Posts Tagged ‘education’

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a high school graduate!

Walking in line at the graduation ceremony

Walking in line at the graduation ceremony

It has been a long road, but it has been worth it.

Our oldest (my stepson), who is on the autism spectrum, graduated.   He got his actual high school diploma, and is looking toward a bright future!  Hopefully he will be attending school in January, as space becomes available at a special school here in PA called The Hiram G. Andrews Center.  Not only will he be able to get an associates degree, but he will also continue to learn independent living skills at this residential school.  Yes, residential! We are all excited for this!  🙂

But more about that later.  Right now we are basking in the excitement and the glory of his graduating from high school.  I have not told his story on this blog in order to protect his privacy, but it suffices to say that, when I married my husband, my then little 3-year-old stepson was not expected to ever be independent.  There are many reasons for this, but we are so thankful that he overcame all of those obstacles!  Here’s a little of his educational story:


Celebrating at the graduation party!

Celebrating at the graduation party! Not so little any more!

  • Entered school for the first time at age 9, as a third grader (when he came to live with us).  He didn’t know all of his alphabet or his numbers.
  • Caught up to 3rd grade math, after not knowing all of his numbers, by 5th grade.
  • Was in special education most of his school career.  However, as a senior, was in a regular senior English class!
  • Graduated on time, with an 81 GPA!

When my oldest crossed that stage at the graduation ceremony, my younger boy called out, “It’s been tough, but your made it.  Go, big Brother!”  And that sums up how we all feel. He has overcome much.  We, as a family, have overcome much.  And we are looking forward to what God has in store for him.

Congratulations, buddy.

I’m my son’s classmate?

As I shared in a previous post, my son started going to a new school for his junior year.  He’s studying culinary arts.

One day I got an email asking if I’d consider taking a class with him.  Chef L., the culinary arts instructor, really wants my son to pass his ServSafe certification.  It will open up lots of job opportunities and increased his value as an employee.  Chef L. thought that my son and I could be study buddies, and since I have a food related business it might be an asset to me as well.  Moreover, I wouldn’t have to pay for the course, only the certification exam, and I could use my son’s textbook to study at home.

I agreed.

So far, the results are my own paranoia over germs in my kitchen.  Maybe a good thing here.

  • I’ve found recipes for homemade disinfectants that aren’t bleach based (can’t stand the smell, don’t want bleach spots on my clothes).
  • I made these disinfecting wipes to wipe down everything.  Several times per hour day.
  • I freaked out when my son put his grubby hands in the ice cube bin without washing them first. When I confronted him, he said, “What? They were mostly clean…” and I replied, “Hey!!!  I read the ServSafe book today, mister!!” and he proceeded to begin a competition over who knew more of the text book. Then I said if he would have really read and memorized the text book he would have never stuck his grubby hands in the ice.
  • I dumped out the ice.

We’ll see how this works.  As for now, I am really happy that he will be getting this certification, and I will do all in my power to force encourage him and the family to practice at home.


A New School

Well, my oldest son has started a new school.  So far so good!  After encountering disciplinary issues, academic issues, and other issues we won’t get into here we decided to look elsewhere.  Our journey finally brought us to Pathways.  It’s a private, Christian vo-tech school that just opened in our area.

My son decided to study Culinary Arts. The upside is that he’s learning to do things that will serve him well in the job market and in his personal life.  Believe me when I say that I don’t know of any girl past or present that would put up with his former sanitation habits.

The downside is that he’s trying to take over my kitchen again.  I let him try to cook dinner one night and it didn’t go well.  Despite frustrations all around, we all ate and were satisfied and lots of lessons were learned:

  1. Don’t assume that just because it’s a dish he’s cooked before that he is ready to cook on his own.
  2. We need guidelines as to what is really clean.
  3. Creative left overs are a good thing.

But most importantly, he has found a place that accepts him, that he looks forward to going to everyday, and that empowers him to believe in himself.  And that’s a good thing… that gives me hope!

