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Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Growing out of Autism and other disabilities

As a teacher, I see Autisms (recently I heard a speaker actually add the "s" on purpose.....because it isn't any one thing. There are so many variables. ) I just got this catalog from School Specialty chocked with items to help kids with their sensory and behavior needs and my first thought was, how has education changed in the last, say 30-40 years? What has happened that now more and more kids have issues of some kind? It isn't just a brain thing, we isn't just environment or just vaccines but a real combination of society influences. Perhaps, our drive to be more competitive, no one knows. But as I look at the catalog, their are glimpses of things kids are missing in our schools......and things that are happening that keep kids from making progress. The lights.....we all know that fluorescence bothers many people's brains, but we still maintain those kind of lights, so that only if a school is wise and has the finances, they can then add the fabric underlays to remedy the situation. Why not change the lighting?

We all know that most class sizes are too big......a complaint that has long been said by teachers. The main reason why many kids end up in private schools, yet we keep increasing the size.

It has been documented that kids now have too much screen time from age 1 month into childhood......yet, tv manufacturers continue to make bigger and better tvs and push people to buy the big that a two year old watching almost disappears inside the box. Not to mention the amount of voices heard from the box, which is probably enough to mess up the brain.

When I regressed at 18 months, it was thought that my Dad's Navy experience was the reason, which would be environmental. He would go away on short cruises, and I would carry his picture everywhere with me. I lost ground in speech and toilet habits and pretty much withdrew from the world. I pulled my hair, sucked my thumb, and would not pay attention to my Dad as long as he was in his uniform. I also had three older half-sisters. A lot was going on in our house. Step relationships, teenagers, a nervous mother who had been widowed early before marrying my Dad. He had a previous family. Maybe something in me just said, hey, I don't want any part of it, I really don't know. My memories come from pictures (my Dad was a Navy Photographer). I have few memories before age 7.

I attended a preschool for retarded children at age 4 in the Tidewater area. I was in a class with other children with disabilities. Then we moved to Florida where I attended a small church kindergarten. Stop. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone to the church kindergarten for two years before moving on to first grade. I  was a December birthday and always felt younger and less mature than my peers. So, if a young child needs more time, do it. Give them that time. You won't have a chance like that later.

That is what is so frustrating about today's public schools: even our prek children don't play. I say that because kindergarten used to be connected to real play opportunities. Not anymore. We read and write sentences in kindergarten. We do addition and subtraction. Dolls and blocks have been banished. Puppets are a rare commodity. Assemblies are about behavior not enrichment.

As a special ed teacher, I have learned a great deal about what is children can only process small chunks of information at a time. Even my daughter, when she was a baby, could not grow teeth and learn to walk together. Each step had to be mastered individually. But she did, and mastered them well. In our present time, baby stores pound the need to get the babies up and walking asap by pushing the walker concept upon young parents. You need this is what they hear. You can't live without it. Yet, a child will walk when they are ready. A walker can develop leg muscles, true, but it does nothing for the cognitive connection a baby needs to be able to push himself up and get balanced. By doing it on his own, the brain, muscles, bones, and senses are working together. Set the child in a walker and those important connections may get lost.

So, take away the toys of yesteryear: our catalogs now only use a few pages to focus upon the kitchen centers, block areas, inside play units.....because, schools are abandoning this kind of learning. We don't need this. But what cognitive-physical connections are going to be missed if our children leap right into playing paper games at a table?

The child with one of the many autisms or apraxia, etc. can't always succeed if they miss all those important connections of childhood. People like Dr. Howard Gardner has proven the need for multi-sensory learning, but schools think this, I will buy you a rocking chair and that is our mult-sensory input. Now, on to our scripted can you be flexible and multi-sensory if you have to follow a script? Meanwhile, curriculum companies get rich.

I walk into a kindergarten room today, and see too much of a literacy environment......words from ceiling to floor....lists all over. If a child has trouble focusing, how is he going to focus here, on one thing?

Back to my childhood, I went to typical elementary school, was pulled out of class for speech through 2nd grade which I must have just hated cause I refused to return. I did speech finally in college with my teacher -speech pathologist who used the Lindamood method with me. Apparently, the Lindamoods were at Cal Poly when I was there.  It is a good program.

