Tag Archives: outplacement

Graduating Typical Peer Preschool

Why My Seven-year-old Autistic Daughter’s Best Friends Are All Over 35

preschool-graduation-ceremonies

Today should be a joyous day for us here. There should be balloons and presents and cake and donkey rides or something.  But instead, it will be a quiet snoop and poop mission (real infantry term, you can look it up).  SGM and I will slide into the school for graduation and slide out, likely with me retreating into the fetal position in the bed of the truck as he takes us down the highway toward home at 80 miles per hour so that the sensory thrills of the ride numb me into a coma.

Let me explain.

It has now been a little over two years since RM began attending her outplacement autism school.  The one that took me fourteen months to get her into.  They have an amazing typical peer preschool on site, NAEYC-accredited, with staff that is fluent in sign language, art, music, and love.  The peers are ages three to five and are hand-picked to be excellent models for autistic friends.  In this setting where RM has spent about one-third of her time over the last two years, she has learned critical basic pre-educational skills such as turn-taking, group games, learning to sit for circle time with weather and calendar, following simple group activities, learning about friends and social themes like birthdays, holidays, and family.

Her time there has been priceless.

And filled with joy.

So today is a bitter pill to swallow.  My baby loves her friends in preschool.  But she is now monstrously larger than they are, and as she is turning seven in a few weeks, one cannot argue that the time to move on has come.  I accept that.  The school has been fabulous about slowly weaning her time out of the preschool over the last few months, so that it shouldn’t be a recognizable trauma for anyone other than me.

So here we are.  As she rode off on her van this morning the chest pains came and the crocodile tears and SGM telling me this is all ok, this is her path right now.  And sure, I agree.  And I didn’t even punch him.  He’s right. And I continue to cling to the God’s honest belief that truly, RM’s very best friends are not the children at the school anyways.  That was never the case from the very beginning. RM is in love with her teachers.  The DOZENS of adults who love her and care for her and teach her and joke with her and smile with her and talk with her and listen to her every single time she has something to say.

She thrives at this place because it is the grownups that hear her and understand her.  Not the typical peers, nor her classmates.  She loves this place because she is challenged there, not by communication boundaries, but by academics.  She loves this place because she knows well enough that these grownups are going to teach her the correct social cues every time.  She doesn’t have to decipher the behaviors of the typical peers there anymore.  And for now, just for now, I am ok with that. I have to be.

Here at home RM has her nine-year-old brother who adores her as her best friend.  They belly-laugh and play legos and watch silly videos of themselves and belly-laugh some more.  They are madly in love with each other.  If school doesn’t have the “age-appropriate” peers, well I have the best one at home anyways.

Meanwhile, trust that I aim to correct this situation at the outplacement.  There are far too many brilliant options to be considered.  There are ways we haven’t yet found to give our kids access to social time with typical peer models, so let’s find them.

Even the “best” can always be “better”.

My hope and dream for all parents is that you truly, deep within your heart believe that those scary sounding letters “I.E.P.” can start to look less daunting.  I want you to believe that you have the right, and the power, to build a program that has never been built before.  You can build it for your child.

There is no such thing as, “We don’t do that.”

Cheers,

Rachel


In the Land of Oz (Home of the IEP)

I was just tending to the farm and trying “not to get into any trouble.”  SGM’s boots had just hit the ground in Afghanistan.  RM was three years old and relatively healthy.

RM had transitioned into the special education preschool in district and was making very little progress.  When the autism diagnosis came, the relationship with the district became a cyclone of lies and deceit and I was swept up into their storm.

I don’t remember how bad it really was.  I only remember darkness and the feeling of spinning…

When I came to in an unfamiliar land, little did I know then that my house had landed purposefully atop the Wicked Witch that viciously ruled the Munchkins.

Another autism mom (RM’s YMCA teacher from more than a year prior) magically appeared descending through the clouds.  She was surrounded in an effervescent glow with a gentle smile that could kill and in place of an exquisitely sparkled wand she carried a bloodied and bruised wooden bat.

She did not hand over a pair of ruby shoes.  No.  She handed me the bat.

It would take entirely too long to explain the misadventures down the Yellow Brick Road in this one post, many are highlighted in the archives here.  But I will tell you that along the way to an appropriate outplacement I met many characters in The Land of Oz.

The Scarecrow led me in the wrong direction.

The Tin Man really had no heart.

The Cowardly Lion hid behind a title and a desk.

The Wicked Witch always waited until four o’clock on a Friday to mail shit to my home.

