My Valentine to Those Who Get It

I’m so grateful for staff who get it.

Let’s face it. People don’t go into special education for the money. Whether a teacher, a TA, even a special education administrator… they all go into it for the right reasons. At least I hope so, and intuition and experience tell me this must be true. But just like any profession, there are those who are just naturally meant to do it, and there are those who lack some skills and somehow never pick them up.

As a parent of someone with an IEP, I’ve encountered all kinds of educators, and luckily almost all of them had their hearts in the right place. That I can work with. And I’ve learned to work with those who call in a panic because they don’t know what to do, or those who call because my son has a temperature… of 99 degrees. Or those who send me multiple emails, giving me the play-by-play of the meltdown they are trying to handle at school, all with the undertone of please-come-pick-him-up…

My Valentine to Those Who Get ItBut I am especially grateful for those that just do it, as if they were put on this planet for that express purpose. They do it with compassion and insight, with fortitude and humor. The one who, in the midst of a less than stellar day, emails me to let me know that even then, she notices improvement. The one who, after a string of days of heartbreaking behavior, simply says, “Tomorrow will be a better day,” and I know she believes it. The one who always texts me after the meltdown to let me know it’s all ok.

This is my valentine to you folks. The ones who make me a better parent, and make my child a better human being for having been cared for by you. Words cannot express how much I love you all. Keep on rockin’ your natural talents and making the Earth a better place to live. <3

The Two Hour Delay

You might be an autism parent if...The effects of a two hour delay last all day longOur school year has been riddled with two hour delays. And although my recent posts have been fairly centered on my (adverse) reaction to these, they do negatively affect The Boy, as well. As always, if he can expect it, and be prepped for it, the result is mitigated. But if it comes as a surprise, and is combined with other students being absent, teachers being late… It’s not very pretty, and this was the case this past Monday.

I understand why the district does it. They try very hard to avoid cancelling school because there is no such thing as a make up day in the South. They could very easily build in some days, as this is the second year in a row that we have had a dearth of these routine-upsetters, but that would take forethought and planning… and I digress. The problem is that our district encompasses many long miles of coastline, the east end of which is very susceptible to flooding during heavy rains. There is basically one road going in and out of town, and there is one very small school there. But if those sixteen kids can’t go to school, then the rest of the district has to close too. Even if there’s a chance they may not be able to make it, or the wind will be too strong, or there just may be water over the road… I am exaggerating, but only slightly.

The district needs to take a hard look at their policies. Two hour delays may not seem like much, but it only takes three to add up to a full day of instruction lost. Couple that with the detrimental effect on kids like The Boy (and neurotypical parents like me), and we are starting to have a serious problem.

Monday evening, The Boy asked when the next two hour delay would be. That’s not something I can predict, considering the last two were for no apparent reason. At that time, I pulled up my Weather Channel app, which said no chance of rain until next Tuesday. Now, as weather forecasts are wont to do, this Friday looks like rain and a chance of snow in the AM. If that forecast remains, you can bet there will be a delay. And now our job is to prep for that possibility…

Rigidity Again, but Better

A few weeks ago, I wrote about having my own sort of meltdown when we had a two-hour delay for school for no apparent reason. I resolved at that time not to get stuck again, and the next time this happened, I would stick to my normal routine of getting up at 6am to get myself ready.

It happened again yesterday morning, and I think the fact that the delay was utterly ridiculous added fuel to my fire. But that is another blog post… I did what I had resolved to do, and woke up at 6am, got myself ready. I still had a little bit of a time crunch – I’m really not sure how – but the process of getting everyone ready was much smoother.

BETTERMORNINGSAt one point, I was putting together The Boy’s lunch, and The Man stood in the kitchen, a little warily, I suppose, and asked if there was anything he could do. I told him no. And I realized I needed to have a yes answer to that question. I need to allow him to help me when it gets down to it. I was a single mom for so long that I get into that mode sometimes, that I-am-fierce-I-can-do-it-all-on-my-own-and-no-one-can-stop-me mode. But I’m not all on my own. And it’s OK to ask for help. It might take a little training for everyone involved, but it would be better for everyone involved if everything didn’t fall on me in the morning.

And another big part of that is that The Boy can do some, too. So much of what I do for him is just routine left over from when he was eight years old. Now he is fourteen, and much more capable of handling responsibilities. I need to step back and let him.

So, I guess it’s time for a morning training plan. I’ll get that on my list of things to do, and I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes. ;)

A Couple Ways to save for next Christmas

This year, we didn’t have a whole lotta extra funds for gifts, and I thought I’d let you in on a secret – I got a couple of gifts for free this year.

How?

