Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘inclusion

7

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It was seven years ago, yesterday.  I fell in love with the girl I call Pudding.  In those seven years, she has stretched my heart, and it keeps on growing.  I’m short on time these days, sorry dear Reader.  But I won’t rhapsodize about her any longer.  Instead, I’d like to share with you what came home from school yesterday.

Pudding’s school has the most perfect tradition of paying compliments on birthdays.  Here is what her class had to say about her.  If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.  These guys are first graders (and teachers) in a classroom made extra special by inclusion.  Some written by the kids themselves, others with a little help.

  • You have beautiful eyes and a lovely smile.  You are a smart, friendly and kind hearted girl.  -F
  • You have nice shoes and a nice heart. -J
  • You have nice hair and eyes and you are kind.  -T
  • You have a Nas Wor Heart. -R
  • I like your eays. -N
  • I think your a friendly girl. -C
  • I Like yuor eis. -L
  • I like yuor clods. -C
  • I love evreefeg. -L
  • I love your hrart. -K
  • You are a kind frind. -S
  • You are my Best Best Frend. -C
  • I like your eyes and your brain. -F
  • I like your drawings. -R
  • You are nice and have a kind heart. -I
  • I like the way how you are. -D
  • I love you as a a friend. -R
  • I like the way you draw. -B
  • You have a worm hart. -K
  • You are such a beautiful and kind girl, I love the way you draw, write and sing. -Ms. S.
  • You are a special and kind girl.  I love learning from you.  I love your beautiful smile. -Ms. A

Happy birthday, to my girl.  Thank you for being everything they say about you, and so much more. 

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 5, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Spirit

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Last week was Spirit Week at Pudding’s school.  Each day, the pupils were allowed to dress up according to a certain theme.  I was looking forward to this, because last year Pudding had loved spirit week, and I was sure she would again.  But you probably know by now, dear reader, what happens when I’m certain of something.Image

This first day was pyjama day.  She absolutely was not going to wear her nightgown.  She would get dressed for school.  Alternative pyjamas and nightgowns were presented, but it wasn’t going to happen.  In the end, I dressed her in leggings and a t-shirt (which looked like night clothes) and sent some more options in her bag.

The next day was Topsy Turvy Tuesday (mismatch day) and I helped her to dress “wrong.”  She looked adorable, but it turns out that dressing wrong meant that she felt wrong.  All day long.

After Pudding’s worst two days of the school year, we decided to abandon Spirit Week for this year.

I don’t know why it was easy for her last year, but hard for her now.  I do know that she likes to decide what to wear, and she feels in no way compelled to do something just because everyone else is.  I also know I’m now glad she doesn’t have to wear a school uniform, because if there is one thing this kid isn’t, that would be uniform.

Of course, most kids love these days.  The whole point is to build a sense of solidarity and community.  The students can express themselves and feel like they belong at the same time.  I wonder, as she gets older, will the desire to conform become greater that the need to be her own person.

Pudding’s school means to be truly inclusive.  They don’t just want her to be in the classroom, she needs to fully belong and be part of the class, goals I want for her too.  But sometimes I wonder how much she wants that.

On Friday we had Pudding’s ILP (Individual Learning Plan) meeting.  The year has been going well, but there are some areas causing Pudding problems.  She struggles to pay attention to her math work, she is overwhelmed on unstructured days, and then there is physical education.

Pudding does not like PE.  That was a grand example of an understatement.  PE is impossible for her.  Her body doesn’t cooperate with her brain.  Her muscles tire far quicker than they do for other kids.  These additional challenges merit the addition of Developmental Motor Coordination Disorder diagnosis, in addition to her autism.  She doesn’t understand the rules of games, nor is she intrinsically motivated by playing them.  Not only must she absorb and process the movements, speed, noise, and feel of other kids rushing around her, but she is supposed to get her own body to do these same things, for reasons that are obscure to her.

The solution so far is that Pudding has had one-on-one time for the duration of PE, but this is no longer workable for her teachers who have planning meetings scheduled for the same time.  So parents, teachers, therapist, and principal, we all got together to brainstorm supports and accommodations to help her to take part.  We came up with some ideas to try, because all of us in the room were motivated to make sure she felt like she belongs, and has the school experience that every child is entitled to.

But the first step is always going to be to make sure that Pudding herself is opting in, that she actually wants to belong.  What seems right to us might just be Topsy Turvy to her.  It doesn’t really matter how weak or uncoordinated her body is, her spirit is incredibly strong.  And we celebrate that unique spirit by listening to what it has to tell us, even if it isn’t what we want to hear.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

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

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.

Comfort Zone

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In case you hadn’t dropped by lately, this blog has been pretty quiet this year. For someone who normally has an overabundance of words, I’ve hidden behind pictures.

The day after Christmas, I lost one of my closet friends. Even as I type know I feel a pain that I can’t find the words to describe. Rachael was truly one of the best people I have ever known. I’m mad that she was only in my life for twenty years, but I cherish every moment we shared.

She made a disability advocate of me years before parenting would take me that extra step. The world was a better place for having her in it, and I will miss her for the rest of my life. She would have been 35 tomorrow. In the midst of grieving, we had another sudden death in our Consulate community. I’m once again lost for words, and without my outlet, I find it hard to process all this loss. I can’t make sense of the senseless.

Without writing, I am out of my comfort zone. I turned to the next best thing- my camera, and tried to content myself with viewing life through a lens. But there is always more going on outside of the frame.

In the midst of all this, Pudding has truly found her place. She is reaping the rewards of all the support and effort that goes into teaching a different thinker. My girl is reading! Not just odd words and signs, brand names and adverts. She is reading books, and learning to write her own stories.

