Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A2 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.
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.
I am fortunate to live near a Big 10 university and know some pretty progressive professors who let me come in to their classes every year and speak freely as an expert.
Why is that so progressive?
Well, for starters,they are not tapping into my professional expertise as a clinical social worker, advocate or behavioral therapist, but rather into my expertise as a parent of a child with a life long disability.
Also, in both my undergraduate and graduate studies in helping professions, not once did we talk about disability perspective or experience from the direct report of the person or caregiver dealing with what we were learning.
As the years go by and awareness grows, those of us who both work in the field of developmental disabilities and who also live in it has grown exponentially.
Have 14 extra minutes? Here is the TEDx Talk I gave a few years ago about the experience of living and working “in the field”.
I am always honored and humbled to speak to our future social workers, nurses, allied health professionals, teachers and physicians. As raw as it might be, I lean into authenticity even when it means I share my political leanings, mostly because those leanings have turned into shovings because my baby’s future is at stake all the time. He needs more than me and a bunch of warrior moms. We need front line people to understand and advocate too. My end goal in about an hour and half to impart all of the things books won’t tell them. What it is like to deal with broken systems, where I have gone to understand how those systems work and the qualities of professionals who have had the most impact in our lives.
I do not have all the answers, the knowledge or perspective. I only have my own.
After almost 16 years of parenthood and about 30 years of social services experience, I have compiled some resources from my personal helping library. My experience both personally and professionally have led me to seek out some pretty specific things. Here are some tips to keep in mind when attempting to gain an inside perspective or personal narrative in the world of resources:
Is there any research behind a method? If not, are they pretty clear about that?
Does the resource have any input from someone with a disability/caregiver?
Does the “helping” resource ensure the individual’s dignity while still helpful?
Does the resource claim to be the only or best way to do something?
Is the writer hypervigilent in any way? Are they constructive in their observations? Do they demonize or humiliate anyone while trying to educate? If they are negative, are they clear it is coming based on their own personal experience? Do they recognize any shortcomings?
**I have not been asked nor have I been compensated for adding any of these resources to this list. I am also not endorsing one resource over another
**This list is not exhaustive! Feel free to contact me with some of your favorites. I am always looking to add to my collection
WHAT ITS LIKE (Autism related)
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015) by Steve Silberman
The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults(2015) By Temple Grandin
Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter(2009) By Robert Rummel-Hudson (Schuyler is not autistic, but has apraxia of speech)
Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism(2012) By Arthur and Carly Fleischmann
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism(2016) By Naioki Higashida
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice From the Silence of Autism (2017) By Naioki Higashida
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s (2008) By John Elder Robison
Ketchup is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up with Autism (2015) By Liane Kupferberg Carter and Susan Senator
Thinking in Pictures (1995) By Temple Grandin
The Way I See It (2008) By Temple Grandin
Born On A Blue Day (2006) By Daniel Tammet
The Horse Boy (2009) By Rupert Isaacson
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kinds on the Spectrum(2013)
Aching Joy (2018) By Jason Hague
What We Love Most About Life: Answers from 150 Children Across the Autism Spectrum (2016) Complied by Chris Bonnello
This Is Asperger’s Syndrome (1999) By Brenda Smith Myles and Elisa Gagnon
What About Me? A Book By and For an Autism Sibling (2017) By Brennan and Mandy Farmer Illustrated by Emily Neff
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction(1998) By Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun (2003)
Disconnected Kids (2009) By Robert Melillo
Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder(2006) By Lucy Jane Miller
Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues(2005) By Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske
Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System (2015) By Kelly Mahler
Food Chaining (2007) By Cheri Fraker, Mark Fishbein, Sibyl Cox, Laura Walbert
The Incredible 5 Point Scale (2003) By Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis
Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Manage Anxiety (2004) By Tony Attwood
The Explosive Child (2001) By Ross W. Greene
From Chaos To Calm ( 2001) By Janet E. Heininger and Sharon Weiss
Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage and Meltdowns (2005)By Brenda Myles, Jack Southwick
Zones of Regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and Emotional Control (2011) By Leah Kuypers
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook For Kids(2009) By Lawrence E. Shapiro and Robin Sprague
ADDRESSING SOCIAL DIFFERENCES
Thinking About You Thinking About Me: Teaching Perspective Taking and Social Thinking to Persons with Social Cognitive Learning Challanges, 2nd ed. (2007) Michelle Garcia Winner
The New Social Story Book2000 by Carol Gray
The Hidden Curriculum: For Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations for Adolescents and Young Adults(2013) by Brenda Smith Myles, Melissa L. Trautman, Ronda Schelvan
Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioing Autism and Related Disorders (2002) by Jeanette McAfee
Skillstreaming the Elementary School Child: New Strategies and Perspectives for Teaching Prosocial Skills (1997) By Ellen McGuinnis and Arnold Goldstein
ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) :Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals (1996) Edited By Catherine Maurice, Gina Green and Stephen Luce
PEAK Relational Training System (2014-2018) By Mark Dixon
Bringing ABA to Home, School and Play (2012) By Pam Leach
VBA (Verbal Behavior Approach):The Verbal Behavior Appoach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders (2007) By Mary Lynch Barbera
Floortime Approach/Greenspan Approach: The Child with Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth(1998) By Stanley Greenspan, Serena Wieder
The Challenging Child: Understanding, Raising and Enjoying the Five “Difficult” Types of Children (1995) By Stanley Greenspan
Addressing the Challenging Behavior of CHildren with HIgh Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers and Parents (2002) By RebeccaMoyes
How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism of Asperger’s(2010) By Jennifer McIlwee Myers
Taking Care of Myself: A Healthy Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism (2003) By Mary Wrobel
The Sixth Sense II (2002) By Carol Gray
Simple Strategies That Work:Helpful Hints for Educators (2006) By Brenda Smith Myles, Diane Adreon and Dena Gitlitz
ADDRESSING EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING
Late, Lost and Unprepared (2008) By Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel
Taking Charge of ADHD (2005) By Russell Barkley
The ADHD Book of Lists (2003) By Sandra Rief
How to Reach and Teach ADD/ADHD Children (1995) By Sandra Rief
You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! (1993) By Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo
Driven To Distraction(1994) By Edward Hallowell and John Ratey
Organizing the Disorganized Child (2009) By Martin Kutscher and Marcella Moran
Ordinary Families, Special Children: A Systems Approach to Childhood Disability 3rd Ed (2007) By Milton Seligman and Rosalyn Benjamin Darling
From Emotions to Advocacy 14th Ed (2011) By Pete and Pam Wright
All About IEPs: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About IEPs (2011) By Peter Wright
The Complete Guide to Autism Healthcare (2017) By Anita Lesko
Ethics for Behavior Analysts (2011) By Jon Bailey and Mary Burch
The Five Things We Cannot Change (2005) By David Richo
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1981) By Roger Fisher and William Ury
The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Ever Need (2003) By Peter B. Stark and Jane Flaherty
YOU TUBE CHANNELS
Admittedly, this is a newer realm for me! Contact me to add resources
I get asked often what I think caused my child’s Autism. I believe it is completely counterproductive to even consider it until such a time that there is solid evidence. They are here now. I love my kids fiercely. Our struggles would be the same whether or not we knew the ‘why’ part.
Infection in mother during pregnancy, vaccine accidents, overweight in mother during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, inadequate iodine, diagnostic ultrasounds, prenatal stress, advanced paternal age at time of conception, pesticides both before and after gestation…I’ve read those all. And they all have the same message: “Dad….Mom (but more likely Mom)…you did something…IT’S YOUR FAULT.” These theories are also part of what drives the Neurodiversity movement. That is, that individual differences and biological diversity are a normal and natural part of evolution and Autism is no different, so it is not something to be treated. Behavioral disruption is misunderstood communication and all the comorbid conditions such as GI/bowel issues, intellectual impairments, mental health issues are just that. Something not related directly to Autism (a whole other can of worms within our community….).
Regardless of your belief system…there is only one thing we know for absolutely certain: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT CAUSES AUTISM.
To demonize parents who make decisions you would not necessarily make is also counterproductive.
As parents we have an instinct to protect our children. When a parent watches the baby she knows slip away into a world of of silence or pain in front of her very eyes and no one can tell her why or really what to do..well….just take a moment to let that sink in regardless of your parenting/political/medical stance. I don’t have to agree, I just have to have empathy.
