Category Archives: special needs

Toddlers and Time Change, Kids and Compliance

image is of a calm lake and trees on the far shore. It is peaceful and embodies freedom to me--the right to chose for oneself.

image is of a calm lake and trees on the far shore. It is peaceful and embodies freedom to me–the right to chose for oneself.

It’s been a rough morning, our toddler has not only not adjusted to the time change, his internal clock has been thrown off by two hours! So I am up before 6:00 am most mornings (for those of you who commute and have no sympathy for that time, please keep in mind that I work evenings and well 5:45am is not a very civilized hour no matter how you frame it)

And then, while it was still pitch black our dog was in a panic to go outside. My husband was already gone (did I mention it was his early day, gone before 5:00am?) so I turned on the tv for our toddler (Yeah me-awesome parenting skills!) so that he would stay in my bed while I let her out. I had tried to tell her to be quiet, but dogs don’t speak English (or any human tongue for that matter) so she didn’t stop whining. We’ve learned the hard way that if she’s ever in a panic like this to Let. Her. Out. A nasty case of diarrhea is much better outside than in my front hall.

The dog? She gleefully ran outside barking her head off (sorry neighbours) and running around through my garden. At some point she did relieve herself. I think. A few more piercing barks later, I managed to get her back inside. Where I crawled back into bed with our toddler, whose face was returning to it’s normal colour. Did I forget to mention that he was screaming when he woke this morning and nothing would settle him? Ya sorry about that. He was. And it wasn’t very fun.

Face time with hubby started his tears all over again. Gee thanks kid, I stay home all day and play play-dough and colouring and sing patty-cake with you and he’s the one you want in the morning? I mean I love you all dearly, but give me some credit.

I found some clean clothes to throw on. (Did I mention that we’re trying to take advantage of the mid and low-peak electricity times? Basically it means laundry is supposed to be done while I’m working or running around to dance. Which means a load gets thrown on one night, re-washed the next night and if I manage to stay awake long enough, it gets thrown in the dryer before a third wash. Saves us lots and lots of money-not)

Downstairs wasn’t too bad. There was only one container of rotting food left behind by the oldest one who had excavated it from his backpack somewhere and the middle one came down to make her lunch. Yes I said she was making it–I learned long ago that as long as we provide the materials, our children will eat their lunch far better if they make it rather than us. I merely approve the final product (No you cannot take just an apple for an entire day!). Mind you with the waste that comes back, I shudder to think what would happen if I were to actually make their lunches again.

Then the middle one drops a conversational bomb. Right between buttering her sandwich and reaching for the cheese. “Mom can I wear mascara?”
What? It’s not even 8:15 yet and I feel wrecked. She’s 11, in grade 6. I listened in disbelief to the list of girls she rhymed off who were already wearing it daily. I’m so out of touch.

My first instinct was to stomp down on the notion and say “No way!” but that would just drive her to sneak it to school and put it on there. No I wanted a more respectful conversation than that. I bought myself a few minutes while I made my earl grey tea, and wondered if there was a way to attach an IV of it to my arm.

In the end I asked her why she wanted to wear it. That women wear makeup because they feel it makes them look more pretty. I asked her if she needs to feel more pretty at school. She seemed surprised by the question. You see “everyone” was doing it. I managed not to use the clichéd “If your friends jumped off a bridge would you too?” (you should be proud of me, the caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet and I was working on the fly here) I asked her to think about what it would do for her. After some discussion I suggested that perhaps-not today- that she try wearing it for a week and see what it does. If she feels any different about herself.

She was disappointed that I didn’t give her a straight answer. I’m nervous about even giving part way in. But it was a rational conversation, one with give and take. One that was respectful. You see I don’t want my kids to ever be compliant to what I or any other adult says.

Yes there are always times when they have to do what we say (wearing seatbelts is a good example) but really when we demand that our children hop to attention and do our biding without questioning it, we are setting them up for some seriously bad stuff in their life. We are making them compliant to the demands of bad boss or job, to a disrespectful person or worse to a molester or rapist.

This is a particular concern in the special needs community as an individual may have a harder time distinguishing what is ok from what is “bad.”

Yet I have seen this in my toddler’s classes as well. One class in particular was an art class where the expectations were so far above their abilities that I withdrew and asked for a refund. You see the toddlers were being asked to paint a straight brown line for a tree trunk or to glue the foam pieces in a particular order to make a spaceship. All around the room parents were saying “No, put it here. No not like that!” They were demanding compliance from a child who was unable to comply and worse, unable to say why they couldn’t. Not one child in there giggled or had fun. Now there are a lot of angles and things we can talk about in that scenario, but bear with me as I really want to stick to the compliance theme today.

These children are being taught to do exactly what mom and dad and the teacher says in order to produce something that the adult wants and in order to get praise. At what point do you stop demanding compliance? When do you give your child the right to discuss the pros and cons, to make mistakes to learn how to stand up for themselves?

For me it’s early on. That doesn’t mean it’s ok for my toddler to hit me and refuse to have a poopy diaper changed. But, provided there is time (and hey I’m at home with him, so there’s usually time. Unless we have to be at the studio.) I will give him a couple of minutes to calm down before I change the diaper.

For my daughter it’s about asking her questions that make her think her reasons through. Teaching her to think through why she may want something.

Neither of those is compliance. They are respectful.

Like any mom I’m not perfect, but I don’t want my kids ever to be afraid to say no. They just need to find a reason why.


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!

I Never Expected this to Happen in the Schoolyard

I rarely go into the school yard any more. Haven’t for a couple of years. The two older kids are “too old” for mom to hang around with the other moms in the yard. “Too old” to be seen hugging and kissing me.

I have carefully respected these feelings. When I walk them to school, I stop at the crossing guard, watch them across the street, then continue on my walk. We created a signal (fist bump and hand clap) to represent hug and kiss.

The two weeks though, the street their school is on has been plagued by heavy construction as curbs are replaced and parts are resurfaced so we have been taking an alternate route to school. It leads me though away from the lake where I like to walk our dog and baby each morning. So I have been walking around the back of the school yard to a bike path on the other side which gets me around the construction and out to my typical walking area.

Walking through that yard brings back quite a bit of nostalgia. Watching the little kids in Kindergarten, the slightly bigger kids lining up to go into the primary grades, the hovering parents standing in clumps waiting to make sure their little one gets into the school safely.

I don’t know why it causes so much nostalgia, I mean I know I’ll be back there again in a few short years. But by then the older two will both be in high school (even the thought of that takes my breath away– weren’t they just in kindergarten yesterday?)

Yesterday morning we were running a little later than usual and I barely got a chance to fist bump them as they ran to get in the doors. A mom walking back up towards the street looked at me, indicated my eldest and said “He’s yours?”

“Yes.” I said a bit warily, dreading what I was about to hear.

“I just wanted to tell you that your son is amazing. I know he’s had a rough year and that no one has said that to you. But he’s really great.”

I think I said “Thank you.” I certainly hope I did. Who was this woman? And what has she done with the typical way people avoid talking about him.

We ended up chatting for about twenty minutes or so. It turns out that she is a lunch supervisor and has gotten to know my son that way.

What she doesn’t know is that those lunch hours when she chatted with him, that she was providing much needed social interaction for him. The kind that many parents avoid with him. The kind that you can’t force people to do.

When I told my son about her and her compliment, he got a HUGE smile and said “She’s nice. I like her.”

And for me? That woman showed me that even in the wrong school, the right people can still be there. That someone saw our son for who he really is. Not for what his challenges are.

She made my day. No. She just made the rough year fade back a bit. And for that I am grateful.

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.