Changes

I am optimistic, I believe in the greater good and I truly believe that each of us can change the world one small voice at time.

Why are you trying to teach them social skills, you know you can’t change the world right?

Seriously though, it gets to be discouraging when those around you shoot you down. When those who are supposed to work with you don’t believe in the change you are trying to create. Yet still I strive to be that change. Our kids don’t always get the social requirements of society. They don’t always understand that you cannot laugh at another person’s lack of knowledge or mistakes. This skill must be taught. Whose job is it to teach it? Is it solely the parent’s? No this is part of an educator’s job, we must teach the hidden curriculum to our students with autism and similar disabilities.

It is useless at this point in their life to try and teach that skill. They will never get it.

If an educator truly believes this of a student, even if they are 18- 22, then why are you doing this? Why did you take that job and commit to helping these adults succeed in the world. Why are you here teaching them employability skills and training these individuals to become a functional part of society rather than committing them to a life in an institution?

They have gotten by this long just let it go. This is how they get along with each other. It is their normal interaction. They identify themselves as “ESE KIDS vs. Regular Kids” You cannot change that.

Your negativity pushes me to try harder. To prove you wrong. I may not be able to do it alone, I’m sure not going to do it in a mere 16 weeks, but if I plant the seed and you continue to water it and support that growth for the next 2 – 3 years that these students are with you I assure you there will be a change. I promise you that you can be part of the change that all of us are asking for.

You’re a great advocate, but you are too idealistic. You need to realize that this is what you get and you simply work with where they are.

Is there a reason that being idealistic is bad? Is there a reason that demanding a change, demanding that our students are given better is wrong? Is it because I am a new teacher, well technically still a student, that I am not jaded by the system?

You might answer yes to those questions but the truth is no I’m not all that new to all of the red tape of the special education world. I am giving my students, possibly your child or your niece, nephew, brother or sister, the same type of chance and education I want my own two children to receive. I do not want a teacher that does not believe that my children can do better. I want a group of professionals that see the untapped potential and will fight for them. I want a teacher that advocates for their students both in the classroom and out in public on outings.

I am not green enough around the ears to think that in my short 16 weeks with this group of students I will make huge monumental changes, but I am realistic enough to know that if the seed is planted and nurtured, these 10 students will be given the best education and chance at life after school they can have.

I am the voice of the change I want to see in the world. I am doing the things I want to be done for my kids for other students. I am idealistic, I am an advocate, and I will make a difference in the life of my students. 16 weeks is a pretty short time span, but it is long enough to show these students that I care.

What do you want? A teacher who doesn’t believe a change can be made, or one that will fight for your child and make sure their untapped potential is being accessed every day.

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The change we need

So I just got home from a very long day. Lil girl had her eval, posted about all of that earlier, then had school. So here is the thing I am extremely happy to find that lil girl’s intelligence is through the roof. Here is my struggle, she is one to two points too high for other services. They recommended that I go back to my pediatrician and request referrals for private evaluations for speech and OT. She attempted to line up every toy they gave her, but the examiner stopped her. When this was pointed out I was told that it’s okay because she was lining up colors.
When I pointed out that she imitated everything the evaluated did including the words that went with drawing a circle (examiner said “circle, circle, circle” while drawing a circle … lil girl with a crayon in her right hand still coloring took the lady’s crayon and drew her circle over the lady’s saying “circle circle circle”) I was told that is what they wanted her to do.

I was told that her intelligibility is not a concern at 34 months old, because she gets her point across with her limited vocab and through hit or miss pointing. She is understood enough for them to consider it “acceptable”

I was told that i need to work harder at getting her to use a fork and spoon when eating because she has a great grasp for coloring. I try with the fork and spoon but I am sick and tired of being hit by the fork thrown at my head. That is what happens if I have her use a fork. But if I don’t give her one on her plate I have her food thrown at me in frustration.

She is potty trained to an extent. She will not go to the bathroom on her own. She would rather wet herself before going alone. Other times she will simply pee where she is sitting/or standing without regard to the need to go.

She socializes with adults, but not peers. Her socialization was scored low because of this. They don’t know what to recommend because I already have her in preschool part time, and take her to the park and other venues where she can interact with children her age. She just wont.

The evaluated told me “She has no regard for danger.” This was not a question, this was a statement from watching her stand on the chair and not care that she was falling off of it. This was watching her do it again and again with the same results. This was her sticking her hand in my hot coffee without regard to it being hot.

She can not show the difference between a boy and the boys when shown a picture.

Yet I am left with the statement “We are sorry she does not qualify for services, you must go back to you doctor and request private evaluations. Or you can wait until she is three and go through Child Find”

You see here is a child who has dx of developmental delay. She is high functioning, yet too high functioning to actually receive help. This is where the divide in our community comes in. High Functioning vs Low Functioning … we each battle our own demons. We fight the same fight. If we were to band together and raise our voice as a unified community how different would our world be? How much could we change if we looked at it from all sides of the table?

Having a high functioning child is kind of a double edged sword. You know your loved one struggles yet you are not eligible for services. Having a low functioning child is not any better. Your loved one requires more help for their struggles than our system provides.

