Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wish list

Three days ago, KathieC left a comment that I can't get out of my mind.

"I wish," she wrote. "How much of my son's life have I spent saying those words "I wish"... My little man is Bud's age and I often feel, when reading your blog, that I am reading about him. That is, until I get to the posts about his supportive educational environment. Reading this particular post, fresh on the heels of chaperoning my little man's postponed Valentine's dance was too much for me. I spent the hour and a half watching him dance and twirl by himself. Watching the other kids point at him and laugh behind their hands. Watching my sweet, loving boy surrounded by a margin of empty space that no NT child would enter. You and Bud are so incredibly fortunate. I wish ..."

My heart breaks for KathieC and her son. I want to give advice. I want to be able to say, "okay, here's how we did it...," but, truly, all I can come up with is this:

First find a teacher who is flexible, creative, and insightful. It would help if she has had experiences in her life that make her understand your son from the inside out.

Then add a paraprofessional who is working on a degree in education and who approaches her work as both teacher and student, as eager to learn from Bud as she is to teach him.

Throw in a special ed team who collaborate well and are quick to think outside the box. Let them start working with your child in Kindergarten and continue to work with him as he progresses through each grade. Choose people whose smiles and enthusiasm would suggest that they are neither overworked nor underpaid, even if you suspect that they may be both.

Then add a room full of children who have grown up in a positive, affirming school environment. Put them in a school in which, when you walk through the halls and past classrooms, you hear the warm responsiveness of teachers who never seem to raise their voices in anger, even when they don't know you can hear them.

I know. I might as well be saying "click your heels three times and sprinkle a little fairy dust." I might as well be saying "just keep wishing." KathieC is right: Bud and I are so incredibly fortunate.

It may have been luck that landed us in this school with these people, but still - it's NOT luck that makes these people do what they do. Their actions, their attitudes, and their approaches are intentional. They do what they do for a reason, and it works. Or it doesn't work - and then they recognize it, rethink it, and try something else.

I would like to believe that many teachers whose classrooms are not working for our children are willing to try a different approach, but don't know where to start. Maybe they just need some great ideas - some things to get them started - a few sure-fire successes that will set their classroom communities in motion and build their confidence to keep on trying.

So, what do we have to offer them? If you're a parent, what has worked for your child? If you're a teacher, what has worked in your classroom? If you're just a person who has great ideas, what great ideas do you have? What do you wish more people were doing?

Let's try to be concrete here. Let's give people some actual, tangible ideas of things they can pick up and start implementing next week.

I'll go first:

A couple of months ago, Ms. Walker and Mrs. Nee started a program called "Bud's Buddies." Each week, one child in the class is Bud's "buddy." That child goes to the school door with Mrs. Nee to greet Bud in the morning (since Bud arrives a little late to avoid the big crowds) and also walks out with them at the end of the day (since Bud leaves a little early to avoid the big crowds). The buddy partners with Bud here and there throughout the day and throughout the week - on math, on reading, on whatever activity presents the best opportunity, always under the guidance of Mrs. Nee or Ms. Walker. Through their one-on-one interactions, Bud and his buddies get to know each other better and come to understand each other more. "Bud's Buddies" is an optional program. So far, no child has opted out.

Okay, folks, it's your turn. You are the wisest people I know. Let's come up with a few great ideas, so that if teachers Google "best practices in inclusive classrooms" and land here, or if parents stumble onto this post wishing their child's class could be different, they'll walk away with a plan for trying something new or with a suggestion to offer that might help make their wishes come true.


Pia said...

I don't have any suggestions, because we are still in the early stages of all this (J-man is 3). However, I would like to add/ask those of you with knowledge: How do I foster a willingness to embrace inclusion with teachers (who may be overworked and underpaid) and an administration that is hesitant at best? We are battling it now (you can read on my blog if interested)and while I have a WONDERFUL teaching group, we are fighting the upper-ups who are not supportive.

Stimey said...

I also have a case of the "I wish"es. I love your Bud's Buddies idea. I'm taking that to Jack's team at school. Jack is struggling so much socially that I don't know if I have any suggestions on that front, but I do have a suggestion for homework, which has been really tough for us.