Middle School Madness part 2

Well, it’s not so much “madness” anymore, but how else to name this post?  😉

We had an IEP team meeting regarding my boy.  I have to tell you that I have so much more hope now than I did.  (How many times have I said this after one of those meetings?  Maybe three times twice once.)

I discovered at the team meeting that the principal and special ed supervisor insisted that my son have one on one support.  (Gasp! Yes, really!)  That’s why he has a paraprofessional now.  Hooray!  I didn’t have to fight!

We moved him out of the large classes and back into small ones.  Yes!  I let them think it was their idea!

We also decided to honor his request not to be in chorus.  In fact, my little prodigy staged his own “walk out” in protest of his being there.  I was surprised, since he loves music so much and has a nice voice.  However, after finding out that there were 60 middle schoolers in chorus, I totally understood. He has perfect pitch.  Can you imagine being in chorus with 59 other kids?

Seems that he wants to “skip down the yellow line” that divides the hallway like a highway, rather than “stay to the right.”  Kind of funny… “follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road line! However, not so funny when you are running into kids who may just decide to deck you.

So, we decided to let my boy have a later class dismissal, so that the crowds had cleared the hall by the time he was ready to go. That one backfired.  He can’t stand being late, especially to lunch.  So we’re ditching that idea.  We aren’t moving it to an early class dismissal, either, since he’d probably obsess about leaving exactly 2 minutes early.

So that I get the daily communication as specified in the IEP, we are devising a checklist for him to take to each teacher so that I know how his days are going.  This way he gets to know his teachers and they get to know him.

Yes, it went well.  And to my surprise, the special ed supervisor asked if we could have a follow-up meeting within a week so we could see how our solutions are going!  (What? Not having to write another letter requesting a meeting? Wow.)

It went well.  Now we have to see how my boy does with the changes.  It seems to be going well, as I asked him how he liked his new schedule, and he said, “It’s better.” 🙂

Summer plans

I am thinking about the summer.

Whatever happened to, “Summer time… and the livings easy…”?

Summer is always a mixed bag for me.  I like the lighter schedule. I like to be spontaneous!

I also hate the lighter schedule.  The lack of structure is hard for the boys.  They become video zombies.  If I’m not careful they can end up playing video / computer games for hours on end, and melting down later.

I’m caught in this tug of war between my rebellion against structure and schedules and my kids’ need for it.

Summer and me:   a love / hate relationship.

There are differences this year, though.  My oldest has a job, so he’ll be out of the house more.  Whew!

Pardon me, but I really need to vent. When my oldest has unstructured time he is very annoying.  Seriously.  It is “entertain me all the time,” and has been since he moved in when he was 9 years old.  (Once he asked a babysitter: “What are you going to do to entertain me now?”)  It is really hard for him to be on his own and do things independently.  One of my nicknames for him is “hover-round,” like the mobility device.  He hovers until he gets my attention. For example, I used to take a step backward and run into him, he was that close behind me! He’s gotten better, but he still stands around and stares at me until he gets my attention, no matter what else I may be doing. And if I don’t drop everything and make him the priority, he will do things like use his dad’s power tools without permission, cut his sister’s hair, start fights, or renovate his bedroom.  (That’s another post.)  I’m hoping that this job has a positive impact on his ability to be independent and work with others! So at least that’s hopefully going to be better this summer.  Okay, end of vent.

My younger son is much more verbal now and willing to try new things. His increased communication makes our days easier. For example, I am the video game tyrant, and he seems to understand this.  He has to play a game with me, do a chore, practice his piano, etc. before he can have anything electronic.

My youngest is much more independent now, and likes to do more “grown up” things with me now– crafty stuff, gardening, etc.  So I think we’ll be good there.

Could this be the summer of fun?

I remind myself that it won’t be all unstructured time. My younger son is going to extended school year (ESY) this summer, which will meet three mornings per week for 4 weeks.  I wondered whether or not to send him, but then remembered that he had a really good time at ESY last year.  The teacher ran it like a camp, and her staff even made a dvd of their adventures together.  He really liked it.  I also enrolled him in a reading camp, which I’ve heard is fun for the kids, to help strengthen his skill as he enters middle school. He loves stories and reading.

