Category Archives: School Support

Please stop blaming and punishing

There has been a lot of negative things happening to autistics in the news lately, particularly in Ottawa. Details here. Last week I posted about the second incident on my personal Facebook Page. I was outraged, still am.

For those of you unfamiliar with autism I will break it down as to why I am upset:

1) The student had not one but two unfamiliar assistants. Many autistics need predictability and stability to feel safe. Ever feel a bit unsettled when your normal route to the train was detoured and you couldn’t park in your normal area and you suddenly realize that you might not make your train on time? Now magnify that feeling many times over, and possibly remove the ability to express that feeling with words.

2) The situation happened during the chaotic time between classes when halls were full of people going in random directions and the noise level would be high. Many people feel uncomfortable in crowds but then magnify that feeling many times over and add in the unfamiliar assistants who perhaps don’t know how to remind you to perhaps put your earbuds in and turn on your calming music, or to take you to a quiet spot (the office, a bathroom, a quiet classroom) until the halls start to clear.

3) Add in a vice-principal, who despite an IEP (Individualize Education Plan which is a legal document outlining any accommodations or alternate expectations to ensure a student’s success) that it would be impossible to pretend ignorance of (administration are involved in the IEP process and would be aware that any student with assistants would be required to have one), chose to repeatedly threaten the student with detention. Have you ever had anyone yelling at you threatening you with something that you don’t deserve? What was your inclination? Run, punch them in the face? Cry? Something like that, only you didn’t do it. Or maybe you did. My point is that an already overwhelmed autistic individual was facing these stressors.  This is not an excuse. It simply is.

Had the assistants been familiar with the student they may have been able to prevent the situation in many ways (such as removal from the noise, indicating that they had it under control, reminding the VP that there was no need for threats etc), had the vice-principal been even slightly sympathetic to the situation, had the extra added stress of the car alarm blasting not happened, had any of these things happened, it’s quite likely that the incident would not have played out like it did. But it did. And for some reason, the school liason decided to press criminal charges. WTF?!

As a friend pointed out it is possible that this was done as part of a diversionary program, and upon completion of a program the charges will be dropped. That it might be a way for the courts to jump this child ahead in a wait list for services. If that is the case that could have some very good outcomes. And I do not know that school board. All I can say is that I have not experienced such things in our school board. (again not to say that this doesn’t happen, merely that I haven’t experienced it) BUT, here is what happened in the U.S. And it’s not good- read here.   Further, I had a few comments about how people expected the family to apologize to the vice-principal and that charges were warranted. One commenter actually got quite aggressive after I began deleting comments (it was late and I was tired of arguing at that moment) Although I do feel a meeting between the student and his mother should happen with the vice-principal I do feel it should happen with an autism advocate (such as one from Autism Ontario or Kerry’s Place or another similar organization) and perhaps an autism specialist from the school board (Ours is called the ARTs team -Autism Resource Team and is available for teachers and administration to access for support).

The meeting should be a dissection of what happened and why. And how to prevent it happening again in the future. Healing and learning cannot happen until all who are at fault accept responsibility for their fault. Yes that means the student should reflect on the impulsive reaction to the stressors, but the vice principal also needs to reflect upon the impact of her repeated, loud threats.

At first glance, especially to those unfamiliar with special needs of any kind, the student appears to be the aggressor. On closer inspection of the reported details it becomes quite clear though that he is actually the victim of a series of unfortunate, mostly preventable circumstances. So why then do people wish to punish the victim?

I believe that the answer to that is fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of autism. Fear that a student could be stronger than an adult in authority. Fear. Fear. Fear.

My answer to that: Suck it up buttercup. If you don’t know anything about autism then look it up (just please don’t go to Autism Speaks and their fear tactics see why here, please look up a responsible agency such as Autism Ontario or Autistic Self Advocacy Network). Whatever you do, please stop blaming the victim here.

If helping will make you feel more empowered then by all means please help. Help advocate for more supports in our schools. More training for educational staff. More inclusion everywhere.