When will we demand a change for our loved ones? when will we be given the chance to give them the best life regardless of their functioning level? When will we see, within our own community, that our end goal is the same? That all we want is what is best for our loved one?

Silver Lining

Education is a fundamental right for all individuals.  In Florida each child at the age of 4 is entitled to free VPK. This provides students with 3 hours a day during the school year of pre-k free of charge to families. Children are provided with instruction through approved providers, typically preschools/daycare.

Buggie is eligible for VPK this year. He also has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS, in other words he is on the spectrum. His IEP, Individual Education Plan, does NOT have accommodations for autism. This is a battle I have been fighting with the school board since our IEP meeting last year. He was one of many who have been lost in the system. This will not be the case this year when we return to our IEP meeting in September.

Buggie is “High Functioning.” He has partial eye contact, he is verbal but still has communication issues, and academically he is behind. We have worked countless hours with therapists and in home programs to help his functional skills develop. In the middle of this somehow he did not grasp the educational concepts that typically developing children have by this age. This is okay, we take it step by step.

Based on his level of functional skills, my Husband and I have made the decision to place him in a typical preschool for VPK in hopes to keep him with his typical developing peers. This decision was not made lightly, rather it was done after countless hours of observation and conversation. Finally by June of this year the decision was made. Now it was time to find a preschool who would accept him.

This seems like an easy task, yet it was not! My first thought was this will be easy, I will simply go back to the preschool he was in prior to diagnosis. He was last there when he was a year old, his oldest sister went to VPK there two years ago. This seemed like a no brainer for me. I went in, talked to the teacher and was told “We are not trained to handle his needs.” Well damn, I struck out. This was not a good start.  After I left the school, I called an additional 10 schools. Each one gave me the same answer, “I’m sorry we are not trained to handle his needs.”  This sounds so pretty when it is said this way. Yet I got the feeling that every school I contacted would say the same thing. These are the times I wish I was ignorant to the way the educational system works.

Family Central, an organization here in Florida, and the Early Learning coalition provide the VPK program. On their website they have information about inclusion in the VPK program and even better they provide FREE training to childcare centers on how to make sure their programs are set up for inclusion.  At this point I was mad. I was seeing red and was ready to report each of these schools for discrimination.  I couldn’t even find the “nice words” I tell my children to use. I wanted to be a raging bitch and make everyone understand that my son is amazing and they need to include him.

Today I called two different schools, both welcomed me for a tour. I went to the first school who said they would be able to accommodate my son’s needs. We walked in and lil man would not take his headphones off. The classrooms were cluttered, nothing was at eye level for the children and it was LOUD. I was having problems with the environment. Both lil man and lil girl shied away from the staff and were not very open to the idea. They were ready to get out before I could even finish the conversation with the school’s director. THIS WAS NOT THE SCHOOL.  While they said they could accommodate his needs and his therapist would be able to come to the school, there was little about this school that was sensory friendly.

We left, I felt defeated. I was at a loss. We  entered the second school shortly after. I must admit, I did not have high hopes for this school. No other school would take him and the only other option was too much of a sensory overload.  We toured the school were shown each classroom and they kids were allowed to explore the classes. They could touch the toys, meet the teachers, and even interact with the other kids. (Nope there was no interacting with other kids, but it was nice that it was an option.)  As the tour went on things kept getting better. Each classroom is equipped with a “chill zone” where children can go to decompress. There are visuals of emotions, calm down methods, and get this SESNORY items.  So at this point I am wondering if I have died and gone to preschool dream land.  We continue with the tour, we talk about logical consequences and then I am surprised with the training that their staff is undergoing. It is a training called PBS, Positive Behavior Supports. Really a preschool working with behavior supports. I’m in shock.

After the tour is over we talk about Buggies current needs and what will be needed for him to succeed. They are cool with this, then I meet the director/owner. Everything makes sense following this meeting. She was an elementary school teacher who went on to get her masters in Special Education. Now it all makes sense to me, this school is the perfect choice for my two younger ones. Not only am I happy with the school and the staff, but lil man is happy with the choice as well.

Maybe all of the “No’s” we had to hear were put in our path so that we could get to this school. I believe everything happens for a reason and that there is always a plan in life, even when it hasn’t been reviled to us yet. It is faith and trust that will lead me to the right decisions for my children.

Why did you choose this?

This life we lead it’s not easy. I had a professor last semester, oddly enough for an Autism methods class, who told me she didn’t know how I did it. How I could choose to work in a field surround by autism and then go home at night and live a world full off autism. My answer to her was simple, I’m a great teacher. I know that sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, and well I am. Some people are naturals in the classroom while others must work on it. I did not know I would find my passion in autism. I too wondered, and still do, why I decided to live 24/7 in autism. There will be no break from it, going to work is still autism. 

If I’m really honest with myself the reason I want to work with children with Autism in the classroom and as an ABA therapist  started off with selfish means. I started this so I would be better equiped to handle my own chid’s needs. 

What I learned was pretty amazing. I could help other parents and their children succeed. I would leave a lasting impression on the world, not just in my own children but in others. 

I’m not sure how I will handle this. I’m not even sure how I handle it at home. The one thing I know is that I love doing it and all the stress and frustration that comes with it is worth it’s weight in gold.