February already?

It seemed like holidays, a stomach bug and a cold just wiped out January.  So here we are in February.

R.’s hitting has disappeared.  She is actually voicing her displeasure.  Her most common response is to say thank you and push away with one hand.  I’m sure she means no thank you, because occasionally I’ll hear a no.  She is also saying wait, stop, all done and now.  There is often still crying and screaming involved, but the words are her first response.

She also got an opportunity to spend time in the kindergarten class she has been escaping the cafeteria to get into.  Her PreK teacher made arrangements with the kindergarten teacher (all special ed) to have her students go into the kindergarten classroom for 40 minutes once a month so she can meet with the aides.  I guess this is common in the elementary grades.

R. just loved the classroom and had a good time.  Since her visit, she has not been trying to escape the cafeteria to run there.   They are going to do this once a month.  And if R. is placed in that kindergarten she will have the opportunity to go into the class regularly.

Behavior is back in town

I kind of knew that when they said she had no behavior issues at our IEP meeting last month that it was just a matter of time.  Now we have some new behavior issues.

Just last week she started to hit E. and I when we tell her to stop doing something.  Sometimes she will say R. no in a snotty voice and then she will try to hit us in the face.

She is really insistent about it too.  When I stop her from hitting me, she will get really mad and cry and follow me around until she can get in a smack.  She wants to hit our faces, she is tall enough that she can just about reach mine, but she has to pull E. down to reach his face.

She did it for the first time in school, she smacked an aide in the face.  Of course it had to happen during the time she was mainstreamed.  The teacher said that it has been going perfectly up until today.

She has also been running away at school.  Once she ran off when they were walking from the bus, and she ran from the cafeteria towards the SDC Kindergarten class.  The teacher said she got a look in there (it is right across from her classroom) and has been obsessed with gaining access since.

We discussed it with the behaviorist.   Regarding the hitting, we are going to make sure that we stop her before she hits us.  We will try not to use words like no or don’t, and phrase our requests in a positive way.   We are also going to say nothing when she is trying to hit us, so it does not become a power struggle.

They are going to work on teaching her to respond to the word stop, which I know she can do, just not consistently.   I asked if she could have a chance to explore the kindergarden class, to just get it out of her system.  She is very curious about new things.   They are also going to work on having her ask to leave the group.

R. was really prickly last week, and still is but not as much this week.  I was wondering if she was getting sick or if there was some cause for the changes.  This all started last week.

I also wondered if it is a developmental thing.  Maybe she is just becoming really aware that we are telling her what to do, even nagging from her perspective.   There was a time when she did not listen at all because she did not have the receptive language.  When she had the receptive language she began to follow instructions.  Maybe now that she has been doing that a while she is thinking about it more.

I know that hitting is not appropriate behavior, but I can’t help but be amused at her reaction after the fact.

I think that the running away at school is similar.  I’ve noticed when we go to the zoo recently that R. really seems to know her way around and she is asking to explore areas we have not seen.   (Usually because there is no stroller access, and she is walking holding my hand).

Maybe she never really noticed there was a classroom across the hall, or had the ability to think about how to get there when she was in another part of the building.

I certainly hope this is just a phase.

The Placement IEP meeting

We had our annual IEP yesterday.   We got the biggest compliment from the teacher and content coordinator – they said we were so calm during the meeting.

Of course I was nervous about the whole thing, but I will admit that by the time the meeting rolled around I was feeling at peace because I felt that I knew what to ask for.  I think that is the hardest thing about planning R.’s education, I have no experience or even a point of reference.

But over the last couple of months I realized that I do know R. better than anyone and my instincts are usually correct.  I’ve certainly always known and tried to act as though I was in charge.  But I think with this whole kindergarten process I had to remind myself.

A few days prior to the meeting I emailed the teacher a list of our concerns, the goals we wanted to add or change and our thoughts about kindergarten transition and placement.

I know that some parents warn against doing this, because it can give the school department time to prepare their arguments.  But in our case I think it only helped.  The teacher shared the email with the rest of the team as I hoped she would.  We were able to get the the process of the meeting faster because everyone knew what we wanted to talk about.

I also gave the teacher permission to prepare a draft IEP based on the email.   This also helped the meeting move smoothly.  She actually gave me all the goals we wanted, and in some cases used my exact wording.

