A family's story

Posts tagged ‘school’

Catching Up

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. The boys started school. Hubz left for another business trip to China. My PTO involvements are starting to ramp up. And we opened Tate’s domain last week because he is eligible for his 3-year evaluation. 

As for school, it was a relatively smooth start, considering all of the changes and upheaval. There was a new main office to walk through and new therapist offices to familiarize themselves with. Tate’s teacher is on maternity leave. He’s pushing into the mainstream classroom for morning announcements and the pledge. Jake is in 5th grade–his last year of elementary school. He has a new resource teacher for part of his classwork. Cole is attending full day kindergarten, and he’s EXHAUSTED at the end of the day…but you know what? We prepped them well. After initial anxiety all three boys are settling into a routine. 

Our district also adopted new math and literacy curricula this year in order to align with the Common Core more directly. That could be an entire post in and of itself. Maybe one day when I have more time. Let’s just say I’m not sold.

Hubz left for China the day after Labor Day. I handled the Curriculum Nights and the first go-rounds with homework without his backup. Let’s just say there was shouting and some tears…and they were all mine. My poor boys. My anxiety is apparent, and I try not to take it out on them, but you know, I can only do so much. We’re getting through it, but man, it’s tough. I really do not know how single parents do this every.single.day. They have my utmost admiration. They really do.

I somehow volunteered to co-chair our school’s walk-a-thon. It’s one of our biggest fund-raisers. So I’d better not muck it up! I took it on thinking that we’d found volunteers for the Red Ribbon Week initiative that I had been co-chairing, but no, it was a new parent who wanted to “shadow” someone. Sooooo, I’m still running that. Of course both are in October, so in addition to everything else, I’m planning these events. I guess I don’t have to worry about what to do with my “free” time these days. 

And, finally, Tate is up for his 3 year evaluation. So much emotion and anxiety go with that. I know he’s on his own trajectory, and I’M okay with that..but it doesn’t mean that the district is. Ya know?? I about threw up when I heard during Cole’s kindergarten curriculum night that they now expect kindergarteners (5 and 6 year olds, that is) to be reading at a level D in Fountas and Pinnell guided reading by the end of the year. Tate, a third grader, is just past that. *sigh* I try not to let that get to me..but dammit, it does. 

I dutifully filled out my BASC-2 rating scales and background history–again–and now, I wait. I know the teachers have to do their part. Luckily they are doing a full-re-evaluation. I know that he will show how much he’s developed and progressed. He’s come such a long way since 2011. And yet, for all of that, I know he’s not at an expected level. And that has its own set of concerns. 

I had my parent interview yesterday with the social worker. She wanted to know my concerns. Ummmm, where to start. Tate is deliciously quirky and marches to the beat of his own drum. He’s reaching that awkward time in school where more and more of his peers note his differences. They see him expressing excitement and anxiety with flapping hands or a little stomp dance. They hear his echolalia and his scripts. To them, they don’t have anything to do with the current topic or situation. To Tate, and to those of us who know Tate, well, we know they have EVERYTHING to do with the way Tate processes the world. Sadly, some kids aren’t always so empathetic (funny, right, we talk about how autistic kids lack empathy or theory of mind, but really, I think it’s an individual thing, not an autistic thing). He’s an easy target for bullying. I have already heard him cry because he knew his peers (his instructional classroom peers!) were laughing at him. 

There’s the concern that we aren’t doing enough. That we’re doing too much. That we aren’t letting him gain independence. That we’re expecting way too much from him. Is he in the right placement? Should he be in a specialized program? Should we let him have exposure to “typical” peers…whatever that may be? That balance…oh, therein lies the rub.

I’m concerned. Oh, I’m concerned….but, I also know that we have to make choices…and then we fine-tune. If something isn’t working, we just adjust. We accommodate. We modify. We work.

So, that’s our life, in a nutshell, right now. We work. We worry. We prep. We adjust. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

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They Belong

Last night I was feverishly putting the finishing touches on some teacher gifts for the boys’ “village”. I had 18, yes, EIGHTEEN, fantastic people to write thank you’s to, buy gifts for, and thank for a job well done.

As I was shaking a hand cramp out from using a hole punch to do some gift card magic (I NEED to stay off Pinterest), I saw a notification on my phone that Jean, who blogs at Stimeyland, had written a new post. I decided to take a wee little break from my sweatshop (seriously, I did say “feverishly”) and read her post. My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. It was as if I had ripped a scab off of a fresh wound. You can read the post here. (And if you’re not well acquainted with her blog, I suggest you read some more…she writes some great stuff.)

