Do as I Say, Not as I Do

We’ve had much discussion over the past few weeks, the school and I, about executive functioning skills and the need for a homework folder so that I know that what comes home needs to be completed/signed/looked at and returned, and the teachers and TA know the same about things that come from home. His teacher offered up a cat folder two weeks ago… via email, and I haven’t seen a single cat folder since.

Last night, while retrieving The Boy’s band music from his backpack, I found a random envelope that said “return by 3/18,” which contained a “Student Dream Sheet” and a “Parent Transition Survey,” which I have filled out multiple times before. The “Student Dream Sheet” is new, however. I took one look at it and immediately thought, “Yeah, right.”

IMG_4678It is a front and back sheet with 15 open-ended questions on it. I get that they can’t supply multiple choice answers because they are trying to understand just what it is The Boy wants to do in his future, but really? Is this the best way? They really think that this is even a possibility for someone who is fairly nonverbal? And it’s “due” in three days?

I don’t even have words at the moment, and I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about it. Yes, he needs to be involved, and ideally answers to “What kind of job do you want when you graduate?” and “Where do you want to live after graduation?” are important for us to have when considering his high school plan. But to expect that I can just sit down with him in an evening and get these answers (no doubt, preferably in full sentences – ha!) belies how little thought, effort, and expertise is behind this whole thing anyway. Shouldn’t an “assessment” for an IEP meeting follow the dictates of the IEP? Shouldn’t educators modify an information-gathering tool to the child with specific special needs?

“Do you have any significant medical problems that need to be considered when determining post school goals?”

Really?

Advertisements

Hating Homework

Homework is an issue.

In the past, The Boy has put up quite a fuss about doing homework, but would usually end up doing it grudgingly. I sometimes made executive decisions about how much we would do, and whether or not we would do it, based on how meaningful I thought it would be.  Luckily, teachers over the past couple of years have been fairly understanding.

by .pstThis week marks our third week in school, and we have had very little to do, thankfully.  But on Thursday last week, The Boy dug his heels in and simply refused to write a paragraph for social studies, due the next day. I took away a privilege and wrote an email to his TA and his social studies teacher to give them a heads up.

The next day, we negotiated. We talked about promises, and what it means to give someone your word.  He then promised he would do his paragraph 5 minutes after dinner on Monday. We reminded him all weekend about his promise, and he seemed to understand and expect what we had talked about would happen.

Then Monday came.

After dinner, I brought my computer to his room, and the complaining began (“I wasted my time!” is a common refrain). I wheedled and cajoled, reminded him of just how serious it was to give someone your word and go back on it. I asked him how he felt when someone broke a promise to him.

Nothing.

I failed.

I told him I was not going to argue with him about homework all night, but that he had broken a promise, and warned him that the next time he needed me to trust him, I probably wouldn’t because he broke his word.  And I sent another email to the school.

This is a common issue in autism households.  However, I don’t think I will be able to persuade an IEP team to eliminate homework entirely. Which means I have another nine months of this to look forward to.

Tomorrow’s another day.

5 Tips for Autism Parents for “Dealing with the School”

autism & schoolI’m a latecomer to this.  We were very lucky with The Boy’s elementary school, and his elementary teachers, in particular his ASD teachers who really acted like caseworkers, made sure everything ran as smoothly as possible.  They advocated for the kids with other teachers and with administration, they handled little problems as they came up, they didn’t think the world was ending with every not-so-good day, and thank goodness they were the foundation, the bedrock if you will, of The Boy’s education.

They spoiled us, but they also showed us how it was supposed to be.

When we moved south, I was shocked at how bad a school could handle it’s special education students.  So I fought to get a better placement for The Boy, because I knew it existed, and I knew we would lose him if we didn’t.  And we got it.

Better, but not perfect.  If you follow my blog regularly, you know that even now we have issues with certain teachers who just don’t get it, strange schedule changes that don’t make sense, and administrators all too quick to wash their hands of anything that comes up. In short, I still have to “deal with the school” from time to time, and the following are some of the best strategies I have found over the years for getting what you want from them.