This was the most positive meeting yet.

They said she can sit at a TEACCH station and do work for 15 minutes!   This is the child who could barely sit down when she started preschool.

The ST finally acknowledged that she is using 1-2 words consistently to communicate and increased her goal to 3 word utterances.

They also said she is playing appropriately with many toys and does pretend play on her own.   They added the goals I wanted about engaging with peers on the playground.

She can trace her name and letters and numbers, she is writing some letters on her own and can copy when the teacher writes on the board.

She is not putting her fingers in her ears as often.  I made them all acknowledge that they are aware that if she has her fingers in her ears it does not mean lack of attention.

R. is participating more in circle time.  Every day they sing “We all go traveling by.”  The teacher has vehicle cut outs that she uses for choices.  She asks R. do you want the yellow bus or red car?   R. said pink bike!  (which is one of the other choices)

They all said she is being mischievous.  If they open the toy closet she will run over, knock some over and laugh.   She will pick up the toys or whatever when they tell her to.   I’m happy that they see this as a good sign developmentally and not a hassle.

They wrote this:
R. is intelligent and curious.  She likes to seek out new way things work, and watches intently when you show her how something works.

Originally they did not plan to have a general ed teacher at our IEP meeting.   The CA law says that a general ed teacher has to be at an IEP meeting if any aspect of being included in the general ed class is to be discussed.  I wrote them, mentioning what I wanted to discuss, how a general ed teacher has been at all of her annual IEPs so far, and mentioning the law.    I offered to change the date of the meeting, and offered my consent for the general ed teacher to only attend part of the meeting as long as the topic she needed to discuss was addressed.

So we had a general ed teacher at the meeting.  Her time was limited so we discussed things out of order.    I asked for R. to be included for a short time in the general ed preschool (at her school location).

I also planned to ask for mainstreaming in kindergarten, but they put off all discussion of services relating to kindergarten until the transition IEP in April.  I suspected they might do this, but it was worth asking.

They were supportive of having R. go into the general ed preschool, and we had a good discussion about what would work best with scheduling and R. herself.   They suggested during free time, so R. could go and be confident doing puzzles or playing with toys.  She will have an aide with her.  It seems like they are encouraging the aides to be as hands off as possible, if she is working on her own the aide will go help other students.  I like that they are doing it this way, because R. could be interested in only interacting with the aide, and she can be prompt dependent.

I had to give permission for her to miss some of recess.  She has a long recess and we are going to start with just ten minutes, so I think that will be fine.

We all agreed that the SI (Severely Impacted) classes were the best fit because of small class size, structure and ABA style teaching.

They said that we can change the class type at any IEP meeting.   Even if we have a placement, we could change our minds in April.   I’m sure it is more difficult than they make it out to be, but it is good to know that they don’t consider anything permanent.

Two tours down

So far we have visited two classrooms.  AutismMommyTherapist was right, I’m starting to get a better idea about what I’m looking for and also what it is I am seeing.

It is like there is one voice in my head telling me that I need to keep things as similar as possible to what she is doing now and there is this other voice telling me that this is kindergarten and it should be different.

In the chapter What Can We Expect?  From the book The Child with Special Needs by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, they write:

The best indicator of your child’s potential is the shape of his learning curve once he is in an optimal therapy program.  …. as long as that learning curve is going up your child will continue to grow…

If you think of your child’s learning as the building of a skyscraper, you can picture the emotional milestones as the building’s foundation.  They must support 80 stories – 80 years of living in the world.  They must be very strong, for if those basic skills are shaky, the entire building will be at risk.  It is far better to have a solid foundation developed late, than a shaky foundation built on schedule.

Quality of learning should never be sacrificed to the desire to move ahead.  If building a solid foundation and strengthening the milestones means temporarily taking more time, we encourage that, because without that foundation your child will never be able competently to move on to more complex areas.

Both of the voices in my head have a point.  We do need to find a class that will provide a similar environment to what she is used to, but at the same time offering new opportunities for learning and experiences.

By the end of the month we will have visited 3 SI (Severely Impaired) and 3 MM (Mild Moderate) special day classrooms.  Between the two categories there are more than twenty schools in the city.  There just is not enough time before our placement IEP to see all of them.  I think that we will have enough information to make a decision on service type.

