Friday, September 16, 2011

We've Only Just Begun

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.  ~ Albert Einstein ~

My son has started the new school year in a different school district.  The district has a BOCES PEACCE program that uses the TEACCH approach.  TEACCH means:  Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children.  The elementary program has three classrooms in the public school.  Aren is in a very small class of 6 students with the special education teacher and two assistants.  I'm impressed with the layout of the classroom.  Under the TEACCH method, each student has their own, small three-sided work space referred to as an "office".  It looks a little bit like an office with shelving on one side, a section of white board, small desk and chair.  It's design is intended to limit distractions so children with distractibility challenges can focus by limiting surrounding stimulus.

The BOCES program is not the first choice for my son.  I have first impression reservations about it that I will discuss here.  Two days into the start of the school year, my son comes home crying.  He kept telling me the teacher is complaining about his shoes.  He has brand new black, Sketcher sneakers with a Velcro closure.  Let me just say first off, it is challenging finding shoes to fit my son.  He has wide feet and at age nine, he is still unable to tie shoe laces.  Shoe lace tying is a fine motor skill many of us take for granted.  When my son attempts to make a bow, he pulls a knot instead.  This is an issue I tried to get worked out with his OT in the 2nd grade.  More times than not, my son was walking around dragging his laces.  Either the tie would come undone or he would fiddle with them.  My son's feet toe in slightly so the combination of it and untied laces is a disaster waiting to happened.  My son still falls when he runs so you can only imagine what could happen if the laces aren't tied securely.  Aren will resist doing challenging work and exercises if he can get away with it.  Learning anything new involves some discomfort until there's a level of proficiency.  My son must be willing to practice and it can be a large chore to get compliance from him.  I'm human and I get tired.  When it came to the shoelace battle, I'm "guilty" of taking the line of least resistance - I buy shoes with Velcro.  I try to impress upon my son that one day, we might not find shoes in his size with Velcro especially if he's interested in a sport.  Aren likes basketball and the shoes for it do not come with Velcro.

Back to where I started regarding teachers vs. shoes.  It seems his new teacher was accusing my son of deliberately and obnoxiously making noise while walking in the corridor.  When my son was sobbing and yelling at me "it's not my fault", the little hairs on the back of neck was standing on end.  My thoughts are racing and I'm thinking, "what the heck is gong on"?  He is supposed to be in a class and program designed to work with children who have PDD-NOS.  My school district who provided the referral to BOCES told me, it's a program for children who have the disorder.  How can a teacher in this program admonish my son for making noises in the hall with his shoes!  So, I'm asking my son attempting to make sense of what happened.  Automatically, I assumed (something I should never do as it's a personal creed) that the sneakers were squeaking as he walked.  It's a reasonable assumption.  In fact, I've experienced it myself from time to time.  I think many of us that wear sneakers might have run into this little problem.  It's not intentional and in fact, it can be downright unpreventable on some floor surfaces such as in hospitals, for example.  Anyway, it wasn't squeaking; it was a different sound - a thumping type sound.  Immediately, I spoke to my husband about it and he was as alarmed about it as I was.  I said, we have to take Aren to school and witness it for ourselves and talk to his teacher.

The next day, we drove Aren to school.  As we're walking down a very long corridor with him, sure enough, his feet hitting the floor with each stride made a "thumping" sound.  I'm watching as he's walking and I'm starting to think, the shoes are new, not broken in and I bet because of the stiffness, he's not bending his toes completely and so he's kind of paddling along.  It wasn't terribly loud or immediately noticeable.  I had to listen for it, in fact, I had to remind my husband, "listen to him walk".  The halls were relatively empty because we arrived before the bell.  The only exception was a teacher or two passing on their way to wherever.  In other words, it wasn't all that loud or outwardly annoying in our opinion which made the teacher's annoyance all the more bizarre.

We had to explain to Aren's Special Education teacher that in fact, he wasn't deliberately being obnoxious and the sound made by his walking couldn't be helped.  We also had to explain the shoe lace tying challenge and shopping for the very limited availability of Velcro shoes for him.  At no point in the conversation did the teacher suggest we provide laced shoes so the OT can work with Aren on it.  The only real satisfaction I got was meeting face to face with the teacher and not allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Yesterday was the school night open house, meet and greet with the classroom teachers.  It's also the time to get an overview of the day to day schedule for our children.  There was a nice welcome meeting in the school cafeteria followed up with the parents and teachers meet/greet.  During the meeting, one very outspoken parent was visibly tense and stressed.  She expressed concern her daughter was bringing work home with only part of her name "Court" for "Courtney" written at the top of the page.  The mother also said, her child is unable to spell with word "family".  The parent expects minimally, her child should be shown how to write her name as well as the correct spelling of words.  I agree.  It's a reasonable request but in fairness, I don't know the child, parent or situation.  What I do know, is the mother was visibly and outwardly concerned.  She went on to say, the same thing happened last year.  The mom expressed concern she wants her daughter to graduate with something more than a statement her child attended school.  It was a feeling of Déjà vu for me and my husband.  It instantly made me recall similar experiences of frustration with teachers and the CSE chair in my home school district.  I wanted to offer the parent some assistance but hesitated not having all the information.

I realize our children having learning challenges of varying degrees.  However, if a child misspells their name or words, how much effort is it to write the correct spelling on the child's page as reference?  It seems to be a minimal expectation.  I understand doing repetitive work and constant reteaching can be taxing but this is how my child  and many of our children learn.  Perhaps it's how Courtney learns as well.  She  may not be able to get it the 1st, 2nd or 3rd time due to processing issues.  I know that happens with my child.  He benefits from endless repetition until it's absolutely established to be no longer necessary.  If a student continues to misspell their name, help them by showing them the correct way.  How long does it take to write C O U R T N E Y to illustrate and demonstrate?  We need to think outside of the box with our kids.  Just as I'm writing this, I'm thinking, if the child misspelled their name 25 times a day, on every piece of paper, the child might benefit from a visual aid.  So that each time the child is writing their name, she has a reference.  Or, print out stickers with the child's name on it and stick it on the child's work next to the misspelled word.  This is just one idea.  I would love to hear more.  I felt the parent's frustration as if it were my own.  I was able to clearly relate to it.

My son was accepted into a school with a focus of teaching children on the spectrum.  However, their enrollment is strictly limited and enforced.  I'm waiting for one seat and my son is next in line.  I remain hopeful for the placement for him because my child needs to be in a supportive atmosphere with a team of educators who fully understand the difference between learning challenges and obnoxious behavior.

"Everyone enjoys doing the kind of work for which he is best suited".  ~ Napoleon Hill ~

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