Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day of School with a special Cheetos Suprise

Today was the first day of school. I am feeling really good about this year. I am confident that I know what I am doing, what to advocate for, our daily routine, and I know all of the parents. I mean, it's an autism classroom, so there are always things that pop up, but generally speaking, we're all in a good place.

To start out, there were a few transportation mishaps. One of my kids' buses never showed up. Well, suffice it to say, this mother was getting her kid to school. She's been waiting since June 19th for this day to come! So, that kid showed up in a taxicab!

Another kid needs shots and his mother couldn't get a doctor's appointment for about a week. So, he'll be here in a week or so!

Our favorite friend, who has been discussed in many of my blog posts, returned from visiting family out of the country. The assistants and I were all very concerned that she would lose ALL of her skills while she was gone, because she was unable to attend our wrap-around summer program. She showed up this morning with PULL UPS in her backpack. This did not give me a good feeling. She reached into the bag to pull them out and I pushed them back in and I said, "We don't wear pull ups in middle school. We're big kids here." Then I directed her to the bathroom. I told her aide to really be vigilant about the toileting schedule (taking her frequently). I also put a bathroom tag (small picture card with a toilet icon on it) on her pants (this stage was surpassed in October of last year, as she now uses her communication book to ask for the bathroom using a full sentence). I added the bathroom tag because it gives her a quick way to request the bathroom no matter where she is. Surprisingly enough, she remembered how to use it and was requesting the bathroom independently all morning. How DARE we think she would lose all of these skills. She sure showed us! She even brought her communication book to me with the sentence, "I want hug Mrs. Smith" on it. She got one. A really big, proud one!!! She was showing off, using her book, not having accidents, being a cool 7th grader, and really making us proud. She even left the classroom and hit the voice box that says, "Goodbye!" on her way out - as she looked straight at me and waved (a skill that took MONTHS to acquire). We were so proud.

The boys were all happy to see me, our new para is enjoying his role in the classroom, the day went so smoothly. We made "welcome back" goodie bags and delivered them to our biggest fans. We did spend a considerable amount of time playing with our new 1500 pc lego bin... but that is to be expected on a "transition" day from summer to school.

It was nearing the end of the day and I almost thought to myself, this is too perfect! All of the sudden, one of the aides looked at me and said, "Where's B?" I said - "She's supposed to be with you! Where is she!?" I freaked out. I ran out of the room. Literally, a split second of taking your eyes off of them can lead to this type of thing! I told one para to stay with the boys in the classroom, one para went upstairs to look, one para went down the hall, and I went the other direction. We were calling her name, looking for her, asking if people had seen her - what a horrible teacher I am! How do you LOSE A KID on the first day!? And this is possibly the HARDEST KID TO LOSE. She is loud, makes squawking noises as she walks down the hall, kicks her legs in the air, jumps through large groups of people, and has a one to one para! As I am panicking, I made my way to the cafeteria. Who but Princess B is sitting in the middle of the floor of the cafeteria with an open bag of Cheetos that she had stolen from the now empty lunch line. Cheeto cheese covered her fingers and face and as soon as she saw me, she started laughing hysterically. She jumped up, threw the bag in the trash, licked her fingers, and jumped over as if to say, "Alright, got my fill, let's do this thing."

I was glad I found her, but I am SO embarrassed this happened. Whew. Something terrible could have happened to her! I am just thankful it turned out as it did. She had no idea anything was even wrong. She was just enjoying a bag of cheetos and laughing hysterically! We are all on "flight risk" duty and will be keeping the door shut. I am also looking into one of those door alarms that beeps when the door opens, just for safety!

Lets hope this is a one time thing. In the meantime, I can only laugh thinking about how she had on one sock and one shoe (each on different feet) and the big cheesy (literally) grin that she had on her face when we discovered her.

Perhaps tomorrow I will add a card that says, "Let's go to the cafeteria" to her communication book. I mean, can you blame her? She didn't have that card today. She took care of business. Let's just consider this an opportunity to expand her vocabulary! Despite this mini-mishap, she proves to me on a daily basis that we will continue to make great strides as we achieve success daily.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pure excitement!

The kids have come so far this year. Not just on paper, but other teachers have commented on how much they've grown in their social skills and confidence. We were invited to the sixth grade awards ceremony on Friday. My teacher friends from the lunch crew told me to choose a few different students for some of the awards (I ended up choosing an award for each student...)

