Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘education

Here and There

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Tuesday was a really hard day.  We haven’t had a break in a while, and I was itching to escape.  I booked a night away at the weekend, but it has been a relentless run of a couple of months without stopping, and one night away seems like too little, too late.

After another draining day at work, I collected the kids from school, and got ready to head back out- Tuesday evening was the back-to-school open evening for parents at Pudding’s school.  No time for dinner.

To say I didn’t feel like going out there would be understatement.  The school is a 45 minute drive at the best of times, and after dark in Johannesburg?  Not so much the best of times.  I try my best to avoid ever driving alone at night.  But Spectrummy Daddy was staying with the kids, and I felt like I couldn’t not go.

Traffic was even worse than usual.  I left at 5:10 to be there in plenty of time for a 6:30 start, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be enough.  All in all, seven (7!) traffic lights were out on the busy route, and not one of them policed.  I turned on the radio only to hear that the alternative route by motorway was in the same condition.  As day turned to night, and gridlocked in traffic, I felt a growing sense of unease.  My frustrations darkened my mood further, and I let myself go…there.

There is where I imagine an easier life.  Where we live close to family and friends, and I can count on them to give us a break when we need one.  There is my kids going to a local school and growing up with the same community.  There is building a life for us, and living it- not having to do the same thing over, and over, in far away lands.  There is easy.  Here is hard.

My legs were cramping from riding the clutch for so long that I almost missed driving an automatic.  I did my best to avert my curious gaze from the casual prostitution happening at a particular traffic light where I idled for too long.  I wanted to call my husband and tell him I was done with here, with this whole Foreign Service life, but I know better than to use a Smartphone here while driving alone in the dark.

Finally, finally, at just after 7 pm, I arrived at the school.

The Director saw me first, and gave me a friendly greeting on first name terms.  Next I saw the mother of a child who was in Pudding’s class last year.  We hugged, and I started to feel better.  Next I got to check out her new classroom, where she’d left me a note asking to check out her “portit.”

I left her a note in return, then got to check out her new classroom, taking note of the many accommodations. As Ms. A, her new teacher had previously let me know- these supports are actually beneficial for all kids, and having them available to all ensured that Pudding isn’t singled out.  I felt all my tensions slip away.  My girl, she is right where she needs to be.

Next I got to meet Pudding’s art, music, and PE teachers.  I had to smile as the new teachers shifted from polite interest to excitement as they found out I was Pudding’s mother.  That kid really is a rock star, and I loved hearing all the anecdotes: such as Pudding turning on the music in class- the music teacher convinced it only happens when she talks for too long!  Yes, that absolutely sounds like her.

Though it was getting late after a long day, I couldn’t resist popping in to see Pudding’s kindergarten teacher, who was in the middle of reassuring a new parent that her child (who had some differences of their own, but not like Pudding’s) was in the right place.

I couldn’t agree more.

The drive home was just about the complete opposite- I practically flew.  What was I even thinking on the ride out there?  Of course this isn’t easy, but she is where she belongs, and when we move again, we’ll start up a whole new village.

Here or there, it doesn’t matter.  We are always right where we need to be.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

First Grade

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First Grade

 

First day of First Grade, complete with social story in her hand.  First day for Pudding, at least- the rest of her classmates started last Wednesday, but we were still quarantined after the operation.  Though I’m anxious to know how her day went, I know she is in good hands.  Her new teacher emailed me to say she’d not only read my last post, she’d pinned it to her wall.

“We are all different and we all learn differently.”

Amen to that.  I’m glad Pudding is back where she belongs.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Feeling Included

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So today was finally the day.  My nerves have been wracking for weeks as I faced up to the challenge of public speaking.  I’d been asked to participate in a conference on international inclusion, and as much as my instincts have me running away from such opportunities, I decided to follow the example my girl sets me every single day: I got out of my comfort zone.

The conference had started yesterday, but Pudding was down with what turned out to be a double ear infection, so she took priority.  Spectrummy Daddy took today off work instead so I could still do my bit.  I got talking to the lady at the table next to me, a principal of an international school.  Before long she revealed that her daughter is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and now doing really well- not just in college, but spending a year abroad in Paris.  I felt that feeling of connection that we spectrum parents always feel when we meet.  We’re never alone.

