Grounded   2 comments

Skylar Chart

One of the following things is not like the others…or so it seems.

  • A good report card
  • Making a sports team
  • Praise for high character from a teacher or Principal
  • A significant amount of friends
  • A flat chart

The first four things listed are all common sources of pride and causes for celebration for parents when it comes to their child and school. The final thing, while appearing atypical to most, was definitely a source of pride and cause for celebration for me when it was sent home yesterday.  We often associate soaring as a positive when it comes to matters of education but when it comes to that chart, Skylar, and me, it turns out that grounded is the key to success.

As evidenced by the soaring dots of 2012-2013, grounded has not always been the case for Skylar at school and my soaring denial was to blame.  It all goes back to her IEP meeting at the end of her second year of kindergarten (Yes, she required not one but two years of notoriously rigorous kindergarten.  Such a thing would be a red flag to most but, as you might have guessed, this isn’t a blog entry where I’m going to come off terribly wise.)  The meeting was led by a TEAM Chair who, like most (not all!) TEAM Chairs I’ve encountered, didn’t exactly give off the vibe she had my child’s best interests at heart.  When I raised the possibility of Skylar being placed full-time into a full inclusion classroom for first grade, she emphatically shot me down.  I rolled my eyes on the inside, as I felt her point of view had more to do with the school district not wanting to potentially hire a 1:1 down the road to keep Skylar in the least restrictive setting possible than an informed opinion but, informed or not, her opinion was consistent with past TEAM Chairs and the district as a whole.  Plus, what could I really do if the rest of the TEAM agreed? That’s when something interesting occurred: the rest of the TEAM didn’t agree and stated, on the record, Skylar could handle full inclusion in first grade.  Wow!   My pride soared, even as I failed to grasp the in first grade portion of their statement and substituted it with forever.

The TEAM Chair continued to protest.  She comically kept getting up to leave the room and make phone calls only to come back with different compromise offers all designed to keep my daughter out of full inclusion.  I replied emphatically each time that I would only sign an IEP placing Skylar in a full inclusion setting, where access to typically developing peer role models and the true curriculum awaited.  The rest of the TEAM backed me completely and it turned out spectacular…in first grade.

First grade was a dream year for my daughter.  Her teacher, para, and classmates were all amazing and she thrived both behaviorally and academically, even without the 1:1.  I sat at her IEP at the end of that school year giving the TEAM Chair the middle finger on the inside and barely listening to warnings from the educators and therapists I so liked and trusted about how the abstract nature of the material in second grade may be too much for Skylar and it could manifest itself in negative behaviors so why not pull back at least a little with the full inclusion to start second grade and consider additional staffing if necessary?  I watched the TEAM Chair stare daggers at the teachers and therapists but I wasn’t processing the actual reason why because I was stuck on the whole pull back on full inclusion portion of the conversation.  What?  No way!  Seriously, the kid had two errors on spelling tests all year in first grade but second grade was suddenly going to be some big problem?  Jeesh.  Two spelling errors in a single school year. Was that a record of some type? It had to be.  She was college-bound! Sure, she had little to no idea what any of those words she spelled correctly actually meant but still—two wrong all year! I was so busy soaring that I failed to read between the lines that maybe it was time for me to push for the 1:1.

Grade two didn’t start out as dreamy unless you categorize nightmares as dreams. I began getting notes in Skylar’s communication log about her aggressing towards the para but I didn’t panic.  Sure, Skylar had never been violent before but it was a new para and she was obviously just testing.  I figured her negative behaviors would stop soaring.  I was wrong, as they worsened to such an extent the classroom teacher bravely and heroically put her neck on the line at an emergency TEAM meeting and stated flat-out Skylar could possibly handle full inclusion in second grade but only with a 1:1 staff person. The school district, to its credit, didn’t (at least openly) dispute this and a 1:1 was hired for my daughter. Surely, this would prove the fix.  Wrong again.

At Skylar IEP, the TEAM suggested partial pullout with the 1:1 accompanying her at all times would be best for her headed into third grade but I rejected the notion. How was she going to get into college unless she was pushed the same as other kids in her grade?  If the difficulty of the work or expectation she remain on-task was stressing her out, I was sorry to hear it but there were behavioral interventions yet to be tried that could help with that, especially with a new school BCBA we liked on board.  Third grade would be better.

