Archives for posts with tag: School

Before we begin…
Conversations with M:

M: Mommy, can I wear my new sunglasses that Uncle Kevin gave me?
Me: Sure, but please be careful with them.
M: *Walks over to mirror, puts on sunglasses and strikes a pose.  Then he leans forward and whispers to the mirror* There’s a NEW man in town! *walks away*

In my last blog, I talked about how this year started off bumpy for M.  He was having a hard time with Grade 3 and dealing with a lot of anxiety, sensory issues and frustration.

After discussing the situation with his Teacher and his SERT, we began working on solutions.  We realised that we definitely needed to set up a meeting to address things like the EA situation, but we needed to try to do what we could to reduce the stress, anxiety and frustration now. Right away we took steps to try to improve the situation. Knowing that the point system in the class was a huge source of frustration his Teacher suggested it might help if we started to use it at home and I was happy to do so.  We hoped that him having it at home as well as school, might reduce some of the stress and anxiety related to it.  As well, I had a discussion about it with him.  I told him that instead of getting upset when the Teacher got a point, that he should try to think of ways that he could help the class gain a point.

Next I talked to his SERT, again breaking into tears. (I unfortunately am a very emotional person and can’t help it.  I think I apologized about 20 times to both his Teacher and SERT that I was bawling and both of them assured me that they understood completely)  First she said she would hunt down some form of technology for him to use to reduce the amount of writing he would need to do.  This would help until the scrip from the OT went through.  She also found some small sensory things for him to use.  I have found that smells are very calming for M and have in the past used scented, flavoured lip balms to help him calm down when he was upset.  He loves good smells and a bad smell can be really difficult for him to deal with.  She had a wonderful EA in the school who made coloured, scented rice as a sensory item for the kids, so his SERT got him some of those.  She also was going to work on his visual calendar and set up a frustration scale for him.  He would be able to tell them where he was at any time from a 1 to a 5.  At a 1 he was completely calm and happy, at a 5, he was ready to melt down.  This gave him a way of being able to express himself.

I had a lot of talks with him and explained that I wanted him to try to tell me about things that had happened during his day. I told him that unless it was something truly major, I was not going to get mad at him.  The school was already handling whatever took place and I just wanted to discuss it with him.  This was something the school and I had discussed before that if the situation was handled there, there was no need to get upset over it.  Instead we would try to see how he could have handled it instead.  For example, one afternoon he was telling me how he had become very upset in the morning.  When I asked him what happened, he explained that he was in a group of kids and it had become too crowded for him.  So as a result he stood up and ran out of the class.  He also screamed. We talked about how he could have gone to the Teacher and told her how he was feeling and see if she could find a solution for him. (We are trying to get him to realise that he has to let us know what he’s feeling, something he really struggles with)  He explained that he couldn’t tell her because he didn’t know the word for what he was feeling.  I told him that he could tell her just that.  “I’m feeling something and I don’t know the right word.”  Another issue his SERT and Teacher were able to help with was the stress of the hallway in the morning.  It was so busy, loud and just generally overwhelming for him.  They decided that they would have someone bring him in right away when he got off the bus and bring him upstairs to undress and get into class before anyone else came.  This also gave him extra time to calm down and settle in for the day.

All of these things were a huge help to him and things improved, but they were still far from ideal.  We were going to have to have a meeting.  The EA situation was still all over the place.  Right now he was working with one of his favourite EA’s in the world.  But she was there for a limited time and when she left, it was going to be really hard on him knowing she would not be back.  He still would have many different EA’s in a day and while they are all wonderful, not all of them were the right fit for him.  I knew that the school wanted what was best for him, but they too were limited in their resources.  I knew there were many kids in that school with special needs and they all needed support.  But I also knew that this is my child and it is HIS needs that I needed to ensure were being met.  I walked into that meeting with my heart in my stomach.  I was so scared that I might have to fight to get him what he needed.

His Teacher, SERT and Principal all came to the meeting.  I had many time interacted with his principal and I have always had a great deal of respect for him.  He truly tries to know and understand all of his kids and I am amazed at how a man with such a large number of students manages to connect with so many of them.