But there will be a lot of unstructured time.  I’m dreading it. So, readers, how do you handle summer down time?  I’d love to hear about it!  (In other words, “HELP!”)

Field trip! Field trip!

I had the privilege of chaperoning the 5th grade field trip to Philadelphia. I admit that I was dreading it at first… a bus ride with 40 5th graders?  No way!

But it was a good trip.  It helped that we raised money to charter a luxury tour bus!

The best part of all was that I got to make some memories with my boy.

I witnessed first-hand the compassion and acceptance of his classmates.  When we arrived at our destination, Philip began to stim– flap his hands and vocalize “EEEEE!”.  This is unusual for him to do at school or at school functions, so I knew he was overwhelmed.

His classmates weren’t phased one bit!  No judgment. I did mention that he was overwhelmed, and one boy tried to help him find a quiet space. Wow.

Once my son climbed up the base of a statue to pose for a group picture.  He didn’t know how to get down.  Two 5th-graders offered their hands for him to hold so he could jump.  Then they went about business as usual.  Again, wow.

Yet another classmate sat with my son at lunch and tried to strike up a conversation. He reminded Philip to make eye contact and stuck with him for the whole lunch break. 🙂 Wow!

I will miss these kids next year, as my boy will go to a different middle school.  (YIKES.)  Two of the kids let me know that he will be missed– and one told me that Philip could definitly handle their “regular” middle school if I changed my mind.  Awwww. I wish that our “regular” middle school had the support he needs.

I was very impressed by my son’s emerging ability to self-regulate.  He has always sought pressure on his jaw and chin.  At a gift shop, he saw hacky sacks.  He ran to the bin, picked one, asked me for money, and then went to the register and paid for it all by himself.  Then he used it to give pressure to his chin and jaw.

Wow, wow, wow.  And he didn’t even lose the hacky sack!

My favorite moment, just between the two of us, was walking in a park together.  I told him that I was proud of him and that I loved him very much.

“I love you too, mom.”

Then we both said, “Awwwww!” and put our arms around each other.

What a great day.  My boy is growing up.  Although I am nervous about next year, I am happy that he is maturing and beginning to take care of himself.  I am grateful that he has had classmates who accept and welcome him.

It was a great day indeed.

Movin’ on up: middle school

This afternoon was our “transition meeting” for my little guy, who will be going to middle school in the fall.

Wow. My boy is growing up.

Mixed emotions are flooding my brain and heart.

I am struggling with the simple fact that my boy is going to middle school in the fall.  It’s a cliché, but just yesterday he was a baby.  And a cute one, at that.

I am freaking out a little apprehensive about this transition.  I went to a tiny rural high school… only 29 in my graduating class.  He’s going to a suburban middle school with 616 students… bigger than my whole school district (waaaay back then).  The cafeteria at his new school will be like a food court.

On the other hand, I am grateful and hopeful.

Since he will have a “food court” next year, I am grateful that he could successfully go off of his special diet.  He will have lots of choices.

The elementary staff present at today’s meeting said  good things about my boy.  He’s funny…a good kid… hard worker… a talented musician… we’ll miss him.

The middle school teacher and middle school special ed supervisor were seemingly receptive to everything that I overloaded them with threw at them shared with them. I am hopeful that middle school might not be as scary for me for him as I thought. It seems that we’re on the way to being a real “team” in this next stage of life.

Notice I said “seemingly” and “seems”.  I’ve learned that things aren’t always what they seem.  However, I’ve also learned little tricks to help make these IEP teams truly “teams” and not adversarial, as long as everyone is willing to listen and work together.  (I highly recommend Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide. It has helped me immensely! Check it out.)

The secondary special education supervisor said that there will be bumps along the way.  I agree. He also said that we’ll handle them and keep the communication open, and hopefully smooth out those bumps as the year progresses.  I hope, I hope, I hope!

By the way, I let the supervisor know that he’s “dealing with me now,” and that I deal with things a little differently than my husband, who deals with oldest son’s special ed stuff.  I’m more proactive.

According to the staff and teachers so far, my reputations precedes me.