Here is what we do know. There is a genetic component to Autism and it is likely paired with an environmental trigger. Just like Type 2 Diabetes. You can’t develop this unless you have the genes. You make it far less likely to get it if you get your butt up off the couch, exercise regularly and do not eat like a regular American.
We just are not 100% certain what that common genetic component or the environmental one in Autism. I am not going to even pretend to know anything about genetics. The best I can do is tell you:
Picture a city with 20,000 streets.
Now lets figure out which streets have public mailboxes, one way traffic, standard poodles and single mothers living on them.
Only some people who travel down those streets buy mandarin oranges (not regular naval) and we need to find those people.
(But what about the naval orange buying people!? Those are a lot like mandarins!)
That is what it is like trying to figure out the common genetic factor and environmental trigger together. When I had a discussion about this with a pediatrician 12 years ago she said to me: “Autism is caused by a genetics. Period. To consider anything else is ridiculous.”
I sat for a moment and thought about that. I then I wondered out loud, “Can you tell me another genetic epidemic in history that unfolded like Autism?” Crickets. I’m a pretty moderate parent…however it is no wonder that many parents are suspect of the medical system with that kind of definitive statement when the bottom line is WE DON’T KNOW.
Does it mean my husband and I have Autism? No, not necessarily…but who knows? If we do carry that genetic material and we combined it….we no more caused the autism than we “caused” their big gorgeous brown eyes or fact that they may need to wear glasses one day. Their eyes could have almost just as easily been blue instead all things considered. And if environment did play a role and all the Fruity Pebbles I ate during pregnancy kicked those genes into overdrive as the environmental trigger, there is not a damn thing I can do about that now.
I have never felt the “shame of blame”…and I don’t think any parent should.
We are wired to procreate and continue population. We can just hope that this kind of information will one day find the link that allows children who suffer in silence or physical or emotional pain to grow to be independent and happy…just like all parents want their kids to do.
In the most typical of situations sibling issues exist. For sibs of those with significant impairment, these kids are often the invisible bystanders. Their issues and needs sometimes take backseat to the immediacy and reality of their sibling with Autism needs. We ask them to deal with leaving fun events earlier than they would like, let embarrassing situations roll off their backs and stifle disappointment. The rate of having more than one child with neuro diversity is high. Sometimes, the less impaired child is asked to cope and step up in ways that would challenge even the most typical and mature of children.
All behavior serves one of 4 functions. To gain attention, to escape a situation, to gain access to something (usually tangible) or a response to an internal stimuli such as hunger, illness or exhaustion. Seriously. Just 4 reasons anyone does anything. Think about it…you won’t come up with a 5th..I have tried. Of course, if it were that simple we would all live in harmony. However, there are some times it gets tricky. For instance, when a behavior is triggered by something internal, it can be incredibly difficult to identify. So if a child with autism likes to clap his hands near his ears is it because he likes the sound? Or is it because he likes how his hands feel when he claps them together? Or is it because it creates a little wind near his face which he likes? To make matters even more…
There is a large manila envelope still sealed sitting on my desk. No matter how much I stare at it, it doesn’t:
1. Spontaneously burst into flames
3. Take care of itself.
It does not contain a subpoena, a warrant for my arrest or an eminent domain letter. It was not delivered certified mail or by official messenger. It was hand delivered by my 6th grader because the teacher very graciously contacted me ahead of time to ask me how I would like the prior written notice papers from the last IEP meeting delivered so I could sign and return them in a timely manner to the school. It has been sitting and judging me silently for over three months now as it sits untouched. I am reduced to a Pavlovian dog, except my bell is an envelope and my saliva is anxiety. A crippling-can’t-get-any-thing-else-done anxiety. And I rationally know there is likely nothing in that envelope that should really cause this kind of response. But that’s the thing with phobias or irrational fears and trauma response.
Yes…I said trauma response.
Often times prior experience attaches itself to something innocuous and we then pair our previous response with a neutral stimuli and generalize it over time. Caller ID with the school prefix, email and now apparently manila envelopes have become the manifestation of years of battles, blockades and having my already fledgling parental competency called to the carpet.
For me….my defining moment were words uttered in a meeting 7 years in….but 3 years ago: “Its not fair for one (A2) to get more just because of your parental advocacy” (which was agreeable…but in a whole different way given we were discussing data collection that was reportedly correct, not collected by me…and concerning).