Right away they told me some of the changes they had just made to his situation.  First, his SERT has searched out and found a laptop for him to work on while we waited for his scrip to go through from the OT (Occupational Therapist).  Together we added a lot of things to his scrip for sensory equipment such as a pressure vest (this makes him feel like he’s getting a hug all the time something that M really needs when he’s stressed), a beanbag chair for when they are sitting on the floor as that is really hard for him, a peapod (this is like a beanbag chair but without the pellets so it is filled with air and just surrounds and gives them a squeeze) a sit fit cushion for his chair, a fidget box and more.  While we are waiting for that to come through however they had found some sensory equipment for him to help in the meantime.  They had worked on his visual schedule, this allows him not only to know what is coming up at all times, but to have some control over some things like when he gets a break he can choose what he places in that slot.  They added breaks for him, something the OT has approved and they have been able to add to his IEP (Individual Education Plan).  Some of the breaks are sensory breaks while others are movement breaks.  They insure that M gets his work done but they have realised that these breaks are so important for him and let him come down after working hard.  When he has one of these breaks, he chooses what he would like to do.  His choices depend on if it is a sensory or a movement break.  This helps to give him a degree of control and reward.  His SERT has set up an area in her office which is right next to his classroom that will have some of his sensory equipment, such as the peapod.  This way he doesn’t have to go all the way downstairs to the sensory room.  He often will go to visit her when he needs a break or when he’s upset.  She is fantastic with him and he has a wonderful relationship with her.  Next, they asked that from then on I make sure to put his snack in a separate bag so he can bring just that in for snack time. They told me he was often eating his entire lunch on first break and then had nothing for second. Next, they asked me how I felt about them creating an office for him.  They said he would have his own little area that they would call his office and this would be where he would work.  It would remove a lot of the distractions and sensory obstacles in class when he was working and help him to focus.  I thought it was an amazing idea.  And perhaps most importantly they altered his EA schedule so he has just one EA at all times.  They chose someone who works really well with him and who he likes very much. I was overwhelmed with how they had basically addressed everything I was concerned about and fixed it.

So, how has it all turned out?  Shortly after that, I got his first progress report.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  All of his subjects were marked “Progressing Well”.  But it was the other part of the report card that brought tears to my eyes.  On this area, the marks are NI (Needs Improvement), S (Satisfactory), G (Good) and E (Excellent).  For Organisation, Independent Work, Initiative and Self-Regulation he got a G.  I was over the moon.  But then, for Responsibility and Collaboration, he got an E.

About a week later, we had a parent Teacher meeting.  Both his Teacher and his SERT attended the meeting. At M’s school the interviews are student lead.  I absolutely love this.  Gone are the days of a child sitting at home or right outside the room, filled with anxiety, not knowing what is being said.  The children are able to choose the things they feel they did well, areas they have improved, areas they feel they need to work harder on and things they are really proud of.   I can’t tell you how incredibly proud I was of him and how overwhelmed and amazed I was over all they had done for him.  M had a script that he read from for the interview.  He had and his SERT had sat down the day before and rehearsed the script so he would feel prepared and confident when presenting his work.  He read from the script introducing us even though we had met many times already, however after the introductions he insisted “This is where you are supposed to shake hands!” Which made all of us laugh and of course his Teacher and I shook hands, after all that was “what you are supposed to do”.

As I sat there looking at all of this stuff I was holding back tears.  The visual schedule his SERT had created must have taken a huge amount of time and effort to create.  She had everything laminated with pictures and it all went onto the schedule with Velcro.  Each day it would be set up for him so he knew what was coming and when it came to his breaks and choices he would pick out a different sheet with more pictures on velcro and place his choice in the slot.  He pulled out his work to show me all the things he was doing and what he felt proud of as well as what he realised he needed to work harder on.  After each, he would come to a part in the schedule where he would say “Do you have any questions or comments?”  Sometimes I would ask him about it always commenting on how wonderful it all was.  At one point when he asked me for any questions or comments, I sat there smiling so wide and all that came out was “I am just so proud of you.”  His teacher smiled at me and said, “And that is the best comment of all.”

