LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

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This isn't actually a move from the Young Athlete's program. This is just something he was doing to entertain himself between events.

On Friday, Billy participated in a demonstration, with his classmates, of what he's been working on in the Young Athletes program at school.

Because qualifying kids can't join the Special Olympics until the age of seven, Young Athletes was started by the organization to teach sports skills to younger kids. Billy's school is the only one in our county where the program exists (it requires quite a commitment from the already-time-strapped staff), and we were delighted when it was announced earlier this year.

The best thing about the Young Athletes program is that it's inclusive of all kids. Neurotypical kids are Young Athletes too; in many ways, such as turn-taking, they might act as role models and mentors. In many skills, though, they're learning right alongside their pals with special needs. This wonderful program proves that an inclusion sports program, particularly for younger kids, is not only possible but a huge asset to the school and the kids involved.

Together, these hard-working athletes practice the basics of any sport: turn-taking, following multi-part instructions, working together on a team. They also develop specific skills like hitting and kicking balls, running and jumping on command, completing an obstacle course, etc.

Ms. Laurie, Billy's Young Athletes coach, told us that “At the start of the program, none of the kids could hit a ball off the tee,” but as they demonstrated on Friday, now they all can!

By the time they're seven, some of the kids in the program will have outgrown their developmentally disabled label; some will choose to move on to the Special Olympics. But all the kids will carry with them the important lessons they've learned about teamwork and the joy of sharing the athletic field with friends of all different developmental abilities.

It was inspiring to watch these kids. I felt a surge of pride as each one of them completed the obstacle course and such gratitude to the wonderful teachers and aides who made it possible. I strongly encourage you to ask about the Young Athletes program if you have a child under 7, and to volunteer with the Special Olympics, if possible, in your area.

To find out more about the Special Olympics and the Young Athletes program, CLICK HERE.

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The Young Athletes and mentors march in, carrying their toilet-paper-roll torches with solemn ceremony.

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Billy learns to catch a ball dropped from above, thanks to Coach Laurie!

Reader Comments

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What a great experience for all involved! Sounds like a lot of fun!! Maybe it will encourage some of the other schools to participate. That would be great! =)

What a Wonderful Program!

That's something that should be at every school!

Well, Audrey just turned 7 so I guess it would have to be on to the big leagues for her! If she had any athleticism at all that is. Sounds like a wonderful program...I'd never heard of it before.

I was also SO impressed with the older kids who volunteered to help during the presentation. They enthusiastically cheered on the Young Athletes and high 5'ed each kid once he/she completed a task. The whole experience inspired me, and of course, I was SOOOO proud of my precious nephew, Billy.

I was also SO impressed with the older kids who volunteered to help during the presentation. They enthusiastically cheered on the Young Athletes and high 5'ed each kid once he/she completed a task. The whole experience inspired me, and of course, I was SOOOO proud of my precious nephew, Billy.

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school_apple

I was reminded recently of some words I wrote almost two years ago. Without looking up the exact sentence, I believe it was something along the lines of “I have no doubt that by the time he starts kindergarten, Billy will have caught up with his peers.”

Well, we're facing down the last semester of pre-K now and starting to think about Kindergarten. Is Billy “caught up?”

I don't even know what that means any more. Academically, he's pretty much learning at age level or slightly ahead. Anything that can be memorized, he nails immediately – whether it's his work on not. Sight words, songs, and even all the names of the United States are no problem He has even memorized all the other kids' social stories (as well as his own), so that if someone gets in trouble in class for not following directions, for instance, Billy immediately starts reciting the “Following Directions Book.”

In some areas, he's developmentally still lagging. Socially he has more in common with his (neurotypical) two-year-old sister than his normally developing 4- and 5-year-old classmates.

But then, in a lot of ways, he's just different. Not behind or ahead. Definitely not less. Just different.

His singing is one example. He loves to belt out “If I Only Had Brain,” from the Wizard of Oz (a current favorite), throughout nap time. Left to his own devices, he would add a soundtrack to every moment of his day.