It is silly I suppose if you are the one who stuffed the envelope and have no knowledge of my defining moment or my other, more academically impaired child. She certainly must be wondering about the warning likely issued by the elementary school about my hypervigilance, because the experience she is having is the opposite. A parent who is late to answer emails yet bizarrely will parse apart data collection in an IEP meeting….and be spot on why it was taken incorrectly must mess with her own schema of special needs parents. I have learned to become a very hands-off parent in hopes of preserving my own life in the last year. I have a double-decker weekly pill case that houses my capsules of life extending medications that would impress most of the AARP crowd. Yet I am not yet even 50. Years of sleep deprivation and external stress can only wear so long in a genetic cesspool.
So there it sits….but not without words. It screams to me every day over the din of my responsibilities. But I am strong and I can withstand long term, unfocused wailing.
So I leave you with 3 truths….
A. I am human.
B. I love my child more than anything I could have ever imagined.
C. I am preparing for an uncertain future in a time that I will no longer be here to advocate in a world that does not see my child as perfect as I do.
…and there are things that get in the way of of the co-existence of Notions A, B and C.
These three “I” words have forever changed me as a person.
If you have a child in special education, you probably just had a shiver run down your spine just by reading those acronyms in print and may be thinking the same thing. All of these things serve as a blessing and a curse to our kids and also to the educators and administration serving them. Back in the day, the Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) was enacted to refine and replace what few laws there were to protect children with disabilities within the education system. It was meant to also focus more on the individual rather than on the disability itself. IDEA has been re-written several times since 1990. There are several things it does both in a good way and also in not such a good way:
FAPE: It provides a free and appropriate public education to all kids regardless of disability at public expense. The key word here being APPROPRIATE. The downside: There is a pretty decent chance that what you and your child’s test scores say and what you know is appropriate will be very different than what the district thinks is appropriate. And most likely because of that other key word….FREE.
EVALUATIONS: This law makes sure children with disabilities are evaluated in a way that makes sense. We don’t want to use one specific test to decide if a child needs special education services. Not only is discrimination prevented, ideally these evaluations serve as a tool to know exactly what they will need educationally. The downside: Evaluations are only as good as the people trained to administer them and only as good as the educator who can recognize an issue in the first place.
Individualized Education Program (IEP): These are legal documents that establish goals, accommodations and modifications to the general curriculum and access to qualified professionals to ensure a child with a disability is learning at the right pace and to his ability within their environment. These plans level the educational playing field for those with a disability. The heart of special education. There are 13 categories under which a child may qualify: specific learning disability, speech and language impairment, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, visual impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, autism, multiple disability, other health impairments, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, The downside: Because they are legal documents and may be audited and are monitored on a quarterly basis, educators may have a very high self-preservation incentive to make certain your child is meeting his goals….at least on paper. The more savvy the parent, the more tricky this can become.
LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE): This ensures your child is placed in an environment that meets his needs as independently as possible in an educational setting that is appropriate for him. The goal is to work toward the LRE. The downside: For those of us with kiddos with Autism or executive functioning issues, this is not always cut and dry. Especially those without intellectual impairment but perhaps have a language disorder or another issue which may stand in the way of independence. An emerging issue in the field is for those kids who are considered “twice exceptional”, such those who are intellectually gifted but with severe behavioral issues. And what does “least restrictive” mean anyway? My kid who needs 1:1 to learn can totally sit in a regular classroom to do that. However, I believe educators interpret LRE to mean that he be in a contained classroom without a 1:1 because then he might have more physical independence in that room. Who is right?
PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS: Protections for your child…..protections for you as a parent. Because of IDEA, there are procedural safeguards in place to make certain your child is receiving the services the school says they will provide and a protocol to follow if you believe they are not. Additionally, these protections allow for parent participation and child participation as equal members of the child’s school team. The downside: Let’s face it. If you are not an educator or even know where to go to get what you need, you will never be an equal member of your child’s team. Procedural safeguards and parent participation are ultimately only as good as the questions you know to ask, as your attorney and as your bank account. The catch-22 if you do live in a very good school district? There is a good chance that anything that goes to due process is going to take a LOOOONNNNNGGG time. And think about that for a second. If there is a FAPE violation and it works its way all the way up to a due process hearing doesn’t that seem counterintuitive for your school district to allow little old you to go to court with them? Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem since it would be much cheaper and less time consuming to do so? It’s not. At least not to them, because no matter how much the district doesn’t want to throw money at something, they can still probably afford to pay a better attorney for much longer than you can. And besides, the year and a half it could take…perhaps that child won’t need what it was you were asking for by then. Or worse, make your life complicated enough that you will have to back off and not follow through. That seems like a pretty good gamble for a district. It also doesn’t set a standard for other families to ask for the same.
