End of the Week Cha-cha

stairs-man-person-walkingThe Boy’s special ed teacher has been out since Tuesday this week at a conference. We prepped him for it, he met the sub the previous week, and we did what we could. And he did well. Until the end of the day Wednesday.

At home, we heard rumblings about having to leave school early again to catch the bus. With no special ed teacher to email Thursday morning about his anxieties, I emailed the principal. In the meantime, he had told the sub he was getting a ride home with me, and emailed me about “everyone being absent”. It resulted in two administrators being involved (the one I contacted and the one the sub contacted), and the TA being asked to send me an email, cc’d to a list of people about how he was just fine, and how they had adjusted to his needs.

M’k…

Today, just before 10 (middle of 2nd period), I got a call from the counselors office – The Boy was there and was a little agitated about all the people who were absent and wanted to chat with me. We chatted. He seemed better and we hung up. An hour later I got an email from him saying they were closing many schools due to the weather today. Again, I tried to reassure him. After 3rd period, I received another email from the TA (cc’d to a shorter list of people) saying he was fine in 1st and 3rd periods, but did go to the counselors office during lunch. Oh, and he was insistent that the football game tonight was cancelled and Monday would be a holiday.

I could go off about the TA obviously not having a clue about anxiety or anyone being “fine”. But I won’t. We obviously took some steps back this week, and may miss out on his second marching band performance if he’s still anxious this afternoon after school. But…

  • He vocalized his concerns, both at home and at school – self advocacy!
  • He made his own way to the counselors’ office when he was overwhelmed with anxiety!
  • He feels comfortable enough in his special ed classroom that his anxieties seem easier to manage there!
  • And the staff was responsive and patient with The Boy.

So while it pains me to see him struggling, he is making great strides at the same time. I am proud of him, and grateful to be in a school that seems to, for the most part, be willing to give him what he needs, even if it’s plenty of time to calm down.

Back to School

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The blog has been quiet this week, and I’m sorry for that. It’s a busy time of year, and I’m sure that most of you are experiencing some of what we are, too.

Most autism households are experiencing anxiety and behaviors right about now, too. Mama Fry from Autism with a Side of Fries is experiencing this in spades right now, and I read her posts and think, “Is there any doubt that our kiddos need ESY?” Come IEP time, I wish we could show the team video of what we experience at home these first few weeks of school. At our house, it includes perseveration about fire alarms and drills, fixation on the time the bus leaves school, and the fact that his middle school email address no longer works. There’s a lot of pacing, and more than a few angry outbursts. And in our case, lots of emails from The Boy at school to me at work, explaining his plans to fix all of his imaginary vehicles because they have all broken down.

In a word, anxiety.

So that when the district insists that he doesn’t qualify for a program to provide him continuity, we can say, “But this is what happens after break. Autistic kids need consistency, and if you offered year-round school, we’d be the first to sign up.”

Good luck to all of you tribe members. It’s a tough time of year.

 

Perspective & Paradigms

I had dinner with a new friend the other night. She has been a friend to me in several ways this year, but we actually met for the first time that night. She is a mom to three boys between the ages of 13 and 18. And they are all neurotypical.

We talked about the apparent lack of student support for The Boy and his friend in the marching band. She carefully and respectfully defended kids like her son who are more than happy to interact with a peer on the spectrum at home, but not necessarily at school, where peer pressure can be a hard thing for any kid to overcome. She said in middle school, everyone is trying to fit in, and in high school, everyone is trying to get out.

After 17 years teaching at both levels, I get that.

But to my ears, it rang as old-fashioned as the tired phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

Of course, I understand and fully believe how difficult it can be for middle school-aged children to look beyond themselves to see others who need help. It’s Child Psychology 101 – at that age, as you may remember, they see themselves as the center of their own universe. Remember thinking everyone would laugh at you for that zit on the end of your nose, or the bad haircut, or the crazy sweater your aunt bought you? But they really didn’t (unless they were mean kids, anyway), because they were too busy worrying about their own zits, and haircuts, and sweaters. Indeed, some people never grow out of this psychological stage, but that’s another post.

Most of us do grow up, and realize it’s in the caring for others that we find ourselves.

And what we need to realize is that our kids need assistance in growing up and out of this psychological stage. Yes, it’s normal, but we don’t want them to stay there. Just as we taught them to walk and tie their shoes, we need to teach them to be their own person. We as parents need to help them understand that “different” is not inherently bad, and we need to expose them to “different”, whether it be people, foods, cultures, or ideologies. Seeing and learning about differences is how we figure out and find peace with ourselves. What a gift it is to learn that we are not alone in our weirdness! Who wouldn’t want to help their children find that awareness??