Jack used to get home from school and then we would start a multi-hour battle in which we would fight about homework. It seems like he spent all day in school, then all evening doing homework, with no time to be a kid. Now, his teacher sends his reading homework packet home on Friday instead of Monday. That way he can get the heavy work done over the weekend when he has time to do the homework AND be a kid. Then he has far less homework on school nights and therefore can be a kid then too. It has helped a tremendous amount.

He also has long, boring books sent home that he has to read that I know he's already read in his reading group. So if the same long book (about, say, the desert) get's sent home several days in a row with instructions for him to read it out loud, I will substitute a different book for him to read, so he still gets his reading practice, but it's more interesting. We're reading The Boxcar Children now. Don't tell his teachers.

farmwifetwo said...

It's not the children we're having issues with... it's the teacher's that prefer to leave him with the EA only (ed assistant). The children have taken turns being his "buddy" since kindergarten. He plays in the 'little kids' (K to 2) unch and recess b/c he's a runner and 2 of them, each time they are outside are his play buddies. As you said not one of them has opted out and it is 100% optional.

The is only 1 class in his grade (3). I'd like to leave him there with those children... but he needs an education as well.... so we're looking at options.

Club 166 said...

One thing I think you might also include on your list is a principal that believes in the potential of every child in the school.

Without the principal, you're nowhere.


Anonymous said...

I made this suggestion for my son and the principal shot it down. You are lucky! DG

W. Ponsky said...

Create a Facebook for your class, with each child's name and pictures and things they enjoy. It will help all of the children see how much they have in common and will also make it easier to put names and faces together. It will also help you to know which kids have similar interests and might be good partners for small group activities.

Anonymous said...

I've been going through a rough time at my son's school where I observed that some individuals working with him had a serious lack of understanding of autism.They don't have an autism specialist at the school so most of the teachers were working with limited to moderate knowledge but really without any support. I think that most teachers want to help but if they don't have the support from the administration at the school they are going to have a hard time. The special ed teacher was of the mindset that my son has a "behavioral problem" as opposed to a neurological one. Basically sending notes home telling us that he was "refusing" to do things. It never occurred to her that he would love to do what's requested of him but that he doesn't have the ability, awareness or the skills in place to "comply". My husband and I sat down with my son's teacher (who get's the basics of the core deficits of autism but I think more importantly really seems to understand my son emotionally and developmentally.) So, we met with his teacher and the Special Ed director and hashed out some of the issues that we felt were "getting in the way" of my son's development.
I think that it helps if you have specific instances that you can bring up where things just weren't working. It also helps if you have some possible solutions which might work. It turns out that they have an autism consultant that can come into the school to assist and train the teachers and also find ways to set up the classroom in a way to help my son with his sensory issues. My son has been in this school's pre-school program for 2 1/2 years now and I had no idea that this was an option.

Please don't be afraid to set up meetings and talk with the educators and administrators at your schools. There are many opportunites that are open to children with special needs and their parents that you may be unaware of. In my experience, the school will probably not offer these things to parents unless you ask. You need to educate yourself on your child's specific disability the best you can and then insert yourself into the process as much as possible. Also, try to network with other parents of special needs kids at the school for some support.

Also, in my experience, it helps to find people who really click with your child and that person is not necessarily the one with the most degrees. I've found that there are people who just have a natural ability to reach kids no matter what their educational background is. So, that teachers aid or para in the class might be the person who has more possibilities to help your child attain those "a ha" connection moments or gain your child's trust than a highly trained specialist.

sporiou said...

I give my son's new teachers a copy of Paul Kluth's book You're Going to Love this Kid: Teaching Students With Autism in the Inclusive Classroom as a gift and an introduction to my son. I like to give it at the end of the previous school year, hoping they'll take a look at it over the summer. So far they have been appreciative.

Professor Mom said...

I just blogged about this very thing! Most teachers have no idea WHAT to do, so out of fear of hurting kids' feelings and making them feel "different", do nothing.

