What’re You Up To?

I am spending yet another day at home, when we every clearly could be at work today.  Third day home means another day of no pay, and three times as much work waiting for me when I get back.  I’m not a happy camper.  Our high will be in the 40s today, and the 50s tomorrow, so we continue to wait, I guess.  And I will be working all weekend to make up for it, but jeesh…

So today, I am:

  • feeling: irritated by the weather, by being cooped up again, by having so much work that could be done that is now waiting for me, ready to pounce the minute I get back (ugh!)
  • missing: my mom and dad, friends from work (The Boy is at Grammy’s today, so I may head over there later…)
  • reading: Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende and The Hobbit by Tolkien (I don’t usually read more than one at a time, but I’m not doing as much reading as I used to, so…)
  • worrying about: tubas, taxes, and tires and other things which need to be paid for
  • eating: not much – never do when I’m alone
  • looking forward to: temps in the 60s this weekend, even if it’s rainy, dinner with my parents tomorrow night (Stouffer’s lasagna – yum!)
  • playing: hidden object games
  • thankful for: not being in the mess in Atlanta, and not losing power in this storm

What are you all up to today?

Snow Day

We’re having a snow day here in the south.  The bread has been cleared from all of the Walmart shelves, and now we hunker down in our houses for 48-72 hours and wait for it to warm up enough to melt any snow accumulation we may get because of the fabulous lack of snow plows or road salt.  It will be in the 60s this weekend, so we shouldn’t have to wait too long.

So far this year, we have had several 2 hour delays at The Boy’s school, which is disruption enough, but today is our first actually snow day, and even my office is closed.  The snow is not anticipated to really start until this afternoon, but it is raining and cold, so why not?

We are desperately hoping we don’t have a power outage, but getting things ready, just in case – gathering reading material, charging up what can be charged, and locating candles in our recently re-packed Christmas bins.

This has been a winter to remember, and it is only January.  I can only imagine all the kiddos on the spectrum in the northern states who have had very little routine in the past couple of months.  The Boy was so ready to go back to school after Christmas, and has yet to have had a completely full week of school, and I know conditions are much worse in other parts of the country.

I let him sleep in a bit today, but we will be reading his novel, something he will probably consider homework, which is just NOT DONE on a snow day.  But it needs to get done, and so read we shall.  For now, we are playing with our new Chromecast (a Christmas present to myself).

Considering 140 million people in our country are under some sort of winter weather advisory, here’s hoping you are managing, wherever you are.

snow day at our house

snow day at our house

Not a Great Result

Met about the band thing today, and basically we need to find him a tuba somewhere or they are going to make him switch to a different instrument, which he doesn’t want to do.  They didn’t seem too interested in discussing strategies to help him participate in band.  The band director kept saying, “but if he doesn’t have a tuba to practice…” as if that was his out.  This solidifies my theory that he orchestrated the return of the practice tuba to the high school director.

He complained about the needs of “the ensemble” and his “high expectations” – I shut that right down by saying, “This is 6TH GRADE BAND, and you are a TEACHER.  He is 12 and he is LEARNING.”

I’m at a loss.  This seems cruel to me, especially after listening to the “counselor” reiterate time and time again that there might be other students in the class who are missing out on the opportunity to play tuba because The Boy is playing it…  What?? Needless to say, she will never be a part of any meeting I attend again.

Supposedly they are asking around the district to see if anyone has a practice tuba he can use, but I know this will end up in my lap – if he wants to play tuba, I will need to purchase one (no one even rents them).

It’s hard not to be disheartened.

Am I Less for Leaving?

Many of my old teacher friends are scared and weary.  They see what is happening to teaching and education and they don’t like it, but they are trapped.  They have mortgages to pay and resumes that will not allow them to do anything else.  They post links to blog posts and articles on facebook about how education has changed, how people don’t want to become teachers anymore, and how teachers don’t want to even remain teachers anymore.

Yesterday, one posted a link to an article on Monster – “5 Most Regretted Jobs,” and you guessed it – teaching was on the list.  The article ended the lament about teaching with the quip, “It takes a remarkable human being to become a teacher but it takes a golden human being to stay one.”

Which leaves me to ask, “Am I less for leaving?”

Honoring_the_Teachers_of_America_3_cent_stampAm I somehow not “golden” because I had an opportunity to leave that many others do not?  Am I somehow selfish for taking the opportunity that many, many of my old friends would have taken in a heartbeat?  Am I unremarkable because I took a stand and left a profession that I daresay would have killed me for all of the lying, cheating, disrespect, and injustice I endured and watched others endure, and if it had not killed me, would have most definitely killed my soul?  Am I tarnished for taking a chance at a less stressful existence that would ultimately benefit my family?