His office was wonderful and they had even put a picture of him in his Halloween costume up on the wall to help make it special.  His schedule was there and he had bins next to him with his choices and some sensory equipment.  Do we still have challenges and difficult days?  Yes, of course we do, but they are much fewer and farther between. As we finished up the meeting I looked at the smile on his face I could see that the best thing that had come out of this was the change in how he felt. For M, grade 3 had gone from a “can’t” to being a “CAN and WILL”.

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Unfortunately, this blog will be in two parts as it is very long.

On a happy note, I will be trying to start each week with one of my “Conversations with M.”  They will likely always be off topic, but they will help you to get to know him better and help you to see just how awesome he is.  So without further ado:

Me: What’s wrong buddy?
M: *FRUSTRATED* The computer is not working (This is my old laptop he is working on that is losing the will to live)
Me: Okay, Let’s try restarting it.
M:*Restarts* Oooooohhhhh, *facepalm* look, it’s updating.
Me: *Smiling* Okay, good, that’s probably why it was running slow.
M: *Completely serious* Yeah, I think it just needed a little fart.
Me: *DYING*

In our house, the beginning of a new year of school is always filled with anxiety. Who will be the teacher? What is the teacher like?  Who are the other kids in the class? What is the classroom like?  Who will be the EA (Educational Assistant)?….   And that’s just ME!

All kidding aside, I never, ever let M know that I’m stressed and to be honest, I’m not nearly as stressed as I would be if it were not for the fact that M goes to a truly exceptional and amazing school.  I cannot tell you how LUCKY we are that he goes where he does. I have heard so many horror stories from parents who have to fight their child’s school just to get them what they need, and even then, they often do not get it.  It breaks my heart for their child and for them.  So, I am chronically aware of how fortunate we are.

Today, I am sharing M’s experience for two reasons. One, I find that in sharing our experiences, we help each other to feel less alone and it helps to know that someone understands just some of the things we go through. That will be what I will be trying to focus on in this first part. The second reason I am sharing this is in the hopes that some of the things that we have found work for him and help him to be successful, might help other people or spark ideas that would work for their children.  This is the part I will try to focus on in part two.

For the most part, M loves school.  He wants to go most days and he really has an enjoyable school life.  That being said, school can be very stressful at times and most days he has at least one incident where he gets very frustrated.  That frustration can come from one or many things, there are numerous triggers and if he cannot find a way to communicate his needs or help himself to calm down, it will result in some kind of behaviour or meltdown.  I will expand in a bit on what those behaviours and meltdowns are like.

Anxiety is a big part of M’s world, as well as Sensory issues (A LOT of Sensory Issues), Communication difficulties, Language difficulties and difficulties with Transitions, Fine and Gross motor difficulties and more.  School can be a source of anxiety for any child and their parents, but for kids and parents of kids on the spectrum, or any child with special needs, it’s a whole new ball of wax. The beginning of a school year is a huge transition and for children on the spectrum, transitions are filled with anxiety and stress.

You would think heading into grade three would be no different than other years, stressful, but at this stage in the game, something we were getting used to. But it was.  Grade three has been said to be the big year in school.  It is an important year and a demanding one.  Did I think M had the ability to do this, HECK YEAH!!!  He can do anything he puts his mind to.  I had no doubts that he could and would do amazing. I did however think the journey might be challenging and would probably have quite a few bumps in the road, but there was and is nothing that we could not find a way to get past.  I always let M know that no matter what we face, we will face it together and we will find a way to get through it.  He had done so well in grade two.  There were challenges and there were rough patches, but he got through them and by the end of the year, he was doing amazing.  I was so proud of him and he was proud of himself.

And so, when we hit a bump before grade three even began, I was stunned. As a matter of fact, this bump was right at the end of grade two.  M had heard his friends in grade three and six talking about the large government test that they take towards the end of the year. This test is a way for the government , the school board and the school itself know how the schools and teachers are performing.  And even though it really doesn’t affect the children in any way, they still stress about it.  They worry about how they will perform and how they will measure up to their friends.  And so, between the test and the fact that he had figured out that each year was getting progressively harder with a bigger work load, M’s anxiety was through the roof.  He told me that he wasn’t going to be able to do grade three, it was too hard.  I have always told him, there is no “can’t”, he CAN; we will find a way and we will make it happen.  But, even with my constant reassurances, for M, grade three had turned into a great big “CAN’T!!”