Her son, and a couple of other kiddos who are in a segregated classroom because their learning styles are a smidge different from the average John Q. Student, were not included on a 5th grade “graduate” bulletin board. It took NINE weeks to get said kiddos on the board. And this was only after one of the other moms had raised her voice and then, in an act of awesomeness, took a picture of the three excluded kids and posted that sucker on the board.

Just this week, we experienced something similar…and you know what, it hurts. The boys’ last day of school is today. Earlier in the week, the boys got their long-awaited yearbooks. I know, I know…yearbooks in elementary school….but they are really well done, and this year we could personalize 2 pages for our children. So, of course, I had to buy TWO yearbooks. Clever, PTO, clever!!!

The first thing Tate did when he got home from school was rip the yearbook from his folder. He shredded the plastic off of that sucker faster than I could say, “hang on!”. Looking at pictures of his friends is highly motivating for him. It always has been. He opened to the front 2 pages that I personalized. He carefully looked at each picture. The impulsivity that we usually see was gone. He was calm. He was smiling–from ear to ear. He was touching each picture of him and his classmates. He was in his happy place.

After perusing his personalized pictures, Tate wanted to see his class picture. Who wouldn’t? Now, I don’t know if all districts are like this, but in ours, the self-contained classrooms do not get their own pictures in the school year book. Privacy and all that jazz. (I, personally, don’t care, but I get it…) Tate went to the general education class that he pushes into. There he found his beaming face from September. He also found the 3 other kiddos who push into that classroom with him. He wanted to know where his other friends were. I told him to turn to the next page.

We turned the page…. And the 4 other children from his classroom were not in there!!!!! Three of them made the candid photos on the other side of the spread, but there are 4 children in second grade who did.not.get.into.the.yearbook. I kept looking. I checked Jake’s yearbook. They weren’t in there either. It was totally an oversight..and NO ONE CAUGHT IT. And insult to injury?! The group photo from a class party (every class has one group photo on the candid page) doesn’t include the 4 kiddos, either. Tate’s class does…but this one didn’t. (I was not on the Yearbook committee…but I have now offered my services as a proofreader and copy editor…I kind of did that before I decided to quit my outside job.)

I am hurt. We’re all about “inclusion”, and yet, it is very clear that sometimes, we don’t belong. Do you know how that feels? Chances are that everyone does…and it really stinks. I know it was human error and oversight..but seriously…FOUR SECOND GRADERS WERE LEFT OUT OF THE  YEARBOOK..and that’s not right. They belong, dammit. They belong, they are a part of that school, and they should be in that yearbook. They spend 10 months, give or take, with these other children. They eat lunch beside them. They play dodgeball in gym with them. Some even participate in science or math with them. And to leave them out of the yearbook is total, utter, garbage.

I also sent a letter to the Yearbook chair to let her know. I copied Tate’s fantastic teacher. Know what? She was never asked to review the yearbook. Not once. And you know what? She would have caught this and made sure it was fixed…because she knows. She knows how fantastic each and every one of these kids are..and the special qualities that they bring to the table, so to speak.

There was an apology issued. The yearbook chair sent an email out to the teachers, and copied me on it. Tate’s teacher asked if she would send an apology to the families affected, and the yearbook chair did that too. The apology helps…and I am now a sitting member on the yearbook committee, so that should help…but for right now? It is fresh and it stings.

Simply: They belong. We need to be respectful of all of our school community. Every.single.one.

Heavy

I’m having a “heavy” day. It didn’t start out that way…as I crept up the stairs quietly this morning after my treadmill work-out, I heard Tate and Jake playing in their room. There were giggles. There was playful banter. It made me feel light, airy, and as if things were all right.

We all came downstairs, and Tate started to script about his teacher. He spent most of the time as he tried to fall asleep last night doing the same thing. She’s out for another 3 weeks due to medical complications/condition/crisis. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for her to be dealing with whatever she’s dealing with. And as a special education teacher, she has the added stress of knowing how much her absence impacts each of those kids…all differently. Tate is working through it. He did great the first two days back at school, but I think the reality of the absence of his teacher is really hitting him. I let him script, and I started to lose that light, airy feeling from earlier.