Just please don’t think that it’s ok to sit back and lay blame and punish a child.

The Unicorn


A mythical creature.

A story passed down.

Often describes things that we cannot fathom or dream of.

Things that are outside of our scope of experience.

For example our eldest son’s new school.

I got a call this week asking if I could come in for a meeting. “Of course!” I said, hoping that our honeymoon period wasn’t over yet. When I signed in at the office the principal came out of his office to say “Hi.” and ask how things were going. He seemed genuinely happy when I said that I was thrilled that our son was making friends and choosing to hang out with them outside in the school yard rather than reading in the library or office. Not only did he not think it was weird when I said that alone made our year a success for me, he agreed!

The SERT met me in the office, and together we went upstairs, chatting along the way. Our son was again offered an opportunity to join us but chose to take the bus home with his classmates! Anyone who knows an aspie realizes just how big a step this is. Oh and did I mention that instead of sitting near the driver, he chooses to sit at the back.

With the other grade 8’s.

Because that’s what grade 8’s do.

The meeting consisted of two teachers, an EA and the SERT.

And you know what? There were no major issues. Just some questions about how to handle certain situations. All asked in a “What do you suggest we do/try?” tone of voice.

I made sure to repeatedly tell them how thrilled I was. That they can feel free to contact us at any time. That being proactive like this can only ensure his success. That for the first time he is coming home talking about his day.

And most importantly, he is happy.

I sat in my van afterwards and realized that I no longer had to hold back the tears.

I’m so glad that we made the difficult decision to transfer him. That the school we chose is that rare mythical creature that actually encourages and supports him.

If only every Autistic child had that opportunity…

Negative And Then Positive End to the School Year

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted anything.

Lots has been going on, but in an effort to be positive, I haven’t focused on the crap that’s happened at our school and the behaviour that teachers believe they can get away with when it comes to our children. And this time I’m not referring to the teachers of our child with Asperger’s, but rather our daughter and the rather cold, nasty teachers she had this year. But by not writing of it, I’ve been stuck and unable to form a full post (several drafts await editing/saving though)

I find it very stressful confronting anyone and yet I had to do it with them and carefully used the correct language about how as adults in a position of authority need to choose their words and expressions carefully. That dismissing the hard work of a student as “not worth their time” is not an appropriate way to speak to anyone, let alone a child. I called a very last minute meeting with the principal, frustrated at how my child was in tears yet again over class work and how her teacher was treating her. I gave him no option, sending him an email that I was on my way to the school and expected him to meet us in the office. To his credit he did, and actually called the two teachers in question out of class to join us. But that was the only positive part of it.

Excuses to justify their actions were made (two teachers, one English, one French backing each other’s bad behaviour up in an unprecedented show of callousness at our meeting) and I called them on each one. I spoke to one then the other teacher. Both replied with a cold “Ok” clearly indicating “yeah whatever.” The principal lifted his head off the table (yes really!) long enough to look at me when I told him (in front of the teachers) that their behaviour was unacceptable, that instead of supporting and helping their students they were destroying the children’s confidence.

Then without preamble or apology the teachers stood up, left our (admittedly last minute meeting) and left for another meeting. Rude, cold and unbelievable that they are teachers! (If they had offered an ounce of politeness that they’d had a prearranged meeting already then I would have been fine with them leaving, clearly my words were not having an effect) I spoke a bit further to the principal, though my words seemed to have little effect.

When we got in the van, my daughter and I had a few good minutes of saying all the bad things we needed to say, and the joy in getting to say bad words I think took a bit of the sting out of the situation for her.

My husband followed up with the principal and was told that he and the vice-principal had spoken to the teachers about their behaviour in the classroom. I was doubting how effective this was until this week when my daughter told me that after that day both teachers refused to pick her to answer a question even when she was clearly the only one in the class with her hand up. Really? Child-ish, petty, nasty behaviour from an elementary school teacher?! Sigh.