I put them in the other teachers' piles of awards, so that when their names were called, it could be like they were a part of the regular sixth grade class. As each student was called, their faces lit up with smiles as they proudly marched to the front of the auditorium to get their awards. The other students CLAPPED for them, which was usually started by a fellow lunch crew friend. That was my intention for the lunch crew students all along - to build their confidence in their abilities to "show" the other students the way. It worked! The whole auditorium was clapping louder for my kids than for any other kid who was called! It was their exciting moment of the school year.

Well, everyone had been called except my extra special student who moved here from Kenya. She is not very aware of her surroundings and honestly wouldn't have cared if they called her or not. She was sitting there enjoying her OPRAH magazine and clapping in between turning the pages. However, they DID call her. She looked up! (It is amazing that she even responded to her name, which is a feat in itself!) She got up and walked towards the front. Her aide didn't think she needed to walk with her because she figured she understood what was going on. She walked towards the stage, everyone was clapping, she was looking at the crowd grinning from ear to ear. She walked past the first teacher... "Okay," I thought, "Maybe she's just starting on the other end!" She kept walking. And walking. And walking. Right past the teachers giving the awards! She passed all of the teachers and ran straight back stage! Hahaha.

That was her exciting moment. I ran back there to get her and when we came out everyone was laughing. Not "mean" laughter, just "funny" laughter. Believe me, it was a funny sight. Even I was laughing.

We walked up to the teachers and I guided her to shake their hands as she got her award. She ran back to her seat, kicking her legs as she went. That was probably the funniest thing she's done all year. This just confirms her pure joy and ability to enjoy life in every moment, not caring what ANYONE thinks about her.

As the year comes to an end, we can definitely say we've achieved success daily. Even if we walk right past the people presenting our awards.

Friday, May 21, 2010

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

Well, I am very frustrated to say the least. I keep thinking we've made incredible progress with the attitudes of staff members at my school, but then I find things out that prove that is not the case.
Apparently, it was a "championship game" of volleyball in middle school gym class. It was "very important." (Correct me if I am wrong, but I never took middle school gym class THAT seriously!?) It was my student's turn to serve the ball. The kids tried to skip him, but my aide said, "Guys - it's __'s turn." He served and lost the point for the team, the other team won, and now it's a huge uproar among all of the gym teachers.
I respect all teachers. I know that all subjects are important. However, I highly doubt that the score of a middle school gym class volleyball champion game is going to make any life changing differences. The gym teachers think that our kids "don't belong" and need a "special school" and "keep ruining it for the other kids." Really?
What century is this? They obviously do not have any connection to any child with a disability (nephew, grandchild, son/daughter, neighbor, church friend) and it shows by their complete disrespect and negative attitudes towards my kids. It is so frustrating. Is middle school gym really so important that my kids should be skipped when it is their turn to serve? Personally, I don't think so.
One of the objectives for the lunch crew program is: To prepare students for an adult life in an inclusive society.
The kids are doing a great job! It just doesn't seem like the adults are really contributing towards our inclusive society.
I can't teach an old dog new tricks. I have tried to "gain trust" and "build support" for our program by delivering candies on holidays (with baggies made by the kids and beautiful holiday cards - St. Patrick's Day, Winter Holidays, Valentine's Day, etc.) We bring brownies and cookies that we make to all of the secretaries and electives teachers. We wave and smile to everyone we meet.
The good thing is that none of my kids have a clue that nobody wants them here. They just get off the bus each morning with huge smiles on their faces. They're excited to see their teachers and friends and they love ___ school. I'm really at a loss for what to do to show these teachers that it is 2010 and there are kids with ALL different kinds of ability levels. They've just been teaching for so many years with these kids in out-of-district placements, and now that they're here, they don't want them here.
I think to myself, maybe I could find some training for them. Then I think, maybe I could run a training. But, I realize, that it doesn't seem like they're changing their minds. It's just very sad for me. I guess it's hard, as the soon-to-be pastor's wife, to understand how any human could treat another human in that way, regardless of their differences.
We'll continue to achieve success daily... and fight the good fight. It's just going to be a long, long battle.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ex oo mm, eer eh the buh room?

