February 2011

[Thanks to Danette Schott at Help! S-O-S for Parents for including this as part of her February “Best of the Best” feature on school issues as they relate to invisible special needs! Go read all the great posts she’s collected this month from some top notch bloggers, and while you’re there check out the previous editions of “Best of the Best”.]

Getting to and from school has often been quite the adventure for us over the last three years. We’ve enjoyed mornings that are smooth as still water, and we’ve survived mornings that have involved broken objects, personal injuries, shot nerves, and crying from adult and child alike.

The uninformed masses have been known to ask what a ‘normal’ morning looks like for us. After I pick myself up off the floor from laughter, I might offer the response, “Normal is a dryer setting, and ours still leaves the clothes damp. But I can tell you what gets us out of the house in one piece more often than not though.”

Children like ours often find comfort and stability in routines, so try to keep things as predictable as you can in the mornings. Don’t overdo it, though, as you want your child to continue learning and practicing adaptability. However, always start from a place of trying to be understanding of their needs. What may seem trivial and annoying to us may mean the world to them. Consider all sides of the equation as you develop and adapt your routine.

If you currently don’t have much of a regular morning routine but you think this is even remotely possible for your family, work on developing one. (If y’all have newborn triplets, for example, you may be on your own.) Just remember that even a change from chaos is still change for our kids, so whatever you do, introduce a schedule at a pace that moves your family toward your goal without pushing too hard. It’ll be challenging enough at first, and your kids might react strongly, but stick with it. In the end, it’ll get better, and you’ll be glad you did it.
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I’m doing research into a situation that has serious implications for a local school district. Without going into all the gory details, this very large school district is seeking to increase the number of children in self-contained, structured, Pre-K classrooms for students with autism without increasing the number of teachers. It is expected that the number of students in each classroom will increase by up to 50% within a year or so, and all additional students will also have a diagnosis of autism.

This is obviously very bad, and the negative impacts on these children are too numerous to even list. But this is where you can help.

Those of us organizing to overturn this policy need examples of school districts in the U.S. who started off having fairly reasonable student-teacher ratios, raised those ratios presumably in an attempt to save money, and then ended up with significant negative impact on the students, the classrooms, and the school district. By that last point I mean: students missed more IEP goals, classrooms suffered serious safety problems, students struggled in successive years because the new environment slowed their developmental progress, a significant number of parents sued the school districts, things got so bad that the school district either had to retract the policy or provide numerous additional services or aids to the students because of lawsuits, the end result cost the district more money than if they’d just left things alone in the first place, etc.

If arguing against the policy on the basis that it’s just educationally wrong for these students isn’t enough – even though it should be – then one based on financial costs supported by evidence of what’s happened in other school districts who’ve tried this may gain more traction.

So, I’m putting out a plea for your help in crowdsourcing this research project. I’m looking for the name and state of any school district where this has happened, a description of what happened, and supporting information somewhere online that we can collect and present. You can either post in the comments here and e-mail me privately at tim@bothhandsandaflashlight.com.

I am grateful for any help you can provide! Thank you!

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Boy vs. Dentist – The Next Chapter

by Tim on February 1, 2011

Sorry to not post in a long time. We have so many things going on that it’s impossible to know where to start. It’s been very stressful these past three weeks, a few major life changes, the normal chaos, and I’m still training for a marathon in the midst of all that. We’ll go into those gory details another day.

Wanted to mention that a little over a week ago we had the J-Man’s every-six-months dentist visit. Last time we went to the dentist, we wrestled with all the issues around restraints and how to get him through the actual process and keep both injuries and emotional trauma down as much as possible. There was the inevitable reflection on whether to use the papoose board to hold him during the cleaning and exam. We received feedback from several people, and most of that feedback echoed our hope of never having to use anything like that with him and looking at it as a last resort.

One of the benefits of all the running and training I’m doing is that my body is significantly stronger and more resilient. But what I’ve learned is that I don’t have to somehow do restraint by muscular force, for lack of a better term, because as strong as he is that would probably just hurt both of us. Besides it’s not something I think is desirable in any situation short of someone being in danger. Becoming the kind of stronger my body has over the past several months has allowed me to be physically comfortable while holding him in situations like this for longer periods of time. It’s the interesting idea that you become stronger, and as a result, you can use less overall strength to do something. All those stronger core and stability muscles do wonders in situations like this. But before I go all Richard Simmons or something…

So we arrived at the dentist’s office, and they had already put the papoose board on top of the exam chair. This got me really anxious, and I think they noticed. They emphasized that they put it there just because in the event Mary and I decided we absolutely had to use it, it already being there would make it much easier. I didn’t feel like they put any pressure on us to use it, and everyone seemed to have a “let’s do everything we can without it first before we consider it” perspective.

It did have a perhaps unintended benefit. The board is a little wider than the chair and stiffer, so it gave the J-Man more surface area to lay on, me more room to hold him while the hygienist cleaned his teeth, and a stiffer surface that wouldn’t make me have to wrestle the chair too. So Mary held his feet, I had his arms and torso, and the hygienist cradled his head while she worked. Everybody talked calmly and kept encouraging and praising him, and I hummed Kumbaya to him. (I’m not kidding. He likes that a lot now.) The hygienist and the dentist are not fazed by anything, and they have such calming and affirming voices that if you removed the screaming panic from the room, they might induce a pleasant narcolepsy in most people. We almost have this down to a system.

Of course he protested strongly and loudly, but noticeably less so than last time. Perhaps he was more comfortable with the process, the way we were holding him, the stiffer board under him, or some combination of those and other factors we didn’t even think of. You never can tell in situations like this.

We really thought he did so well, and he recovered quickly – albeit grumpily – plus his teeth were great, so we called it a highly successful trip to the dentist. Normally we just aim for no major injuries – minor ones are usually acceptable – and no permanent emotional scarring. So this was positively triumphant by those standards.

We were greatly relieved that we didn’t have to even consider the papoose board. There may come a time when some serious medical situation arises where we have to use some sort of restraint. I dread that possibility more than I have words for. But we’re learning that often a combination of the J-Man’s growth and resiliency, our surprising-to-us levels of parental competence and experience, and the reserves of courage he’s learning to draw on in very tough situations come together at the moment when we really need these things to. And repetition, even if it’s six months apart, does seem to help, too.

Next mission six months from now: Both kids will have to go to the dentist. Ack! Stay tuned…

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