Regular Ed Teachers: Top 5 Ways to Keep Special Needs Parents Off Your Back

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My home phone rang the other day right before my kids got home from school.

For those of you who do not know what I mean by “home phone”, its that thing that plugs into a wall and has the # symbol that cannot hashtag anything. When the home phone rings, I typically keep doing whatever I am doing unless I am feeling a bit of whimsy to torment . The only other time it rings is when someone at the school does not know to call my cell–which often then strikes fear in my heart. So I picked up.

“Mrs. ATeam?”

Gulp.

It was A1’s new science teacher calling to say,  “First of all….let me tell you I think he is hilarious. He made this cartoon strip ….”

He then went on to disclose all the other things drenched in awesomeness while I was waiting for the “Second of all….” part. That part never came.

He called me to tell me I had a cool kid. And that was it.

I am already too experienced with the school system to be naive. That same morning I had to send an email to kindly remind another teacher to carefully review A1’s IEP and Health Plan as there were some important things not being followed. Coincidence to hear from the science teacher the same day? Probably not. I am guessing he may have just been reminded that he had a kid in his 4th period class who has an IEP and a Health Plan. Maybe not, but as I suggested being doe-eyed does not work as well with crows feet.

Unfortunately, what struck me most about this amazing phone call is that in the 3 years that my younger child has been in public school–my very speech impaired child–I have never ONCE received a phone call from a regular ed teacher just to tell me about his day in their class. There are two things you need to know:

1.   He tries to tell me about his day. Every day. And without context, we cannot understand what he is trying to tell us.

2.   I have ASKED for this type of communication from regular ed. Over and over. Every year. In front of other people. To almost no avail.

So, regular education teachers, this advice is completely free of charge. The key to keeping us special ed parents at bay.

1. CONTACT US FIRST: Before school even starts, call to introduce yourself and ask about our kid. Give us your contact information. Assure us you are the extra eyes and ears for a kid who has no voice.

2. DON’T ASSUME THE INTERVENTION SPECIALIST IS JUST TELLING US EVERYTHING. My kid has a whole 30-60 minutes a day of direct intervention specialist time required in his IEP in our high-end-award-winning-district. My severely learning disabled child with a severe speech disorder. The paraprofessionals who are with him most of the day are not permitted to communicate with me directly due to their classified employee status. We often get second hand info from our IS that sounds something like “had a great time in music class learning new songs” likely because that is all SHE gets told. The small tidbits we do get…well, that’s ALL we get to know. The nuances are never there for us. We don’t get to hear if they are making a new friend, if someone hurt their feelings, or if they liked something they learned about. And those things are definitely happening in my child’s world. No matter how hard he may try to share those things with me, if I have no context, I will not know at all what he is telling me let alone what questions to ask. The paras also are not allowed to attend IEP meetings even at my request. Were you aware of any of that? A2’s Intervention Specialist has 10 kids who can’t tell their parents anything about their day.

She is ALL of their voices….and she is trying very hard to be all knowing by being the 3rd party communicator. But why?

This is a team approach. While you do have 25 kids in your room, if they are lucky and have parents who actually ask them about their day, their kids can tell them. You have so much you can tell us and I guarantee all of us want to know.

3. INVITE US IN: To volunteer, to be a fly on the wall, to talk about our kids to your class. Did you know that neither you nor any of his other caregivers during the day are allowed to divulge any information regarding our child’s diagnoses to the other children due to HIPAA**?  And there are SO many questions from children aren’t there? If you have an inclusive classroom, the information a parent can provide the children can be invaluable to the inclusive environment. Offer to include the IS to help that parent if they express interest but are uncomfortable.

**IMPORTANT DISTINCTION:  FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) any information that is directory information is ok to give out.  So If a parent is asking for another child’s last name or to get in touch with another family, that is not confidential information if the family did not opt out of directory information.  You just can’t tell us the child is on an IEP or anything regarding diagnosis.

