* Get real

In a previous post, I addressed four common scenarios I’ve observed in families raising autistic kids.  From an educator standpoint, what are the most helpful ways to respond to the three scenarios which are more problematic?  First and foremost, if we are not willing to admit our own predilections, there is no way we’ll have an impact on anyone.  Assuming we are not playing God, here are some suggestions.

  1. Home visits go a long way towards building trust and better understanding of family dynamics.  You may think the child is treated as royalty until you see family life in action.  You may recognize that it’s one thing to establish consistency at school, but quite another at home.
  2. If kingship has been conferred on a child, behavior interventions may be helpful.  The family is walking on eggshells, hoping to avoid catastrophic events.  It makes sense to use a child’s interests to improve compliance.  See if you can adapt successful school strategies for the home environment.
  3. For insulated families, help set up playdates with another child from the class, preferably a “typically developing” student.  I’ve found that lunch bunches offer opportunities for kids to develop relationships with peers.  Provide suggestions to make that playdate more likely to succeed: keep it short, focused on a specific activity, and carefully monitored.
  4. For families in denial, be patient.  You may no longer serve the child when the family finally accepts their child’s disability.  Autistic kids sometimes get labeled Other Health Impaired or Learning Disabled.  They may also be twice exceptional.  At least they are getting successful interventions.  (Or should be!)  Let’s face it: the era in which we live has determined how we “define” kids.  A label is less important than how we help kids succeed.
  5. When dealing with parents in conflict with each other about labeling, be cautious and recognize your limitations.  I have had parents ask me to “convince” their spouse that the kiddo is autistic.  No one can really do that.  SImply describe what is observable and measureable.  Eventually (or not), parents may grasp their child’s differences.  I try to get support for specific goals, not a label.
  6. Parents who have acknowledged their child’s differences and somehow manage to keep all their kids AND their marriage intact are amazing.  It’s a temptation to ask these poster parents to serve on every committee, talk at every parent event, and overall, add to their load.  Resist that temptation.  Help them find good, free resources.  BE a good, free resource for them!boys-883003_640

I now step off my soap box!  Thank you.

* Whittled away….

whittlingThere are two parts to this story.  The first is a tragic one, the whittling away of a twice exceptional student by rigidity and invalidation.  No matter that the child’s psychologists, evaluator, parents, and tutor have tried to help his teachers understand the tremendous cost of working twice as hard at school.  He’s in a school with a strong emphasis on following the traditional rules for homework, no matter the cost.  They have reneged on every modification to homework that has been implemented, plunging the child and his family into a torrent of confusion and despair.

To borrow from an old song (“To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” by Nina Simone) this student is struggling To Be Young, Gifted and Dyslexic.

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Because this child APPEARS to be fine, because he is hardworking and compliant, the modifications he desperately needs are diminished, ignored, and invalidated.  He’s been whittled away, challenged, required to explain his disability over and again, drained, bored out of his wits, discouraged, humiliated, and embarrassed.

The second part of the story is a testament to the courage and determination of his parents.  They have gone above and beyond in their efforts to maintain a working relationship with staff and administrators who appear blinded by preconceived notions and unwilling to budge from “the way we do school.”  Like many parents of special needs kids, they are worried about alienating the folks who spend all day with their precious son.  If you have an exceptional needs student, you know the balancing act between advocacy and conflict.  These parents have supported their child through it all: encouraging him, coaching him, and trying to protect him from the harshness of his intolerable situation.  They are now searching for an environment which will not only meet the academic challenges of their son, but which will give him an opportunity to shine.

Will they find that environment?  I remember reading a poignant article written by a mom of an autistic son.  As she looked back over his school years, she noted that he had always been a “square peg,” subject to painful pounding into a round hole. There were only a couple of years out of 13 in which he experienced a measure of success.

This whittling away of a child’s soul is both heartless and unnecessary.  Thank God for parents who are willing to fight an uphill battle for their kids.

* Day #170 – My Student Is Not An Honor Student

Another inspirational post AND Nichole shares some insights on preparing kids for the future. What do employers value? Can it be measured by an end-of-year test? Read on….

366 Days of Autism

I was born to teach. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Why?

Not because of the pay…or the summers ‘off’…or snow days.

I wanted to teach because I wanted to inspire, to change lives, to ignite a passion.

To my fellow teachers,

“Do you remember why you wanted to teach?”

I would bet the answer is somewhat like mine.

To inspire
To change lives
To ignite a passion
To make a difference
To continue learning
To change the future

If your answers match those then I would pose the next question, “Why don’t you like challenging students?”

Students with an IEP
Students who need to learn in a different way
Students with difficulty in understanding
Students who challenge
Students who need differentiated instruction
Students who don’t care

It would seem to me that the MOST growth (thus satisfaction) could come from these very special students.  The students who are…

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* Day #169 – My Child Is Not An Honor Student

As testing looms ahead for local families, this post is a good reminder that tests do not measure some of the most important qualities we possess. Look how long it took this outstanding mom to move past her own “crushing” test scores. And note how she is shaping her kids’ sense of worth. Awesome!

366 Days of Autism

And it’s okay.  Seriously, it’s okay.

Maybe your child is an honor student. That’s okay too…

Not that you needed me to tell you that.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills are coming.  Let me tell you, these things cause me anxiety.