I think you see where I’m headed with this.  Teachers are phenomenal people, especially those who don’t get the monetary compensation necessary to support their own families.  But no one has the right to look down on a person leaving teaching in these days and times.  Many of us have left because we are taking a stand against the very dark underbelly of the system, and refuse to be the face of it, refuse to be a part of the machine, refuse to actually do harm to children by proxy.

I think all of my old teacher friends, both those who feel trapped and those who continue to fight the good fight (even if they’re not sure from day to day what that even means) are golden.  I think those that have left the profession with souls beaten and bruised are no less golden.  In a system that creates too many victims (if you think my word-choice is histrionic, you should hear some of my “war” stories), teachers and former teachers may indeed be the only people of value left.

What Do We Do?

I followed Avonte’s story from afar.  I didn’t allow myself to get to close, especially as the search went on.  I know the statistics, that after the first 48 hours, the chances of finding someone who has gone missing are infinitesimal.  And that is probably a statistic attached to neurotypical, verbal people.  When you add nonverbal autism into the mix…  Let’s just say my mind stretched toward dark places.

So I stayed aloof.  Until Thursday.  And then I couldn’t stay away any longer.  I knew it was him.  And I began to cry whenever I let my mind get close to the story.  I pushed it away, waiting for the other foot to drop.  And yesterday it did.

There are no words.

I just can’t imagine.  And I can, and I don’t want to, and it hurts, and I feel such sorrow.  And anger.  And hopelessness.

So the question now is, What Do We Do?  Do we say “That’s so sad,” and go back to our lives and do nothing like when Newtown happened?  Or do we actually do something?  Is this acceptable in our society?  Can we lose more nonverbal kiddos so easily?

What do we do?

Maybe the first thing to do is send our condolences to the Oquendo family:

The Perecman Firm
Attn: The Oquendo Family
250 West 57th Street
4th Floor
New York, NY 10107

Meet The Boy

In light of recent comments, I thought it might be time to do a post that re-introduces The Boy and his issues to this audience.  The Boy was diagnosed with classic autism at the age of five.  Although he has a fairly high IQ, and is a generally bright boy, he was not diagnosed with Asperger’s because he did have developmental delays, and was in speech and occupational therapy starting at the age of two.  He has since “graduated” from OT, and now has speech therapy in the form of working on pragmatic social skills once a week with the speech therapist at school.

In his new school, the pilot program for which we switched schools has organizational periods for the kids on the spectrum at the beginning and end of the day.  They meet with the autism teacher and aides who help them get organized for the day in the morning, and help them get organized before they head home.  He also has a social skills class with his autism teacher.  Ideally, he would be interacting with other 6th graders on the spectrum, but he is the only 6th grader in the program, currently, so they spend some time on social skills, and some time on homework and organizational skills during this period.  He is also allowed to eat his lunch in his autism teacher’s room.  This is his safe haven.

The Boy has issues with executive functioning, verbalizing his needs (as well as verbalizing anything having to do with school, like assignments and tests), and gets overwhelmed by his senses at times.  He has issues with processing speed, and can get overwhelmed with assignments that require a lot of writing.  He has the requisite deficits in social and organizational skills, as well.

Per his IEP, he is to receive extended time on assignments and tests, sensory breaks as needed, modified assignments and tests, use of graphic organizers, testing in small groups in a separate setting, use of a word processor, and use of visual work systems (visual cards that will cue him as to what to do next, and when the next break is) in all classes.

His teachers do not send home much homework, which helps us, because like most kids with autism, he has a very great antipathy for it.  Logically, schoolwork should be done at school, rather than at home, and it just doesn’t make sense to him to have to do work at home.  When we do have homework, we break it into chunks that we can do from 15-30 minutes at a time, and then we take a break, sometimes with an incentive (m&ms work wonders), before we get back to work again.

Most of the teachers at his new school get it.  They are willing to teach him according to how he learns.  They are patient and understanding, and willing to listen to suggestions.  We are very lucky, and I am so glad I was able to work so hard to get him placed in this school.  It has meant a world of difference to The Boy.  He is happier, I think, because he is more understood.

I communicate with his teachers as needed, and never too much.  I do not get in their faces when there is an issue.  I offer suggestions when they are asked for.  I work with my son on his schoolwork and practicing whenever he has it.

My son has special needs.  My son has rights.  My son has patient and understanding teachers (mostly).  My son has me.

Winter at the Beach

Inclusion Depends on Teachers

It's OK to have high expectations, but your students should always come first

It’s OK to have high expectations, but your students should always come first

I agree with the idea of inclusion.  Any mother of any child with special needs would.  Ideally, I would want my child to be in the least restrictive environment, meaning a general education classroom.  I would hope that that general ed classroom could meet the needs of every child within.  Every parent hopes for that.

