Monday, August 17, 2009

#17 Is Progress Ever Frustrating for You?

With children on the spectrum, it's so easy to get, well, comfortable with certain things. Our children can be so habitual, and habits can be good things...or at least things you come to expect.

Take, for example, Thomas the Tank Engine. So many autistic children obsess on Thomas that actual scientific studies have been conducted to figure out why. Jack has loved Thomas since he was two. He plays with the engines repetitively, moving them back and forth at eye level for hours on end if left to his own devices. When he was two, we thought this was evidence that he would grow up to be an engineer like his grandfather. Then we learned at almost four about autism and that this sort of repetitive play for years on end is BAD, not normal, not cute.


For years, Jack wanted a Thomas cake for his birthday, and every year, I shelled out the $20 for one at Kroger. Jack only eats frosting and is quite happy with a spoon and jar of frosting, so this $20 seemed a waste of money. Last year, when we removed the Thomas track and wind-up train from the cake, I set them aside with plans of making a Duncan Hines cake this year and reusing the kit.

For the last six months, Jack has been talking about his birthday and what he wants to do. "I want a Thomas cake and lots of presents and to go to the Blue Fish Museum for my birthday." (Blue Fish Museum = Newport Aquarium) Anyway, a few weeks ago, we were at Kroger walking past the bakery department and Jack saw...a Ben 10 cake. "Mommy, mommy, mommy! Look, a Ben 10 cake. I want a Ben 10 cake for my birthday!"

I replied, "Don't you want a Thomas cake like always? You love Thomas."

He said, "No. I definitely want a Ben 10 cake. It's unusual for me."

Unusual, indeed.

Have you ever made plans--large or small--with the autism in mind, and had your child make progress in an unexpected and somewhat frustrating way? Or am I just a whiner?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reason to Hope for the New School Year and a Question at the End

Each school year since Jack's diagnosis, I have fretted about his teachers and therapists for the upcoming year. It's an unknown...will his team be made up of good people who "get" him, or not? I try to trust, but it's hard, especially after last year's special education teacher seemed so, well, negative.

I'm negative about negativity, if you know what I mean. Ironic, huh?

Yesterday, I got a call from Jack's new special education teacher, Mrs. Megan. I'd heard wonderful things about her from an aide who works in her room. Usually, when aides say nice things about teachers, they are right. If they say nothing, it speaks volumes. So I was cautiously hopeful.

After our conversation yesterday, I'm happy dancing on the top of Mt Everest. Here are some things I like in a teacher:

1. A warm, positive, happy personality. Oh, my goodness, Mrs. Megan is upbeat and downright perky.

2. TEACCH trained. Jack is too high-functioning for a full-blown TEACCH classroom, but teachers who have TEACCH training understand that children on the spectrum need visual structure, and clear and simple auditory instruction reinforced with visual cues. They also don't decorate their classrooms with visual "noise" that distracts kids from their work. Mrs. Megan went to North Carolina two years ago for a week-long TEACCH conference. She gets it.

3. Organized. Mrs. Megan is already planning activities for her students, and school doesn't start until August 25.

4. Clear communicator and team leader. In a 15-minute phone call, Mrs. Megan let me know her philosophy and approach to teaching. She wants us to come visit her class next week so we can see for ourselves what she's planning and give her the scoop on Jack. Not a hint of "I'm-the-teacher-and-stay-the-hell-outta-my-classroom-'cause-I-know-what's-best-for-your-kid." What a relief.

5. Good listener and no preconceived ideas of "the best way" to teach something. When I told her I thought Jack was learning to read more easily with a whole language approach rather than phonics, she jumped all over that and let me know her very open approach to teaching reading. No prejudice against whole language at all. So refreshing!

6. Confidence. Mrs. Megan is experienced and confident and secure in her ability to handle her job. YEAH!

7. Nice. She just seemed so NICE over the phone, the sort of person I want to meet at Barnes and Noble cafe to share a mocha and conversation.

I actually cried tears of relief after our little conversation and thanked God we are so blessed with the right people at the right time in Jack's life.

Jack will have only six kids in his special needs class, with a teacher and two aides. I am hopeful that Jack will get the academic push he needs this year to get him going on the right path, so he can spend less time pulled out and more time in a regular inclusion class eventually.

We shall see, but now I have reason to hope.

What do you want in a special education teacher? If you're a special education teacher, what do you want in a student's parents? Please share.