4. RECOGNIZE WE UNDERSTAND YOU ARE BUSY: We are not to have a “gotcha” moment. I cannot imagine being a teacher right now. Huge classloads, jobs dependent upon test scores that are dependent on more than just your ability, differentiated instruction, outliers flying under the radar, helicopter parents, uninvolved parents. A 10 minute phone call once a month to tell us something we wouldn’t know without your call us huge for us. If you do that once a month without fail you will likely rarely hear from us. But your principal will almost definitely hear from us. To hear how awesome you are.

5. INCLUSION AND INTEGRATION ARE DIFFERENT: This doesn’t mean let a special ed kid also have a desk and have peers help him hang up his backpack (though we recognize the value in that too). I mean if you take a picture of our kids to put on a bulletin board, make sure it is a good one like everyone else. If you are reading to the class and you ask a question the other kids can answer, figure out a way to ask a question that could include our kids’ ability to answer. While you have kids who can fall through the cracks, ours have absolutely no way to mountain climb out of those crevices without you. I am sure like us you don’t want them just to be a warm body at another desk. Ask their IS for strategies–that is why they are there.

BONUS #6 also at no charge: THE MOST DIFFICULT PARENTS ARE LIKELY YOUR BIGGEST ALLIES: Yep. We are the wave makers, the getter-doners. We figure out what you want and need and we try to get it for you especially if it will benefit our kids. Sometimes you don’t even need to tell us what that is. We figure it out. Assume nothing regarding our motivations.

For those of you who went into regular education vs. special education–those days are long gone. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of your Intervention Specialists. Much like us parents of kids with special needs…we started out in the exact same place as all the other parents in your room. Maybe even as you did too as a parent. Our journey veered off years ago but the desire to get to know the same thing we would have if everything turned out as expected has not.

At The End Of The Day….

I was in a research study recently involving blogging, deciding upon content, deciding upon platform, media, etc. It truly was an interesting experience–I guess no one ever directly asked me to tell my story in such a way before. While they interviewed over a dozen already, many of which where “mom bloggers”, I was the only one interviewed who addressed experiences as a family living with disability.

Their takeaway they volunteered to share with me? Their experience with other parent bloggers did not include the same judicious protection of content/overcontemplation of concern regarding the forms of dignity I discussed, nor did it involve the level of scrutiny that dug as deep as our level can go. And yes, they do blame their kids for tough days or recognize the universal struggles in a laughable or relatable way and are rewarded for that relatablity on social media. No one else struggled in that balance the way we do.

In our world, there is a fine line which moves it’s position depending on who you are talking to. We have a job as family caregivers of disability to be relatable advocates who set the bar for how we and our kids are perceived by the rest of the world. And unfortunately, I do believe it can be at the expense of self care or which ultimately affects they way we cope within our family systems for the benefit of our charge. We are held to a much higher standard out there in cyberworld under much more challenging circumstances than other parents. I forgot about this piece I wrote a few years ago, but it was on a day I had a similar epiphany at the end of a long, hot summer. Sometimes, I want to say funny things about being a mom too. And yep…sometimes I am selfish.

Running through Water

bunny hillThere are some days that my heart breaks selfishly a bit.

Days like today.

As A2 gets older there really are no more play dates. While kids are generally kind, there are limits to their patience. It’s hard to figure out how to play with another kid who wants to stand at the bottom of the water slide flapping rather than going down. His peers are now preteens and the adults that are close by interpreting for him, ensuring safety and cuing socially reciprocal behavior are going to inhibit his peers age appropriate wing stretching.

Today, as I sat entering in my second hour in direct sun making sure my guy didn’t keep going past the “do not pass” sign at the base of the water slide, I couldn’t help but notice the world around us. I had nothing else to do but try to clear my mind of things…

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Autism and A Gun By Any Other Name

I vowed to share this every time there was a mass shooting. But since writing this article, there have been over 800.

Not 800 people. 800 instances of someone taking a gun somewhere and there were 4 or more casualties.