As we ate breakfast, Hubz started to chat up the boys about Science Night. See, our PTO is sponsoring a Science Night at the school. Hubz is planning on taking Jake and Cole. Tate might be up for it…or might not. He’ll be a game-time decision. Hubz was trying to talk it up to the boys this morning. My engineer husband lives for science. Jake, who typically loves science, started to poo-poo the idea of attending the science night. A cloud covered his face. His body language changed. He started to put up a few barriers. For Jake, Friday night  means putting on pj’s, watching a bit of TV and eating some snacks with all of us at home. Hubz tried a different approach…showed him a few pictures of some of the experiments that will be done in the presentation. Jake conceded to going, but he’s not excited about it. He then perseverated on it the rest of the morning. Tried to convince us that he was excited to go. (More like trying to convince himself that it’s going to be fun.) Cole is game for anything. I know he’ll love it.  I felt a bit heavier.

During car pool this morning, the kids were talking excitedly about being able to get outside and enjoy the snow over the weekend. Depending on how much rain we get, there should still be enough snow for the kids to fashion into forts and snowmen and snowballs, etc. Jake made a little squeak sound that he tends to use when he’s genuinely excited. Upon that squeak, the neighbor boy fished for Jake’s attention. He made sure to tell Jake that his sister (who was sitting next to Jake and is Jake’s age), yelled at him (the neighbor boy) the other day in their mini-van for making “weird noises like Jake”. Our neighbor boy made sure to tell Jake that his sister said it is annoying and very weird. Jake got quiet and started to ramble, as he does when he’s embarrassed. Our neighbor girl turned a nice shade of crimson and hit her brother. She tried to back-track with Jake, and he mumbled that it was ok. (But I know it wasn’t.) I asked them to all be considerate of each other and be nice. I wished them a good day and as Jake kissed my cheek goodbye, I had to look away so he didn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. The heaviness started to weigh on my heart.

Once I dropped Cole off at preschool, I did a quick Target run. I needed a few toiletries, and wanted to get a couple “active” clothing items while they were still on sale. As I was checking out, my phone began to ring. It was the school. As I answered the phone, the boys’ school social worker first let me know that there was no emergency (so that at least calmed my heart-rate down), but also wanted to know that she had Tate in her office. He was using A LOT of “potty” talk AND was echolalic with the word “guns”. It had been going on since he was in bus line this morning. My heart sunk…ugh. She said that the moment he walked into the school (where there is a picture of a gun with a “ghostbuster” sign over it because of the new concealed-carry law in our state that allows people to have concealed weapons on their person…just not in a school), he started saying, “No guns”  constantly. Every time he said it he got a reaction. It was a vicious cycle. They took him to see the principal. He had to talk with her. (I can only imagine how that went.) Then he went to the social worker’s office, and they did his social story about expected language at school..and expected behavior. He calmed down and regulated, so she wanted to call me to let me know what had happened, and to let him talk to me.

Tate struggles with the phone and conversation. But he did tell me he was sorry he said potty words. And then he said, “Mommy, I can’t say “guns” or “no guns”. I need to try something else.” Well, at least the social story stuck with him. I asked if he was feeling ok. He said, “Yes I am.” I asked if he wanted to stay at school. He said, “Yes I do!”. So, I chatted briefly with the social worker. We agreed that the absence of his teacher is really hard for him. We also agree that he REALLY, REALLY wants to have the attention of his peers. Unfortunately, social situations and interactions are difficult for him, so when he’s already overloaded (as he is with the absence of his teacher AND the getting back into school routine), he falls back onto reactionary measures to get any type of attention. And it works.

Thankfully the social worker gets it. She is going to work with the class a bit more closely. They are all out of sorts. She’s going to work with Tate on conversation and attention starters that have some more positive connotations…and hopefully he can use those in his toolbox to interact with his peers. She’s also trying to figure out how to get rid of the signs..or a work-around them because we know that they have to be there legally.

And now, I feel quite heavy. I’m pushing through the heaviness…I am. But I am also allowed to feel it and to let it speak to me. I am using it to try to understand the “why” behind my children’s behavior. And it is helping me formulate some reaction to today’s events. It really is.

P.S. The more I think about it, the more I am irritated that Tate had to talk to the principal. Seriously, he’s not saying the word to be naughty or to be a menace to society. He is anything but that. He is truly using the words to provoke reactions from his peers so that he can interact with them. He needs guidance with navigating the social waters at school. And they need to take those damned pictures of guns down. Because, really, when it comes down to it, my autistic son, and others, have been taught to respond to visual cues their entire lives. You can’t put a picture like THAT up on EVERY.SINGLE.ENTRANCE of a school and expect kids NOT to have a reaction. For seriousness’ sake!!!!