But that ideal is rarely found in reality.

This is due to lots of factors, but I can tell you that the number one predictor of a student’s success in the classroom is the teacher.  It is a proven fact, and I have enough of my own life experience that tells me it is true.

The ugly truth is that there are teachers who make their rooms an unwelcome place for kids with special needs.  And in reality, those teachers are making their rooms unwelcome for any student who struggles.  And that means inclusion just can’t happen.  When this teacher is the only one who teaches the subject in the school, it means that subject is not accessible to any special needs student in the school (and probably fewer general ed students, as well).

We’re having a meeting with the principal and vice principal, the autism program teacher, and the county autism specialist, and the band teacher on Wednesday.  I want my son to have access to the instrumental music program.  I fear he has lost interest because he knows this teacher sees him as a “problem” and has made his room unwelcome.  I want it on the record that this teacher has allowed this to happen, no, that he has designed his classroom to be unwelcome to students with special needs.  I want it noted that he hasn’t provided the accommodations and modifications that are my son’s right, per his IEP.  I want everyone there to know that I offered suggestions to alleviate some of the difficulties he is having, and they were ignored.

I want all of this on the table, because it isn’t right that band is virtually inaccessible to special needs student at this school.  Even if my own son decides not to continue because of what has happened this year, I want these “exclusive” behaviors exhibited by this teacher to be on the radar of those in charge.

It would be easy to quit, to pull him out of this hostile environment.  But we won’t go without a fight.  Every child has a right to the curriculum taught in that classroom, and he shouldn’t be allowed to continue his behaviors that exclude any part of the student population.

Band Woes Again

tuba practiceThings are going very well at The Boy’s school.  Last week we got a note home that he had placed 2nd in his class in a pyramid game (whatever that was), and had earned a 100% on a social studies test.  I reflected that even though he doesn’t have hours of homework a night like he did at his previous school, he still seems to be learning the material – they must be doing things right.

I also got a note from The Boy’s band teacher wondering why he hadn’t been able to play his test for his teacher.  I hadn’t known there was a test, and hadn’t even known they had moved on from some small ensemble material they had been playing before and after break.  At the time, I explained to his teacher that I was very ill, but could The Boy play it next week, so I could have some time to work on it with him.

And then the poop hit the fan.

We practiced it once on Sunday, the first day I really felt human again.  And we took Monday night off (we generally practice every other night or so).  Yesterday, I start to get some emails from the band teacher which seemed to suggest The Boy is incapable of playing the test.  He got upset with me when I told him we had only practiced the test once.  He suggested maybe The Boy should play trumpet, because he’s had other kids with autism have some luck with that instrument…

Here we go again.

I’m disheartened that teachers doing what I used to do seem incapable of thinking outside the box to include students with special needs.  They seem not to have a clue that IEPs apply to them, as well.  And to have a parent like me as a resource in educating their student, and to almost disregard it…

I’m the one who’s at a loss.

Vehicles and Freedom

Fargo Pickup Truck by John Lloyd

Fargo Pickup Truck by John Lloyd

For the past month, The Man and I have been sharing a vehicle.  If you have ever had to do this with a spouse or significant other, you already understand that this is a true test of any relationship.  Luckily, I think we passed the test, but it was definitely not easy.

In our country, our cars are our own private spaces, and because our society is still so vehicle-based, it is hard not to feel isolated when you don’t have a car of your own.  I got a little testy when he changed some of my pre-sets on my radio.  And then his “stuff” was in my storage spaces – his work notebook, and his little flashlight, and his receipt book…  every where I turned it was no longer my car, and it irked.

He had sold his old truck for a great price, thinking he would go out and buy another with no problem.  And then we hit a snag, and had to re-adjust our search parameters, and several weeks had gone by.  He needed a truck for work – there were jobs he couldn’t get to because he couldn’t haul large loads in my little wagon, and the search continued.

In the meantime, we settled into a routine – he would drop me off at work, and come back to pick me up at the end of the day.  We would both then go to my parents’ to pick up The Boy.  It was a nice time to connect with each other, a pleasant way to start and end our work days.  I enjoyed it.  I really did.

But I still missed having my car.

We had to do things like grocery shop together, and I found that I much prefer to do that alone (sometimes it’s better if The Man doesn’t know every ingredient in his meals…).  Finding time to myself seemed even harder now that we were down to one car.  And everything is so much more spread out down here than it was up north, that unless you are a senior citizen, for whom all kinds of mass transit exists, one must have a vehicle.

On Day Three of my Nasty Illness, The Man called to tell me he had bought a truck.  He got a good deal, and a good truck, and I am happy that he did his homework.

I’m also thrilled to have my very own vehicle back.