Part of the day the conference participants were divided up into groups to see learning support in action, but I wasn’t placed in  group, so I did the “mummy tour” of just the bits that were relevant to Pudding’s education.  I got to check out “Pudding’s office” which is also known as the sensory room.  There I learned how Pudding manages her sensory needs in school (just the same as at home, really) and the awesome Ms. B reiterated how much she loved working with Pudding.

I had a bit of free time, so I sat near Pudding’s classmates as they ate lunch.  The teaching assistant for Pudding’s class was there, and we’d recently discussed how she was hoping to continue as the teaching partner in her classroom next year.  Not only that, but she was fighting with a few other teaching partners who also had their eye on working with Pudding next year!  How far we have come, from schools that wouldn’t admit her and teachers who couldn’t work with her, to a place where she is accepted and loved for who she is.

Next I moved to Pudding’s classroom, where her teacher presented a slideshow of videos about Pudding and how our inclusion project is working out.  The video ended with one of Pudding’s classmates sagely noting that “she learns from us.”  It kind of sums up inclusion in a sentence.  What this little girl hasn’t realized yet, though, is that she is also learning from Pudding.

One of my favourite parts of the day was the student panel.   A group of middle and high school students talked about their experiences of inclusion: the diversity here included South African children on scholarships, as well as those receiving learning support.  These students were incredibly articulate, and could detail the many benefits they received from an inclusive education.  It was a showcase of all that is great about the school, and fascinating to me considering that not long ago some of these kids wouldn’t have even been admitted to the school.

And then it was my turn.  I’d love to say that I conquered my nerves, but that isn’t the way these things work.  I did, however, acknowledge those nerves- it is just part of who I am, and as I neared the end of my presentation, I found that the shakiness in my voice had almost disappeared.  I talked about our experiences- both positive and negative- with special education, I talked about how this school had initially rejected Pudding for pre-K, our conditional acceptance into Kindergarten, and the incredible successes we have enjoyed ever since.

Everyone at the conference responded really positively to what I had to say.  The director of the school hadn’t known that we were initially rejected from his school, and wished to speak to me privately.  He reiterated that the school was developing and learning how to really build a community.  International schools can only really do that when they’re allowing all of us to be part of that community.

It was time to leave, but not before more I met with more educators and faculty members who told me that our story further resonated because they too were parents of children with learning differences.  We are all connected, in some intangible way by our experiences.  Here in South Africa they call it Ubuntu:  a philosophy that can be summed up by ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’  I think these international schools are going to be whole lot better because of who we all are.  And including us- as parents to speak at conferences, and as children to be educated- is going to make them the best that they can be.

The Next Chapter

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After our first trip to Pudding’s new school, we looked through the book her teacher had made, and talked about them a little.  We were going to return on Monday, so this time I learned from my mistakes.  I was more specific about what would happen.  Instead of going to see the new school, teachers, playground and friends, I told her we would be going back to play on the playground at the new school with the new friends, and her teachers would be there too.

I don’t think it was just the choice of words, but at least she knew what was expected of her this time.  While everything is still new, it wasn’t so overwhelming this time.  Instead of parking in the huge car park and walking through the rest of the campus, I parked around the back, so we only had to walk around the elementary part of the school.

Pudding showed none of her reticence this time.  She skipped up to her teacher when she saw her, and took her hand to accompany her to meet some of the children in the classroom.  Cubby, recovering from illness, had come along too, so he and I busied ourselves on the playground.

It was some time before they returned.  Pudding had been playing.  She’d immediately taken up with another little girl in pink, and told her that they matched!  She ran out with a few other children and they all piled on to the playground.

I caught her teacher’s eye, who smiled back.  After the other children left, Pudding moved on to drawing, then we went for a look around her new classroom.  Pudding discovered another place to draw, and in no time at all had made herself quite at home.  I wasn’t sure she was going to want to leave.