1.  Listen and watch to determine who your allies are.  Before we moved here, I contacted the local autism society who put me in touch with the autism specialist for the county. She was supposed to be this fantastic resource, but I’ve watched her and listened to her, and to this day, I don’t consider her an ally.  She almost prevented The Boy from switching schools, and I’ve seen how she has handled other situations with other parents, and I’m not impressed.  On the other hand, through that placement process, I was impressed with the assistant superintendent for special education – she cut through the bull on the second day of our IEP meeting (with 14 members present), and brought some chart paper to illustrate that this really was a no-brainer, and the best placement was at his current school. If you watch and listen, you can determine who might be a good resource, and someone to turn to when something’s not right.

2.  Never trust anyone 100%.  Unfortunately, you always have to be wary, because in a school setting, people are not always at liberty to say what they really want to say, and sometimes, due to the nature of autism, they will bend the truth about something that happened (or didn’t happen), or not tell you at all.  A friend recently had a conference with two teachers, one of whom was a revered special ed teacher.  The friend and her son walked into the meeting, expecting to meet with cooperative teachers trying to find a solution, and the revered teacher began to yell at the son for disrespecting his mom at home.  My friend was so taken aback, she asked her son to leave the room, and in her words, “if that was supposed to be support for me, it definitely didn’t feel like it!” People are people, and they make mistakes.  They also change, and teachers get tired. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but just because you could depend on someone “on the inside” in the past, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

3.  Don’t belittle the teachers.  I read on another autism blog’s Facebook page recently something about actual quotes from IEPs she’s been involved in, and it said something like “I am a taxpayer and I pay your salary!”  Ummm, no.  As a former teacher, this is just about the worst and most alienating thing you can say. Many times, teachers’ hands are so bound by mandates and the wishes of the district and administration that they have little to no power, even over what happens in their own classrooms.  Saying things like this ensures that they will not be your allies, and that can turn out really badly, in the end.

4.  Keep a poker face.  It’s ok, and even advisable to play dumb from time to time.  Earlier this year, The Boy got in trouble for making noises when entering his last class, which is supposed to be a social skills class with his autism teacher.  She had decided it was going to be a silent class, and you can imagine how well that went over with The Boy, who understandably feels like he can let loose a little at the end of the day in his little autism community.  And his teacher escalated the situation, making him more and more angry and upset.  She emailed me with a long list of all the things he had done.  Rather than retaliate, and explain to her about autism (as she clearly had forgotten all of her training for that hour), i suggested that The Boy may have needed to *insert any usual autistic reaction here*.  I could have gone off on her, asking her what the hell she was thinking, and didn’t she know that kids on the spectrum stim and make noises, and to make a social skills class a silent period is the definition of stupidity, but I didn’t.  I simply let her know that The Boy may have had a hard time with it.  Don’t tell them how to do their jobs, even if you know better than they do. Play dumb, and remind them that your kid is a kid, and will make mistakes from time to time.  Together we have to teach them what’s appropriate sometimes.

5.  Pick your battles.  Most autism parents are very familiar with this, but realizing school is not the be-all, end-all was a big a-ha moment for me.  I don’t care so much about grades, because they are based on a standardized norm, and my kid is not standardized, and definitely not the norm.  I care if he learns the content more, but again, our home life is more important than the Types of Energy and the Pharaohs of Egypt.  I have given up on the science teacher this year, who rather than modify assignments, is choosing to give my child grades based on effort.  I can’t teach him science, so I guess he just won’t get much out of the class this year.  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.  The teachers (even the autism teacher) are still giving us only a day’s notice about tests and quizzes, so when that happens, we do what we can but I don’t stress. He usually does pretty well, and what do tests show, anyway? Sometimes you bang your head on a brick wall until you realize it hurts, and then you move on.

Some of these tips seem contradictory, but they aren’t.  They’ve all helped me navigate for better resources and understanding for The Boy, and I hope you can use them too.  Do you have any tips of your own?  Share them in the comments, please!

Shared on amamasstory.com – visit her Mama Moments Monday Link-up!

We Are Destroying Our Children

On the news last night, they featured a music program in a California school system that was funded by a grant because there wasn’t any money in the school budget for it.  This is not new, this happens all the time, but while watching this program I began to cry.  Not like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, and isn’t that great for those kids.” No, this was different.  These tears were more like, “This is completely and utterly unacceptable that our schools cannot afford arts programs.”