There were Flying Monkeys and a Forest of Fighting Trees.  All terrifying at first glance but would reveal themselves as completely ineffective at their jobs.  They relied on gruesome makeup and the special effects of words like “Due Process” and “Mediation” to keep up the charade.

I was desperate to make my way to Oz.  I thought the power I needed to find comfort at home again could only be granted by The Great and Powerful Wizard.

I honestly had no idea who The Wizard was.

I went to Congress and looked for The Wizard there.  I went to The White House, too.  I went on cable news and begged an entire nation to help me find the answer.  WHO is this Wizard?

WHO do I BEG for an education for my child?  WHO will fight for her?  WHO will LOVE her enough to say YES?  WHO will seek justice for her?

WHO IS THE GODDAMNED WIZARD??

When my child’s placement is threatened, WHO do I fight?

When her programming needs to be reframed, WHO will write the goals for her to access the same curriculum as every other child?  The science and the social studies, too?

WHO will teach me the laws and how to hold the district accountable?

WHO??

PLEASE. TAKE ME TO THE FREAKING WIZARD.

Oh.

What?

I see.

It’s me.

I was searching for what was there all along.  I just didn’t understand that I possessed the brains, heart, courage, and power to make it all happen.

Yes, I needed a little help from a Good Witch and countless other parents who shared their own experiences. Yes, I needed the bat once in a while to ward off The Flying Monkeys.  Yes, I needed to educate myself.

But in the end, it took only a few emails and a bucket of water.

Because really, truly, I had The Power all along.

So do YOU.

So do YOU, my friend.

Don’t let the cast of characters in Oz make you feel less than THE MOST IMPORTANT, EFFECTIVE AND POWERFUL MEMBER OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL TEAM.

The Scarecrow is not smarter than you.

The Tin Man does not love your child.

The Cowardly Lion will never have your back.

At the end of the day your brains, love for your child, and courage to take charge of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are the most tangible and relevant elements in a land somewhere over the rainbow.

When I felt like the characters I faced were not acting in good faith, I opened up The Curtain using The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  I used a State Complaint and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to pour a bucket of water on The Witch.  You see, these are free and fairly straightforward tools that were created for ME.  They are nothing to be afraid of and they are actually very easy to use.  And if you feel that you aren’t sure of how to use them correctly, there are state and federal officials who get paid to enforce IDEA and FOIA.  That is their job.  They are not Flying Monkeys, THEY WORK FOR YOU.

Actually, everyone involved in your child’s education work for you, too.  Even Scarecrow, Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion.  They are your employees.  YOU are The Wizard.

I finally learned that the IEP is my own legally binding magic wand and as The Wizard I write the goals that dictate the services my child receives.  If district and school staff are unable to execute programming that allows my child to access the general curriculum as outlined in her goals – separate goals for each core curriculum standard* – then I grab the bucket of water and pour.

There is no one to fight.  There never was.  I just needed to figure out that I AM THE WIZARD.

I. AM. THE. WIZARD.

And so are YOU, my friend. SO. ARE. YOU.

wizard

***

[*45 of 50 states have adopted Core Curriculum Standards and have/or are in the process of implementation. Individual states should have curriculum frameworks available on their education department websites, or for entertainment factor you can request the subject frameworks from your district BOE.  The very basic intent of IDEA is that every child, regardless of disability has ACCESS to the SAME curriculum as the general education population in ALL subject areas INCLUDING ARTS AND SCIENCES. Kids with autism deserve better than goals that are reflective only of basic human functioning – they deserve to experience the entirety of what this world has to offer.]


Bright Lights, Big City

Right now, my baby girl is at school.  A new school.  A better school.  And I’m so happy for her.

But we all know bittersweet moments – we’ve all been there.  Rarely are there achievements and good times in StimCity without a little twang of ‘ugh’ to go along with them.  It’s the nature of the beast.

RM’s new school is in the city about 15 miles away.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is a huge departure from the 1 mile away from home her preschool was.  So as exciting as this morning was, and as thrilled as I was to know I am sending her on to bigger and better things – my heart ached as she pulled away in the new van, with new driver and monitor – off to the big city.

But there will be bright lights in that big city.  MY Bright Light, for one.  Her boyfriend, Rock Star, is another Bright Light.  And I even know of a couple of the other Bright Lights that go to school there, too.  Then there are the teachers and staff at the school – MORE Bright Lights.  It is a true community in this school.  Like ‘CHEERS’ — where everybody knows your name and it feels like home. 

So yes, she’s off to the Big City – but there couldn’t possibly be a nicer, more friendly small-town feeling when you walk through the doors there. 

That’s where my baby will shine her Bright Light.


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