What If

The bold title of the email flashed across my phone. LOCKDOWN AT ES1 and MS1. Those are not words a parent wants to see.

I felt my heart pounding. My kids don’t attend either of those schools, but we know people whose kids do. I was driving, so I couldn’t open the email. I was so worried. My mind started to think of what could be wrong.

My phone started to ring. It was the district’s notification number. I answered it. The superintendent’s voice announced that the elementary school was in a “soft” or Code Yellow Lockdown. The middle school continued to b in a “hard” or Code Red Lockdown. A student allegedly brought weapons to school. The student was apprehended by police. The police were investigating with district officials.

I suddenly realized I’d been holding my abs in really tightly. I exhaled and relaxed. Subsequent communications revealed that the elementary school was in the all clear. Then the middle school was cleared.

Considering that we are just days away from the one year mark of the Sandy Hook tragedy, I got upset to my stomach thinking of what could have been. And so very grateful for what was, in our town, “just” a lockdown and nothing more.

The final message from the superintendent stated that all typical activities would resume for the day.

Our district, our community, was fortunate today. I hope upon hope that the student involved gets some help, and that the students at both schools are able to overcome the distraction that today introduced into their lives.

He’s a Rockstar

Last night the second graders did their music performance. It’s the same one that Jake did 2 years ago. I was a little “meh” about going, but Tate was so excited about it that we couldn’t miss it. They have been practicing for this performance since the beginning of the school year. And it showed.

All of the second graders were up on that stage, singing and dancing their hearts out. In the middle of the group, front and center, was a cute little boy with wavy brown hair and a 10,000 mega-watt smile.  That little boy was having the time of his life..and it was contagious. That little boy? Well, that was my kid. Tate had been practicing just as long and hard as his peers. He even stayed late one day at school to rehearse with the group. His teacher provided his “spot” (literally, it’s a red circle that says “I stand here.”). He was very religious about staying on his spot. And he sang. And he danced. Oh, how he danced. He smiled–no, he beamed. He shouted out to me, waving and smiling broadly each time he caught my attention. He called out and waved to his teacher. And to his aides. And to the music teacher. He engaged the crowd. He played the crowd. He was in his element.

I beamed because I know how much EVERYTHING went into making that recital possible for him. The social stories with his social worker. The aides giving direction during music class. The music teacher prompting him when needed. His special ed teacher providing visual supports. The encouragement from all facets involved that he could do this. And Tate. He managed his anxiety (he watched the ceiling fans when he started to get overwhelmed). He managed his fear of loud, unexpected noises (when infants/toddlers cried and screeched, Tate flapped and rocked slightly and asked quietly, “what’s that?”). He managed seeing all of the adult faces out in the crowd that were unfamiliar. (He just looked for people he knew and smiled and waved and sent shout outs…see, he’s a true, for-real rock star!!) Sure, he threw out a few “cuckoos” and silly words…but he didn’t shout them. He listened and followed the prompts given to him. It was, well, perfection.

To be fair, Tate has always loved music. He listens to it with his ears, and FEELS it with his whole body. There is something truly magical about watching Tate when he’s singing or dancing to music. Everyone should be able to experience it like he does. I wish I could. He is deliriously happy when music plays.

Suffice it to say that last night, last night was one of those moments. The ones that we’ll talk about when the going gets tough. The ones that we’ll think about when we’re down and smile and feel the warm fuzzy to keep us going. Last night was his time to shine..and he was an absolute rock star.

End of the School Year

Those of you who come around here often know my boys struggle with transition. It does not come easily for them, and it takes a lot of work and preparation in order to get them through some of the bigger ones. We have been prepping for the end of the school year for a while now..and we’re still not quite “there” yet. But we have to be…soon…because on Tuesday my boys will be done with 3rd and 1st grade.

I must admit, every year since my boys have been in school, I cry on the last day. I can’t quite explain it, but it’s an emotional response to my boys moving up and onward. Maybe the transition preparation is as much for me, as it is for them. 

I know that I am going to have tears streaming down my cheeks on Tuesday as I send them off for their last days. Both Tate and Jake have made progress and gains this year. Jake is doing math, people. Math.Something clicked this year, and he is finally able to do simple math without breaking down or turning into a puddle. He is reading chapter books. CHAPTERS!