Idea: Have a soft, squishy place of a pile of pillows in the room that ANY kid can go to for 5 minutes at a time when they need it, and child with autism can go for longer if needed. It needs to be behind a book shelf or somewhere away from stimuli. Pass out "Pillow tickets" that kids trade in when they use the area. Parents- volunteer the pillows if necessary.

And yes, the principal is the key. Give him/her a book as well!

mommy~dearest said...

We've been on both sides of the story- we came from a very discriminating and unaccepting school, and are now in a supportive one. Wow- what a difference. You absolutely cannot do it without people that want to make a difference in our children.

Our current school does the "Buddy" thing too, and it is wonderful. One idea we came up with to help foster friendships is, Jaysen has the opportunity to earn an "extra recess". It's 15 or so minutes of free playground time. I suggested they let Jaysen pick a classmate to bring with him for his extra recess. C'mon- what kid doesn't want to have an extra recess?!? Worked like a charm.

farmwifetwo said...

They do something like that for my eldest son (NLD). He has a token program to help teach social/behavioural skills. The deal is... he makes it through the day, he gets to take another child - who also had good behaviour - to the EA (ed assist) room for the last 30min of the day or the gym for free time/card games/computer time etc.

Works well.

graceunderautism said...

we have been very fortunate to have a great inclusion team last year and this year.
J is very advanced in reading and last year in Kinder he was his own reading group. This year his teacher decided to play on his strengths. During reading group he gets to sit in the teacher chair and help lead the group. This helps him be socially appropriate while helping his friends to see him in a positive light. They are still at an age where they think smartness is cool.

5 Kids With Disabilities said...

We have had great success with special education services for our 5 IEPs. Each child has specific needs and the school department has always been respectful and provided excellent services. I am SOOOOO lucky. (If anyone with a child with a disability moves to our state, I always tell them to move to our city!)
Lindsey Petersen

W. Ponsky said...

Sorry. Just want to clarify that by "facebook" I don't mean put the kids pictures online on Facebook. I mean an actual paper book with all of the kids' information and every kid gets a copy to take home.

Teresa said...

I wish I had suggestions. Last year this time, my son was moved from public school to an autism school because the public school had no clue what to do. They assumed it was "behavioral" and that I should just give him more meds to make "comply". However, now he is at the autism school, is on a bus 2 hours each way everyday and hates going there. He is in a classroom with other children on the spectrum who are at different levels than him so he finds it difficult to understand why their rewards are different than his. It is very frustrating and I have no idea what I am going to do when we do the IEP review this spring. I am so torn because the public school obviously was not the place for him, however I am not sure that the autism school is the right fit either. I have considered homeschooling, however it really is not an option because I have to work. I am a single parent and obviously we can't make it without some income.

Is Autism a Genetic Flaw? said...

Thanks for sharing your sincere and excellent advice on how an autistic child ought to be ideally dealt with for maximum success.

Anonymous said...

My kindergarten child with significant sensory issues in the world of noise had panic attacks when waiting in line for her bus at the end of each day. The bus students had to line up in the gym which had a high ceiling, so the noise of 200+ kids was bouncing around and overwhelming. Upon seeing the problem, her teacher quickly made arrangements for my daughter to sit in the lobby with two fifth graders watching her. The older kids felt important, and when her bus arrived, my daughter was escorted onto it by the older kids. It worked really well.

As an aside to the same story, another teacher in the building let me know how well the episode worked out for the whole school. The kindergarten teacher had the idea to have the bus students SIT in line in the gym instead of having them STAND. For whatever reason, the noise level dropped by over 50%. Every teacher loved the result, so it became the normal procedure for bus students from then on.

Island Mom said...

I love the buddy idea -- a close friend who is a Chicago public school teacher says her high school has an official buddy system for every spectrum kid in the school -- they get a buddy for assemblies, lunchtime, recess, fire drills anywhere they may have trouble transitioning especially where sensory issues are a factor. The sign up is optional for the neurotypical kids but so far they haven't had any problem getting volunteers.