With our ever increasing Lunch Crew program, I offered another "Lunch Crew Orientation" today.
All of the kids introduced themselves (lunch crew kids and my kids) and I asked for someone to try to name all of the students in the room. A few kids did it (one of mine did it!) After introductions, we did an icebreaker to give the kids an opportunity to learn more about autism.
I asked for a volunteer and ALL of the kids raised their hands to come up front. I picked on a cute little curly haired girl. I gave her an index card that said, "I would like to order a hamburger without pickles, please." I told her that she had to tell everyone what she wanted without using any words. She stomped her feet, she put her hands in the "please" sign on her chest. She tried to make a sign for hamburger, but none of the kids had any idea of what she was trying to say. Finally, I said, "Read the card to everyone to tell them what it said." She read it out loud and they all put their hands in the air and said, "Ohhhh! We never would have gotten that!"
I asked the little girl if it was frustrating that she couldn't use the words, even though she knew what she wanted to say. She said, "Yes, the sentence was right here, but I had no idea how to tell everyone!" I explained that this is what it could be like for a child with autism - to know what he wants but not know how to use words to get it. At this point, one of my students was used as a prime example as she used her PECS book to say, "I want tickles from Mrs. Smith." The kids were impressed - "She uses the pictures to talk?"
We did a second activity very similar to the first. This time, the index card had letters underlined that were not allowed to be said.
The card said, "Excuse me, where is the bathroom?" When the little girl tried to say it, it came out like this, "Ex oo mm, eer eh the buh room?" The kids all laughed. They said, "What did you say?" They didn't have any idea. She read the card out loud and they all laughed. I explained to them that this is also what it could be like for a child with autism, to be able to use words, but for the words to not sound the way they are supposed to sound. I showed them one of the communication devices we use in the classroom. They said, "Oh cool, he gets a computer?" One of the kids actually asked me how he could get one. We didn't go there.
The very last activity was a little "reflection" activity in which the students were asked to answer several questions (anonymously) on index cards.
One of the questions was, "What do you know about Mrs. Smith's class?"
One of the kids wrote, "Mrs. Smith helps kids with special differences feel like everyone else."
I couldn't have said it better. Here's to another amazing group of lunch crew kids! Achieving success daily - and feeling like everyone else while we do it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lunch crew update - Gaining Popularity!

Well, the lunch crew has been a major success. The kids love coming to lunch crew so much that they often stop me in the hall to ask when the next meeting will be. We try to have one every two weeks, but it's hard to keep up with just that!

The word spread like wildfire (it might have been the king size skittles I handed out, but hey!) and now other kids have come to join the lunch crew. We have four lunches at my school (A, B, C, D). We now have a D-lunch crew and a C-lunch crew. Perhaps an A-lunch crew and B-lunch crew will start in the near future! There are a total of 11 kids involved (6 in one crew and 5 in the other). It is so fun to see how excited they are to hang out with us.

We talk about movies, sports, skinny jeans, Justin Bieber, you know - the important things in middle school life.

They say hi to my kids in the hallway. They even say, "Yesterday, we got to hang out with Mrs. Smith's class" to their friends - as though it is a privilege.

It is a privilege. I am so proud of these little middle schoolers and how they've embraced my students. The next step is to start a lunch crew for the teachers, so we can show them how cool we are.

Achieving Success Daily - and promoting an inclusive school environment as we do it!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The pee pee shoes.

I came into school on Wednesday morning to find that our bathroom smelled horrible. I noticed that one of the kids' gym shoes were on the floor next to our gym cubbies. There was a yellow puddle underneath. I hesitantly moved my face towards them because I was pretty sure I knew what it was. It was pee.

I called in my wonderful aide who performs all of the "mom" duties in the classroom (cleaning stains off shirts, sewing pant leg holes shut, buying socks for the kids who have torn ones, etc.) She said she'd clean them out. Thank goodness for that! At first I thought it was pee from a leak or something, which had just gathered under the sneakers. After my aide checked the shoes out, we realized that they had legitimately been peed in.

I was fairly certain that it wasn't one of our kids who did this. Why would they pee in shoes? We watch them like hawks all day long, and they know better than this. But, who else would go into the ASD bathroom to pee in a pair of sneakers? That's absolutely odd. So, I decided that I was going to find out who did this.

I went to the front of the room with a very serious look on my face.

"Boys and girls, I just found something very yucky in the bathroom. I found that somebody peed into [student name]'s shoes. That is very yucky. Because this is so yucky, I wanted to know who did it. I took the shoes to the science lab, and I know which one of you did this. If you raise your hand and tell me that it was you, I won't write a naughty note home to your mom."

(My aides were laughing hysterically and covering their faces in the back of the classroom as I discussed the urinalysis that I had completed in the middle school science lab.) The kids all just looked at me with serious faces. Then, they looked at each other. The kid who had his shoes peed in raised his hand and said, "Mrs. Smith? It wasn't me. Why would I pee in my own shoes? Nasty."

I said to them, "Now is your chance. You can tell me now and you won't get in trouble." One of the boys stared at me and said, "I didn't make the pee pee shoes." I said, "I am so glad you did not make the pee pee shoes."