Tate has made social connections to the peers in his class. He talks about his friends. He has even had a crush! He has spontaneously mentioned activities that have gone on in the classroom. He has told us about his day. And it is not a script. Six months ago, that wasn’t happening!!

So, you’ll have to excuse me on Tuesday as I wipe the tears from my eyes…tears that release the relief that we’ve made it–successfully–through another school year. 

A Good Team Makes a Difference

Our teachers and principal are working on assembling next year’s classes. They’ll have them done by May. At the PTO meeting earlier this month the principal explained the process for class formulation. The teachers work together and assemble classes in groups. They look at the different needs and abilities of all the students and put them together. I can only imagine the drama that takes place when trying to create the classes.

Our district does not allow for teacher requests. Instead, we are encouraged to write the principal a letter with information about our child that we believe may help in class assignment. The teachers do their part, and then the principal assigns teachers based on the classes and parent and teacher input. 

We, as parents, are permitted to ask for our child to be separated from other students if there is a known issue. Last year, I asked that Jake be separated from a girl who was a best friend, but who also took over the reigns too much and bossed him around. That request was met. This year, I asked that he not be put in a classroom with a boy who I know has been bullying several of the kids, including Jake. 

Last year we had a meeting at the end of April to talk about Jake’s progress since his updated district evaluation and new supports were put into place. I never mentioned a teacher, specifically, but I was very clear about the type of teacher that Jake would benefit from…and they knew exactly who I meant…and he did get his fabulous teacher. His third grade teacher will hence be the benchmark for fantabulous teachers to hit. She has been phenomenal. 

How phenomenal? Let me list the ways….Reads and understands the accommodations in the IEP–check! Works with the resource teacher to make sure Jake is appropriately challenged and kept from frustration–check! Works with the social worker, speech therapist, and OT to make sure Jake is getting a fair shake at education–check! Communicates frequently with the rest of the team AND Jake’s parents (that would be me & Hubz)–check! Asks questions about Jake and how he’s doing–check! She has been a DREAM!

Earlier this week she stopped me outside of the school. She wanted to confirm something that she couldn’t find in the IEP…during Jake’s annual IEP meeting in October, we had discussed how smoothly his transition into 3rd grade had been. It had been so stress-free and comfortable. He didn’t take forever to get acclimated to the new grade. It was smooth. We all acknowledged that a huge part was that he knew who his teacher was and where her classroom was and that took that anxiety out of the picture. We all discussed, and noted, that for subsequent years, we could have Jake meet his new teacher at the end of the school year, visit the classroom, and get comfortable.

When I met with Jake’s teacher and resource teacher in January/February/March to discuss the behavior and coping struggles Jake was having at that time, we discussed that again..and it was implied that they would meet with his new teacher to give her (all the 4th grade teachers are women) some insight into Jake…and we talked about how nice it would be for Jake to meet her before the new school year..and how that would help him transition in August.

Apparently during class formation meetings, though, there was some push back on this agreement. It wasn’t written into the IEP…and yet, 4 different people who were in the meeting had it in their meeting notes. Jake’s teacher said she KNEW we had discussed it, and that she and Jake’s resource teacher felt it was imperative for Jake to meet his 4th grade teacher ahead of time. I agreed.

I ran home and poured over the IEP. It wasn’t in there. FRACK!!! But, I had my meeting notes, and there it was…in my notes, “Follow up with team in spring re: Jake meeting new teacher.” I had circled it and starred it. Obviously that was important. So, I sent an email to Jake’s resource teacher and cc’d his homeroom teacher. I was more than willing to request a meeting to get this formally into the IEP via an amendment. 

Both responded back within about an hour…the principal was going to grant the request. Jake could meet his teacher the week of Memorial Day, visit the classroom, and stop by a few times before the end of the year…so he could get comfortable. Jake’s resource teacher and I discussed adding it as an amendment, though, so that it would be in there IN WRITING.

We are lucky. We are blessed. Don’t think for a second that I am not grateful for this allowance. I know sooooo many schools where this wouldn’t be allowed to happen. I am eternally grateful for our son’s team…for 3 of them who were willing to go to battle for Jake so that he could start 4th grade on the right foot. You bet your bottom that when we do Teacher Appreciation Week in 2 weeks they’ll be getting the works from the House of Hope family!!!

 

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