My Tourette Syndrome / TMJ probably began around age 8 when I began to have my first orthodontics fixtures in my mouth. Then in High School when the Dentist did orthodontics on my upper teeth but not my lower teeth which again probably messed up my mandibular joints causing pain and facial ticking.
Why do I tic, was what I sought, as I went to counselor after counselor seeking answers, and occasionally some weird medicine that would just knock me out. At that time, I knew nothing about Tourette Syndrome till a doctor diagnosed me sometime around 1991. He looked at me for 5 minutes and diagnosed me. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE???

No connection or questions about jaws.......parents, ask questions. Make connections.....don't wait.

So now, I am getting Tourette help from an orthodontist......yet, insurance won't pay cause it concerns my mouth!......

Ok, I know, I am rambling here. I guess what I want to say is, don't give up. Live each day at a time. Enjoy your child. Push for more play. Speak up. Children with Autisms learn differently.....but they can learn. Realistically, every child does not have to be an ace scholar and attend Harvard. Some kids love cars and may grow up to be very good at fixing them, thank the Lord, cause that is something I am not good at. Pride can come from knowing when to turn that hamburger over. Many young parents don't even know how to cook anymore because we have lost that in our schools: the home economics, the sewing, the woodworking, the crafting.....the Waldorf  Schools encourage this kind of hands-on learning as essential to one's soul, but the public schools have abandoned it, preferring heads-on learning instead.

We must speak up for all the children.  We must save our schools.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making Movies

    Today, I taped each boy as they showed me their Toy Theatre and their Famous American Puppets. They did better than I expected. I have a couple of hams in the group. Put them in front of a camera and they blossom. You know how difficult it is to find a quiet, out of the way spot in an elementary school? Then, yesterday, my wonderful assistant principal suggested that I use the school psychologist's office. It was the ideal space for all, except for one, the oldest fifth grader. He has a fear about going into the Nurse's office and we had to go through it to get to the psychologist's office. No way.....that was not going to happen. I took him into the maintenance office and we began, despite the echolalic yells, etc. What really annoyed me was this, there we were trying to film and we were interrupted 4 different times. Now, I really wonder if this had been a typical boy working a video project, would they have noticed the camera and backed out? But none of them did......they weren't emergencies, one lady was just writing some name on a dvd. It was very distracting to my student. I only hope I can fashion something decent when I download the film tomorrow and begin editing.

    Amazingly, for the one boy who was absent, I went by his house and filmed him afterschool. Though he is very quiet, he recognized all five historical people! They listen even when you don't think they do.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another day......

    Today, I continued with the sentence lessons reviewing and introducing the shape pictures that relate to the grammar words. I really think I am onto something here. I wish I had the Montessori 3D shapes. I have always believed in the Montessori Materials and now that I teach kids with such adaptive needs, I can see the value in how hands-on they are. We worked on the concept of pronoun: I, he, she, you. This is a difficult one, but I won't give up. Even the two who are non-verbal, I treat them like they really understand it, making sure they do at least one thing they know they can do like say "I" or point to "I".  Sometimes, it seems it is totally a work in progress.....each day, each moment, something new.

   Writing on the board went super today. One boy has gotten star making down, another can draw a bus, and a third is learning to draw a face. I am ecstatic over this .......since most cannot do any kind of representative drawings. My OT had suggested this drawing on a vertical surface and I have finally figured out how to fit it in. I no longer am stuck on doing calendar. Circle time signifies a coming together before lunch to jump, draw, write, sing, and move. It is a relaxed time and I am loving it. The trampoline is out. I put the music on. I pass out some markers. There is no fussing! I just wish I didn't have to beg my assistants to stand up and move too. It is so important to show enthusiasm and have fun! The kids know when one is genuine and enthusiastic. They respond in turn. I am trying to figure how to convey to my other adults the value of real play experiences. Every child needs this. When I hear the adults talking and holding conversation, I wonder, "why can't they talk like that with the kids?"

