Thursday, September 30, 2010

Well, that could have gone better...

Oh, Miss O. How we torture you so.

I finally got Olivia to Peninsula School to check out Ms. Emily's EI class. And may I start by saying that it was lovely. It really was. The afternoon is a small class full of lovely children and wonderful teachers, in a light-filled room. Anyone in North or NE PDX looking for an EI program should check it out.

That being said, Olivia hated every second of it.

Yes, I know. Not only did she have a busy morning with social skills class and running her brother around, but then when she was begging and pleading to go home, I haul her off to check out the afternoon Peninsula EI class. So it didn't bode well. She was miserable from the beginning, but then it was made worse when she saw a little girl in the class having a hard time of it. She was a sweet little girl, but more severely effected Autism and would every few minutes let out a loud cry. And it shattered what little tolerance Olivia had with the new class. Olivia stood in the doorway, silently shaking and crying, overwhelmed with anxiety, until I conceded to the realization that it was just not working.

And yes, I know that we need to give it another try, and we will. But watching this class, and then watching the Kindergarten class at Alameda today getting ready to take their class pictures, I am suddenly convinced that she is just not going to be ready for K next year.

Kids run. Kids yell. Kids cry and go crazy and then have to be herded into nice neat rows by the teachers. And O just can't do it. She is still overwhelmed by unfamiliar kids and stressed when she hears someone crying or yelling. When Isaac would have a panic attack, he would lash out and run away. When O does it, she hides in a corner and sobs.

But I have a plan. Yes, I am voting for holding O back one year. It came up briefly once in conversation with my husband, and was dismissed, so I will petition again as the school year progresses.

I think O needs to stay in her sweet quiet Preschool for a year, working on her social skills and developing friendships. She is only really interested in other kids recently. Then, in the fall, I will enroll her in a public preschool, maybe even Alameda Preschool, with typical peers. K-test run. Then, Kindergarten.

What are the advantages? She is tiny. She has much younger classmates much larger than her (yes, I am thinking of you Tessa and Daschel). We need to work on her social piece and her anxiety issues (starting to see a Developmental Psych, next month).


(can you hear the crickets chirping?)

Ok. One. I was going to go back to work. Yes, pretty Princess Kristin and her nasty Anthropologie Addiction and desire to build the addition to the house needs at some point to add more than just charm and personality to the household (now, stop laughing. I KNOW who you are).

What to do, what to do...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Adventures in Kindergarten: Miss E's Story

EI is a nice safe place. Despite our concerns, as we let go of our little ones and let them walk into that classroom without our hovering (well, hovering TOO much, at least), we are safe in the knowledge that they will be cared for, taught, and loved.

And then they send us to Kindergarten.

My memories of K are shockingly warm and fuzzy. It wanders around images of finger painting, nap time, and the kid who ate the glue paste. I was surprised upon entering Isaac's K class and finding that it was very very different. It was very full - 28 kids. It was very academic. It was highly structured. You were expected to sit in your seat, sit in circle time, pay attention and keep your hands to your self.

In short, we were unprepared for it (and so was Isaac).

So you can imagine in this era of mainstreaming and budget cuts, we are anxious to release Olivia into the maw of Public School Kindergarten.

Others precede us, of course. With her permission, our friend T and her beautiful daughter, Miss E are allowing me to talk about their experience as they left Ms. Holly's preschool and entered into K this fall in their local school.

Just a bit of background...

Miss E is a smart little girl who is a bit socially shy but loves her friends and strives to add more. She does have a communication delay but she is outgoing enough to compensate for much of that. And she is used to the small and gentle Edwards class.

T was on top of this transition into mainstream K. She looked at various programs, talked to teachers, talked to advisers, and felt good and comfortable about her final choice for K. With apprehension but confidence, she walked into the K open house. There were two K classes at the school. And as of the first day of school, each class would have 30 kids each.

30 kids. Have you ever walked into a classroom with 30 5 year olds? And at an open house, where you can then add their parents/grandparents into the mix? In T's own words, "We were there at the open house no more than 5 minutes when it became clear that E was becoming agitated and we had to leave. E does not do well in large classrooms! What are they thinking? She has sensory issues!"

There are a few things to note about this first experience. In Miss E's IFSP/IEP, despite her sensory issues, it does not specify that she needs a small class environment. In the defense of the staff at K, they had no idea how many kids in the end would be in the class - many did not enroll until a few days before start of school. Because Miss E did not have that piece in her IEP, an Aide was not immediately assigned to her when the info about class size became known.

In her massive K class, there were two teachers, and Special Ed assistant. It sounds well staffed, I agree. That was not the issue, and is not the only issue for our shy kids. When in the face of 30 jumping, shouting, happy peers in a confined space, what will many of them do? Well, in Isaac's case, it was to push others (literally) away. In O's and maybe E's case, it would be to shut down a bit, always in the shadows, trying to block out the chaos. Neither would provide a happy child learning and making friends.

T did what all of us would do - freaked out. She sent off a barrage of emails to all she could think of about what on earth could be done. The principal petitioned the district for another K class, and everyone held their breath.

And it was granted. E is now in a class of 20 peers, with her teachers, class aide, and the relative calm of 10 less classmates. She seems happy, excited to get there, and having fewer sensory issues then was feared.

But T walked away with a few new tools in her school kit. One was to not think best laid plans were enough. She reviewed the IEP and is making some changes. The IEP is a contract, and everything must be stated and signed off on. Another was to have a back up plan for things that could go wrong, and have all of that stated before the start of class. PPS and MESD will always lean on optimism rather then preparedness.

We watch Miss E and know that at least she and her family are trying their best. One can only hope that PPS can match that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

OGA this Weekend!

For all interested parties, the OGA social group is meeting this Sunday at the new time, 9AM - 11AM. There is a 5$ fee per child, which is so worth it. The OGA staff that helps out volunteer their time, and are great. It is worth checking out.

I am still working on securing the location for an East Side group, but would love to get opinions from people who participate in the OGA group on what they like and what they would want to change for the East Side version. Sorry it is taking so long - had to go through channels and am waiting for permission from someone from Portland Parks and Rec to use either Matt Dishman or East Portland Community Center as a location.

OK, Step Away From the Ledge...

Good friend who has known me far too long (has it been 21 or 22 years?) came in to carefully lead me away from the edge of panic, to calm me down and hand me a chill pill. She also happens to be a Special Ed therapist who specializes in behavior replacement in the classroom, and works closely with ASD kids and para-aides down in Phoenix.

She came in from the side of the para-aides, in respect to their positions within the classroom and responsibilities to the children. Basically, she told me that most likely because Isaac is coming in with such good behaviors and is so high functioning, that they have not assigned a specific aide to him. The shared aides (the ones that seemed more engaged during the meeting), will likely be the ones helping Isaac when needed. The others need to know, of course, which is why they were at the meeting, but they have been assigned to specific kids and are more back-up personnel for him.

Ok. Sure. I get that. And I will come in with a smile and a positive attitude. But I optimism and assumptions are what got us here, and to quote my Kiwi pals, that road was as "rough as guts".

There is a Back to School night tonight at Alameda, and David and I are going so he can see the class and meet the teacher and aides. It is another opportunity to touch base and alter that first impression in a less formal setting. And on Isaac's first day at Alameda, I am stopping at Grand Central and picking up nibbles for the teaching staff in his room. I know, it is an obvious plea for clemency. But in my experience, a display of gratitude to the staff is a good start. Ok. It is a bribe. But even my friend said do it.

Oh, and did I mention Isaac is not starting on the 23rd now? Delayed by a week, so his first day is the 30th. And the reason is a positive one. Two of the kids are being mainstreamed out of the CB class and into the general population. Mr. P doesn't want Isaac to start until after the students have moved on, the class less in flux.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Transition Meeting Part II

It was good, I still have some worries, there were a lot of people, and I was surprised that the aides at Alameda didn't throw more questions out at the Pioneer aides, considering they are taking Isaac on.

Ok. Whew. Got it into one sentence.

It was good:

Because the teacher, the ASD specialist, and the transition team from Pioneer did an amazing job of sharing information and asking questions. We went over what went wrong at Roseway and what went right at Pioneer, and how those things could be avoided/applied at Alameda. We discussed how we would focus on his strengths and help him with his weaknesses. We talked about class structure and learning/teaching styles.

I still have worries:

The class is still finding its stride, and the teacher, his legs. The teacher also expressed one of my earlier concerns, that Isaac might be the most socially advanced kid in the class. We talked about how we can use that to our advantage (Isaac as role model, a role he relishes). Then they started discussing his eventual mainstreaming, and I told them to hold a moment on those thoughts. One transition at a time. Mr. P is still trying to work out his teaching method with kids that range from 1st to 3rd grades, and how Isaac fits in. I understand that all of this is new, and I need to be somewhat flexible.

There were a lot of people:

And I am not sure why. Some seem engaged in our introduction of Isaac into their midst, some seemed irritated that they had to sit there.

The Alameda Aides:

Oh, this is the one. The gut is churning, and I know now to listen to it. I was not impressed. The aides specific to his class did not ask ONE QUESTION. Not one. The aides shared by the two CB classes were great, asked questions, seemed to be part of the discussion. But Mr.P's aides - looked bored. Sounded bored. Were almost unfriendly (save for one). Then half way through the meeting, they got up to leave without saying goodbye. Come on people. You are role models here, molding young minds and behaviors. I understand they had to leave, but what happened to manners? You chose this job, after all. I was recruited, and I still manage.

So am sending an email and asking for another meet up, with the teacher and hopefully at least on of his aides.

Kinda pissed now. Will hold off on emailing until I let the wine breathe some more...

Youth Games, Special Olympics Oregon

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that it never occurred to me to look into an organization like Special Olympics. Blame NPR. There was a story broadcast two year ago about a Special Olympics Athlete who was suddenly considered ineligible because he was ASD, and Autism was not yet on the list of qualifiers. And I agreed - Autism just wasn't a "real" disability". It has been a fun trip on "da Nile", my friends.

When I heard about the Special Olympics Oregon event at Nike on Oct. 2nd, I was curious and took a closer look. Here was what I read under "eligibility":

"Individuals must be at least 8 year old and have been identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions: intellectual disability, a cognitive delay as determined by standardized methods, or a closely related developmental disability."

Well, it certainly sounds like us.

So I signed us up. Isaac turns 8 on Oct. 1st, he likes soccer, and he qualifies. And I am on a kick this year to find and explore all kinds of resources out there.

Attaching a link to the right for the event, if anyone else is curious. If nothing else, it is something different to do, and we get to check out the Nike Campus.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Always a Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Oh, poor little Miss O. Totally forgotten today, as I put together pieces for the transition meeting, worked on Isaac's B-day plans, and called around regarding Social Group venues.

Completely forgot I was supposed to take her to Peninsula to observe the EI program there. Never made it to the park, or the library. Didn't meet up with friends to play. Just let her sit on the couch beside me, surrounded by Charlie & Lola books, eating Ritz crackers, all day long.

Promise to be more of a mom tomorrow. Well, until 3:00pm, when I will drop her off at Sandy's and head over to the meeting.

But still, can't believe that she sat on the couch with me all day long without fussing or freaking, for hours on end. AMAZING!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Transition Meeting

If you have not had an IEP meeting yet, get ready. Your average IFSP meeting is a gathering of pertinent staff, usually the teacher, the OT, the speech path, and then the parents. It is usually a nice enough meeting, generally on little chairs at little tables in the classroom.

In comparison, the IEP meeting can be a complete cluster f*ck.

Sorry. A bit coarse.

So for example, we have from Pioneer one of the teachers, the counselor, the speech path. From Alameda, we have the teacher, one of the para-aides, the head of the special ed at Alameda, the speech path, and the OT. From Columbia regional, we have one ASD specialist, and possibly one more person from MESD. Then the family. And since I am on crack, I am inviting the PPS parent advocate who helped us when we moved Isaac to Pioneer.

I should take a pic. Will have to be a panoramic.

Still, I am feeling good. We visited Mr P's class on Friday, and spent the last half hour of the classes free time in the room. It is a CB academic class, so the students need a lot of support, need social skills work, but are academically at grade level. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but I felt a little apprehensive sitting there in the back of the classroom, watching the kids finish their play and get ready for the end of the school day. Isaac already had his desk marked, so he sat down by Noah and waited for the bell to ring.

Now, I know it was only 30 minutes of observation, at the end of the day on the first week. So all of the impressions are a bit raw. But I noted a few things.

1. Some of the kids seemed to have more severe symptoms, and none were talking and interacting like kids do when in free time. Most were on computers or being redirected by the aides. This in itself is not alarming, but is worth noting.

2. The schedule for the day is pretty clear, and written on the board. It was carefully observed. There was one teacher and 4 aides, and it was obvious that the aides had their focus-child to work on. Some kids seemed more independent.

3. Isaac was seated next to a child described as the "most popular" in the class. In the short time I was there, most kids did not interact, but the class seemed calm and controlled for the most part.

There was only 30 minutes, and I spent a good amount of that time chasing O around. But there was one immediate question that came to mind. Will Isaac be the most socially adept kid in the class? And do I really want that?

Now I need to prep for the meeting, and calm myself a bit. Busy busy busy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eastside Social Skills Play Group

Or, more specifically, the fantasy to start one.
We love OGA and will still go once a month at least, but I am thinking we need one on the East side. I am going to start pecking around and look to see if we can start one.

At OGA, the kids have a blast in a safe and fun environment, but it is more of an opportunity for parents to get together and share. Which is so important. Yet the kids interact less then I would like.

So the focus of the playgroup would be to get the parents and kids together to play, but REALLY play. Tumbling and running, but also put on puppet shows together, work on our board game skills with other kids, even learn the rules of a few playground games. Isaac was petrified when he first encountered the Kindergarten playground all alone. After a week or so, of pretty much wandering around on his own, one of the aides gave him a job - rope turner for a jump rope game. Boom. Loved recess. Then he learned "red light green light", then "what time is it Mrs. Shark".

Now to put it together. Hmm.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting the Girl Ready

Now moving on to Ms. O.

I am looking at this girl, and wondering if there is anyway in hell she could be ready for Kindergarten in one year. She is still having accidents, still refuses to sit still for more than 2 minutes, still has issues holding a pencil/crayon, still won't eat, still prefers the company of adults over kids. Still still still.

The social pieces are starting to fall into place, which I note with relief. She is starting to play with other kids, not be intimidated by large and loud groups of her peers. Her communication is getting better each day.

Some of this can be achieved at home, some at school. Need to talk to EI and the Sunnyside Preschool gang about this.

First Day of Second Grade

Ok. It was a bit anti-climactic. He will be at Pioneer for another week, getting back into the rhythm and allowing his new class to get up and running, beyond the hectic first days. So we schlepped all the way into deep SE (ok, exaggeration), and deposited our newly minted 2nd grader back at his old school.

It is hard to be impatient with everything when he is so happy and proud of himself. On his daily goal sheet, "super job", smiley faces, and stars.

Isaac's IEP, which at time reads like a rap sheet, was sent over this week. I pre-empted that by sending over an Introduction to Isaac, a one sheet commentary on Isaac as a person, not as a special needs kid with a history. I talked about his likes and dislikes, his natural sense of rhythm and pitch, his passion for Yu-Gi-Oh and Harry Potter, and his love of all things pink. This might have been the only thing I got out of the MPAC meeting I went to 4 years ago (and never returned to).

He has been tired the last few days, but otherwise we are back into patterns of the school year. Isaac won't start Alameda until later this month, although we are imposing on the new teacher this Friday to meet face to face and tour the school.

Oh yes, about my last rant. I sent an email out and within a day was getting responses. Most of them reassuring, but also honest. He does have classroom experience, and years and years of working with ASD kids. They think he will be a good fit with Isaac.

Waiting and seeing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Squeaky Wheel

If there is one bit of advice I would give my 2007-self, back at that first IFSP meeting for Isaac, it would be to be as loud to about my concerns as possible.