The last 25 years have been interesting ones for the education system as a whole. When the parents who walked before us clawed and fought and struggled for these laws it was at a time before the internet, before all the revisions, before standardized testing existed in the way it did, before No Child Left Behind and before Autism was 1:68. IDEA is necessary no matter how you slice it, however it exists in a very different system than it did in 1990.
At this point I know a lot of the law like the back of my hand and the parts I don’t know, I am now educated on how to find those rules.
I have a list of socio-emotional goals for almost every developmental issue at my finger tips and I have an entire community of people going through the same struggles I am at the click of a button day and night. All of this has been achieved through this tiny-huge world we have online.
I know exactly the gap closure between special education kids and regular ed kids, not only for my district, but for my child’s school.
I know the 6 payment tiers that exist and the formula used to calculate how much extra funding my district receives for each of my kids for using special education services.
I know what belongs where on all 13 sections of the IEP and how to make a goal measurable.
And I know when I am being BS-ed.
I don’t know all of this because of my training…I know it because I live in 2016 and any parent with a computer and the desire can learn the same.
In 1990, my school district certainly was not expecting 1 out of every 6 children attending (or 15%) to have some sort of developmental disability or for the Autism rates to be 600% higher. My child’s elementary school currently has about 700 students and about 100 IEPs (last I heard)–all while serving about 29% of their students as English as a Second Language with limited proficiency. Teachers are stretched thin. Inclusion and LRE are so important for our kids future, yet most regular education teachers were not taught the basics on how to include and teach special ed kids in differentiated instruction or how to manage a classroom where there are multiple children with conflicting accommodations. (ie: When Johnny gets stressed, he can crumple paper…but Jimmy’s auditory sensory integration issues make it impossible to keep it together when he hears paper crumpling….). Parents are communicating, educated and knowing the legal hoops to jump through if their children’s rights are being violated. It is a system that cannot hold itself up and still serve our most vulnerable children to be the most successful they can be. Parents…please keep fighting for your kids. Please keep learning everything you can. Educators…please do the same. I do not have the answer. I am just hopeful it is found before my children have to move on from the “protective bubble” of IDEA and there are no grown up IEPs.
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.
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.
While it is understandable why a parent like myself with a child with significant disabilities within a public education and governmental system would feel overwhelmed by all of the details, the truth is I felt that way about political systems before I even had children. I am very Gestalt and particularly nervous when it comes to leaving out a detail. The Whole Is A Sum Of Its Parts is most assuredly how I have always seen the world. If I miss a piece, I promise I won’t understand the big picture. Often the bigger problem is knowing whether I have missed a piece, so I comb and comb for those pieces until I end in a pile of crumbs. And then? Well…..once I sweep up…watch out.
Our collective current public educational system is fraught with problems that overwhelm me to even consider how they can be overcome in a fair and meaningful way.
And to be clear, this does not mean our educators are at the top of the problem list. I would challenge anyone who believes this is the case to go spend one year as an educator in even a high performing suburban school district. The financial, legal, logistical and social constraints that exist would send a person without the passion to make a difference in the the lives of kids running to do almost anything else. The issues that exist in public education are systemic in nature. They are systemic but not static so I have believed it possible to slowly turn the ship around. Fully funding IDEA would be a great start…but that is the thing about getting overwhelmed by details. Out of survival, you hone in on what will have the most impact on your own world to create your own big picture.
It would be easy to turn this into a 5000 word article and focus on all the talking points about why public education is failing everyone and also on all the fundamentally terrific things public education is doing right. But focusing on those things is the parlor trick we all seem to be falling for these days. The guy with the horns and the trident is awfully entertaining with his sleight of hand while we’re busy, a well heeled woman sitting before the Senate is making plans to create a systemic and fundamentally flawed plan to oppress and contain the most vulnerable children.