Last year when my children came home with their Iowa Assessments they were both concerned that their ‘bold, black lines’ didn’t go into the 90th percentile like many of their friends. Commence questioning, “I guess I’m not very smart.” “I’m sorry that I’m not good enough, mom.” “I wonder what questions I missed.” “See I told you I wasn’t very good at math, here is the proof.”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip those ridiculous pieces of paper into a million, zillion pieces. I wanted to yell “These bold lines DO NOT show your worth or value as a human.” Instead, I went to the storage cave in…

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* Day 23 of light it up BLUE

Just a reminder about what’s really important: kids are kids, adorable and precious.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

FACT: What AUTISM parents want YOU to know.

  1. Not all autism is the same.
  2. Just because you know one child with autism doesn’t mean you know everychild with autism.
  3. Please accept our kids the way that you assume we will accept yours.
  4. For onlookers who think I am not addressing my child’s odd behaviors or tantrums: I ask for a little empathy. Don’t judge. Try to understand that his environment affects him/her greatly.
  5. Kids with special needs are smart. Talented. Creative, and thoughtful. It may not be obvious all the time, but their minds work differently.
  6. Children with autism are not deaf. They can hear you. Eye contact can be extremely uncomfortable for them.

Baby Arianna melts my heart. She looks so comfy in her BLUE.

Baby Jake is such a lady killer in his BLUE.

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* P is for parents

parentsBlogging A-Z: P is for parents.  My career as a special educator has been deeply impacted by the parents of my special kiddos.  As a group, the parents of special needs kids tend to be exceptional as well: exceptionally passionate, exceptionally informed, and exceptionally supportive.  Here are some examples of a few families I’ve partnered with throughout the years.

Passionate:  The parent that comes to mind for this category amazed me with her passion for her special needs son, Martin.  While her husband also played an important role in Martin’s education, this mom was the beating heart behind their major decisions.  With her impetus, they moved from a different state so Martin could receive improved services.  She provided Martin’s teachers (and me) with helpful materials on his disability, along with thorough background info on his development and previous support services.  She was gentle but also strong like a mama bear.  There were times she had to leave meetings in her husband’s hands because her passionate heart was breaking.  She suffered some explosions and implosions along the way, but her passion never wavered.

Informed:  If there were a trophy for this category, I’d award it to a husband and wife team who have spent COUNTLESS hours becoming experts on their son’s disability.  I know they never imagined the course their lives would take, as they shifted from concerned mom and dad to resident experts on dyslexia, apraxia, attention disorders, and behavior management.  I can count on them to keep me informed and on track.  They also share their expertise with local school leadership in an effort to pave a better way for other families confronting difficult issues.  One remarkable aspect of this amazing couple is their humility.  They always admit when they don’t know something and are gently persuasive when they do.  They’ve been great role models for me!

Supportive:  This could describe numerous parents over the years, but I’ll pick Claire, who is a resilient survivor of her own childhood issues. Claire’s particular gift is seeing the good, calling attention to the strengths, and being her child’s loudest cheerleader.  Like other parents of special needs kids, Claire was unprepared for the struggles that began at birth.  Joshua has always lagged behind, a startling contrast to his high performing siblings.  But when you meet Claire, you know that Joshua is regarded as a leader, as a role model, as a bright light not dimmed by his struggles.  Claire’s ability to capture the essence of Joshua’s strengths is delightful.  He is blossoming into a precious young man with great hope for the future.

I would never have become an experienced educator without the passionate, informed, and supportive parents who have shaped my understanding of true education.

* The Assumptions We Make

Thanks to Kevin at Exceptional Delaware for helping me find this excellent blog. Read for yourself and discover the joy of hearing a kid’s true voice.  Her parents’ share their determination to understand what she’s saying.

Emma's Hope Book

When I first heard the words “presume competence” I had no idea what that meant.  I cobbled together some ideas of what I’d read and thought it meant and did my best to put them into action.  I did a great deal of “acting as if” and reminded myself, when my daughter wandered off in the middle of my explaining something to her, to keep talking anyway.  When she didn’t seem to look at whatever it was I was showing her I pretended that I knew she was taking it all in.  I pretended I believed, even when I didn’t.  And when my energy was depleted I would not place demands on either of us.  If I wasn’t able to take actions that were centered in presuming competence then I tried not to take any actions at all.

In the beginning the best I could do to show a presumption…

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* Discrimination, Bullying & Isolation In A World of Inclusion by Exceptional Delaware

This loving dad of a special needs kid captures the struggles of families as they follow a path of uncertain outcomes. That path is fraught with self- recrimination, anguish for the suffering child, and hope for a better future. Parents need teachers to come alongside them as they navigate this uncertain terrain.

Exceptional Delaware

This is going to be one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written. The reason for this is because it is deeply personal. I write about bullying and discrimination often on this blog, and I understand it all too well. I see it everyday, in all walks of life.

“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” Andrew Smith

Everyone in this world has bullied or been bullied at some point in their lives. Any time you exert will and force on someone to get a desired outcome, this could be defined as bullying. I am guilty of it. In my quest to have the perfect IEP for my son, I have expected knowledge and wisdom of my son’s disabilities greater than my own. This has been my life for the past 9 1/2 months. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until someone said…

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