On a much more positive note, we toured our son’s new school for next year. It was a tough decision to move him for his last year of elementary, but as I’ve noted above their current school isn’t a nurturing, supportive environment. From the moment we stepped into the office we were welcomed. The SERT, a lovely lady, introduced us to several people from the principal, to teachers, the librarian and a custodian. All welcomed us with big smiles and told us that we would love it there. We spotted a former classmate of my son’s and he was welcomed to go say hi to her.

Both of us left that experience feeling at peace with our decision to move him. He feels calmer about it, less nervous. And we were welcomed to make an appointment to meet his teacher in August and get more details about his busing. Yes the bus may prove to be a challenge but so far it looks like his request to sit at the front will be respected.

Looking forward to the positive things to come, and releasing the negative experiences (not to be forgotten at all but to be set aside so that they don’t affect our summer holiday).

I’ll blog about our year end camping in another post!

Just How Hard is it to be Inclusive?

bully meme

Many years ago, when I was in College I had a classmate whom I admired very much. And not in a romantic way at all. He was the first person I had met who was so comfortable in his own skin and identity. On our first day of class, fresh out of high school for him (I of course was *so* mature having been in university prior to this), he showed up with purple hair, beaded necklaces and a shirt that loudly spelled it out for anyone who didn’t get it: “FAG”.

This was in the mid-90’s and up to that point I had not seen much acceptance at the high school level. He clearly had had lots of it, and wasn’t going to back down for anyone.

Why do I bring this up now? Because not everyone accepted him for his differences. In fact we were in the same building as the Law and Security Program which unfortunately lived up to it’s stereotype with a lot of bullying jocks in it. They used to make comments to him and push him around in the halls. One day, he’d had enough and he followed them into their class, stood at the front until he had their attention and then dared them to beat him up right there in the classroom in front of their peers. Of course no one took him up on it. But they also left him alone after that.

I’ve always admired that about him. I only wish I’d been there that day to see what he did and to support him while he did it.

Recently, a video has gone viral of another boy attempting to do the same thing.

I don’t know what’s more sad about this video a) that the kids were laughing at him or b) that he even had to do this in the first place.

Why in 2014 are we still encountering this kind of despicable behaviour? Children are only bullied on a continual basis if the bully’s behaviour is tolerated or encouraged by the adults in their life. When teachers and parents create an environment where ostracizing another student is not acceptable behaviour, then it simply won’t happen. When a blind eye is turned to it we run into situations where children are committing suicide rather than be bullied for another day.

Growing up, we had developmentally challenged children integrated into our gym, art and music classes and they often accompanied us on field trips as well. It was a part of the school experience and we were expected to participate. There was no other option. Never were these children treated as lesser than. I remember bumping into one girl several years later in high school and sitting with her at lunch chatting about her favorite boy band. I often wonder where she is now.

That was in the 70’s and 80’s, so why is it still so hard?

Yet inclusion does happen. While searching links for this post I found this lovely article out of Alberta and in talking to a couple of moms with children with special needs, I heard of a similar story where a way was found to include a wheelchair-bound student.

I wonder then, has inclusion become automatic for physical challenges such as wheelchairs, while neurological differences such as Autism are still in the dark ages for systemic inclusion?

I know it is in our school. Our son has missed out on every field trip this year. Once we chose not to let him go on an out-of-province trip when the promised support (the principal who was to be his “buddy”) backed out a few days before the trip and we knew that the teachers going simply don’t have his best interest at heart, but other times because there was no staff member going who cared to put the effort in to making sure that he was able to successfully participate. Yes this is odd, even for our school, where he has gone on every other field trip ever. But it is also representative of our experience this year. And I know that if we are dealing with it, so are other families. (as I keep hearing when I bump into them at the grocery store and the school yard and out on the street)

Why do we not yet have a system in place that demands inclusion for all children, one that does not tolerate exclusionary or ostracizing behaviour from students, teachers, and other parents? It wouldn’t have to be an iron-clad set of rules, but rather needs to be a culture and environment carefully nurtured and developed by those in charge.

