Sunday, August 24, 2014

Big Changes

Good news: Joey's school is officially licensed! He is set to start and is in the transition camp now! Can I get a "woo-hoo"?

Joey is going to Stafford Academy, and we are hoping for it to be as awesome, wonderful, supportive, and miraculous as he needs it to be. We have lost a lot of time, and there has been a lot of damage from leaving him in schools that just would not do what he needed them to do: provide an autism-specific classroom with trained autism professionals, and pull out to the mainstream classrooms as he was able to deal with those broader environments. They are doing it right behind us- but that doesn't help us. Now we need MORE support, not less. We have slid back into more and more restrictive environments, but not ones that included, all the time, people trained to deal with autism.

We have learned the hard way that autism is not like ANY other disability when it comes to learning. The uniqueness of the needs, the difference in motivations/reasons for behavior, the needed differences in responding to those needs and behaviors- they are so different from how you address these issues, that putting them in a room with kids with, say, emotional disturbance issues, causes huge problems. Massive, catastrophic anxiety and depression, specifically.

What we also learned- mostly from experience, but also from talking with our friends have actually had to go through these environments and therapies themselves- is that ABA isn't all that and a bucket of crackers. It's a tool (a key tool in working with kids who need to have tasks broken down and "chained" by practicing each part), but it can't be the only one in your box. Sending him to an "ABA school" without a lot of other supports, such as the psychological supports we can't seem to get for love or money, doesn't work well. Our disappointment in the Kennedy Krieger program cannot be overstated.

Stafford Academy is not an ABA school. It is an approach that immerses the kids in occupational therapy methods and interventions, addressing needs for sensory integration, stress management, movement (lots of movement!), and social thinking/skills. It will use Social Thinking in its curriculum, which you all know I love. Using lots of tools in the toolbox, the school provides a entire environment to meet the needs of autistic kids, with small classes so the environment can be individualized and effective for each child. They will be spending time out in the community, and as the kids become ready, they will hook up with local homeschooling groups for learning, community projects, and outings.

Sound awesome? We are hoping it will be. We are going to work hard to make it awesome. Joey needs it to be awesome. We want him to learn how to be happy again- not just in passing, but in his core.


Our other big news is Andy is coming home. He has been having trouble with bullying at school for years now, but we had no idea how bad it was. He is so emotionally brittle, and teachers are so not trained to deal with sensory issues that lead to being emotionally brittle, that I believe now the school adults were ignoring the signs of severe bullying- to the point Andy was learning to defend himself from these kids by bullying back. Not what we need.

I spoke to some other parents, and their kids, who were better able to communicate about the situation. One family actually moved out of the city, a decision they partly based on the serious situation in the classroom that no one would address. Apparently, if adults don't see bullying, they don't address it or even believe it is really happening. In a school. How long have these teachers been on planet Earth? Anyway, the reports from these families were far more dire than just knocking things off Andy's desk and a few threats on the bus. There was serious emotional abuse occurring, threats of violence (including sexual violence), racial targeting (we knew about that- Andy was really upset and confused by it), and a lot of things going on "under the adult radar" because it was not just jumping kids on the playground and covering them in bruises. Though we also had some of that going on.

On top of that, not understanding Andy's disability leads to bullying from the adults, both actual and perceived. This past year was particularly harsh in that regard, and the result is a child who loved books who doesn't now want to touch them. We've had a slide back in wanting to write and communicate. He has, in short, not only a lack of interest in learning, but an actual loathing of anything he views "educational." Say "learn" around my child, and you get a scowl. If you can get something from him about it, you are likely to hear the word "worksheets" and "stupid."

Andy has enough stress in his life, to be honest. Being Joey's family takes a lot of work and emotional energy, but it also takes physical energy. School needs to be a supportive, safe environment. He wasn't getting it in this school system.

I have already been doing experiments in his learning style, interests, and ideas. I've been working on putting together my toolbox. We have been deschooling, a process I hope to be through by Christmas. We are now, officially, a homeschooling family.

Talk about being someplace you never dreamed of being.

Wish us luck.