She’s going to be fine,” said her teacher, and I honestly think that she will.

I think we all will.  She belongs here, with teachers who see a child’s strengths as well as weaknesses.  And who know that calming a parent goes a long way to easing anxiety in children.  We’ll be coming again next week for a final familiarization session.  This time we’re both looking forward to it, and the start of the next chapter in Pudding’s education.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

Plan A

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So what I didn’t tell you about the times Pudding got rejected here and here, is that they were supposed to be our Plan B.  Our safety schools.  Our not-quite-ideal-but-we’ll-fall-back-on-it schools.  That is why it was even more ridiculous that she was refused, or that these places didn’t even want to consider accommodations or supports.

Let me tell you, if Plan B doesn’t work out, you really start to despair about Plan A.  So what is Plan A?  Well, let me first explain about where Pudding currently goes to school.  Pudding is in a preschool/early intervention centre for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a few other special needs kids who weren’t welcome anywhere else.

This school is intimate, supportive, and caring, but it isn’t currently equipped to educate children through kindergarten and beyond.  It offers speech, occupational and physical therapies on site, so Pudding’s curriculum builds on what she is working on during her individual sessions, and as a bonus- I don’t have to trail around to get Pudding the intensive therapy she needs.  She has a good relationship with her teachers and therapists, and they genuinely care about Pudding and her future.  A future as bright as she is.

What her current program doesn’t offer, however, is time spent in a mainstream classroom with other typically developing children.  For a socially-motivated child like Pudding, it is even more difficult to begin to learn and understand social interaction from other children who hold the same challenges.

We’ve found a school which previously rejected us (on paper) but with new admissions staff, and a leadership promoting a more inclusive community, we were asked to come back.  Pudding went along for an informal school-readiness assessment, which went well.  A team then went out to her current school to observe her in the classroom and talk further with her current teacher and therapists.

Yesterday we returned to create what is probably the most individualized education plan to never be called an IEP. Pudding will spend her mornings in the new kindergarten class, then return in the afternoons to her current school to continue with the therapies and extra support that she needs.

We’ll gradually introduce Pudding to her new school and classmates with a series of outings to the new school, together with photographic social stories to prepare her for the coming changes.  We’ve discussed a couple of times we can meet to adjust or tweak the program to ensure all Pudding’s needs are met.

The new teacher already has experience with children on the spectrum, but requested any books or materials I thought might help her to better understand and support Pudding.  The school has also asked if we would meet with the other parents before the start of term to answer any questions they might have about Pudding and her learning differences.  They even suggested I write an article for the school newsletter explaining some of the ways we support Pudding’s strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which an inclusive classroom is beneficial for all children.

In short, they are doing everything they can to help this to work.  They are doing everything I expected to see- but didn’t- in the Plan B schools (remedial schools that are supposed to support learners with additional needs).

As with trying anything new, we won’t know for sure if it will work out for us.  But I feel strongly that this is what Pudding needs come the start of the school year.  In the meantime, we’ll be working on Plan C.  There is, after all,  a whole alphabet to go through. 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

A Father’s Anger (guest post by Spectrummy Daddy)

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I haven’t written about this, because I’ve been too hurt, too indignant, but most of all just too weary.  Spectrummy Daddy, however, has settled on angry, and he’ll tell you why.  Please note that LLG (lovely little girl) is another pseudonym for Pudding….

Recently, we’ve tried to find a school that will take Lovely Little Girl.  It can be difficult, but there are numerous remedial schools that have fine reputations here in Johannesburg who aim to mainstream their students.  That’s what we’re looking for, a place that will take her, and help move her to a normal school.  It’s one of the problems we have: Schools won’t take her because she’s only been involved in Autism centered programs, but she can’t get in to a school to give her the chance.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So when we got an appointment with one of these remedial schools and they said they’d take her on a trial for 3 days, I was excited but also a little scared.  3 days isn’t long for someone who isn’t on the spectrum to get acquainted with new surroundings.  Heck, I take at least a week, and I’m purportedly neurotypical.  Still, it was a chance to get going and maybe have her ready for a new school next year.  We didn’t prepare her as well as we should have, but sometimes it is better to have her at her worst to make sure the school knows what they’re getting.  Usually, though, in a new environment LLG is a bit timid at the beginning.  I was hoping she would steal the hearts of the teachers and they would say how excited they were to have her coming the next year.