Members of the Media: Stop endangering my son’s life

This. This is why I don’t believe in Autism Awareness — an “awareness” promoted by parents complaining just how awful their child with Autism is. How their lives changed for the worse the day of diagnosis.

“Awareness” is not acceptance nor is it inclusion. When we promote inclusion and acceptance we promote support. Support for the person with Autism. Support for the caregivers. And we do not tolerate articles that say “so severely autistic that they can’t speak”. Speech is not an indicator for competence or intelligence.

It’s time we all stood up and demand acceptance, inclusion and support.

Spectrum Perspectives

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exhausted by the school

Some of you may know that we’ve been having a lot of issues at our school lately. It’s been especially frustrating as we have always taken a team approach to dealing with the IEP and any accommodations.

It finally took a formal complaint about the teachers and the SERT to the board before we saw action.

And it’s still only the very basic of accommodations. And I am exhausted by the battle to get there. So much so that I sent my husband to do the last meeting at the school. I want to find that team spirit again, but the fight has taken it out of me. And I’m not sure I could have sat in the same room with these teachers and been polite. After all it took a formal complaint in their file and some intervention from the board before they would even treat my son with an ounce of respect.

The accommodation that they are doing? Chunking his work down! Not rocket science.

The big plans I had for this year about working on his social skills and group participation? Gone down the tubes. We actually had to say to the school that the gym teacher allows the kids to divide themselves up into groups and they argue over who has to take our son in their group! Really?! How about dividing them up by numbers or alphabetically or any other way that encourages inclusivity and sportsmanship?!

So… the fighting has burnt me out. I have resigned as co-chair of our SCC and will resign from the Health Action Team at the end of this year.

And it’s why I’m a bit behind on posting.

It is March Break though, and my fabulous husband came up with a day by day plan to have fun locally, so I figure that I will re-charge with our kids and have something fresh to blog about.

Social Inclusion at School

I follow a an amazing blog, Diary of a Mom, probably one of the most thoughtful and insightful bloggers about autism that I have ever encountered. Currently she has been posting a lot about transitioning her daughter to a new school next year, and is questioning how inclusion is done in her experience.

All of her posts are worthy of reading, but this one in particular is phenomenal. My favorite quote from it is:
“But above all, we want to ensure that we’re not engaging in symbolic inclusion at her expense. That we’re giving her opportunities for the real connections and real relationships that she so obviously craves.”

For years, we have worked very hard to have a supportive team for our son. Yet his social life is very lacking. His classmates haven’t invited him to a party in years. The one that was playing online games with him and having the odd play date with him has chosen NT kids to hang around with instead.

The parents are worse. One went so far as to turn her back to me while speaking with all the other moms at a field trip.

A few months ago, he told me that most days he only talks to the grown ups at school. He often doesn’t say more than “Hi.” to his classmates and they to him.

In that kind of environment, how can his social skills possibly grow?

To again quote from that same post, “Geographical inclusion is not inclusion.”

The answer is clear: he needs to be in a social environment of his peers. Not a large group of NT peers, but a smaller group of other children with similar challenges. And facilitated social interaction, led by someone who truly knows how to teach them to interact.

If only it were that easy though. In our area, the only chance at a public education like that is to put him in an ME (multiple exceptionality) class. If we could find a space. But as a gifted student, that would not be the best fit. Maybe we could put him in the gifted program. If we could find a suitable method of transporting him there. And if we could get a guarantee of some EA support.

If we could find a local private school that suits our needs, and if it fit in our budget that might work too. So far, our research has only turned up one, and we question the appropriateness of it after conversations with the mothers of at least three different former students. I’m not interested in putting myself in the path of a lawsuit for not following the rules, or choosing to go elsewhere.

That’s a lot of “if’s”, with no real solution. Yet. As a mom of a child with autism, I will always keep looking, keep trying and keep hoping.

I have been told by two separate families that the local high school is well equipped and the SERTs are phenomenal. But again, will we just be including him for the sake of inclusion? Will he truly get the social supports that he needs. Or will he be cast adrift, forever on the outside. Always looking in the window but without the keys to get inside?