Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘School

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. 

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

Sensory to Supernatural

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About a month ago, I went to see Cubby’s teacher for his report.  Now, Cubby is 4 and only in preschool, and I’m not really sure we should be doing reports, but this is the way of the school, so we do.  Actually, it is a good time to catch up with the teacher and address any concerns.  Cubby gets speech and OT during school hours, and the therapists send me weekly reports, and on the whole he is doing well.

On the whole he is doing well at school too.  He has a couple of areas of brilliance, and a couple of areas of all-too-familiar struggles.  For the most part, there was nothing new.  This teacher likes Cubby and handles his eccentricities and active imagination very well.  Only one thing she said actually surprised me: he wasn’t participating in music class.

Cubby loves music.  He is musical.  Even in his sleep he makes harmonic noises.  He loves to sing, and he can identify all the popular songs that come on the radio.  When I told him my friend had written the music for one of the songs we heard on the radio, he became convinced that all music was made by our family and friends.  He doesn’t always let me sing, but he certainly enjoys to do so himself.  My dad plays guitar in a band, and Cubby tells me he will be a rock star too.  He struts and dances like a Jagger-Mercury hybrid, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

But telling me he won’t participate in music class?  That surprises me.  Cubby being quiet?  Surprises me even more.

I wondered if he just didn’t like the choice of rhymes.  If the teacher played Maroon 5, Fun or (eek) Bon Jovi, she’d surely see another side to him.

Or would she?

Cubby was singing at the dinner table some South African song I wasn’t familiar with, and I guessed he’d heard it at school.  I asked him why he didn’t sing in music class, and his response shouldn’t have come as a surprise to a seasoned spectrummy mummy.  He loves hearing himself sing, but the other kids sing “different.”  I guess some of his classmates-like me- sing different notes (okay, off-key), and he just can’t stand it.  He told me he really didn’t like music class, and didn’t want to go any more.

We had a little chat about how problems have solutions, and if something is hard for him, he can always tell us so we can look for ways to make it better.

I suggested he wear his blue head ‘cones’ to protect his ears, and he was so enthused with this idea that he was wearing them the next morning before even setting off for school.  I emailed the OT for her suggestions (that would be another round of Therapeutic Listening) and pulled them from his head to tuck in his backpack.

And then came the next problem: without the protection he could hear ghosts, vampires and zombies.  But problems have solutions, I just need to shift the battle from sensory to supernatural.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm

10 Things

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!0 ThingsPudding is about to start first grade in her mainstream school.  She is returning after completing kindergarten, so many things will remain the same, but there are new challenges for her to face.  Most importantly, a new teacher.  She asked me to tell her about Pudding, so here I will try…

1. She is always trying her best

Always.  It may not seem like it.  Especially at 3 am, it can be hard to see it, but she is aways trying her best.  She isn’t lazy, or naughty, or clumsy.  She makes every effort.  Praise her efforts.  Rejoice in her successes.  Never punish her if the results don’t match her peers.  She is trying her best.  Always.

2. Make her comfortable

Sometimes you can’t tell she is trying her best, because she is trying to get comfortable.  Getting comfortable for her could be a lot different for her than it is for you and I.  Comfort needs to be on her terms, and you might have to try a few things out before you both figure that out.  Does she need to be away from the bright light coming in from the windows?  Does she need to be seated close so it is easier for her to hear you amongst the classroom noise?  Is somebody doing garden work with loud equipment?  Does she need to get up and move?  Perhaps a stint in the sensory room.  Try and make sure her every sense is satisfied, and you’ll have a much more comfortable learner.  You’ll even find she tolerates more if you allow her to be in control.

3. Ease her anxiety

This one is easier said than done, I know.  Let her be your guide.  We’ve read the social story all through the break, and she is familiar with the school, but there will be changes to her routine that take her out of her comfort zone.  She knows when she has had enough.  Respect that, and know that if she trusts you, that is already half the battle won.  When she gains confidence, she is bold and resilient.  If she is pushed into doing something, she is scared and stubborn.  Let her be your guide, and she will push herself harder than you could imagine.

4. Speak her language

There are no shortcuts here, I can’t really give you a phrasebook in Pudding.  Communication will be a struggle until you figure out the idiosyncrasies of her language.  You’ll get to know her quirks.  She may reply ‘no’ if you ask if she is okay, and ‘yes’ if you ask if she is fine.  If she is struggling to process something verbally, try a different way.  Always respect her no.

5. Listen to your own language

What you say in the heat of the moment will echo in her heart.  I’m working right now on assuring her that her writing isn’t ‘ugly’ and that she isn’t ‘clumsy.’  Thoughtless expressions like this resonate with her.  She’ll repeat them to me, but worse than that, she’ll repeat them to herself for even longer.  Let your lasting testimony be words that build her up, rather than knock her down.

6. Give her time

I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Remember that she is taking in a lot of other information at the same time as your words, and these need to be decoded before she can respond.  Give her a few extra seconds to process a question or verbal command.  Better still, provide visual cues to assist her interpretation.  If she doesn’t seem to pick something up, try another approach until you get the right one.  You will.