My child can’t process what he knows, fears or even experiences with me without any nuance. This creates a different level of parental paranoia over his safety in which to be judged. He will never, ever, ever be the “good guy with a gun”–the only argument–and a wildly circular one at that, about how to fix this problem.
None of this is ok for any of us. Autism or not.

Running through Water

img_4970My brother and I were sitting on the couch chatting about politics last winter when I showed him a segment from the Daily Show.  It was a humor bit about calling a Wyoming elementary school to find out if they had a gun in the event of grizzlies. There was a laugh track and a brief photo of a gun, so it was odd to me when A2 gasped loudly, stood up from the couch waving his hands and both tearfully and fearfully begging, “No gun!  No! Shoot, no!”

We are not hunters nor are we gun enthusiasts and neither are my friends. As far as I know, A2 has never seen a gun in person or on TV, given 100% of his viewing includes Barney, The Wiggles and NBA.  He has never heard a gun shot. Neither he nor his brother ever pretended things were guns.  He has…

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Yes, My Disabled Child Has Chores

Many years ago, one of our first home providers was working with another family who had an older teenager. The provider and the client were only a couple years apart in age. (Don’t worry, -the provider maintained confidentiality the whole time!).

One day, I asked what kinds of things she did in her job with the client, to which she answered,

“Mostly, I help her do chores. There. Are. So. Many.

Given A2 was only about 4 years old at the time, I was simply curious about what life at home with a teenager with a disability would look like without actually considering what life with MY kid as a teenager would look like. We didn’t know our own long and winding road at that point, of course my child would have chores! Didn’t the provider have chores? (As it turns out, possibly not, since knowing far more teenagers now that my kids are teenagers themselves–this parenting philosophy I have might be a bit of a new millennial enigma.)

What happens if a teenager doesn’t have tons of independent leisure skills and has difficulty with self-direction? Do we still teach them how to play with toys? No. If they have not enjoyed this activity as a younger child, then probably not.

Do we leave them alone to wander the house with their iPad? Well…yeah…admittedly sometimes. Especially if they enjoy doing that.

Do we plan on living forever to take care of ALL their needs? Yes, yes we do, but until we figure out an actual way to do that, that is not an option.

The most basic of basic skills must be taught to A2 in an explicit manner. He learns all sorts of things, just like everyone else, but at a snails pace. By not teaching him how to care for his surroundings and belongings, I would be stealing from his adulthood to bank roll a leisurely adolescence. Those processes start NOW so he has a chance for a modicum of independence, the ability to have options and choices and self-determination as an adult. Learning to fold a washcloth may take a typical child 20 minutes to learn and an hour to master. The same washcloth skill might take a year to learn and 3 years to master. Really.

At 14 years old, he is in his evening of the day–the last leg of time being on his side before he is an adult.

A schedule that includes daily expectations gives A2 a sense of peace because he understands how his time will be filled. This summer, with a skeleton crew of help, Momma has been on the case to level up on these skills, scaffold independence and watch him enjoy and take pride in these “activities”. He verbally perseverates less. He comes to me beaming and says things like “Wook! Do it all by yourself!” as he surprises me with a made bed or silverware put in the proper drawers. He is generally, well….happier with chores.

Chores a narrative of dignity and self determination.

Caring for our surroundings gives us a sense of control, a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility and yes, ultimately a sense of community. If he has to do his chores just like everyone else in the house (ok…maybe not just like everyone else…he actually does his much better many times than his brother!!), I am sending him the message, “You matter as much as your brother and are an equal member of this family” and I am showing his brother equity and fairness by saying, “We are all capable of contributing in the ways we can to this household–A2 is no different”.

I am not a mean mom (most of the time). I like to think of myself as the same kind of mom who makes her sick kid take icky medicine when he doesn’t want to, knowing it will make him feel much better. Not giving the medication makes me feel better because it is easier and I don’t have to see him cry. At least in the moment.

Chores are a pain in the butt. I DEFINITELY have chores I will still whine through, procrastinate doing or forgo altogether. While being an extremely Type A personality and capable of high levels of organization, I am also extremely messy and it happens FAST! I do remember how this unfortunate dichotomy affected college room mates, though at the time, I absolutely did not see the impact. I had to learn that the hard way.

