned them that I want to know exactly what they think they need to meet Joey's needs.

I have a meeting with the principal on Friday. This is where I will present said needs and those I feel are not being met, and how I expect them to be met.

Then I am going to come home and call the Director of Student Services, so I can provide them with an earful of exactly what I think of Joey's current educational program, with his report card to back me up.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nik's IPad: Chip In!


Thank you to everyone who contributed to Nik's iPad!

Merry Christmas, NikFamily!

The Difference Support Makes

Last spring, we designed Joey's big IEP for the school year. IEPs here are now not school year-to-school year, but are to cover 12 months from implementation. This wasn't a big issue, as Joey had mastered his goals from his previous IEP, so he was ready for new goals and new work. So we thought hard about where we thought he could go between April and April, and wrote it up.

I admit we've had some setbacks since then. Joey's mental health deteriorated significantly. The result was a huge explosion in behaviors to communicate that deterioration, the most significant being downright dangerous. We have had to put a lot of energy into getting him settled in his new school after the disastrously inappropriate summer program. However, all those problems were rooted in poor transition planning and implementation; in other words, lack of appropriate support.

Now we are in a school with no autism specialist, no resource room, none of the things that made Joey's school experience work for him. His teachers are busting their butts trying to figure out how to help him; but that also means they are not spending all the energy on actually helping, they have to spend it on thinking, experimenting, and reinventing the wheel.

I just saw Joey's first official report card. His midterm reports were pretty good, all A's on his academic subjects (which we thought a little odd, to be honest, considering that the teachers were telling us they hadn't been able to provide him any instruction due to behavior issues).

The new C's were not the most startlingly telling thing about this report, however. It was the IEP.

When you have an IEP, part of it is a section evaluating progress towards the goal. The scores are M (mastered), SP (sufficient progress made to complete the goal on time), ES (emerging skill, but may not meet the goal on time), IP (insufficient progress to meet the goal on time), and NI (no instruction provided).

For the May and June reports, where he was in his old school with all his supports, everything was SP.

For the September and November reports, none of them are. NONE. We even have an NI. Two ES. Mostly IP.

That, my friends and readers, is the difference support makes. Remember this as you go into your IEPs, your teacher conferences (even with your non-disabled children), your meetings and plannings and everything else. Support=success. Without it?