  Two apps. The first is the Walmart Savings Catcher. If you go to Walmart with any regularity, there’s no reason not to use this app. It is quite simple: You scan your receipt when you’re done shopping. If the app finds that a competitor has a cheaper price on pretty much anything on your receipt, it will credit you with the difference. Most of the time, it’s 50 cents on the whole bill, but every once in awhile, it’ll be a couple of bucks. And over a year, that adds up. You can redeem for a gift certificate whenever you’re ready, or use it towards your grocery bill or anything you buy in the store. Easy peasy.

The second is Shopkick. This one works in various stores, and will notify you when you are near a participating store if you let it. The stores I get credit for are mostly Walmart and Best Buy (because we do not have many of the others in our area), but there are many more stores for which you can get credit, so you should check it out. Again, you get “kicks” just for visiting the store sometimes, and if you have some time to kill, you can get kicks for scanning certain items. When you are ready (and have enough kicks to be eligible), you can redeem them for gift cards, movie tickets, gasoline… lots of different things! Some are a pretty good deal, others are not, but you’re getting something for doing something you would do anyway, so in my book, anything is a good deal. I actually got two gifts (one from restaurant.com for $100, and one from GameStop for $25) from this app this year, but I think I’ve been accumulating kicks for longer than I’ve been using the Walmart app.

In any case, I got three free gifts for zero dollars, and it helped a bunch. If you’re the type to plan ahead, check out these apps now, and you just might be able to save some cash next year. (I’m not affiliated with either of these apps, just glad I was able to save by using them.)

Presumption of Competence

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned since moving my son to another school, another school district, another state has been that one should never presume competence with anyone who deals with your child.

¬†Unfortunately, classroom teachers know very little about IEPs and special education law.¬† It just isn’t required of them in teacher prep programming, and if it is, there’s very little of substance that is taught. Many times, when a teacher is in your child’s IEP meeting, they are following the lead of the special education teacher and the administrators. If they do any modifying of assignments, or make any accommodations for your child, it’s usually under the direction of a special education teacher (and many don’t do it at all, and leave this entirely to the special education teachers and even the TAs). This is not the case with all general education classroom teachers by any means, but if you presume competence about special education matters, you will most likely be unhappily surprised.

The same can be said of administrators. Those that know about special education law are in a shocking minority. I worked for and received a degree in school administration, and only a portion of our one law class covered special education law. Administrators rely heavily on their special education teachers to know the law, as well.

Why is this important? When you head into that IEP room, you are relying on the expertise of one person, your child’s special education teacher, to ensure that what is happening that day is legal, and that you’re child’s rights are being met. And if that person isn’t quite up to snuff? Then what?

It is imperative that you learn about what should be happening in that IEP meeting, in your child’s classrooms, in that whole district. Get your hands on anything from Wrightslaw and read it until you know it. Otherwise, your IEP meeting could be “run” by and administrator who wants to reduce your child’s social skills time, and have the TA take him out into the school to practice unlearned skills because that’s what she thinks should happen. (true story…)

With the proper knowledge behind you, you can respond, “But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

Helping Him Connect

The Man and I were grocery shopping this weekend, and if you do like I do, and go on certain days of the week, you tend to notice the same people shopping on “your” days. I also tend to do the shopping alone, because I can get in and out of the store in twenty minutes without the boys, and it turns into an hour long negotiation with them. But this weekend, The Man tagged along, and we left The Boy at home enjoying his independence.

One of the people I have noticed on previous trips is one of The Boy’s friends-who-is-a-girl. She kinda, sorta recognizes me from band events and such, but I don’t often do more than smile big at her. I mentioned to The Boy that I saw her on one of these trips, and so now, when I leave him at home, he asks me to let him know if I saw her.

This weekend, I did one better. After I saw her, I Facetimed The Boy to let him know, and who walked down the aisle right as I was doing it? The girl in question! So I approached her and said, “Do you want to say hi?” and pointed the face of the phone toward her. A bit confused, I saw a big smile break out on her face when it clicked who I was, and who was on the screen. “He’s showing you his cat,” I said. “Awww! How cute! Hi!” she said to The Boy. His weekend was made, and even though I probably confused her for a minute, I helped him make another connection with a friend.

It may not have been the most “normal” occurrence for her on a weekend, but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do to help her kiddo make connections and spread awareness and acceptance.

Things Are Looking Up

This morning, I start my new job. I am thrilled, relieved, and excited.

When we moved almost three years ago now, this is the type of job I was sure I would find. It just took me three years to get there. Great pay, great hours, benefits, only two other people in the office, and job duties I know I can handle. The other great part is that it is a salaried position, so my hours are flexible as long as I meet the expected number of hours. This is ideal for the parent of an autistic child who may have IEP meetings or random meltdown rescues to handle in the course of a year.

