Friday, December 30, 2011
Somethings Old, Somethings New: 2011 in Review
In 2011 I Learned:
Curiosity Can Kill a Behavior Plan: You'd think that R's days in kindergarten would've taught me to recognize that his innate desire to know what something is like typically means he has to experience it for himself. When he came home the first week of kindergarten and informed me that "going to yellow isn't really bad, it just means make better choices" and then proceeded to tell me "I'm going to try red tomorrow so I can see and touch the walls in the quiet spot" my Uh-Oh alarm went off. The next day his teacher asked him if he'd like to go sit in the quiet spot by choice, not as a consequence of making a bad choice. He happily ran over, took a seat and rubbed his hands on the textured walls for a few minutes then said, "I like the walls there, they feel good."
So why was I surprised when he had what I refer to as his "Record Breaking Attempt" week this year? Our elementary school uses a Tally/Dart/Demerit behavior system beginning in first grade. When Lil' Man started racking up darts on a daily basis for behaviors we KNEW he could control, his special ed teacher and I came up with what we thought was a genius plan. We informed him that if he received 3 darts in one school day he would have to go to morning detention the next day. What was I thinking?!? Of course, the very next day he got 3 darts - he actually called his gen ed teacher over to watch him break a classroom rule to be sure she saw him and gave him #3. I was aggravated, he was pleased as punch. "Mommy, tomorrow I can see detention! I did darts on purpose so I could go."
Lesson Learned: It's a whole lot better for everyone if we figure out what R wants to see/touch/experience and give him the opportunity to explore it rather than leave him to his own devices for finding out.
It Isn't Crazy If It Works: My 5th grader can be the dictionary entry for 'forgetfulness'. On any given day it's a sure bet he'll forget where his shoes are, where he put his jacket and of course, his homework. Even with his teacher checking his academic planner before dismissal each day he came home without the book or worksheet needed for homework at least two days a week. Consequences, rewards and talks about responsibility were epic fails in this department. It was time for drastic action!
I take and pick up the elementary Crew members each day, and while waiting in the car rider line inspiration hit. I started getting to school each afternoon early enough to park, go inside to his classroom and (with the teacher's permission) announce loudly, "Hi Sweetie! Mommy's here to make sure you have everything you need for homework tonight." Score one for Mom.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes you have to think outside the box, do something just a little unexpected and crazy, to motivate your child. When typical approaches don't work, try the atypical.
Recognize When It Just Isn't Worth It: C has been in a self contained classroom since the middle of last year when it became obvious that the transition to middle school was too much for him to handle without more support. Administration and teachers don't particularly enjoy prying your child out of his locker after he's wedged and locked himself inside; when your child hangs over the second floor railing and the "all male staff report to..." call is made it is not a stellar day for anyone; if your child spends more time sitting in the office than he does in the classroom it's time for a change. For C, that meant a change in placement and learning in a self contained classroom with a teacher who is extraordinary in working with and understanding children on the autism spectrum.
At the end of 6th grade we developed a plan. It was a good, well thought out, slow transition plan so C could move back into his gen ed environment. We involved him in making the plan and he chose to start with his favorite subject, science. He'd love going back to a class that involved lab work and experiments, right? Right! From the very beginning of the transition, and that was just talking about when it would start, how long the class would be and showing him video of the class, it was a battle. He began sleeping less staying awake from anxiety over the change, he acted out in his self contained room after months of great days and he definitely acted out at home as well. After a few rounds of email exchanges and discussions with his teacher the plan we were so proud of creating was scrapped.
Lesson Learned: There is no such thing as an air tight plan, especially when it involves one of my spectrum kiddos. Yes, his teacher, his therapists and I want him to return to a gen ed environment and believe he can - eventually. It won't be this year, and that's okay. If spending another school year in the self contained room is what he needs to build his confidence, social skills and his ability to recognize when he's approaching sensory overload then that's the plan we need to follow. It doesn't hurt that he also saw us accepting a change to plans without anger, tears or screaming, either. Lead by example, right? :)
Don't Wait Until It's Too Late
Each graduating class at our high school has a vice principal, guidance counselor and academic coach that will follow them throughout their four years. I'd like to go on record as saying that this concept is GENIUS! The academic coach for Team 2015 is amazing, patient and FREE. Once a week, son #1 spends an hour after school with her doing geometry test corrections, homework and reviewing material that he hasn't quite mastered yet. Was he happy with me for making him go to after school tutoring? Nope! Trust me, he made his displeasure well known. But I love him enough that I made him go anyway. He's a teenager, I have many years of him not liking my decisions regarding his activities ahead of me. My Mom assures me I'll live through it and that grandchildren are God's reward for surviving your own.
Lesson Learned: Don't wait for your child to say they need help with a subject because odds are they will tell you they don't need any at all. Remember, teenagers only THINK they know everything. The high school years require just as much of my attention and involvement as the earlier years, if not more. Also, bookmark some good math help websites. If you are anything like me you'll be using them often during geometry homework!
Don't Overlook the Good Stuff: My daughter in 3rd grade is the "easy" one of the Crew. Okay, so she has her mother's penchant for talking, a lot, which can be a little problem if the teacher is talking. Other than that tiny little thing, she's an academic and behavioral cake walk. We're talking straight A report cards and empty tally/dart/demerit charts nearly every day. That has led to her not getting an equal amount of my attention as the boys do on most days. When that realization slapped me in the face it was a wake up call and it was loud.
Lesson Learned: The fact that Miss S doesn't require the same amount of academic and behavior attention from me doesn't mean she needs it any less than the others. 2012 is going to be the Year of Praise and Recognition for Miss S. She's feisty, social, smart and has a huge caring heart and I'm going to remind her of those things much, much more often.