One of my current chores is digging up the patience and consistency to make sure I am teaching A2 how to put his plate in the sink, start his laundry, or wipe down the counter. These tasks are the insurance plan for a future that probably will not include me. As scary as that is to consider, I certainly hope one day it is because he looks at me and in the most apraxic adult way possible says,

“Mom, I don’t want to live with you and Dad anymore. Don’t worry, I have already cleaned up my room and packed my suitcase.”

Autism Acceptance Month 2019: C is for Community, Comradery and Common Ground

Autism Acceptance Month 2019: C is for Community, Comradery and Common Ground

These words resonate for my own beautiful boy. My own beautiful family. I am an accidental blogger. There are many reasons I am out here….none of which have come to fruition (yet). A morphing book for a few years and when people ask, they are surprised to learn it has nothing to do with me or my child directly. I kept learning how I should be out there to those who would be interested in the content.

But, you see, this is still all very weird to me.

I didn’t want to write on social media because the dissent and judgement within and among communities…the ones I believed were the same, were awful. It seemed to me everyone has ill intention, everyone is ignorant. I have enough drama, thank you very much. Why would I invite more? By not writing at all meant not sharing it, which meant self care.

I didn’t want to write because even in my personal life, very few people get to know my details. Talking and sharing vs. relating and sharing are different. People tend to fade to black in a cinematically predictable way when sometimes those things are just way bigger than one can make them look while out and about buying the groceries and weed killer. Those melodramas occupy enough space, thank you very much. Why would I drag people into that when we maintain so well over here? By not writing at all meant protecting thoughts and ideas which are uncomfortable or inconvenient to others. Ultimately for me too since disappointment tends to hit me like a wrecking ball.

In the end, regardless of where we know each other or how, I am fairly certain, we are looking for the same end result. By not writing, I did not have to debate this.

Having perspective is a little like breathing. We all do it and at the pace comfortable for living to the best of our ability. That breath adapts to our situation even when it changes. Sometimes it is even vastly different than our original irrefutable pace. When I walk up the steps to my room at home, I find myself stopping and catching my breath 3 or 4 steps before the top when just 4 years ago I could perform literal circus tricks in a hot yoga studio.
And while my Lululemon tush wouldn’t have said it out loud, it may have not really understood what it meant to need rest before reaching the top of a staircase, because it never had to before. I may have had recommendations on the misguided beliefs about why it meandered its way up at that speed in the first place. And I might have been wrong-ish, but a vague foundation of knowing why. It didn’t completely make me wrong any more than it also didn’t make me wrong for now knowing I now need to rest for a moment on the banister.

The love for our children. The love for ourselves and the life it seems we thought they should live with us. The love for ourselves as individuals doing the best we can and trying to find others who might say the same. We all want the same thing and it seems to always be based in love and dignity and preservation. Even when from a different angle, that does not appear to be the case.

Before deciding how someone else’s world is not just wrong and different, but destructive, I implore you to stop on the 3rd or 4th step up on the way to your room to take a breath first and then decide how to describe how to better take that breath.

It is easy to say this perspective is not about privilege when we have the option of discussing it in the first place. It is easy to say it is not about privilege when we are groundskeepers and spectators of those we are discussing. If we have love in our hearts, perhaps the common ground in our community is to say we are trying to champion and triumph the same fights. And knowing that is when I decided perhaps I should write.

Allergies and Autism and Sensory Overload, Oh My! How to Make Halloween Inclusive

halloween
The Grim Reaper takes a break to ensure his safety while the ill-prepared firefighter keeps his distance just in case

(originally posted 10/2015)

A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents the goal was for all children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change a cookie decorating idea which did not meet these basic criteria.

Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are!”

In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her this still excluded a fifth of the class and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified as one of those children was mine.

Another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable cookie project.

Halloween has become the holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent with kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members.

Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever

1. FOOD ALLERGIES:

a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy with your child to teach his what is ok to eat. Have the “SWITCH WITCH” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS:  If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available. If you are planning a class party, ASK about allergens—be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation—that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old where everyone gets to eat really cool looking cupcakes except for you. If that were easy to do, none of us would ever be on a diet. The willpower of a child with a food allergy is like nothing most of us can ever understand.

2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES

a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Your child might be in for a “jump scare” that will end his evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials. Have him choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for Pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!

3. AUTISM

a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating. Stick to familiar neighbors homes and buddy up with a child who can model. Sometimes “just a hat” IS a costume with enough thinking on the fly.

Freddie Krueger
Freddy Krueger as a child…before all the drama. He just wanted to feed everyone cereal and soup.

b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!

The anticipation of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent, I find myself still caught up in creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Harry Potters who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes with full sized candy bars.

Those of us who try to make our kids feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids and Halloween is no different.  With the help of our community, little tweaks can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.

#autism, #halloweenparties, #halloween, #sensoryprocessingdisorder, #PTO, #specialeducation, #community, #inclusion #dignity #parenting #foodallergies #celiacdisease #specialneeds

Moving Forward on Parental Instinct for Your Child with Special Needs

I posted this 5-Minutes-In-The-Water video about parental instinct on my social media pages back in May.  It is time to talk about it again as a teaser to introduce you all to something new we will be doing with A2, since it looks like it really, really is going to happen.

A2 on paper looks very cognitively, socially and intellectually impaired. A2 in person, looks like the prom king. He is adorable, social, friendly and seems to understand ways of the world which elude the rest of us.
My ultimate goal is for him to be happy, as independent as he can be and to rise to his highest potential to be a contributing citizen. Just like most people want for their child regardless of circumstance, right?
The thing is, he has to be able to learn. He can sit still long enough to learn. He is compliant and yet his learning is minimal, basic and cannot seem to transcend across settings, losing learning over time. If something is being reinforced at school, it is unlikely I will see him do it at home. Such is the nature of his apraxia and autism.
Yet I never had the sense that meant he couldn’t learn.
It just meant we were not teaching him in a meaningful way. We weren’t tracking where he learned the best and how (except for once circumstance…and it literally became the thing he could do well everywhere!).  I found it odd that I had to convey the concept of generalization across settings. It was interpreted, “He can do it with Mrs. X in the resource room, gym and speech room”. My point was that if he couldn’t do these things at home or in the community, it didn’t matter.
It would be like saying I was fluent in Japanese, but only when I was in my kitchen and only when my one neighbor came over. Would it matter if I couldn’t speak it in any other circumstance?
However, last school year, the behavior support person in my school district spoke a bit about a ‘newer’ program called PEAK Relational Training System. She described what I had been trying to convey for years about how I think A2 learns and how to track this through cumulative data collection across multiple settings. I hopped a plane to the west coast and got trained for a Level 1 certification.
Being I have been the only consistent “team member” in A2’s entire life, case managing ALL OF THE THINGS educational, therapeutic, medical, religious and social…coordinating consistency, training, communicating across all settings.  And like everything else, I can go figure out the best thing in the world, but unless I have a dedicated and well trained home team, have education professionals who are critically thinking , while also making them believe I need to play a tighter role and having that happen ALL AT THE SAME TIME, well, it is like waiting for a Super Moon on a Leap Year before the Jubilee.
So I spend most of the time doing a very, very crappy job for my child, or at least feeling that way because I cannot do any of this if even one element is missing. Sometimes that element is me–thus my hypervigilence in learning whatever I can to help. What I don’t know, I don’t know, and I am the physical consistency for him.
And here we are.
All the elements are in place, at least for the moment.  He has been assessed and we discussed preliminary plans. Watching the behavior person’s eyes light and hearing her espouse the same mantras about A2’s ability with the right programming along with her sense of urgency to get moving has sparked a motivation I had forgotten when it comes to parental instinct. So, I move forward with cautious optimism. Stay tuned…..