Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mr. Magnetic

I walked into the kitchen one morning this summer and found James preparing to dash his wooden trains through the air and against the wall. He was frustrated that he could not push them together. I showed him the round magnets at each end of the engine and train cars and told him were two round, different magnetic poles on each train, one positive and one negative. I demonstrated that trying to connect two positives or two negatives would push the cars apart.

"So," I explained, "if they won't go together, turn one car around to the other magnet, and they'll both snap together."

This is what happened for the next 15 minutes:



Why couldn't my sciences classes have been more like this?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lessons Learned

I received a call from the Services Coordinator at James' school, a day before the informal meet-and-greet for all students and teachers. She was asking me about how our summer went, and more specifically, if I had James' box, so she could get it to his new aide. "What box?" I asked.

Well, evidently it's the box with his IEP, visual cue cards, daily scheduler, and other confidential information. I say "evidently," because I never saw it at said summer school, which was not a very good experience, BTW. After doing some checking on both parts, I reconnected this morning with the Services Coordinator, who was able to assure me that his records had stayed at the school, and that in fact she'd sent folder with the visual aids and his plastic cube chair, both of which had been returned.

That's interesting, because I never saw those, either. And I was there, observing the classroom, because James was not happy and the teacher had complained that his behaviour was a problem. I observed them putting James in a regular seat, not using the cube chair until I specifically asked if he could sit in that and have it be his chair. The staff never looked in his folder and another aide shared her visual aides to help him along. I noticed other things happening too, and ultimately had a couple of high-level concerns prompted me to phone the head of Special Ed to share them and ask for help in resolving some issues. That was a first.

I am frustrated because there was little to no coordination of communication between James' regular team and the summer school team. This set us up for a rocky summer school session. I am mad at myself for not being more pro-active.

Lessons Learned:
* Ask for more detail from regular school team, especially Services Coordinator,
about who is teaching and what they'll be doing over the summer.
* Pick up materials for summer school myself and review them with his team
* Be available to meet and review said materials with summer school team as
early as possible into the summer school session.
* Come up with a few clear goals for James in summer session and communicate
them clearly to the team.

I am writing a letter to his Services Coordinator, reviewing what worked and what didn't work for James with this summer program, so that next year's is a much better one for us all.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life is Funny, and Roof Rats

As I am typing this, I am hearing little scrabbling noises and sounds of acorn-like things being rolled across the ceiling overhead. Oh, how I wish I was living a scene out of Totoro with the susuwatari, but alas, it's roof rats.

I know because we just had our pest control person come to visit and check out said noises. I'd been expecting it, because over 5 years of pruning neglect and a huge crop of slimed cherries this year were pretty much a recipe for a rat fest of some sort.

So even though I did finally start up pruning again this year, it was not enough to keep branches far enough away from the house (3 feet, in case you're interested). I have my work cut out for me (ha-ha) -- over the next week I need to seriously whack back 3 trees and several bushes. I also need to appeal to our neighbour's sense of compassion to deal with one of their overgrowing trees.

So here's the funny part - I was feeling guilty about my lack of yard maintenance and trying to explain why it's taking me 5 years to start doing my own danged maintenance, as well as explaining why I needed their services rather than following instructions (so much cheaper -- they were trying to give me a break). "I know it sounds funny," I said, "but my son's on the Autism Spectrum, and when I think I have things on track and I can manage other projects, something comes up, and the new stuff just falls off the radar. That can be very bad with trying to nip this in the bud. Also, this is the first year I could go outside and work in the yard without my son screaming for me."

I light went on in his eyes. "How old was your son when he was diagnosed?" BINGO: Parental Autism Bonding. We chatted a good 20 minutes over diagnosis, services, and how lucky we felt about the help our kids have been getting. The ages and challenges are different, but the invisible, semi-undefinable experiences as a parent of a child on the spectrum were there.