We didn't end up with results from my plan. I am hoping that it wasn't any of them, because that is disgusting. I am hoping that it was some little middle school kid who thought he was funny. My aide cleaned the shoes out and let them dry in the sun - they're ready for gym class on Monday.

Pee pee shoes. Who knew that would be something I'd be dealing with? Let's hope that doesn't happen again, because we are way too busy for that. We're busy achieving success daily!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

He's retarded.

I am getting some new students. Three to be exact. One will start tomorrow, one will start in April, and one's start date is to be determined (I am hoping for next year). We had the IEP meeting today for the one who will begin tomorrow.

He moved here at the beginning of February and they thought that the other self-contained class would be sufficient. Unfortunately, it was not a good match. He displays a lot of autistic tendencies and disruptive behaviors and they were unable to manage those behaviors. In addition to that, he appears to lack a lot of basic skills. The other self-contained class is low enough to be self-contained, but the kids read chapter books, do science experiments, change classrooms independently, etc. My new little guy couldn't quite keep up with that.

In the IEP, there is something called the Present Levels of Academic Performance. This is supposed to be where you discuss all of your student's strengths. You may casually mention an area of weakness, but it's generally a place to brag about what the student can do. As other team members went over it, I realized that there was not a single positive comment in it. If I were his mother, I would start crying when I read it. It was incredibly sad to me. I would never think of writing so many negative things about a student on one piece of paper. It was almost as though the other teacher was venting! So, we started off the meeting discussing about how (student name) was not successful in the current setting. Then, for some reason, we moved to the IQ testing portion of the IEP. An IEP team member continued to say, "His IQ is 42, that is in the mentally retarded range. He will always be limited. That's why he's having trouble in the classroom." Every time she said, "retarded," it just made me cringe. It was unreal. And I'm not even his mother.

His mom said to the IEP team, "I will not accept that my child is 'retarded.' Learning disabled, yes. Retarded, no. I think that is you telling me that he can never learn. That he can never be somebody. My boy can be somebody."

I can't imagine what it would be like to have a child with disabilities, let alone see on paper that your kid's IQ is 42. After this, a team member pulled out some book that discussed the definition of each disability. They showed the mother the definition of cognitive impairment and explained that her child was mentally retarded. Again. They would not stop talking about how he "was retarded!" Come on, people! We're teachers! We're a school! We're supposed to be teaching, learning, sharing, making progress! Not hanging on to the fact that there's a number on a paper! Then it was mentioned that he will, "always be limited" and "always have great difficulties with basic skills," because of this "retardation."

Mom just looked at the floor with tears in her eyes. Team members continued to tell her what her child could not do. They mentioned that "because of this" they would be placing him in the Autism Spectrum Disorders program. They made it sound like a sentence! That's definitely not the way to get a parent to even consider a future placement. She immediately said, "Not my boy. No way. I won't have it. I think he will be more autistic if you put him in there!"

I politely spoke up and I said, "I know that all of this is incredibly hard to hear. I think that we are all here because we are trying to do what is best for (student name). I think there is a certain stigma that may be attached to ASD programs, but it's often because people don't know what actually goes on inside the classroom. It's a very individualized environment. I have high expectations for all of my students. I set the bar very high for them. Just because there is a number on a piece of paper does not mean that will determine what a child can or cannot do. I think that with the proper supports, (student name) can make a lot of progress. We just have to give him what he needs to be successful."

She looked up, hopefully, and said, "I like that you set high expectations. Tell me more."

I explained that we are working on reading, writing, money, social skills, and all of the things that the kids need to be independent in society. I talked about our twice weekly community based instruction trips and she was thrilled. She said, "you learn about money while you're at McDonalds? What a great idea."

She signed the IEP.

I'm not sure whether the other team members even have an idea of how negative the meeting sounded, but as a teacher of students who are consistently labeled, "retarded" and "slow," I felt very awkward hearing all of the comments that were being said. I continue to be amazed with how "in the dark ages" my school seems to be.

After the meeting, my supervisor said, "You win an Oscar for that performance." (I am certain she was trying to compliment me, because they were concerned that Mom would not agree to the placement, and they would surely be in a pickle if that was the case). I said, "That was not a performance, that was just me."

I am hopeful that (student name) will have a great first day tomorrow. I will set the bar high for him. His mom told me that nobody has ever taught him how to read, because they think he is "too limited." We will teach him to read. We'll do way more than that. We're going to help her boy "be somebody." We will not even consider the fact that he has an IQ of 42. That information is not something that we get stuck on.

We work hard. We learn a lot. We have fun. We don't let other people stand in our way.

We achieve success daily.