Tag - school

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Sailing in Deeper Waters
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School Daze
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Exhaling

Sailing in Deeper Waters

After visiting several preschools over the last few weeks and after much fretting, I signed Sam up for a “fours” preschool class that starts in the fall. Just three mornings a week, it will be in addition to his special ed preschool which he’ll continue to attend in the afternoons. I hope! We still need to get through the IEP, but I know from speaking with other parents that this is not an unusual path to take, especially in their second year of preschool.

I worry, of course. It will be a huge change for him. The 8:1 teacher-child ratio is pretty big in itself. The potty-trained prerequisite makes me panic each time I change another diaper. (Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made real strides here! Filling that potty every morning and every night before bed…) What scares me is the potty-going perfection required, as in “He must be able to pull up his own pants.” or “He needs to be able to wipe himself.” Seriously? NT kids are actually doing this at 3.5? I’m already looking into private OT to deal with just the potty, and so you can imagine what our summer is going to look like.

But I did choose this one preschool because, as I quietly observed the classroom dynamics during my visit, I could picture my child here. At first I was hesitant to even mention the word autism to the school director. Instead I toyed with euphemisms like speech delay and sensory issues. The power that one word has, at times, to handily precede a person into the room is not fair in my opinion.

“He does have an autism spectrum diagnosis,” I said after waiting for over an hour to register him.

I think I expected at the very least a raised eyebrow or a note of concern, but the director didn’t even skip a beat. “We’ve had several kids on the spectrum here,” she replied. “It’s been really positive for a lot of them.”

Yes, it’s about being around neurotypical peers. But it’s also about being part of a greater community. Many of the neighborhood kids go to this preschool and Sam may very well attend kindergarten alongside them in a year or two. It’s my hope that he will start to learn some of the unteachable social skills that I know he lacks, like turn-taking, like conversation. I’ve seen him study peers and pop a foreign snack into his mouth because another boy did it first (no matter that I have offered him same stated snack a zillion times before without success). I’ve watched him study a crying child at the playground and go over to see if she is okay.

I know that he is racing towards his future and I can only steer this ship so much. I can’t keep protecting him from the world, the big scary one where kids bully and don’t understand differences. I don’t want to keep him from knowing others, but more importantly, I don’t want to keep others from knowing him.

School Daze

The hardest part about your 3-year-old son boarding a bus and going to school without you is his crestfallen twin brother left behind. There really is nothing to make right this grievous mistake.

“Why Mommy? School bus Sam? Sam! Go school bus!”

“Sam, how about we color or get out the playdough?”

“See teachers? See John? Go Mommy. Door open!”

Why did this nightmare scenario befall us? Because Sam’s program doesn’t start until after Labor Day. Every morning this week I’ve had to prep him. “Just four more days (three, two, one) and you will get to go to school on the school bus too, buddy!”

“School bus now!”

Who would have thought that having just a singleton for a mere three hours, five days in a row, would be more high maintenance than my regular 24/7 two-fer? He is so distressed about this unexpected turn of events (after all, it was Sam who went to “school” over the last year while John and I filled the time). And I don’t blame him. I hate it when I can’t recognize my routine.

We’ve been to a couple new parks, the library, Target of course, even the toy store — hey, I’ll try a bribe.

“See John? Sam see new teachers?”

When that school bus pulled up, he was yanking me down the drive, so excited to see the big yellow monster chug to a stop and discharge his brother. So happy, in fact, that the only thing he could say was “John!” — the school bus forgotten.

And John. Well. The first day he got on that bus, I waved to him through my sobs, his little face looking at me with — surprise? betrayal? — as they drove away. The second day he cried a little when he got on, as if to say “This again? I think I’d rather stay home.” At the end of his second day, he got off the bus singing. I don’t know what he was singing, but he was happy. All reports indicate that he’s adjusted super well to his new school. And that’s an amazing thing.

Exhaling

Crucial IEP meeting, no idea what to expect (but told by many to expect the worst), no firm hold on the law. I know what John needs, I’m told by many on his EI team that he will get something else. I am a master juggler, right? Our days are packed — if they were any more full I’d have to get up at 6 a.m. just to take a shower. Wait, I already do!

But in one week I read two books on IEPs from Wrightslaw (At night…thank goodness for summer TV, there’s nothing to watch — except The Closer and Top Chef and the last dying breaths of Studio 60). It’s been like cramming for final exams around here. The only thing is the subject matter is our boys, and well, you can’t really cram on your children. You either know them or you don’t. And I know ’em — I only live and breathe them every single minute of the day, right? But there is a lot to be discovered by comparing a calendar (and it’s zillion therapies and classes, etc., etc.) with say… transition testing. Or reading the entire IDEA 2004 Regulations.

In the end, there was a lot of value in doing our homework. It was critical to get two letters from professionals who know John and know what he can do. It was impressive to have two thick binders full of treatment and progress records to plunk down at our meeting. And I think it really helped me focus after I placed my ipod on the table to record both meetings (thanks for the iTalk, dad!) Of course, the most important key to our eventual success was the presence of two charming little boys.

John babbled throughout the meeting. No words, but lots and lots of glorious sounds. He checked in with me several times during the two hours and was cranky only at the end. When I pointed out that John’s transition testing took place only two months after he began ABA and before we even increased the intensity from 10 to 16 hours a week, we felt the tide might slowly turn in our favor. On paper, John wasn’t looking so great — we were facing very low transition scores, some in the 4-6 month range (don’t get me started on the insanity of using these tests with children who are nonverbal!) The representative sent from the autism program studied him intently and tried to get in his space. She smiled a lot, we took that as a good sign.

And so when we got to the point in the meeting where they asked us if we had seen all of the available programs and what were our thoughts for John, we said “We really think he needs ‘Dream Program’ because of this, this, and this.”

And they turned to the representative from the autism program (a halo now around her head) and she responded “I couldn’t agree more.”

I may have shouted with happiness (no, I don’t think I did, I’ll have to go back and listen to the recording), but after that everything fell into place for John and a lightness settled over me that I find really hard to explain because it feels so foreign these days.

And the “Dream Program” is this: M-F, 9am to 3pm, a preschool class for kids with autism that uses ABA and discrete trials 1:1. So more of what he’s been doing and more of what has been helping and yet not so isolated as he is with his home program.

I feel terrible to give Sam such short shrift here, but there was never any doubt he’d get his program: M-F, 3 hours per day, in a more traditional preschool class for children with a variety of developmental delays. And the hope that he will keep making such great progress, which he appears to be doing at lightning speed these days.

The lightness lingers. What will I do if it is here to stay?

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