So even though we do have roof rats and it'll cost us to get rid of them, we caught it early and that service person and I had a few warm minutes of solidarity. It made the invasion of those darned pests much more bearable. Life is funny, I tell you.

First Grade, First Day

Today James started school again. My little guy is now a First Grader - how did that happen? It's kind of reassuring me, because when his sister started her First Grade career a couple of years back, I had trouble seeing our sweet sunny kid in a regular classroom or imagining he would be following in Big Sister's sensitive, yet highly academically successful, footsteps.

Well, he is figuratively doing just that. His Grade 1 classroom is the one just down from where she went.

I am going to have to get a picture of him after I pick him up from school. He changed his clothes 3 times this morning, he was so excited. We arrived just after the bell rang, in fact. Well done me! Not.

The important part is that James took to the new classroom, teacher, aide, and kids like a morning at Disneyland. I could barely get him to pay attention long enough to shuck his backpack, jacket, and lunch in the appropriate places before he broke away and danced off into the milling crowd of kids, grinning from ear to ear. I spoke with his aide for about 15 minutes and showed her the cheat sheet, which she glanced over and pronounced "Super!"

We went to go find James. He was twirling the hands on a play clock, asking kids if they knew what time it was. Then he sat himself down in the middle of some kids playing with a train and began to play with them, sitting normally and asking them questions. One of James' strong points is his like of being with other kids and people. It was so good to see him actively participating in a new group right off the bat. It helps that he has some friends from last year in this class -- they came right up and said "Hi, James!" He even got some hugs. With just a little prompting, he was greeting them too. Then, it was all about Playing.

For me, that was better than a hug and kiss goodbye. I am sure he's going to have a very good day and start to the school year.

ETA: Pictures from the first pick-up. It was tough getting him to stay still.

He was busy checking out the letters and numbers in the trees:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Special Exp. / Wordless Weds: Waterfalls

Last month we took a road trip to Washington State -- our first as a family. The kids and I had plenty to look at on our first journeys through Oregon and Washington. On the way up, it was mostly through the car windows. On the way back, we could stop and smell ... nature! Oh how we loved admiring Horsestail

and Multnomah Falls!

For more great images or to join in the fun, Visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.

5 Minutes for Special Needs

and ... Wordless Wednesday

The Back-to-School Cheat Sheet

Tomorrow James starts school as a first grader. First, I take a moment (or maybe a week) to pause and reflect -- it seems like yesterday that it was his Big Sister who was starting first grade. How little I knew then and how far we've come.

For his second year as a full-inclusion student, I worked on a cheat sheet for James. I don't know what else to call it -- I basically take one piece of paper and fill it with information to introduce our son to his team at school. I did this last year after months of freaking out about our son moving from 2.5 years of Special Day Preschool to a mainstream Kindergarten. I tell you, I can still feel my anxiety now, recalling it.

I wanted to make sure the same information was available to his teacher, full-inclusion aide, speech & language teacher, O/T, Adaptive PE coach, and Services Coordinator. I thought something written would be nice to be able to reference, should the need arise.

For both years, I put his name at the top, followed by the names of his family team and our phone numbers plus my email. Then I wrote a 1-3 quick paragraph summary of what our son has done over the summer.

I used bullet points to talk about what he likes, does not like, and needs help with (such as he needs help with focusing, he loves music and the colour red, but is sensitive to noises like blenders and non-service/companion dogs make him very anxious).

Bullet points are also good ways to lay out James' strengths and challenges. I try not to go into too much detail because what I am trying to do is make an introduction from a parent's POV, not write a case study for someone who's worked with kids for longer than I have.

If there were allergies or daily meds to report, I'd have listed them here too. I touched briefly on how we discipline our son (time outs) and some key strategies that have worked to keep him on track. I made sure to say that the teacher can call or email me if needed.

His team has told me that they found this to be helpful, so it seems to have been a good idea. I wonder how many other parents have done this for their kids?