Do you know where the money is going?  It’s going to Pearson, and companies like Pearson who charge for their testing programs, for their test prep materials, even for their “professional development” programs – “experts” that they have chosen to send to schools willing to pay enough for the wisdom on… you guessed it, how to get the kids to pass the test.  How to teach more, faster.  How to determine what not to teach, so that you can teach the really important stuff – you know, the stuff that’s on the test.  How to get kindergartners to sit still long enough to take a standardized test.  Test taking strategies to teach to the kids to increase their odds of getting a correct answer… on the test.

Let me be clear – testing is not education.  But our kids and our teachers spend so much time on testing, there is very little time left for actual teaching and learning.

And in the meantime, we wonder why the rates of kids with anxiety have gone through the roof.  We wonder why kids are so mean to each other.  We wonder why our kids get addicted to video games, and their phones, and technology in general.  And I hate to say it, but in ten years or so, we’re going to be shocked at the rise in suicides and mental health issues in our youth.

They don’t know how to play anymore because they don’t have time.   They don’t have hobbies anymore because they don’t have time.  They don’t find joy in music or art because it’s not in their school day anymore, and you guessed it – they don’t have time after school.

They have hours – HOURS! of homework. Even in Kindergarten. They have shortened recess because the class didn’t get everything done.  They have silent lunch periods where they have to sit boy-girl, boy-girl so that they do not socialize and cause “trouble.” They are not allowed to have a real vacation – some teacher will assign a project, because kids will just get bored over break, right?  Why not use that time to get some more standards in?

I cried at that news story out of sheer rage and helplessness.  I left education in large part because it was heading in a very wrong direction, and it is only accelerating  toward that really bad place.  And it will have devastating, crippling effects on this generation of school kids that can only “socialize” and escape via technology.

What do we do? I do what I can. When my kid’s teacher assigns homework over break, I tell him it may not get done, and I might tell a little white lie about why.  My kid deserves a break, and he will get it if I have anything to say about it.  When a school in my district enacts these stupid policies about recess and lunch (and yes, those are real policies in place in an elementary school in my district), I will write letters to principals, superintendents, and school boards. And I will speak loudly to anyone who will listen about testing, and what it is doing to our kids and our educational system.

I do what I can.  It may not be much, but it’s better than crying at the TV.

Being Put Through My Paces

A meeting is scheduled.  With The Boy’s teachers.  Not yet an official IEP meeting, just an I’m-so-sick-of-you-not-knowing-what-you’re-doing meeting.  Nah, I won’t really say that.  But I do have dreams, yes DREAMS about running an inservice, actual PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT for these teachers, and not just about how to effectively approach a student and his/her IEP, but about basic things like GRADING and ASSESSMENTS.

I was a decent teacher.  I don’t claim to have been the best teacher at the school where I worked, not by a long shot.  But I did know a thing or two about exactly how assessments (quizzes, tests, and projects to a normal person) are supposed to work, and how to effectively use and fairly grade those assessments, skills that The Boy’s teachers apparently haven’t yet mastered.

A 65/100 on a quiz with 10 multiple choice questions just doesn’t compute…

quiz

I guess I was spoiled by the staff I worked with.  We didn’t have to argue very long that grading a kid on effort just wasn’t fair to anyone, and definitely watered-down the picture of whether or not the student knew the content.  We didn’t have differing opinions on how much quizzes, tests, and projects should be worth — assignments and quizzes should rarely be worth more than 25 points or so, and tests and projects were usually between 50 and 100.  Assignments and quizzes, we agreed, showed how well the teacher was teaching the content (formative assessments), while tests and projects showed how well the student had learned the content (summative assessments).  To me, this is TEACHING 101.  Fellow teachers, Amiright?

This reminds me of the meeting I had at The Boy’s previous school where they thought the use of rubrics was such a novel idea… “We don’t really use those…” they said… (I was taught to use rubrics in my teaching in TEACHER COLLEGE in the 1990s… 20 years ago…).