A strong parent support group in the school system is also invaluable -- we have an ASD parent group here in our rural district which operates outside the school system (it's convened by Community Services, which is a large private non-profit that operates many community programs here) and that's been a huge help for sharing information relating to the school system (there's only one, so we have to make it work!). The more parents can share the knowledge of what is going on in other classrooms, the more leverage we have, and the better able we are to navigate the classroom options. There is strength in numbers.

Anonymous said...

You're very lucky as most schools and teachers do not have this kind of interest in educating kids on spectrum appropriately. Time, money, politics of the school, bad staff with high turnover all come into play. Count yourself fortunate. I also think your child is very high functioning so the teachers may feel more motivated and rewarded in working with your son. I have seen this happen a lot within districts.

Osh said...

How I wish this could happen for every child out there...
At 16 I am still wishing...some staff and teachers are finally getting it...Last IEP meeting one teacher didn't even know why he was involved.

Bud is a treasure, and I am so glad you are his mom.

KathieC said...

Where to start, MOM, where to start. Thank you, I guess is as good a place as any and I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump my issues on you and your readers. It was the timing of the whole thing I think. I'm having a rough time realizing that while my son is currently (mostly) oblivious to the "mean" kids, it will not be that way for much longer. He will soon become aware that he is "different". He will understand that this difference is why he has no friends.

In fairness to his teachers, we live in a large city. There are 30+ kids in his class. They have their hands full. I do not believe that they don't care about my son, I just think they're busy "teaching to test" and maintaining order in the classroom. The adults in his school genuinely enjoy him and his sweet personality but they do not, for whatever reason, go out of their way to teach socialization. Let's face it, that's not something that will make it into his IEP. The best I can do is push to keep him in Speech Therapy, though it's probably no longer justified, and hope that will be enough for him to feel that he has friends.

Anyway, MOM et al, love to you all. Thank you for your support.

Anonymous said...

A really quick note to KathieC ...Social skills goals SHOULD make it into your son's IEP!!! Success at school is much more than mastering the the "3r's" and if he he is having trouble socializing then he SHOULD continue receiving speech!
I didn't see your venting post...will search...see if I have any advice.
Have some ideas for parents underwhelmed by their school experience will post comment soon.

I'm pretty sad that more pro's in the field have not put in their 2c...There are good teachers/parapro's etc. doing good stuff out there...

Island Mom said...

I second Bannie's post -- social skills goals are all over Ike's IEP. Here in Massachusetts, state education law mandates that those goals be part of educating children on the spectrum. Can you call a team meeting to revisit his IEP goals?

I talked to a rep from the Board of Ed before our first IEP meeting after Ike was diagnosed to get a copy of the state law, and also hired an educational advocate to help negotiate for services. We got WAY more than the school originally planned to provide Ike, and I saved tons of $$ in the long run b/c we weren't trying to compensate outside of school time for what would have been lacking.

Kathy C, this is a great topic, I'm learning a lot from what people are writing, as i'm sure others are. thx to MOM-NOS for highlighting the issue and giving us a forum to share info.

ghkcole said...

We have some struggles going on here socially too that break my heart. Here is what we are going to try...

There is something called voicethread, found at I use it at work a lot. I am making a voicethread about my son, his strengths, why things are hard for him sometimes. Then, I am going to get people to watch it, and I'm going to serve SNACKS. They are going to love the snacks, love the voicethread, and love my son. Well, a mama can try.

I was inspired by you, MOM-NOS, and one of your posts about Bud's class. Also, I was inspired by the beautiful Redheaded Mama, who has shared techniques she's used to teach her boy's teachers about him.

Thanks for the inspiration, and for spreading the learning all around.

Magimom said...

I too have to say I wish... as we dealt with everything in the last five years, it's been our mantra. I love the Bud's Buddies idea! I hope that more teachers start doing things like this so that the NT's can see that our kids are just as fun as others once they get to know them!
Our boy is in PRTF at the moment and we miss him terribly, but we're hoping with intensive therapy over the 6-months he'll be there, that when he comes home he too can enjoy such classroom skills building.
The key in the classroom with these kids is helping them learn social skills. Anything a teacher can do to help them build these essential skills is paramount in their development! Thanks for putting this out there!