There is no time to yell about unions or standardized testing or who we are not listening to when we don’t have an adequate solution and you don’t have the details to understand why they are there in the first place. It’s like slapping yourself in the face.
Yesterday at the Senate hearing for confirmation of Secretary of Education, opponents of Betsy DeVos were alarmed at just how unqualified she appears to be for this position as evident by her lack of knowledge of crucial educational and fiscal details and seeming inability to directly answer questions. Mrs. DeVos struggled in the brief periods of questioning to give details about how she will ensure/protect/educate. I am not so certain that having someone who understands every detail of public education is actually necessary or even preferable.
However, I do not believe that Betsy DeVos was one bit “confused” about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act being federal law and not something that the states decide. I do not believe that she doesn’t understand the difference between proficiency and progress. I do not believe that she was having trouble answering questions but rather she answered those questions loud and clear.
Should all schools, public, private and charter have EQUAL accountability standards when accepting taxpayer funding?
Do you think that all schools receiving federal dollars should have to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Should schools receiving government funding have to have the same reporting systems for bullying and harassment?
Will you enforce the law for disabled children should the charters go into place and they might be accepted at the charter?
Will you defund or privatize public school?
Instead, Mrs. DeVos let those members of the Senate know how happy she would be to make these discussion points in the future.
No…. I don’t think Betsy DeVos was confused. I think she doesn’t care, because in her world the devil is in THOSE details and it appears sometimes the devil comes in the form of anyone different or disadvantaged.
Her plan it seems is to create selective schools that she won’t state whether they will adhere to the federal civil rights protection for disabled students or potentially even for just their protection at all. Over time, disabled students and socially/economically disadvantaged students, students with behavioral issues are going to once again be segregated due to selective admissions processes, “waiting lists” differences in educational accountability and financial discrepancies between those who can afford the gap in tuition not covered by a voucher. There will be no such thing as inclusion in schools it will vanish with the details.
For me, this isn’t a matter of lack of understanding or even sour grapes. I live in a state where there is a “scholarship” program available for students identified with a disability which we used for A2 through pre-k and kindergarten. Given his Autism diagnosis, he qualified for (at the time) a $20,000 voucher through the state board of education to use with a scholarship provider. Our district was still responsible for writing his IEP so we would meet annually to update. We found an excellent match for him at a local private, not-for-profit Autism school and in just three months I was pleased to show our district the tight data tracking his improvements.
Short of realizing he wasn’t getting everything he needed in public school, overall, we had a positive experience using this system because the stars were aligned. A kid happened to move away opening a spot in the classroom, otherwise A2 would have been on a waiting list. Our district did not transport him so I was unable to work much so I could take him the 20 mile round trip jaunts twice a day. Things were very tight for awhile because we were still responsible for $8000 a year out of pocket toward the tuition.
The biggest trade off? By accepting the scholarship, we relinquished our rights to FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). In other words our “school choices” were:
Stay put and spend thousands on attorneys to try to prove he was not getting an appropriate education (as evidenced by the amount of progress he made with a specialized ABA program)–but in the meantime, if we filed due process based on the law, he would have had to “stay put” until a resolution. Which could be years.
Find another school that could accept him, provide our own transportation, find $24,000 for three years of out of pocket expenses AND hope he gets what he needs because the private school technically does not have to follow the IEP. Nor technically are there any repercussions for not meeting his needs.
Choice? Like the Sophie’s Choice of the outcome of my child’s future. They both sucked. We only had a brief period of time to harness the little spongy brain of his. We were very, very lucky it worked out the way it did. But we were also very, very lucky because we are upper middle class white, intact suburban family with one paycheck that covered everything and a kiddo who did not present with behaviors too difficult to handle. We were very, very lucky because the school was pretty great at what they did with a caring team to boot. I am not against the idea of a voucher system and school choice, but in order for it truly to be choice, the playing field must be appropriately leveled. Otherwise, it is only really a choice for some.
Betsy DeVos wants to turn this ship around, but there is a huge iceberg in the way and only enough lifeboats for the privileged and the able-bodied leaving everyone else, including my beautiful boy to go down with the ship. Our educational system needs fixing, no doubt…but first do no harm.