   Later, before I left for the evening, I had a assistant principal had some little toys from a leftover Christmas bag and asked me if the kids would like them. Lego car and plane? You bet....this particular woman is absolutely the best and really looks out for my class. It made me feel really good. She really makes life bearable in my job.

  I am becoming much calmer as I proceed through the day. I don't worry so much about what others are doing. I am really trying to go with the flow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So, tell me again, why do we have Standards Tests?

I learned again today that our government actually analyzes the data from 3rd grade Standards testing in order to figure out how many future prisons to build in the future. Imagine that! Look at children, 8 years old, and condemn them before they have had a chance to bloom. To me, this sounds so immoral. But then it reminds me that our children don't play, they fill out worksheets. Units of Study are short. The short time gives children very little time to investigate and discover truths behind stories and events.

On to the news of the day in the special education classroom, today we continued our Sentence study. Some of the boys are learning step by step how to put words together to form a sentence. I am using the Montessori idea which uses a black triangle to represent nouns and a red circle to represent verbs, etc. We went through the act of cutting out the shapes, and laying them on the sentence strip. Then we added appropriate words to make a two word sentence. One of my first graders is very much in tune with what we are doing. What is really good is that has begun to have Montessori Materials accessible on the site.

The boys worked on the old program of Paint today. Their Internet has been removed. Then they wrote on the whiteboard with real markers. This afternoon, I began to film the Toy Theater productions. Keep them busy all day, that is the key.

That's all for now, as Pres. Obama is about to speak.

Monday, January 25, 2010

By myself

It is funny that when my assistants are sick and I am by myself, the boys prove what they know by following the routine of the day with little trouble. Today was no different. I pulled the Internet cords, steered them away from the computers, and interactions began to happen. At circletime, while one was jumping to the music, four were at the whiteboard drawing and writing. They are learning to use their hands which are so essential to life.

After lunch, we watched a movie, "I Can Read," and took turns writing the sight words. Maybe if we do this daily, we will eventually get it.

Afterschool, I happened by a kindergarten room to really realized that kindergarten children just don't play anymore.There were no toys in the rooms. This truly saddens me. When did we grow up our children?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Life happens in circles

Remember when whole language activities were the thing in our public schools? This was during the time when I wasn't teaching and wanted to so very much. Well, yesterday, we had a staff development which emphasized "Say, Write, Do" and I thought to myself, isn't this what whole language did? The school systems have spent so much on phonics programs and scripted curriculums, they literally forget the most important: listen to the children. Give them the experiences they need so they will want to write, to read more, and they will learn to think.
In speaking with our one blind child yesterday, he taught me one thing in a brief two minute conversation: imagination is worth more than curriculum. Here is a child who truly believes he can ride a bike and see a blind person in a wheelchair......(he truly doesn't even understand the concept blindness since he has never seen what we see). He has many behavior problems but it because we continue to send him down a traditional public school path? Are we refusing to listen to his true voice? He is a child who marches to a beat we can never follow......
My oldest student did something yesterday on the way out to his van he really had never done on his own. He waved and said, "Bye, Horsley". I was pleased.......for we have grown up together over the last 6 years.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My First Blog

Ok, best psychotherapist in Richmond, I did it. I set up a blog. Now, what should I say tonight? Well, I will make it quick for I still have to write an IEP before I go to bed.
How do we learn? I learn sporadically, every day some new trick. Today, here is what I observed from what from now on will be referred to as "the boys". "The boys" are ages 7 to almost 11. Their disabilities range from Multiple Disability which inevitably includes Autism, OHI, OCD; Intellectual Disability; Communication Disorder; and Savant Autism (kind of made the last one up, but it fits). Oh, the Autisms also include two forms of Hyperlexia. How we can name our kids and what we see as different from the norm.
I strayed here. What I learned is: learning how to interact with others is far more important than being on the computer alone; puppets can attract interest and be tools of the hand for developing fine motor skills; draw a line with a marker around a picture and it is easier to cut out; and do one small task at a time. Waiting is a virtue. We all need to learn how to wait, wait on others, wait for the bus, wait to speak, and wait for a response.
I want to find validation in my life. I want to know that during my time here on this planet Earth, I worked hard and accomplished many things.