Yes, it’s hard for typical middle schoolers to break out of their comfort zone and befriend someone perceived as different in front of other middle schoolers. But what a teachable moment, rife with lessons! Pick up the baton, parents, and show them the way.

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He’s Excited. I’m Scared.

We got The Boy’s schedule finally, and it was slightly different than expected, with no core class second semester and a passel of scary-sounding electives like “Principles of Business & Finance.” I emailed his new teacher with my concerns, and she said those are the career and technical education courses they take as part of the Occupational Course of Study, and that the special ed teachers work closely with those teachers to make sure everything is modified. Seniors get first pick, so there’s not much left for freshman when they schedule them.

Ok. But if you have a 9th grader who still can’t multiply and divide independently?

And the lack of core classes was due to the only male PE class being offered at the same time during second semester, and he can just take Biology when it’s offered again, either sophomore or junior year.

I look at this schedule with these long-titled classes that last an hour and a half, and I know there will be no parapro, and I start to get a little queasy with all the what-ifs racing through my brain.IMG_5643

My constant refrain seems to be “How does this work?” And I have to let go. I have to trust that it will be fine. I have to give this new set of teachers a chance to prove they know what they are doing and that they are professionals.

And while I do that, I am preparing my own “curriculum” of supplementary stuff to help him find some meaning in his day, just in case “Sports & Entertainment Marketing” isn’t quite up his alley. Like maybe a coding workshop, and some time spent feeding some animals at the wildlife shelter.

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” ~ W. Clement Stone

There’s Hope Here

I spoke with the band director about band camp next week. Originally, he had said he wanted The Boy there, which would mean a 12 hour day and missing the last week of Summer Day Camp. The Boy put the kibosh on that, but agreed to go after day camp. I asked him if he understood that meant a change in his routine – he would have no time at Grammy’s for the week, and would add an additional three hours to an already long day. He assured me twice that he could handle it.

When I spoke with the band director, I told him the schedule The Boy would follow, and he seemed to understand. I asked him about a few logistical details, and if there would be an upperclassman or someone who could help The Boy keep track of what he is supposed to do. He responded with the name of an adult supervisor who had helped The Boy’s friend last year, and would be very helpful to The Boy – he had already made arrangements for this, which impressed me.

Finally, I asked if it would be helpful for me to come in and talk to the kids about autism, and at first he said that the kids already had some experience with The Boy’s friend. I responded that The Boy is a different kid, and that we sometimes expect kids to know how to react when they really have no frame of reference. He really liked the idea, suggesting I come in after the school year has started.

So I have renewed hope for this enterprise. The band director seems much more open than the directors we’ve previously encountered. He has some learning to do, clearly (Rule #1 of autism: If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism), but seems to know there’s room to grow there.

I just texted my friend, mom to The Boy’s friend and his twin brother who will be in their second year of marching band this year, asking if they would save him a spot at dinner, which is just about the time The Boy will arrive to band camp each day. She said The Boy’s friend and his brother have already indicated that they plan to “look after him,” which warms my heart and gives me even more hope. Maybe this will work our after all…

 

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P.S. The ex actually sent me a check to pay for band camp… Will wonders never cease!

Inclusion Starts with “Hello!”

Thursday night, The Boy and I ventured to one of the marching band rehearsals from which he has been excused, due to logistics and conflicts with summer day camp. We wanted to just stop in and possibly say hi, meet some people, help with the transition. I made arrangements to leave work early so I could pick him up and get him there before it was over. We arrived and discovered the brass section in the band room. I told The Boy we would wait until they were on break to enter, so as not to disturb them. After waiting for a good bit with no break, he wanted to find the woodwind section to see how many of his friends from last year were in attendance.

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He loves it so much..

We found them in the library and were welcomed in by the band director. We sat and listened for a bit, and decided to head back to see if the brass were on break. They were, so we walked in, and The Boy’s middle school director was at the front of the room. I can’t quite describe the look he gave us when we walked in, but it was not pleasant. He didn’t say anything – not, “Hello,” not “Hey,” – nothing. No welcome, and no introduction for The Boy to this room full of kids who didn’t know who he was, save for a few. The Boy, oblivious, walked over to one of his friends and gave her a hug as she sat, and then I suggested we leave again, as our presence certainly did not seem to be welcome. We went back to the library and the woodwinds were being released back to the band room for a full rehearsal. The high school band director greeted The Boy again, and The Boy talked his ear off the whole way back to the band room. We listened for a bit to the full band play, and suggested again that we leave before everyone was released, and The Boy agreed.