In speaking to the teachers it seems that each one has an idea of what type of student belongs in their class.  It would be nice if they printed a directory of that information, but technically I believe that is against the law.  Special education is a service, not a place.

The teacher of the MM class we saw told us that she felt a couple of her students were misplaced in her classroom.  I feel badly for those children and their parents.

I’m not going to be able to change that before R. gets to kindergarten so I will try to use it to my advantage.  The teachers seem willing to speak to R.’s teacher and one offered to have R. come and sit in on a class.  I don’t know how that would work out considering it is a different school, but it is something to think about.

Reference: The Child with Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan, MD and Serena Wieder, Phd (Perseus Publishing, 1998)  Pgs. 433, 436,

Visiting at recess

We visited R. at school during recess.  She was sitting with some other students and an aide playing with a dollhouse when we arrived.

She was very happy to see us and made sure we remained close by the entire time.   She sat on a tricycle and moved around with her feet.   E. tried to get her to pedal but she wasn’t interested.

The teacher set up an activity with shaving creme and paint brushes, she played at that for a short time with some other kids from the general ed preschool class.

Then the teacher set up a water table.   I actually got R. to wear the smock with no effort at all on my part.  I just told her she had to wear it to play with the water and pulled it over her head.

It was a very hot day and the teacher handed out spray bottles of water and asked the kids to spray her.   R. had a good time spraying herself, and it was fun to watch her giggle about it.

After a little more tricycle riding and a couple of trips down the slide she went back to the dollhouse and played with a couple of dolls and some furniture.   Girls from the general ed preschool joined her and the teacher tried to engage them, but everyone was too into their own thing.   R. stayed and played next to them for a few minutes and then moved to the other side of the dollhouse.  It looked like she was kind of watching the other girls through the windows while she played on her own.  I never saw a doll house on a playground before, but it sure seems like a good idea.

When it was time to line up to go in for lunch R. grabbed my hand and wanted me to go with her.   She frowned, but did not cry when we left.  We waited until they were walking back inside rather than walking away from her while she was still on the playground.

We got to meet the new students and they all seem so young.  It feels like so long ago that R. was that little, but really it wasn’t.

September Meeting

We had our monthly ABA meeting at the school with the teacher this month.   We set the date for the IEP meeting that will determine the type of kindergarten placement for the beginning of November.   That seems so close.

I was hoping to have an IEP meeting this month to update some goals.  But since we have so many meetings and IEPs, the teacher and I agreed that I would email her the goals we discussed and she would update it.

Most of the goals I want updated are simple enough.  R. has mastered recognition of the alphabet, numbers 1-10 and the prewriting goals.   She is actually writing some letters in class.   I asked for more writing goals – tracing more complicated shapes, copying shapes and writing the alphabet and her name.

I also asked to increase the numbers to 20.  I know she knows them, I wonder if I should have gone up to 30.

R. is talking more in class, asking for things and labeling all sorts of items.  We discussed that she does not always make sure she has someone’s attention before asking for something and then gets frustrated.  The teacher had been working on getting her to tap her on the shoulder and say her name before requesting.

She has a goal about responding to someone else by making eye contact and orienting her body towards the speaker.  So I suggested that we make an actual goal that she would get someone’s attention before requesting something.

R. has also been refusing to wear a smock for water play and painting.  She used to wear one, but for some reason will not do so.  I asked for a goal for wearing a smock during these activities and then to put it on herself.  It seems like a weird goal, but I think that it will help her in a few ways if she would agree to wear it.

More fun with the light table

Back to School

The last week of summer vacation felt particularly endless, but all in all I really can’t complain about the time off from school.   I’m glad she is back to school today, and I know she is likely even happier about it.  But I can’t help but feel a bit of anxiety thinking that this is her last year of preschool.  The first day of school puts me that much closer to confronting the subject of kindergarten.

This summer it felt like it was so much easier to enjoy time with R.  She actually seeks out my attention, and not just when she wants something.  If she is watching television upstairs and I go downstairs to deal with laundry, it used to be that I could fold the entire load and she would not really notice I was gone unless she wanted something.  Now after a couple of minutes she comes to look for me, and she will stay with me until I am finished.