It wasn’t. Academic progress was largely non-existent but Skylar’s aggressions soared to the point of being felonious assaults towards her poor 1:1.  I felt bad, of course, but I reasoned dealing with such things was the 1:1’s job and if she wasn’t suited for it, they could transfer her to another child and find one who was.  I remained idiotically closed off to the notion Skylar couldn’t handle full inclusion until I began getting reports kids were crying because she was scaring them. Suddenly, a ton of bricks landed on the wall that had been blocking my sense of reason.

My daughter had always been loved, accepted, and included by kids and parents alike at her school but her newfound (in retrospect, only “newfound” to me) volatility was putting that at-risk. Plus, I loved those kids and the last thing I wanted was for Skylar to make school a terrible experience for them.  I finally conceded full inclusion may not be the place for my daughter after all and requested to move her to a sub-separate classroom setting for half of the day. But it was too late. The overcrowded school no longer had the physical space necessary for such a classroom, necessitating a move to a different school within the district to meet her needs. Had I been more open-minded prior the third grade and actually put aside my disdain for bureaucrats and foolish pride that  my daughter with autism could do the impossible and instead listened to what people who I respected we saying about my daughter, maybe such a classroom would still exist. I had blown it for my little girl.

I hated the idea of Skylar going to a different school. She was already socially inept and introducing her one-of-a-kind act to a bunch of kids who hadn’t known and accepted her since kindergarten (years one and two, no less) potentially doomed her to ridicule and loneliness instead of tolerance and acceptance. What had I done?  I was incredibly guilty over my screw up and what do I do when I’m incredibly guilty over a screw up?  I read.  Yup, it was really time to soar!

I headed straight to Amazon’s website. Was it to order some type of psychology book for myself to get to the bottom of why I’m such a moron? No, it was to purchase a book about homeschooling a child with autism.  Actually, since it was an idea that was 2x the awesome, I bought two books about homeschooling a child with autism. Sure, I didn’t have the patience with Skylar to teach her to zipper her coat but what possibly could go wrong?  Fortunately, my reclusive sense of reason again made an appearance and I never found out.  As awful as it would be for Skylar, a new school in the district was the only realistic solution and, when that inevitably failed, I’d fight for an out of district placement (even though I’ve never wanted her outplaced).  Yes, once again, I was viewing my little girl as more prop than a person.

I was one signature away from my master plan beginning when my logic finally became grounded enough to allow me to think effectively outside the box.  I loved the new BCBA and she had great ideas she’d put into place for the smaller kids with autism entering the school while most of the older kids with autism with behavioral needs had been sent elsewhere. But why couldn’t the remaining ones like Skylar stay?  Space?  That seemed an easy fix.  I knew a new Principal would be hired the following year. I had no problem with the old Principal, mind you, but maybe the new one could have direct experience at a program for kids with autism and know how to fight to get resources? If Skylar could just get through third grade, there was the potential to keep her where she belonged and meet her educational needs.

It was time to put my advocacy skills to use for something productive for the first time in a few years.  With the help of two other groups of parents, my wife Jen and I pushed hard with the district to provide the BCBA what she needed both for the present and future.  I then assured Skylar’s phenomenally  patient  classroom teacher that I couldn’t have cared less what my daughter did or didn’t do academically the rest of the school year and would sign anything I needed to sign to take the pressure off of everyone. Finally, I made a point of apologizing in advance to the parents of the kids in her class for my daughter’s behavior but their responses were almost universal: we love Skylar and we want her to stay.

Stay she did. She and everyone else survived the rest of third grade.  The school hired a principal with a background educating kids with autism, a special education teacher with the same profile, and found space to create a sub-separate classroom for her and other older students with autism who needed it.  Skylar is still included with her typically developing peers during fun things like recess, lunch, and special classes like music but is able to retreat to a quieter, less pressurized setting for academics. My modest aspiration for her entering fourth grade was to simply decrease her negative behaviors but, as that’s occurred, her schoolwork has steadily improved.  I am overjoyed.

I realize Skylar’s story when it comes to school is far from finished and there will be bumps and dips—both good and bad— along the way but I will never again rise or fall with them.  I am grounded.

 

Diamond Is the Sky now has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/diamondisthesky

Posted January 30, 2014 by seandal in Autism, parenting, special needs

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2 responses to “Grounded

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  1. “think effectively outside of the box”………I NEVER(!!!) think outside of my box, perhaps I have a really, really big box? Or is yours too small? Keep on trucking and never apologize for being an advocate for your kid!

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