Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chicken and the Egg

School is officially out for summer now, and there are lots of parents out there welcoming the break from packing morning lunches and doing homework.  But I'm willing to bet there's also quite a large group of people who will be spending their summer with their stomachs in a great big knot, because their little ones will be walking through those big heavy doors in September...and that's not very far away anymore.  And they're terrified about how it's all going to work out.  I know, because that great big knot used to be in my stomach.

It really makes me wonder sometimes about the very nature and practise of schools, as they are.  I know that many, many people will disagree with some of my ideas here...but, they are my ideas, so feel free to disagree.  It's just that sometimes I feel like the whole school set up is a disaster waiting to happen for a growing number of kids.  It is designed for the child who can sit quietly, attend easily, follow directions, take part in large groups, handle the many transitions and routines of a school day, not to mention the noises/sounds of a school environment.  Let's face it, this set up is perfect for the majority of kids....but for kids with differences, it is just a disaster waiting to happen.

So, what do we do?  Well, let's take a quick look at what we're doing.  We're educating teachers about exceptionalities, and they are working really, really hard.  We're having alternate learning environments, and filling the school with "accomodations".  But, aren't we having to accomodate an awful lot?  Doesn't that indicate that the "typical" classroom setting, mode of teaching is perhaps not enough?  How many accomodations and exceptions do you have to make before you realize that perhaps the prototype just isn't working.

Imagine if you were selling cars.  For one driver, you had to shift the position of the steering wheel and the pedals.  For another the seats were too far back.  For another, the windshield needed a different tint.  For another you had to change the way the cylinders fired in the engine.  For your next customer, the radio was all wrong.  The next customer simply couldn't function with the interior carpeting....  How long would you go on selling cars before you came to realize that you just needed to shift models altogether????  Can it possibly be that all those drivers are the ones with the problems???  Just a thought.

This isn't an attack on teachers, special educators, administrators or student assistants.  I think that people want to do the best that they can.  But let's face it, it's hard to make every child successful in an environment that just is tooooooo much, plain and simple.  That doesn't mean we don't try...but it may be time to make a paradigm shift.  Instead of trying to make all these kids function in about making schools function for kids????  Smaller class sizes, less sensory-overload, etc, etc.  The answers I do not know.  But I do feel that the kinds of mass instruction and cooperation just isn't possible for everyone. 

And what about our use of early intervention?  How much of it is spent preparing kids to survive a classroom and school, instead of working on key skills.  How much of all our work with children with special needs is spent trying to find ways to make them fit into unnatural situations.  I'm not saying they shouldn't be's just that maybe it's not always the kids who need the fixing.  I truly believe that all kids should get from school what THEY need most, and that all kids deserve an education that works for them.  Not what's easiest to accomodate and to afford.

It's a classic chicken and egg...what came first: the behaivours needed for school success, or the school set up?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You don't know me but...

Today started out like many others, I had an early appointment for my son, just a regular check-in with our child development pediatrician.  Aiden was okay with this, as he had been assured that it was just a "talking appointment", and knew that nothing "would get done" to him.  Oh my.

We were waiting in the hospital waiting room, which, rather inconviently houses a large, run around play area, just right for getting your small child all wound up prior to their appointment.  Aiden was playing, and there was another young boy there, I woudn't guess that he was yet 3.  The little boy was very sweet and adorable, and obviously adored by his mom who followed him dotingly around the cursed play area.  Their closeness was so apparant, and really heartwarming.  It was, in a word, nice.

Next I saw the mom called over, and my heart sank when I saw which doctor had beckoned her.  It was the pediatrician who runs the autism screenings.  Accompanying her was an SLP, I know to be on the autism team.  Suddenly, my eyes were stinging.  I saw them smiling together, and talking quietly, and watched as they led the boy and his mother around the corner to a room I knew all too well.  The room where they run their observations. A room my husband and I had walked into ourselves, hand in hand with our own adorable little boy, who'd just turned 3.
I was caught off guard by my was as if I had afforded this mom a sympathy I have never extended to myself.  When I was coming out of our appointment, she was leaving at the same time.  I felt such a kinship to this woman, with whom I'd only exchanged a few words...but I felt like I knew her.  Perhaps knew better than her what she might by facing.  I wanted so badly to go to her and comfort her..let her know that it would be okay, her boy would still be her boy.

But, sadly, I also felt a kind of pity  for her.  I felt like consoling her for all the things she was going to have to face.  For how overwhelming it all is in the beginning, and how really, its challenges never fade, they just have a way of jumping around, creating new hurdles, new obstacles... I wanted to tell her that people are going to be mean, that's she's going to have to get to know her stuff, because lots of decisions will have to be made...  she's going to have to grow a thick skin, thick enough for them both.

I wanted to help her freeze time, before they called her back and gave them her judgement.  "He does fall on the autism spectrum."  Once spoken...takes only a few seconds...but changes everything.
I wanted to say, You don't know me, but I know you.  You don't know me, but I'm your sister.  You don't know me, but we're part of the same club, you and I.  Welcome to our sub-culture.  Welcome to being an autism mom...  Hold on tight.

Of course, I never said any of these things, just gave my little boy's warm hand a bit of a tighter squeeze as we walked on past.  I didn't even make eye contact.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To the Movie Theatre....And Beyond!

Well, well, what do you know?  It would apear that the long awaited Toy Story 3 is due to hit theatres mid-month...after years of waiting.  Our little man is a big fan of movies 1 and 2, so, naturally he is excited to see the sequel.  Allow me to clarify, he's excited to see with when it comes out on DVD and can be watched from the comfort of our own couch, in our own living room.  The theatre....not so much.

Gentle readers, you may recall my last attempt at taking himself to a movie Up! In Smoke .  It didn't go so great.  But it has been almost a year since that not-so-successful movie outing, and if Toy Story 3 can't help us get beyond this block, nothing will. 

So, the nature of the debate around these parts is, whether to try to, not force, but push him into going.  One side of the argument being, if he doesn't want to go, big deal, don't go.  The other school of thought being, going to a movie together is a nice activity, something we can all do together, something you can do with friends.  It's perhaps a place worthy of getting comfortable with.  What to do...what to do....

Here's what I'm thinking....wait until the movie has been out about a week, so the theatres aren't packed anymore.  Perhaps I'll aim for a weekday morning, and fit this in someday before school let's out for summer, and the city is once again brimming with school aged children all week long.  Just like before, I'll pack enough sweets to get us through....and hope for the best.  Maybe we'll read through "Curious George goes to the Movies" and "If you take a Mouse to the Movies" a few times, to put some excitement into going to the cinemas....and hope for the best.

And if all else fails, you get a full refund if you leave within 20 minutes of the feature presetation.