It also seems like she is easier to entertain.  I don’t have to plan out what felt like elaborate song and dance routines like last year.   She has her own ideas about what we should do.  I think we played the good night and wake up game several thousand times.

She also seems to be completely offended by the sight of my bare arms.  I suspect it is because she rarely sees them, in San Francisco we don’t get warm weather in the summer.  If I pull up my sleeves to do something, she will pull them down.  Yesterday I actually put on a short sleeve shirt and she got a jacket from my closet and insisted I wear it.

Not only have we been regularly using a babysitter, but R. has been going to the playground with the sitter.  (One of our regular therapists).   One of my autism Mom friends has been offering to watch R. at her home.  So we took advantage of that – dropping R. off and going to Costco all by ourselves.  What a wonderful and strange feeling it was to drop my child off at a friend’s house.   (Thanks C, you are the best!)

Hooray for summer school

R. started summer school yesterday.  She is going to a different school, and she has to leave 40 minutes earlier.   The school is not that far, I could drive there in less than fifteen minutes.  So I called the bus company to ask why the trip was so long.  They said that 100 students were going to the school, so there were more kids to pick up in the morning.     I told them that I wanted to know where the bus was driving from the time my daughter gets picked up until she arrives at school.    They transferred me to the manager.   I’ve learned that when dealing with the bus company it is better to tell them
you are driving my non-verbal baby to school and I’m nervous rather than treating them like they are incompetent or screaming at them.  The manager told me that he could not tell me the route for security reasons.   So I told him  that her afternoon trip home during the regular school year takes 40 minutes, and she has to go to a neighborhood on the other side of the city.  I did not want her taking that route in the morning, during commute hours.  He finally told me that the bus only had pick-ups and drop-offs in our neighborhood.

Usually there are only kids from R.’s pre-school class on the bus.   I was worried that the elementary school kids might be rowdy or loud, but so far they all look too sleepy to get into any trouble.  It is a little premature, but I think I have met the best school bus driver on the planet.   He actually gave me a business card with his cell phone and the main bus number, and told me to call him if R. is going to be out.  He asked for my cell phone number and told me he would call me if he is running late.  I fought the urge to hug him.    Generally the bus is on time, but every few weeks we go through a patch of lateness.

I’m going to wait until next week to go to see the class.  I’d love to see it right away, but I know I would be a distraction while she is getting acclimated.   That’s one thing I hate about the start of a new semester.   She was in a really good mood when she came home yesterday, and that is a good sign.

We were funded for some respite hours and used a babysitter for the first time last weekend.  She works as an aid in a kindergarten SDC class.   It is kind of pathetic, R is four years old and this is the first time we ever left her with someone not related to us.   It went really well.  R. was in a great mood when we came home, she was hugging on the babysitter and I could see evidence of lots of playing.  I’m sure we will use her again, but one of our ABA therapists said she is available for babysitting, so I’m going to use her next.

Just a quick update

Summer vacation is here.   Friday we went to R.s classroom for an end of the year party.  The teacher made a slide show of all the pictures she took all year and showed it to all of us.  The kids liked watching it, but I think they liked the cupcakes more.

We also had our monthly ABA team meeting this week.  We decided to wait until after summer school to start all day potty training.  I’ll admit I kind of pushed for the delay after thinking about it a bit.  We have taken such a slow approach to potty training – we started in November, and she is just now up to sitting for two and half minutes.   It hasn’t even been a week at that length of time.  She was so aversive to sitting at first, and progress has been pretty easy lately.  I think it is worth waiting a few weeks and using that time to gradually work up to the five minutes like we have been doing.

R. never pointed.  In the past year she started pointing at things in books and naming them, and she also started using my finger to point.   Now she is pointing on her own.  Not all the time, but enough to be incredibly useful.  It kind of looks like she’s acting on a stage, her whole body is invested in the pointing motion and she gives me an expression that seems to say -hey I’m pointing pay attention.

Yesterday R. said to me Want chicken.  She won’t each chicken in any form, I could not think of a toy, so I just repeated it back to her with a questioning tone.  Want chicken? Then she said, Want chicken!  Bock bock! So I bocked like a chicken.  What a strange thing to ask for….