Friday, September 05, 2008

A little insight

School started this week. We were bummed when we went to register Connor for 5th grade, he didn't have a regular education teacher listed. He had brought an "apple for teacher" and he didn't have a teacher to meet. :( That was the first time that's ever happened. In fact, in prior years, we've had an informal meeting with his teacher to help them understand Connor and how his autism affects him - typically on registration day, the week before school starts. Some have even come to the house to spend a little more time with him before he was in their classroom.

Last year, we ended Connor's 4th grade without a clear picture of what was going to happen for him in 5th grade. We weren't able to get the whole IEP team together for a placement meeting before we ran out of time in the school year.

He had been pulled out of the regular ed classroom because his frustration behaviors had gotten so loud and long that it affected the whole class. Connor has been at this school since Kindergarten (I was actually working there when I was pregnant with him) and he has a history with his peers there. They know & understand him better because of that. We didn't want the other kids to change their view of him and start associating him with the tantrum behavior, so we agreed to move him out of the regular ed room to the Learning Resource Center (LRC) for the majority of his day.

Thing is, the behavior continued in the LRC. He apparently has these tantrums for up to 3 hours at a time (!?!) up to three days a week! And the whole building can hear him.

The options being considered at the end of 4th grade were to have him placed in a Developmental Learning Center (DLC) for extreme behavior/severly mentally disabled kids, or bump him up a year early to the Jr. High - either the DLC at the one, or the LRC at the other. Jr. High kids work more on life skills than academics, and Connor hasn't been getting much better at the academics.

I asked the teacher at the DLC from the school where I work to observe Connor at his school. She agreed with me that a DLC placement would be too restrictive for Connor, and she didn't see a tantrum while she was there. She did let Connor's LRC teacher know that the DLC would not be a good fit.

Lee & I were both pretty opposed to the Jr. High placement. He's already delayed, and putting him in with even older kids would just be too hard now. It will be hard enough when he's the right age!

So we wound up with the same situation where he was at the end of last year for 5th grade - but somehow I still thought he'd have a regular ed teacher for all the peer stuff when we registered him.

Moving on - today we had a placement meeting with the IEP (individualized education plan) team. Present were: Lee & me, the LRC teacher, the DLC teacher from the school where I work, the acting principal, the school psychologist, the district student services representative, the new (on pregnancy leave) principal, the Consulting Teacher (formerly Autism Consultant), and Connor's Speech therapist.

We have to meet again next Wednesday to figure things out a little more.

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss strategies that had been tried & worked or failed and what our concerns were as parents & the team.

Lee & I would like to see Connor with a full-time aide, trained in working with autisic kids. He had one previously who had been faded when she wasn't as necessary and he was doing things as he needed to do them. But he got older, the requirements changed, and the classrooms changed, and he hasn't adjusted as we'd hoped. That particular aide moved away, and we're not sure that the current aides are as up-to-date with practices for autistic children as we'd like. Autism is very different from a behavioral diagnosis, and requires a whole different approach.

We would like him to spend some non-academic time with his peers in a regular ed room with the aide to assist him. Like the opening & closing parts of the day. Art. Music. Hands-on Science. He can either do his Reading and Math in small groups or one-on-one with the aide. Depends on the concepts and his mood, really.

What we heard today & last year is that Connor runs 'hot or cold' with his behavior/attitude. If he's upset coming off the bus, he's going to be upset for the whole day. Lee mentioned to the team that he'd prefer that people not create a self-fulfilling prophecy effect with that kind of attitude. If he's upset at home, we remove him from the situation, talk him through as much as we can, and give him time to settle himself in a different location. Sometimes he will be inconsolable for who knows what reason, and we just have to hold him and talk to him calmly. It's been maybe 45 minutes tops, ever. Most of the time it's closer to 15 minutes to get him back to normal.

We were asked if we have the same experiences at home with his tantrums. No. We don't. Granted, we aren't asking him to sit for 45 minutes and do math problems he doesn't know why he needs to know. But we do ask him to stop doing things he likes to do chores for us, etc. I think the big difference is that he has a good motivator in place for after he completes his chores. I don't know that the motivator they are using at school works for what they are trying to have him do.

Random reinforcement doesn't work at all for autistic kids. There has to be a very clear connection between the action and the reward. Similarly, taking away the reinforcer or motivator makes things worse, instead of creating a desire to do the work to get the reward. Both of these were mentioned by the LRC teacher as strategies being used with Connor. The Consulting Teacher reiterated that those things won't be effective with a student like Connor.

So - everyone on the team got a little bit of 'homework' for the next meeting. Which teacher would be best for him? Who can be the aide? Get an unbiased observation from someone not as familiar with Connor. How can we work the funding? What other teaching strategies are available? When can the staff be trained?

We're meeting again next Wednesday to go from there.

Hopefully we will have some solid answers to the above, and good strategies and starting points to make Connor's 5th grade year a happy and effective one.

Go hug your "typical" kid now. :)


Re-Navy!! said...

One of the greatest things i think I EVER took away from you guys (and there was a lot) was learning about autism and how to face it. I see people who have NEVER delt with a child like connor so they try to treat him like a normal child. Sitting there watching it bothers me because we have all learned how to deal with him. I remember during dianas graduation party when he started having a problem with one of the children who were playing a game how i tried approaching it. I have noticed that even though i come at it the same way you do he seems to take ahold of it better with the parents. He might be having the same problem in school. I understand teachers dont do it precisely the same way but maybe connor may not respond to the same way as you would approach it? He my know what mom and dad have to offer vs a new and strange teacher. Maybe a good mom or dad visit during school may help. But i really did enjoy knowing what i can and cant do with autistic kids and how they are in public. I remember being at a hospital here is san diego and there was this little girl that would not sit still. It wasnt a normal sit sill because she'd arch her back really bad and throw these little fits while the mom dealt with it. After seeing her mom pull out a snack and a little game for her to do it was realy neat realizing this littler girl was autistic! I just KNEW it! While everyone else was really bothered i was fascinated and explained it to Patrick. Its a great reward working with someone like connor! I cant help but just love that kid!

Tina said...

Thanks Nae. We do have to pick & choose when & where Connor will participate with the general public. There are lots of things he won't manage. Some things are okay - like him singing along at a Girl Scout Talent Show - and it's taken until now to get him to the point where he can manage a full Mass at church (rather than walking around outside with someone for most of the mass).

He will not be going on the 5th grade camping trip, however, and he didn't attend the trip to Salem for the tour of the Capitol last year either (here kid - be quiet and listen to a tour guide talk for 3 hours).

Lee & I are pretty good at seeing the kids with 'tendencies' toward autism too :)

keeka said...

I have to say, I wish more parents thought and cared about their child's education like you guys do. They seem to think because we are a Christian school, somehow their child will do fine in a normal class environment, even if they have special needs. As teachers we can only do so much. The parents need to observe and decide what is best for their child. You guys are the perfect example of that! And yes, I am thankful for my "typical" kids, although having an autistic cousin opened their eyes too! They comment on other children with similar traits, but they never judge them. Thanks for that, Connor!