My challenge is to attend this meeting and not come off as this know-it-all mom telling them how to do their jobs.  My challenge is gently nudge them towards doing their jobs without them realizing that I’m telling them how to do their jobs.

Time to get clever.

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

Triggers and Blowups

Last night, The Boy and I sat down to do some social studies homework (it never ends), and like most on the spectrum, he has a hard time with the whole concept of homework:  School stuff should be done at school, and home is home.  It’s a struggle, but as long as I break up our sessions, reward him, and don’t ask him to do too much at once, he does what I ask, and we are relatively successful.  Usually.

At first, I couldn’t even find the answers to the fill in the blank questions.  It took a fair amount of digging in the textbook, something at which my boy is not so good.  Nor is he patient.  “How long is this going to take?” he kept asking.Knowing the assignment was four pages and that this is his last week at his current school, I was overly optimistic about how much we could get done.  If the assignment hadn’t been so challenging, we probably wouldn’t have had a problem.  But we did.

He began playing with a chip clip on the table, and when I needed him to read from the text to find an answer, he was distracted.  I asked him to put it down until we finished five answers, and he refused.  I tried to take it away, and all hell broke loose.  Screaming, swearing, breathing heavily, skin becoming mottled, and near tears, The Boy was all of a sudden not The Boy.

swearing in cartoon Suomi: Kiroileva sarjakuva...

He became preoccupied with the “swear” which wasn’t really a swear, but he knew he had crossed the line, and was now punishing himself, saying he had to apologize to everyone he had ever sworn in front of, and was throwing quarters across the room (a family joke about owing someone a quarter every time they let a swear word slip in front of him)…  I had to get him calm enough to figure out what had triggered this, and get him off the idea that I was mad about the swear word.  It was a challenge.

After about a half hour, making him sit with me on the couch, practicing deep breaths together, I was able to get him calm enough for me to understand that the homework was just too much.  I told him we would cut it down to one page tonight, which turned out to be 3/4 of a page, but I was amazed that we were able to get anything done after a blowup like this.  Progress?  Maybe.

As he gets older, his triggers change, and what these blowups (pre-cursors to meltdowns in our case) look like change, as well.  I won’t ever stop learning about my kid, oftentimes after the fact.  It seems that as long as we concentrate on why the blowup happened, and take the focus off of consequences for “poor” behavior, I am able to learn so much more, and he is able to recover much more easily.  Usually.

Have You Tried Quizlet?

Ever searching for ways to make homework easier on The Boy, slow processor that he is, a couple of years ago I came across Quizlet.  Some general ed teacher-friends of mine swore by it as a way for their students to study whatever they wanted without wasting endless index cards on flashcards.

I first used it with The Boy for spelling.  Computers naturally engage his interest, and in fourth grade, he would come home with 4 page spelling packets to complete.  Overwhelming for any kid, an assignment like this would take my kid an entire week (and lots of wheeling and dealing on my part to bribe him to get it done).  After using Quizlet to help him study the spelling words, I realized that he could test on those words right on the site.  I contacted his special ed teacher who agreed that he could do that in place of those four-page packets, which were redundant for my little ace speller anyway.  Why inflict multiple pages of work on a kid that could spell the words correctly after a session or two pf practice on this website?  He would quiz on the words, and I would take a screenshot of his results and email it to his teachers.

It saved all of us a lot of unnecessary headache.

We are back to using Quizlet to study, but nor for spelling this time.  For big bad social studies tests, with thirty-five or so facts to learn on the study guide.  Last night, I searched the site for a set of cards about Egypt and Kush that had already been created by some other user, and I found quite a few sets (there are bound to be hundreds if not thousands of other schools using the very same textbook, right?).  I kept the cards I wanted, deleted the ones that didn’t pertain to The Boy’s particular study guide, and typed in anything that was missing.

quizlet1

The Boy and I went through the flashcards, while I let him look at the study guide to answer the questions.  He got three wrong, so we went back and corrected those three.  Then we played a game where he had to match the correct phrases and terms, all laid out on the screen in a random format, and it was timed.  We played five times so that he could try to beat his best time.

quizlet2

I bet The Boy didn’t even realize he was studying.  It’s simple memorization, but that’s our goal with testing, right?  And using a site like this that is web-based (and has an app!) and fun is one way to get my kid from point A to point B.  If you haven’t tried it with your own children (or something you have to memorize!), you should.  It’s another resource for those of us trying to handle the tide of homework.