My biggest wish for her- that she can narrate her own life story- just took a huge leap forward. She will have words. They will delight her, they will inspire her. They will give her comfort when needed. And she will own them. She will own her story.

Last week I met with the Director of Teaching and Learning at Pudding’s school. She asked me if I would take part in the conference they are holding about inclusion in international schools.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I can’t do public speaking. I express myself best through the written word, I couldn’t even imagine talking in front of that many strangers. This is way out of my comfort zone.

But how can I not? How can I not persuade other international schools embarking on a journey of inclusion that they need to develop programs for children like mine? They need to open up their doors.

They need to get out of their comfort zone, and so do I. I sought permission from my boss, and he went one better- he offered me his support. He reminded me that what might seem like weaknesses can be our biggest strengths.

I don’t mind stepping out of my comfort zone, if it means helping to persude more schools to do the same thing.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Happy Birthday, Pudding!

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Pudding’s birthday was on Tuesday, so we had her party on Sunday at an outdoor venue, so Sunday was the coldest and rainiest summer day I’ve known in Johannesburg.  Her friends still came, and they frolicked in the mud, but we were missing the bouncy castle and water slide action we’d been hoping for.

Of course, her actual birthday was typically gorgeous and sunny, and we celebrated that indoors in two different classrooms.

The first stop was Pudding’s kindergarten.  I’d found a book for Pudding’s birthday that had a female character with the same name.  Given that all female characters become Pudding, I knew she’d love it. The story was sweet and tied in with some themes they’d already done at school.  I was looking forward to reading it.

But before that, they performed the sweetest ceremony.  They sat in a circle with Pudding in the middle in her birthday hat.  The each child took it in turns to pay her a compliment.  I just about melted, as I listened to boys and girls only 5 or 6 themselves tell Pudding she had beautiful eyes, or they liked the way she made them laugh, or wears HelloKitty clothes all the time.  I think all of us could use a compliments circle from time to time.

After story time we ate Hello Kitty cupcakes.  Then I watched Pudding watch the other kids dance, get coaxed into a dance by her teacher, then decide to dance along with the other kids.  If that doesn’t sum up inclusion in the classroom, I don’t know what does!

Next I collected Cubby from school, and the three of us went to Pudding’s therapy centre to celebrate there, with yet more Hello Kitty cupcakes and lollipops for the GFCF crowd.  I loved handing out sweet stuff for free for little ones who normally have to work for it in therapy.

We were never going to let the weather ruin her birthday, but I hope it treats us better next year.  After all, it will be the last one for her in South Africa.  I find that even harder to believe than the fact my baby is already six years old!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 7, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Her Way

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We had our first parent-teacher feedback session since Pudding started Kindergarten.  When we’d first sat down, educators and parents at a large conference table, this was the time we’d earmarked to evaluate our experiment.  Because even though inclusion is commonplace in the US, what we are doing with Pudding is something different here.

So when we’d originally hashed out our plan, this was to have been the day we’d decide if it was working or not.  And if not, it would have meant removing Pudding from this school, and placing her back in a more restrictive environment.

But we knew it was working.  We knew without even seeing her work showing her progress.  We knew from her enthusiasm for school.  We knew from the care and dedication of her teachers that she was in the right place.

Pudding’s teacher told us (as we know) that there are days when she is bright, sharp, and switched on.  And also (as we know) that there are days when she can’t focus at all.  It is hard for a teacher to evaluate- is that progress?

Progress is hard to define in kids like mine.  Tests and measurements rarely show her potential, just her level of interest in being tested at that time.

Pudding started the school year by opting herself out of class most of the time.  She would start a group activity, then go to work one-on-one with the learning support teacher.  She was saying when she’d had enough.  She was advocating for herself by saying, in her own way, that she was overwhelmed.  And then as the weeks have gone on, she is choosing more often to be part of the group activities.  Inclusion, but her way.  I couldn’t be more proud.

And then there are the tangible ways that inclusion is helping.  Her teacher told me that, working in a group of three, Pudding had paid close attention to what her two friends were doing.  She’d coloured and cut out shapes just like her friends.  Not because she was told to.  Not because doing things the same way is right or rewarded.  Because she wanted to.  Inclusion, but on her way.

There were anecdotes galore about the ways Pudding interacted with her school friends, educators and environment that were just so her.  I could write a post for each of them, and maybe I will when I carve out some time.

But for now, I just want to show you this:

This is how we know she is making progress.  We know that where she is happy and comfortable, she will learn.    We know that once she was turned away, and now she is a poster child for inclusion.  The possibility of her leaving wasn’t even mentioned.  We know that she is where she is meant to be.  Now, that is progress.

Pudding’s teacher thinks so too, here is an email she kindly allowed me to share (possibly because I bribed her with french goodies)…

Dear Spectrummy Mummy and Daddy,

As I had a cup of tea and a macaroon, (thank you so much, they were delicious!) I reflected on my day of conferences.  It occurred to me that my conference with you felt a little different from the others.  Was it because I had seen 11 sets of parents before you and felt a little weary or was it because I felt more like a mini celebration?  I think it’s the latter.  Our last meeting together was when we put all our plans in place last school year.  I think we were all a little unsure of how this year would turn out for Pudding and it had a slightly sombre tone.

Today, 3 months down, I felt such a sense of relief when you walked in and looked happy.  I have felt intuitively that  Pudding was doing well and making progress.  It is so hard to do all the formal assessments with her that I do with other children and that hard data is so easy to report to parents.  Often the way I teach Pudding has to come more from a gut feel than from a book or program and as soon as I think I have her figured out and think something will work, she does the exact opposite.

All I know is that Pudding is learning, that she is happy and that she is loved at school.

Yes, she is.  And all because she did it her way.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

November 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm