Thursday, April 14, 2011

ASD and Phonics...

Quick note on phonics: I have a sight reader in my 2nd grader. He knows what sound each letter makes, and what sound letter combinations make (such as 'ch' and 'th'). But he is a sight reader, and that is just the way it is. And he is a damn good sight reader by the way.

He is getting better with phonics, but I put it all in perspective. I am a sight reader, and most likely, so are you. Only on occasion do I need to sound out a word (although it came in handy when I was learning a foreign language). Yes, phonics are handy-if-not-essential as a skill. But sight reader or phonics master, they are still going to reach that same goal of reading the damn book. ASD kids just are hardwired differently and need to need to learn their own way and not be pigeonhold by an education system that are obsessed with meeting test score goals. Really, how successful has that been so far for US schools?

Talk to the teacher. Talk to whomever you need to about alternatives. Make sure they understand there are 'neuro-typical', and there are 'neuro-different'. Talk talk talk until they are so sick of your voice, they just agree with you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CB Classrooms in PPS

*This is based on our experience and observation, and may differ from the experience others have had. Please view it in this light.*

There are two types of CB (contained special education) Classrooms off erred by Portland Public Schools. There is the Academic and there is the Functional. They are almost always further separated by age groups, for example a K-2nd grade and a
3rd-5th grade. Some schools offer only one type and only one age group. A few, like Alameda Elementary, offer all types instructed side by side within the greater school. Every school cluster should have a CB program (for example, Alameda for Grant Cluster, Roseway Heights for the Madison Cluster).

YOU ARE NOT RESTRICTED TO THE CB PROGRAM IN YOUR CLUSTER (although you will be given preference there). We started at the Roseway CB program although we are in the Grant Cluster (due to lack of openings at Alameda at that time of year). In our Alameda CB program, there are kids from many different PPS clusters. But it is not easy to get into a program outside our cluster, and there are waiting lists at the better (and yes, there are better), programs. And if you happen to live in a cluster with a preferred program and they try to tell you that you must go outside your cluster due to lack of room in that class, dig in your heels and start to push on how you CAN make that happen. PPS did try to move Isaac from Pioneer to Roseway Heights (yes, even after our previous experience at Roseway), and I was up in arms and we were able to start at Alameda in the fall.

Although Isaac was never supposed to be in a CB functional class, at Roseway Heights he was in one. I was told it was academic, but it was not. What is the difference? Academic is for children who have either a physical or a social/behavioral issue that does not allow them to have success in a typical class environment. Academically, they are supposed to be taught at grade level. Most kids spend some time out of the CB class with their typical peers, with the goal to slowly increase that typical time until the are only attending the CB classes for special services, such as OT or Speech. This is a great transition place for kids that are almost there, but need a bit more support. It is a good time to focus on strenghts and work on weaknesses. But note that some of the kids in that class are not working at grade level. For example, Isaac does 2nd grade math with children who are actually in 5th grade, but struggle. He is also doing some 3rd grade math. So in my observation, it is a fluid thing, and kids are allowed to learn at their own pace without stress or anxiety. The difference is that these kids are also capable of managing themselves in a supported classroom, during group time and APE (adjusted PE, I think).

In the functional CB room, they are still working on the basics. ABC's, numbers, basic reading skills, learning to sit in small groups and follow directions, learning the skills to be independent (use the bathroom, waiting their turn, etc). It is less structured at times, a little more time with independent play, less time with actual academics. Some of these kids will spend time with typical peers, and generally start out with non-academic activities, such as recess, lunch, etc.

Some programs are a melding of all of these. Confused yet? How to tell which one is offered? Ask, but not simple "yes or no" - ask what curriculum is offered, how much time does the average kid spend with their typical peers, how many of the students are learning at grade level.

How to tell which one is best for your child? Or just mainstreaming with some supports is the right choice?

Look at your child. Isaac is my best example, so I will talk about him. He started in typical kindergarten with an aide. The aide was slated to last for only 8weeks to help with the transition. The kindergarten teacher was not receptive to having a special needs child in her classroom. She actually panicked a bit. Not a good sign. Meet the kindie teacher - how open is she/he to having your child in class? Do they ask questions about your child? Ask for suggestions on how to help and motivate your child? What are their experiences with children with different needs? Trust our gut. I didn't, and it was not good. Even with the aide, by Christmas Vacation, it was falling apart. Isaac just could not keep up with his peers. It was causing anxiety. He did get some wonderful things from it - his speech improved, he was able to keep up with math and sight reading, but at one point he was just struggling too much. He had a panic attack and we removed him from the class. It was the constant low-level of anxiety over months (he never said that he hated school or anyone in it) building up and finally, collapse. And it was serious - it took us over a year to recover from it. We lost time in school because of our own need for him to be as typical as possible.