To add fuel to the fire, at the end of grade two, some of the people M had a strong connection to, were leaving and would not be back next year.  He lost his vice principal, someone he really liked a whole lot. The other two people he lost were people who he truly loved and adored.  One was his grade one teacher and the other was one of this favourite EAs.  They were both still very involved in his school life and he had a truly beautiful connection with both of these people.  He knew that when he came back, they would not be there.

To help him through the transition of going from grade two to grade three, one of his wonderful EAs from that year had made a social story just for M.  It was all about what to expect in grade three.What they would be learning about, the changes that would take place, the new vice principal, all while reassuring him about how great he was going to do.  It was fantastic.  She had pictures of him and others and it was completely personalised just for him.  It really did seem to help ease his anxiety a little.

Over the summer I did things to try to show him that he was going to do just fine in grade three.  We did some graphs and worked on a grade three work book that is created by teachers and is straight from the grade three curriculum in this area.  I knew that in order to get him interested and get him to want to do this, I had to make it fun.  I had to make it about what he loves and what is important to him.  So, I made it about cars and superheroes, two things he really loves.

A couple of times, we went around the neighbourhood, armed with a pencil and a pad of paper, collecting information about cars. We would create zones and he would choose what brands of cars we were looking for. Then we would mark off how many of that type of car we had found in that zone.  Another time, we sat out front of our home in a couple of camping chairs.  We brought a timer with us and our music as well as our trusty pad of paper and pencil.  I had M choose several different brands of cars again and for those that were not in those brands, we had an other category.  We would then set the timer for ten minutes and start our music as well.  For that time we would record how many different types of car drove by in that time.  Of course, we sang and chair danced at the same time. (That’s the only kind of dancing I do these days, especially when I’m extra sore)  Then after ten minutes we would reset the timer and do it again until we had done it four times.  Then we created a line graph based on the information we had gathered. Other times we would gather information by votes.  I would have him choose the pictures he wanted of cars or super heroes and then I would create a collage of them with numbers for each one.  I would put it up on Facebook and then ask everyone to vote on it.  M would count the votes and then make a bar graph from the information we gathered.   He did great and it helped a little to ease his anxiety and allowed him, for the most part to have a really fun summer. However, the last couple of weeks were hard.  The closer we got to the end of the summer, the stronger M’s anxiety became.

 

Graphs for blog

Some of the Graphs we did over the summer. I wrote the words, but he did the work. I think he did pretty awesome.

 

Every year at the end of the summer we come in a week before school starts to allow M to meet his new teacher and see his new classroom.  We have done this every year and it really seems to help with the transition as well as the first day of school.  The past two years his SERT (Special Education Resource Teacher) has emailed me and we were able to set a time and day that worked for everyone.

We went up to the school and M was very excited to see his school and see many of the staff.  The great majority of the staff in his school know him well and adore him.  His SERT came to the office to meet us and take us to his new class.  Right away, things were different than previous years.  Until now, M’s class had always been on the first floor.  This year, for the first time, he is on the second floor.  Now, he told me that he’d hoped to be on the second floor, but again, having only been up there for short periods of time on rare occasions, he had no idea what it was going to be like to be up there all the time.  It’s different from what he knows and is used to and beyond that, there are quite a few sensory differences with being on the second floor.  First of all, just having to climb up and down the stairs several times a day is new to him.  Then you consider that the acoustics are different, the smells are different, it’s more crowded and therefore more noisy, the heating feels and smells different to him, the lighting seems different to him, it’s just…. different.

We were then introduced to his new teacher.  She was not someone I had met before and M didn’t seem to know her very well, but I was so pleased at who they had chosen for him.  She is wonderful with him and was wonderful with him from the first moment we arrived.  We discussed a lot in that short time and one thing I talked to her about is hugs.  M is a very huggy kid and it’s actually something that calms him down. He loves the feeling of getting and giving tight hugs.  She assured me that that was fine with her and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

She told us that she only works 4 days a week and so M would have a different teacher on Wednesdays.  She assured me that the Wednesday teacher was a lot of fun, very artsy (M LOVES art of course) and very kind.  All of that is true, however, again, this meant not just one new teacher, but TWO new teachers.