Back then, I was overwhelmed by the experience and diagnosis, and really relied heavily on the wisdom and experience of the MESD staff (as well as our medical and therapy staff), to guide us through the minefield. David and I took the stance of "Isaac's Team", and included everyone on our squad.

2010-mom would yell at 2007-mom. That little voice in the back of your mind saying something is not quite right, listen to it! Don't just rely on the advice of the specialist and teachers to hope that things go right. Trust yourself!


So here is the most recent update on the Isaac-front. I received a call from Isaac's new teacher, Mr. P. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had finally broke down and made various calls and emails to get a name, and Mr. P wanted to call to say that he had been informed of my quest. He was nice, very open, even enthusiastic. He told us that he was excited about the new year, that he had been at Columbia Regional before, as an Autism Specialist, who was recruited by MESD to teach at Alameda so that they could expand their Special Ed program. He was still getting used to the new school and system, and apologized for not getting in touch with us sooner.

I thanked him, told him that the Pioneer staff would be in touch with him on Tuesday (first day of school, but Isaac will not be at Alameda until some days later). And then sat there with the phone beside me, listening to the ringing of 100 warning bells going on in my head.

Oh shit.

This was, almost to the last detail, an exact copy of the recipe at Roseway Heights. New teacher, from Columbia, ASD specialist, in at the last minute and a bit overwhelmed by the new position in the class. Enthusiastic, well-meaning, cares for the kids and wants their success. It took 6 weeks for that to go to Isaac being in an expulsion hearing and being removed from the school.

So began the argument in my head.

Difference this time? I actually hopped on the computer and emailed everyone on the team to share the battle. And the phone calls will be added once school opens on Tuesday.

Why was Isaac assigned to this teacher, rather than the other class that actually has a teacher with a hell of a lot more classroom experience? If there is a good reason, I am all about that.

Why was the Alameda staff not fully informed that Isaac was coming from Pioneer? How does that information change how the transition is handled?

If we feel as if the classroom is not the right fit for Isaac, what can we do. Can we change classrooms? What are out options?

Not gonna do it this time. Not gonna rely on optimism or good intentions. Squeak squeak squeak.

Not Quite Hitting the Ground Running...

More like stumbling and flailing. Not very gracefully, we are entering the fall term. Just days before the First Day of School, and I have not heard yet from Isaac's new teacher at Alameda, despite phone calls and emails, and O is still school-less.

And am I stressed? Have I fallen head-first into Parental Panic? Hell no. I am eating a grilled cheese sandwich and getting ready to take the kids swimming. Why?

Because I have done what I can for now. If necessary, I will head over to Alameda tomorrow, kids in tow, and tour the school, show up in still student-less classes and try to find out who claims the boy. I will smile, shake hands, make introductions. If PPS really wants to be a brick wall about this, pushing and pushing will only wear me out. So dammit, I am going to enjoy these last few days, and stock up on wine from Trader Joe's in preparation.

3 hours later...

So maybe I am not being that lazy. That is the problem with panic - it attacks. So on the way to swimming, I had an attack. Made a rash of phone calls, and now am in possession of Isaac's info for Alameda. And made an appointment to visit a school for Olivia next week.

Advice to all of the other parents out there? Be a pain in the ass. Be the squeaky wheel. I tried for two years to be the "good parent", and look where it got me? Pioneer. So now I am a massive pain in the ass when I want, and it has been far more effective. It sucks, but what option do I have?

So Isaac's new teacher is Mr. Kroswek. Love that he has male teacher - I hope he is as tough and structured as the tiny little girls teaching Isaac's class at Pioneer. Those chicks could wrestle a bear, even the one 8 months pregnant. I made sure that he was in touch with the Pioneer transition team (he is), and has a copy of Isaac's IEP (will review it first with Pioneer team). The great part of the Pioneer experience is there is no illusion. Trouble got him in, good behavior got him out (OMG, sounds like a prison).

And Olivia is going to visit Peninsula School in North Portland, described by Ms. Holly as a program very similar to the one at Edwards. Will provide update after. Teacher is Emily Cox. What I note from her description of their day, she really encourages independence, which we sorely need.

Whew. Feeling better. Gonna open a beer.