Roseway, and the not-quite-Academic CB program was next. It was ok at first, because he was in recovery mode and learning to handle himself in a classroom again. But after a few months, cracks were beginning to show there too. Some were unrelated to the actual program itself (part of that year-long recovery), but because the class was not academic and the teacher was too inexperienced to understand that Isaac was detaching out of boredom, not inability, the teacher added to his IEP that she thought he might be showing signs of depression (?!?!?), and mild retardation (not her word, but that was what she was suggesting). He was not being challenged, so he spent a lot of time on the computer and looking at books. I am noting this because when we pulled him from Roseway, the home school teacher and then the staff at Pioneer were very confused on why he was assessed as behind and depressed, when he was actually able to work at grade level or better. It was the wrong environment again, and he suffered from it.

So here we are again. Olivia is entering K in the fall. The PPS rep observing her asked what WE saw her doing next year. I immediately took mainstreaming off the table. I am no longer stuck on the glories of mainstreaming in the beginning. I already know she is not as up to speed as her peers, and do not need to make her feel even more so. This PPS rep knows our struggles with Isaac, and so agreed with me. She is starting in the CB class next door to Isaac's for Kindie, with some mainstream time with her typical peers. She will be fully supported as she catches up. And then she will re-take kindergarten fully mainstreamed the following year. This has been proposed by the PPS rep, so will see if it is accepted. Or, if that doesn't look likely to succeed, she will continue in the CB classroom with some mainstreaming time increasing as the year progresses.

We have a saying in my household: It is a marathon, not a race, and we will get there in the end at our own pace and taking our own route. But we will get there.

Our expectations for our kids shifted the day the received their diagnosis. But not our dreams for them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And Now I am Freaking Out About 3rd Grade...

Yep. I have a general rule of Deal With The Now - don't regret the past (too much), don't fret about anything too far out. Oh, and one kid at a time. Otherwise my jesting about copious wine consumption would be less funny, more After School Special.

So just days after meeting with PPS and discussing O's immediate academic future and coming up with a plan for next year, I have moved on to freaking out about 3rd grade. I freak out in the same way, each time, each child. Mainly, horrid dreams, always tired, and incapable of making a decision. So healthy.

It started innocently enough, chatting with a Isaac's classmates Mom about how the friend ended up in Isaac's class (she is a new student, coming in from a school in NW PDX). Maybe not so innocent - it is like comparing war wounds at times. And we are so matter of fact about it. Anway, she said E had done fine being mainstreamed since Kindie, then 3rd grade. Larger classes, different teaching style, different level of class participation. E didn't so much fall behind since the she could finish her homework in no time flat. But she stopped particpating in her classroom. The day would start with her grabbing a book and reading it all day, shutting out everything else. So E started in a contained classroom with Isaac.

So what will this mean for us? I think I had it in my head that Isaac would move to being fully mainstreamed by 4th grade, spending a huge portion of 3rd grade with his typical peers. We definately saw him out of the CB classroom by middleschool. Now, I wonder if that is the best course to take. Now I am beginning to wonder if mainstream, or in our world, MAINSTREAM, is the best course of action. For us and him.

How important is mainstreaming, anyway?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Missing In Action

It has been a few weeks since I even opened up this dashboard to look or write. Things have been crazy, spinning around like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil. And I have been just hanging around in the dust and debris left behind.

To be honest, I am still there, but emerging.

So the shorthand: Olivia's sweet little Sunnyside program is gone, due to just a range of non-school related issues that are none of my business to go into detail on. It was a school run with love and care, but like many small programs, it was subject to the storms of life and LIFE. I am sad, but not surprised.

Olivia has also been on a medical whirl. First it was a nasty virus, then it was chronic hives (virus related), then it was a slew of sensory craziness no doubt due to the above. Then, one silly, typical day, Olivia looked at me and I realized one of her eyes was suddenly, and without obvious reason, crossed. And the sensory maelstrom increased, poor bug. To the point that I am somewhat concerned about some behavior regression while she deals with her blurred world. Now we have glasses, patches, and have an MRI scheduled. And we wait.

So in the midst of all of this wonk-eyed chaos, she turned 5yo, had her first "Friend Party" with two buddies (Princess Tea Party), and has been visited by PPS for her observation regarding placement. I joined some kind of SEPTAP committee (not quite sure what it is I am doing), volunteered to start a newsletter both at Alameda and for SEPTAP, and gained 4 pounds.

Christ on a cracker.

Get back to you soon with more.