M and I told her about how nervous he was about grade three and about some of the work he had been doing over the summer.  She then showed him that one of the very first things they were going to be doing was gathering information and making graphs.  This got a HUGE smile from him.

Also, his classroom is one with an accordion door in the middle.  This door opens to the class beside it and as they said, it meant that the teacher on the other side and the other class would be involved with him too.  Thankfully, this teacher in the other class was one he knew well as she was a kindergarten teacher when he was in kindergarten.  He didn’t have her, but he knows her well.  She is amazing with Autistic kids and truly understands Autism.  He’s been in classes with an accordion door before and where the classes will blend together at times, so thankfully this was not something new to him.

Before we left he gave his new teacher and his SERT a big hug and promised the teacher that he would wear the fedora he was wearing that day on his first day so she would be able to find him right away.  He promised.   I asked him what he thought and he said “I like it, it has Lego.”  Which of course made my father and I laugh and me relax a little.  As always the visit answered a lot of questions for us and really helped to make the transition a little less stressful, but there were still a lot of unanswered questions.  At that point we had no idea who he may have as an EA or how many EAs he would have.  Also, we had no idea who was going to be in his class and were hoping that he would have at least a few of his close friends with him.

A week later when M started, it all seemed to be going quite well.  I would ask him how school was and he would say great.  As always, I couldn’t get much out of him about what he did or what happened, but he kept assuring me that he was doing really well.

Then I started to notice things at home.  He was stressed, he was cranky which was very unlike him and the one that really worried me was he was hitting himself.  It wasn’t really hard or anything, he would pound on his legs with his fists or smack himself in the head, but it was enough to scare me. He would constantly use the statement “It’s all my fault”.  I would ask him how school was and he would say it was good.  But when I would ask for more information, he would get frustrated with me.  What was also worrying was that he often couldn’t tell me who his EAs were that day and would say that there had been many of them throughout his day and he didn’t know any of their names.  The constant switching was not good for him and I was getting really worried.

I emailed his teacher and she let me know that she had been wanting to talk to me as well.  She phoned me and the story I got from her about school was very different than M’s and quite heartbreaking.  M was melting down daily.  His stress and frustration levels were through the roof.  He was throwing things (not at anyone, just things like throwing his bag into his locker or throwing his water bottle down on the floor, still inappropriate and wrong, but not in a way that he was trying to hurt anyone), throwing himself on the floor, hitting himself, running out of the classroom and trying to take off (this one always scares me a lot, if he is really upset he tries to run from the situation, not uncommon, but still scary) , screaming a lot, yelling “it’s all my fault” even when the situation had NOTHING to do with him.  Some of his behaviours were ones he hadn’t exhibited in a very long time, some not since kindergarten.  It was like he was regressing in some ways.

When I asked what was triggering all of this she told me that there were a lot of things.  For example, if one of his friends did something they shouldn’t, he was very upset that they were getting talked to about it. M hates to see anyone hurt or upset.  There was a point system they were using in the class where if they did something right, they got a point.  It could be listening well in class or even one of the students helping a friend or the teacher. However, if they did something they shouldn’t do, such as being noisy in the hallway, the teacher would get a point.  If at the end of the day they had more points than her, they got five extra minutes towards their free time on Friday.  This meant they could get a total of 20 extra minutes from Monday to Thursday.  But, whenever she got a point, M would get extremely upset.   Other things were things he had always had difficulty with such as turn taking.  He was frustrated with some of the work, especially anything where he had to write.  With his fine motor issues, writing was very difficult, frustrating and exhausting.  The reality was that there were bigger issues, but as is the way, it was coming out on the smaller things.   It was a mess.  I am a very emotional person and when I heard all of this I couldn’t help crying.

We needed to find the triggers that were causing his frustrations and do something to fix the ones we could and help him find ways to communicate or somehow get through the ones he couldn’t.  We decided that we would set up a meeting with his SERT and his principal at the school to discuss it all, especially the really big issues like the EA situation, and in the meantime we would come up with ways to see if we could help reduce his frustration levels.

In my next entry I will tell you all the things we have done since then to help M and what does and does not work for him.  Thank you for reading.

Lyndsay