It wasn’t to be.  They had her for 3 days (actually 2 1/2) and called afterwards to tell us that they couldn’t provide for her, and we should try an autism only school.  Never mind that everyone that has ever had my lovely daughter in a class or therapy tells us that she is a prime example of a child that would blossom with mainstream schooling.  Never mind that you really can’t tell anything from 2 1/2 days of school observation.  Never mind that they used words that showed they were fixated on her being on the autism spectrum.  No, they couldn’t help her.

You know what?  If they truly didn’t have the ability to help my daughter, then I would be ok with that.  I’m not going to force them to take her when it wouldn’t be beneficial to do so.  I have her needs to look out for as well.  What really steams me is that it appears that they didn’t even try.  2 1/2 days doesn’t tell you anything about my lovely daughter.  They said she went on “elopement” during her first day to go and jump on the trampoline.  That’s a particularly “autistic” phrase.  My question is: Did you tell her it wasn’t time to jump on the trampoline, or did you leave her out there to continue jumping?  Did you lay out the rules for jumping on the trampoline?  How many kindergarten children, seeing a trampoline at school, would not go and try to jump on it?  But, because my daughter has autism you assume that she just does her own thing and can’t be told to come join the circle?  REALLY?!?!?

Also, the fact that it was only 2 1/2 days.  That’s all they gave her.  She doesn’t come out of her shell until at least day 3, and even then it’s only a little bit.  New school environment, new teachers, what little kid wouldn’t be a little off.  Heck, I remember crying for my mother when I went to Kindergarten, and she worked in the same school!  (I was a bit of a wuss.)

The worst part is, my daughter loved it there.  She talked about her new school, and cried when we took her back to the school we have her in.  That’s what upsets me the most.  That my wife and I had to tell her that she couldn’t go back to the new school, because it wasn’t to be.  I’ve promised myself that no one will ever tell Lovely Little Girl that she can’t do something because of her autism.  If she wants to be a writer, painter, philosopher, activist or even a mother, no one can tell her no.  She will do what she wants to do, all they need to do is give her a chance.  This school effectively said she couldn’t handle the work they do there, and that we need to lower our expectations.

My response is that my daughter probably would have gotten bored at their school because she is probably smarter than the teachers, and we need to find a place to help stimulate her mind to reach its full potential.  While she needs work on some things (like not poking someone in the chest who wears a Hello Kitty shirt as a way of greeting) in others she’s fine.  Heck, I can’t do lenticular puzzles, but she does them in less than 10 minutes.  She’s already figured out how to use skeleton keys and how to get things from locked rooms without getting caught.  My trouble is making sure she uses her powers for good and not evil.

We’ll find a school to take care of her.  I know we will.  But this lack of trying by a school whose job it is to help those who need help the most still bothers me.  Hopefully I’ll get over it, and one day maybe LLG will use this as the starting point from her speech she gives when she graduates from University at the top of her class.  Even if she never reaches that point, I’ll still always believe she can.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Echo Echolalia

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Pudding has a new script as we drive in the car.  She looks out of the window at the buildings.  When she sees a house, she repeats:

That’s a house, and you remember this house.

And then we pass another house, and she’ll say it again:

That’s a house, and you remember this house.

Every time we pass a house.  Every time.  Sometimes we pass buildings that aren’t houses, and she demands to know what they are.  It doesn’t matter if I’m driving in rush hour traffic with idiots on their phones who don’t look when they change lanes (calm down, Spectrummy Mummy); if we pass a building and she doesn’t know what it is, that must be rectified.  Luckily she has that awesome memory on her, and a near GPS-like mapping skill, so once she has been told it is a hotel, or a mall, and then checked on the veracity of that a subsequent time, she is cool.

That’s a house, and you remember this house.  That’s a house.  That’s a house.  That’s a hotel.  That’s a coffee shop.