He may be oblivious, but I am not.

While thankful the high school band director at least had the sense to appear welcoming, I’m sad that none of the high school students had the wherewithal to introduce themselves to The Boy. I’m disappointed that not one of the three drum majors, students in high levels of leadership, recognized their duty to welcome a member, albeit a non-traditional one. I’m livid that a professional educator who taught my son for two years cannot even greet him, and would go out of his way to make him feel unwelcome.

And right now I’m at a loss. I knew this wasn’t a terribly inclusive group to begin with, based on The Boy’s friend’s experience last year, who is also on the spectrum, and lacked a single friend in the group even at the end of the season. I knew I wouldn’t gain any friends by forcing our way into the group, even with the weight of the law and human decency behind us. But I have not been so uncomfortable, and made to feel so incredibly unwelcome since I encountered mean girls in my own middle school experience. It was that palpable. Do I try to educate and advocate? Do I engage outside help either from school administration, the autism society, or the state band directors association?

Or do I give up?

Is this really worth it?

I don’t know. All I know is that this shouldn’t be.

Today is the Day

Today is The Boy’s last day of 8th grade, of middle school, of being anything but a teenager. He’s excited. I’m excited. We’re all excited. And a little wistful, too. Even The Boy exclaims, “How did we get here?” and “How did this happen?” I tell him time flies, and if you blink, you miss it. I tell him all those old cliches, those that have been around so long they must be true. It sure feels that way.

Where is the 5 pound 6 ounce baby I was holding in my arms yesterday?

Where is the toddler who got away from me in the department store and hid in the middle of a clothes rack?

Where is the preschooler who couldn’t wait for the water to warm up to get into the small pool we had bought, and whose smiling lips turned blue?

Where is the 2nd grader who kicked his classmates?

Where is the 4th grader who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the high school football game with his choir?

Where is my 7th grader who began to have crushes on girls?

Who is this extra man in my house who is taller than me, requires shaving at regular intervals, and has hands and feet bigger than his dad’s? Who can barely fit on the couch if he stretches out on it? Who “practices” driving every time we get into the car?

Ah, yes. He’s my son, even though I can’t possibly be old enough for it to be true. My son. And me over here? The one with a bit of dust in her eye? I’m one proud mom.

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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…

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.”

Post-Move Update

If you follow this blog, you know that we sold our house at the end of August and moved into a rental house where we will live while we build another small house that is in The Boy’s “district”.  In order for him to go to high school with all of the friends he’s made since moving south, we need to live in that area, so we have less than a year to make that a reality.

Moving from our former house was bittersweet.  The Man bought that house pretty cheaply because it needed tons of work, and then did all of the work and then some to make it a very nice house, bigger than anything he or I had ever lived in before, and the best part was that it was paid for – no mortgage payment. We were able to remodel it to our tastes, and the fact that it was paid for was what made it possible for The Boy and me to move here. It was our first house as a married couple, as a family, it was where The Man proposed to me… We had lots of really good memories there. It had a beautiful backyard up next to a golf course, so views of gorgeous sunsets, sunrises, and wildlife were common occurrences. The Boy could ride his bike or scooter to his hearts content, and we were glad that he was safe to do that without being bothered.

While our current rental house isn’t exactly as we’d want it, and there is that rent payment hanging over our heads (right at a time when I’m making so much less than I was before), I can’t help but revel in the positives here, as well. I wrote about the tree swing earlier this week, which The Boy adores, and therefore so do I. The lot itself is quite pretty, with well-placed, picturesque trees and lots for the cat to look at during the day.  We are placed directly between two churches, so there are no neighbors to speak of, and we are so much closer to civilization… I can’t tell you how much easier it is over here.  We don’t have to plan our day around a trip to Walmart – it’s now only two minutes away. We are physically not much closer to Grammy and Poppy, but the fact that you don’t have to cross two bridges and miles of two-lane road to get there make quite a difference in the time.  The house itself is the perfect size, just about the same size we intend to build the new house, so it is easy for us to plan and visualize what we’d like to do.

room with a view

The very best thing is that The Boy loves being closer to his grandparents, civilization, and most of all, his school.  The bus used to come pick him up at 6:30am. Now, we have foregone the bus in the morning (alleviating so much stress), and The Man takes him at 7:20am.  That’s quite a difference to a tired teenager.  One that makes him infinitely happier, and he is not afraid to show it. He has adapted beautifully and I’m proud of him and happy for him, too.

While we could have stayed where we were, I’m so glad we decided to take the risk and do this. Onward and upward!