Struggling

I’m really struggling here.  I have never ever had to worry about what went on at school for The Boy.  I knew how lucky I was then, because I read horror stories of what goes on in most school districts, but we were fortunate enough to have a great program, and the absolute best teachers who fought on our side the very few times it was even necessary.

Here, I think I have sent 40 emails in the past week to The Boy’s school personnel.  In addition to three meetings.

And the hits just keep coming.  There is still no aide, although the county autism specialist sent a TA to the school in the mornings to assist.  But only for this week.  I had to walk him back into the school yesterday when I found all of the school supplies (you know, from the supply list that they make available in the summer?) still in his backpack — He’d been carrying them since the first day of school and I had asked multiple times for someone to assist him in getting those things into his locker.  He still has his PE policies parent-sing-page in his backpack, all filled out, but not getting to its destination, plus several random untitled assignments – not checked, unacknowledged.

Last night, he had written that he had science homework in his planner, but neither what it was nor was it on the correct day.  I was clueless, so I emailed the teacher, after checking her website and still being clueless.  She responded to explain the assignment, and I responded thank you and we-may-need-some-more-time-on-this.  No response.  (Mind you, the assignment was to make a list of the characteristics of a science teacher and then draw a rough sketch of a correlating picture, and they will do a final draft of the picture in class, the purpose of which is to supposedly give the teacher a sense of their “work ethic”…)

projectWhile checking websites, I checked his social studies teacher’s website.  I saw that the “hot dog foldable” had been due yesterday, again no explanation of what that was.  I remembered something floating around his backpack that seemed like it fit the bill, so I made sure he completed that last night.  I also noticed on her website that they were given a “research project” today.  I had no idea what that was, but knew I wouldn’t be able to get any more work out of him last evening, so I let it drop.  Then, I actually found the assignment in his binder this morning – it had an explanation and a rubric and everything!  The goal was to help foreign visitors understand the “key historic, geographic and economic features of a region” – The Boy’s region was apparently “London”.  They were supposed to write up a four day itinerary, and include a map, outlining the route.  Got this assignment yesterday, due today.

So on top of my son having needs that aren’t being addressed in class, due to a lack of an aide to help him attend to tasks at hand, he also has needs that aren’t being met in terms of his organizational skills, and no one helping him to keep track of assignments.  No one is modifying assignments to my knowledge.  And we have a range of assignments from drawing pictures to one-night research projects!

If The Boy didn’t love school so much, I would seriously be considering homeschooling right now.  It’s totally not out of the question…

 

I Got (Some) Skills

Every once in a while, I will flip through the Groupon offerings and find one that seems like a great deal, and I will jump on it.  I have rarely been disappointed.  One of the ones I have been enjoying recently is an online photography class.

After I got divorced, one of the things I treated myself to was a decent camera.  It’s not quite a DSLR, but it takes a really nice photo.  And since I have had that camera, I have taken a few really great shots.  I know I’ll never be a professional, but I have picked up a little hobby, and I enjoy taking pictures a lot.

When this groupon came around, it was advertised as a way to get to know the ins and outs of your camera a little more, to shoot more than just on the automatic settings.  And it sounded like a small time commitment to learn some more skills.  Lifelong learner that I am, I knew it would be fun.

And it is.  It’s only a four week class.  The past two Mondays, I have come home and taken the weekly “class” which consists of videos and worksheets and a little quiz.  Then at some point during the week, I take what I have learned and take some shots, one of which I will choose to upload for my “homework assignment” for the week. The instructor gets back to us with feedback by the following Wednesday through the comment sections on the photo, and we can see others’ photos, as well, learning about which settings they are using to take their fantastic shots.

It’s a little scary to go off automatic, and see what comes out, but it’s so much more rewarding, because the composition of the shot is all you, all of your skills on display.  There’s a metaphor for life if I’ve ever heard one…

Here are my two homework assignments, so far:

flame

shutter speed

white balance

white balance