It goes something like this: “She’s reasonable, willing to listen and negotiate.  But she’s also unafraid to fight for her children.” They only have to look in their educational files to see the letters that I have written to advocate for my kids.

I am hopeful, yes I am.  I am proud of my boy.  And I am looking forward to a bright future.

And if those bullies dare bother my son, there will be hell to pay.


Speaking of visuals…

A quick post to let you know of a free graphic organizer site I just found.  It has what our school would call “graphic organizers” but they call them “thinking guides.”  Wow, maybe a new way to conduct “family meetings”?

Clarinet Capers

“It’s okay, Clary, Daddy will be right back.”

These were the words spoken  by my 10-year-old clarinet student– I’ll call him B— when I told him we were going practice on the mouthpiece and not the entire instrument.

B seemed almost infatuated with the clarinet when he was thinking about what instrument to play.    He named each part of his clarinet: Mouthpiece =  “Reedy,” barrell =  “Barrelly,” upper joint =  “Pipey,” lower joint= “Pipel,” and bell= “Belly”.  I laughed at the last one, like a little kid (“Hee hee, Belly! Hee hee…”) but he wasn’t amused.

Together, the parts make up his beloved Clary.

I named my clarinet, too, when I was his age.  Her name is Clarissa.  Sometimes Clary and Clarissa play duets or even talk to one another between songs.

B really wants to learn the clarinet and looks forward to his lessons.  At first, I would meet him at the door.  When he saw me, he would run to me.  He was ready to get started. Now, if I’m not at the door, he bursts into my house full of expectation.  When he gets close to me, he still becomes a little shy, but quickly overcomes that.   “You can leave now, Dad,” he says. Pretty impressive for someone on the autism spectrum.

“Can we learn a new note today?  Can we do one of the trill keys?”

I reply, “First we’ll go over your lesson, and then we’ll learn something new.”

“Will I get a sticker?” he asks.

“Of course!”


And off we go.

Once my sticker book “disappeared” (which I eventually found in Philip’s room… B said I could “yell at Philip later”) and I frantically looked around for a new reward for B’s playing.  I spied the mini pumpkins, and handed him one.

“Really? Can I keep this?”

“Yep!” I responded.

By the end of the lesson, B earned three mini pumpkins.

“Wait until my dad sees this!!!” he exclaimed.

B is proud when he makes the “wall of fame” at school for practicing at least 5 times per week.  His latest note said, “Good progress!” over the holiday break.  Score!

I am amazed at B‘s excitement over his lessons.  I look forward to our time every week.  I see B growing in many ways– persistence, counting, breathing, hand-eye coordination, just to name a few.  Music is powerful!

I have learned from him, too– how to think on my feet, how to teach in a way he’ll understand, and how to relax and enjoy the wonder of the clarinet.

Here’s to more clarinet capers, and more music in our lives!

Yes, my boys will be responsible, successful, tax payers

I say this only half jokingly.

One of my favorite cousins in the world coaches me to use the words “so they will be good tax-paying citizens” when I advocate for my boys, whether it be in IEP meetings or community settings.  They need appropriate educations so they can grow to be good tax paying citizens, darn it, not people who take money from tax payers to survive!

At first I balked at such language, but when I tried it near some people who had some political pull, I was surprised at how much it got their attention.

I was a parent panelist for a group of early interventionists a while back. When one of the young therapists asked me what my goals were for my children with autism, I said my biggest goal was for them to live to their fullest potential– with jobs, independent living, and lives that they loved.  I suppose another way to say that would be responsible, successful, tax payers?  The therapist seemed to think it was too lofty of a goal.  You wait and see, Mr. Therapist! Haven’t you heard of Temple Grandin?  Sheesh!

I read this article about a place that recognizes the gifts of adults with autism.  They educate and coach them so that they can get meaningful jobs that they love all while making a good income.I have so much hope.  I actually wrote to the head honcho of this organization and gave him three reasons why they should open a campus in my area. (Although I did used to joke with hubby that when I retired I wanted to move to Plano.  Divine intervention?  LOL.) Read all about it!

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