As I imagine it, she is talking through adding it to her mental map.  Then each time, checking that map hasn’t changed, and adding a little more.  It is pretty cool that she finds ways to make her world more ordered, so I don’t get too irritated by it, even though we spent a lot of time working on my motor skills.

Until Cubby does it too.

At first he would just immediately repeat everything she said, to Pudding’s great delight.

That’s a house.  (That’s a house).  That’s a house, and you remember this house.  (That’s a house and you remember this house).

The two of them were greatly amused by this game of Driving Mama Crazy.  But then Cubby started doing it when Pudding wasn’t around too.  Using the exact same words as his sister.  Echolalia of echolalia.  I can generally distract him, but left to his own devices, he repeats the script at length throughout the journey.  He repeats at other times too, but not consistently.

Does he have echolalia?  Does his brain work in the same tape recorder way?  Cubby has advanced language skills for his age, but he doesn’t always use his words socially or flexibly.  Does echolalia fill a gap when he doesn’t have the skills to communicate effectively?  At times echolalia seems to perform the same function as it does for Pudding.

Or is is something else?  Is echolalia normal to him because that is what he has heard all his life from his big sister?  Is it reinforced by her laughter and encouragement?  If Pudding was no longer echolaic, would it die away with him too?

All these things pass through my mind whenever we’re in the car together.  Is history repeating itself, or is is just my boy repeating my girl’s words?  Echo echolalia.  And can I tell myself that he is merely copying all those spectrummy behaviors that we see in him now?  She spins in circles, flaps her hands, and has meltdowns, so why shouldn’t he?  But what about the spinning wheels, his difficulty with transitions, the way he gets overwhelmed when there are more than a couple of kids around?  These are things that Pudding doesn’t do.  It is so hard to tell what actions are *his* and what are a result of being a younger sibling in our home.

Certainly this afternoon I’ll be thinking about these things some more, as I drive my grey-area kid to his IEP eligibility meeting.  And yes, it is crazy that we’re going through this Incredibly Enervating Process again weeks before we move to another continent.  But if we’re going to have a repetition of what happened last time we moved, I’m going to be prepared for it.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 9, 2011 at 7:23 am

House of Cards

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You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Kenny Rogers, The Gambler, United Artists, 1978

I’d woken up to an email with the news that a school we’d wanted for Pudding had declined her admission. Really it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’d sent them all her reports and evaluations, and I’d been very explicit about her needs. I’d made sure they’d seen the worst of her.  Wherever she ends up going to school, they have to be able to accommodate her at her very worst. Even if most of the time she performs well, I need to have the confidence that she can be supported at all times, or I just can’t let her go.  I can’t.  The preschool was part of a regular international school, it would have been a stretch for them, and for Pudding too.

I’d thought they’d get to see her at her best, but they won’t get a chance now.  They folded.  Their loss.

I’d let myself hope that with an aide, and outside therapies, it could work. I’d let myself hope for inclusion, and much needed socialization with typically developing peers.  Her friends and classmates would be other families like us.

But more than that.

I’d pictured a scenario where she went to the local international school on the bus, rather than driving several miles day in, day out, to a special school.  Not only would she be like the other kids, but I’d get to be like the other parents.  I’d be able to consider returning to work.  I imagined a life with two incomes, less money stresses, being able to provide for both kids’ needs.  I don’t know when this started to matter, but somehow I’d stacked up a house of cards, and it had to come crashing down.  My loss.

The rest of my day was busy, but my mind didn’t wander far from the email.  I returned home from Pudding’s occupational therapy, and set back to work on my quest for the elusive perfect school.  We have options, and some of them are very good, but they aren’t very convenient.  And they won’t involve an inclusive setting.  Her loss?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

It would have been a gamble, to see if she could handle it.  We weren’t trying it because she was ready, because it was time.  My gamble, not hers.  My high-roller could have come out winning, but she could just have easily gone bust.  I was playing my hand, not hers.  It is for the best.  The stakes were too high.