7. Presume competence

Believe in her, and she’ll show you how right you are.  Do otherwise, and you’re both doomed to failure.

8. Help her to belong

She is an amazing, fascinating, beautiful, kind, brave, multi-faceted little girl.  She wants nothing more than to belong in her classroom.  Help other classmates to understand her value, and interact with her in a positive way.  Not just for Pudding’s sake, but for their own too.  Sooner or later, all of us will feel that we don’t belong.  Teach them that everybody does.

9. Embrace the special interests

Yes, you’re going to have to learn to love Hello Kitty.  Special interests can be a weapon or a tool, depending on your approach.  See Hello Kitty as a way of cutting through other distractions and helping her to focus.  You can count the Hello Kitties, write stories about them, paint pictures…the list goes on and on.

10. We’re here

We aren’t going to tell you how to teach, but we can tell you how to help her learn.  The most important thing is that the two of you develop your own relationship, and you learn from each other.  Trust me, I’m still learning from my girl, and I’m constantly amazed at all she has to teach us.

Happy learning!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 15, 2013 at 8:38 am

Worried

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I’m not worried.

Pudding is coming up to the last month of Kindergarten.  She has been supported, praised, held and loved.  And now it is time for her to move up to first grade. 

I’m not worried.

She has made friends, in her own way, and those kids have accepted her and liked her.  Perhaps some will stay in the same class with her.  Maybe she’ll make new friends.  I’m not worried.

Her current teacher is arranging for us to meet the next one.  She will prepare social stories and prep Pudding , and maybe even the new teacher, as best she can.  I wonder if she is worried.  I’m not.

Just as we’re looking at the next step with Pudding, our eyes are also a little further on the horizon.  It isn’t just next year we have to plan for, in the same school, but our next move.  Our next country.  Maybe even a whole new continent. 

And still, I’m not worried.

Because I know she can do it.  I’ve seen her, time and time again rise up to new challenges, and develop resilience, confidence, and the skills she needs to succeed.  I know now, I know, that with time, supports, and preparation, she is equal to anything.

I think I knew it even before we moved to Johannesburg- this was just testing our hypothesis.  Being prepared to run other experiments if we didn’t succeed the first time.  Knowing that there is always another way…we just had to find the best way, for her.  And we did.

And we will again.

I’m not worried. 

I’m grateful.

I’m experienced.

I’m prepared.

I’m ready.  Just like my girl.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

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

Wordless Wednesday 21 Nov 12

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My little parrot in his end of school year concert!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

November 21, 2012 at 6:36 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

I Know

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Pudding was off school last week.  She doesn’t like being off school.  In fact, she loves being AT school, which is pretty awesome most of the time.

But not so awesome last week when she wasn’t there.  She is very anxious that we are going to stop her going to school, so she doesn’t trust that  break will only be temporary.

She wanted to see her friends, and her teachers, and seemed to be under the impression that the more she asked about them, the faster time would pass.  Which is weird, because it seemed to work the opposite for me.

“You’ll go back to school on Monday,” went my litany.  Over and over I said it.  I didn’t even think abotu what I was saying, I just repeated myself over and over.  My own echolalia.

What you might think I’d have made certain of….what any sensible or rational person would do….and absolutely what every spectrummy mummy must do is, you know, have her facts straight.

Yep.

I know.

So, still thinking that it was Back to School Day, we went through the motions of getting ready.  And even though she didn’t want to get dressed, she would, because it was for school.  And even though she didn’t want to stop playing with her brother (I know!), she would, because it was for school.

We even went outside early so there was absolutely, positively no chance of missing that school bus.  What did it matter that I hadn’t dried my hair, put on make-up or retrieved that contact lens that had slipped behind my eyeball.  There’d be loads of time after I got her on the bus.

“I want to go to school.” She reminded me after 5 minutes.

“I know.”

I really did.  The bus wasn’t technically late yet.  No need to panic.  I don’t know where the other kids are who normally get on the bus.

I want to go on the bus.”

“I know.”

Ten minutes turned into fifteen, and it was definitely time to panic.  I needed to get back inside to check, but I was a coward.  I tried suggesting that she went to the bathroom.

“No.  I want to go to school.  Only to school.”

I know.

Finally Spectrummy Daddy comes out, having checked and found that school doesn’t go back until Wednesday.  He’ll take Cubby, I’ll take Pudding to her therapy centre.  I’m already late for work, but I know that if I don’t explain things to Pudding, it will be worse.

I know.

But I’m a coward.  I run upstairs where it is already too late to fix that hair or find that contact lens or well, forget about make-up.

So Spectrummy Daddy tells her for me.  But, you know, she accepts it.  There is no meltdown.  No tears.  No refusing to go to the therapy centre.  All the things I knew would happen just…didn’t.

So I was wrong about school, and I was wrong about Pudding’s reaction.  I might think that I know her, but I’m just starting to see what she is about…and I can’t wait to know the rest.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Wordless Wednesday 22 Aug 12

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I have Hello Kitty at home. This might be the world’s biggest understatement.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 22, 2012 at 6:33 am