It is in a tax office, and so the next few months will be hectic. But I’ve done hectic, and I can handle it. I know I can, which lends credence to the idea that even if you aren’t in the best situation (my previous, high-stress job), you’re still learning.

This great news, along with the receipt of our building permits (finally!), and a report card for The Boy that has all 90s on it means I want to shout from the rooftops, and dance in my pajamas this morning. It’s one of those feelings you want to bottle for darker days.

As always, thank you all for your continued support. Good things come from being kind, looking out for each other, multitudes of patience, and support from a great community.

Preparing for High School: Update

high schoolI had heard a lot of things about special ed in our high school, the different tracks, what they can take, where they can go with the different diplomas… I wanted to meet with people who could tell me definitively. And I got some answers.

In essence, we will have to choose a track by this spring, which will determine whether or not The Boy ever goes to a four-year college. That’s a tough decision for any parent of a fourteen year old, I think. And I think if they made general ed parents do this, there might be a bit of “education reform” down here.

There is an “occupational” track, designed for kids who are cognitively impaired, and have IQs in the 50s-70s. They are taught in special ed classrooms (segregated from the rest of the gen ed population), and the coursework focuses on work experience, heavily. If we choose this path, he cannot use his diploma to ever go to a four-year college. He may also not be able to take band, depending on when the core classes are scheduled.

Then there is the “future ready” track which is the general ed curriculum. They have a special ed teacher available to be in some of the 9th and 10th grade core classrooms. There is an elective study hall that special ed kids can take to get homework help. And that’s it.

We could start him in the “future ready” and move him to the “occupational,” but we couldn’t do the opposite. It almost feels like they set them up for failure in the gen ed track with little support, and then when they fail, funnel all of the special ed kids into the “occupational” track.

Everyday, special ed kids are denied taking electives in schools across this country, simply because of their disability. But because most parents don’t care about electives, and don’t fight for their kid’s right to equal access to the curriculum, nothing is done. But this is a smaller issue.

This setup, this all-or-nothing choice we have to make… this is something else entirely. I have a friend whose son is more academically age-appropriate than mine, and he is in the “future ready” track at this high school. His teachers don’t know how to modify his assignments, and he has to stay after everyday to get help from his teachers, on top of the “study hall” he gives up an elective for, so that he can have a special ed teacher help him do his homework. Is this really all they can do? Is this really all there is?

Yep, this southern state sure has opened my eyes to the reasons people homeschool.

UPDATE: I just shared an email exchange with The Boy’s former program teacher who said that the part about never, ever being able to go to a four-year college was absolutely untrue. Good news. But makes me wonder what other information the “transition coordinator” screwed up…

My Rigidity

Routines are key in an autism household. If The Boy knows what to expect, we avoid confusion and meltdowns. But it’s a fine line, and you have to feather in some opportunities to learn how to be flexible. Because that’s real life.

Nothing new there.

As I get older, however, I’m finding that I am becoming more rigid. That my anxiety dramatically increases when the routine is disrupted. We had a two hour delay for no apparent reason last week, as none of the east coast brouhaha was headed our way. But I sort of flipped out a little. That meant I had to get two people ready and out the door at the same time – something I used to do with aplomb, but now is not part of our routine. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around it, and was in quite a state until we were out the door. The Boy? He was just fine, of course.

Is it age? Are the routines we have becoming too ingrained? Have I rid my life of so much stress that I can’t handle even a little anymore?

I’m not sure. It can be unsettling, though. And I’m not sure how to “fix” it. 

If you’ve experienced something like this, or have any thoughts, please share. I’m listening. 

Big Stuff Coming This Year

2016 is going to be a big year for us. I’ve already set up a meeting with our autism specialist and the transition coordinator for next week to talk about The Boy’s transition to high school. Yes, high school.

yikes.

high school

In our state, there are different programs in which a special education student can enroll for high school, and you kinda have to pick which track you’re going to pursue before you even start. The Boy could try to do the full curriculum, but with deficits in math and language arts, I’m leaning toward the track that is labeled “occupational,” which emphasizes work skills and experience. If he wanted to, he could attend a community college with this type of diploma, but couldn’t directly enroll in a university. That’s where I’m leaning, knowing what I know now, but that’s why I want to meet. I want to know the details and make an informed decision. I also want to include The Boy in some of our decision making.

We are also looking forward to building our house which will allow The Boy to go to the high school he is planning on. We’re several months behind due to some unscrupulous contractors (I think they are rather requisite for any home-building project), but are excited to be filling our building permit applications this week. And I can finally start visualizing our new home.

Big changes coming our way. And this little mama is doing what she does best – planning, and planning, and planning…