Now we are dealt another hand.  I don’t know if there is a pit boss, but I do know the house always wins.  Whichever school is lucky enough to get my girl will hit the jackpot.  And as for socialization with typical peers, I’ll find some aces to stash up my sleeve.

These cards we have been dealt aren’t so bad.  We needed a shuffle, to learn how to play properly.  Every hand can be a winner.  I have to believe that.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 10, 2011 at 11:52 am

B is for bee

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Bee of Halictus genus, possible Halictus scabiosae

Image via Wikipedia

Here is a dilemma for you: when trying to teach new experiences, do you use the strengths to your advantage, or put in extra effort to mitigate the weaknesses?

I know you, smart reader, you’d say it would depend on what you were trying to teach.  See, I know you now.  Okay.  Pudding will be 4 in December.  At this age, she is not expected to be able to read.  The “average child” (does anybody know one?) is expected to know the alphabet, know that letters make sounds, and letters together make words. She can do all of that, albeit in her own way (I think one day Pudding will record a cover version of Sinatra’s “My Way“- that is how she lives).

Pudding has an advantage with some pre-reading skills, I believe due to her autism.  Some call these “splinter skills” but I hate that term as it doesn’t recognize them for the superpowers I know them to be.  Instead, I call them spectrummy skills.  She has an amazing memory, and she is a visual learner, finding it easy to see patterns.  As a result, without trying, she has learned a few words just by seeing them often.  Words like her name, “hot”, “up”, “stop”, you get the idea.  One method for learning how to read is by using “Dolch” words, also known as sight words.  The idea being that the child would memorize a set of the most frequently occurring words in the English language, enabling him or her to read by rote.

One of the sensory difficulties that Pudding has is dysfunction with auditory processing.  As far as we can tell, her brain doesn’t seem to filter out extraneous sounds, and all the background noise that I can filter out comes at her all at once.  Her defense against this assault is to tune out.  This is why I frequently fail to get her attention just by using my voice, and sometimes I have to touch her to make her listen.  When sounds do reach her ear, they seem to be garbled.  Her brain has to decode the strange sounds and turn them into words, which is why it takes her some time to respond, especially in a noisy environment.  That is why I implore you to give Pudding and others like her ample time to process your words.

Many children learn to read by associating sounds with letters, and groups of  letters, and putting them together.  C-a-t spells cat.  Here Pudding is at a distinct disadvantage.  So many of the sounds are so similar to her ear that a phonic approach is problematic.  This is how the majority of children learn to read in schools though.  A thorough understanding of phonics enables a child to read several words they’ve never encountered before, incrementally raising their vocabulary every time they read a new book.

So here is the thing.  Do I opt for the sight word approach which will come more naturally to her, or do I begin the phonics approach, because I know it will be more difficult, and require more practice?  Do I work with her strengths, or against her weaknesses?  I’m thinking of this, because the following is a conversation she and I had this morning:

Pudding: What letter does bed start with?

Me: You tell me, what letter does bed start with?

Pudding: “B” is for bed!

Me: That’s right.  Now, can you tell me what sound a “B” makes?

Pudding: buzz

Yeah, you got me there, kid.  You do it your way.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 23, 2010 at 5:00 am

Back to school

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Pudding is back to school!  As usual the bittersweet feeling for me, the house is always quieter without her around, but life is definitely easier for me when school makes up part of her day.  She was as happy as can be to go, just needing a couple of extra cuddles to see her through the day.  This is definitely going to be our easiest back-to-school transition.  We haven’t moved, she will be attending the same school, in the same class, with the same teacher.  A couple of the older kids have moved up to Kindergarten, but other than that her friends are the same.  It isn’t hard for her this time, nor for me.  I know she will have a good time, I know she is in safe hands, and I trust her teacher to let me know if this isn’t the case.  It is a thousand times easier waving her off today than the first time I put her on the school bus.

Cubby was mad not to be going on the school bus, and I think a little sad not having his partner in crime here, but he enjoys having me all to himself.  But not for long, I have so much to catch up on that I couldn’t do with both of them around.  I have appointments to make, housework to do, people to call.  I’d better get to it…

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 7, 2010 at 9:38 am