And he has absolutely no desire to please anyone. He doesn't want his teachers or his parents to be unhappy with him – and will, in fact, shout, “Happy!” and point at us, as though he can command emotion – but the idea of “If I finish this worksheet, my teacher will be really pleased,” doesn't mean a hill of beans to him. He's more motivated by “The dry erase board is more fun than this worksheet,” and is, therefore, going to leave his seat and go color on the dry erase board the moment his aide's guard is down.

So Kindergarten is coming up. And his wonderful pre-K teacher, Ms. Jade, has begun discussing some of the possibilities for next year.

One popular option, she told me, is a “varying exceptionalities” classroom, where Billy could get one-on-one attention for his academic work. Then he would, when it was practical, go into his mainstream Kindergarten classroom.

When it first dawned on me that we were discussing putting him in the special education class for most of the day, I felt like I'd been punched. Currently, Billy's in an “inclusion” pre-K class, where half the 3- to 5-year-old kids are normally developing and half have a special need of one kind or another. He has one teacher and two full-time aides, with other specialists who come and go on different days.

But the varying exceptionalities – or VE – classroom may end up including just Billy and one other kid his age. Of course, he would have a mainstream class for part of the day, but would he be considered one of them? Would the other kids treat him as an outsider because he didn't spend most of his day with them? I thought about the recent birthday party where almost the whole class attended; would he still get invited to those?

The practical side of me realizes that Billy still needs much more attention than he can get in a mainstream kindergarten class. He will progress academically much faster if someone can keep him at his desk and away from the dry erase board. And I hear them when they say it's very hard to teach when one child is singing “Ding-Dong the Witch Is Dead” throughout math.

I'm so used to being in “fight” mode for my child, but this time, I don't even know what to fight for. Or if I should, for once, just chill and see what happens.

I question every inclination I have. If I pushed, like many parents have successfully done, to have him mainstreamed full-time, would I be setting him up to fail? And if he spends most of his day in the VE class, will he fail to make friends? Will there be any part of his day when it's OK to follow his “yellow brick road?”

It makes me kind of sad to think that we'll be teaching Billy, “As soon as you can stop singing all day long, you can join the 'regular' kids.'” I love that he feels the urge to sing all day – but I'd also like him to be able to know how to add.

So many of you have faced this dilemma. Some of you, I know, have opted for special schools. Some have opted for homeschooling (You.Are.Saints.). And some of you have had great success with the public school system.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how you made these decisions for your child(ren). Have you ever had to change directions? Have you ever regretted any of your decisions? If you could give me (and other parents) one piece of advice on this subject, what would it be?

As always, thanks for being there and chiming in.

Reader Comments

Inclusion or not

I am a special education teacher, but first I am the mother of a son with a disability. My son was born three months prematurely. He is grown now and in college. His main problem was attention issues and slow processing issues. He also had a hearing loss in one ear.
He was in inclusion classes through middle school then when he got to high school they offered resource classes - small classes for each subject for students with special needs. Inclusion was a nightmare for us. The students with the ability to ask for help or the most behavior issues got the help. My son was very shy and wouldn't ask for help. He did great in the smaller classes and felt so much more comfortable. He didn't seem to care about the social stigma because there clearly is one - he wanted to be taught in a place where he was comfortable. I teach in a resource - small class - now at the middle school level. I have the flexibility to give special attention where it is needed. I have also taught in inclusion classes at pre-k, elementary 1st and 2nd grades and high school all grades. For my own child, I preferred the smaller resource class - but it does depend on the teacher too. There are so many factors that come into play. Your child personality plays a big part. Are they really social? My son was not. Will they be really ashamed to be separated from their peers because the other children will notice and some of them are very mean others are really sweet and will be lifelong friends. I advise that you get all of the facts about your school. Go see the classes, meet the teachers, and see where you think your child will feel the most comfortable.

Just found your blog through the link on Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and had to chime in on this post, in part because when my Elliot was pre-K he used to sing ALL the time, often belting out, "I go to the hills when my heart is lonely" from the highest point on the playground and reading about your son so reminded me of that :)

Also wanted to encourage you regarding the kindergarten question, not to tell you what you should do but just to say what worked for Elliot. For 2.5 years he had early intervention in a small school run but the county's Board of Developmental Disabilities...and then it was time for kindergarten...and Elliot had to move on and out of that school because his intellectual abilities were too high to stay which is a GOOD thing, but also presented a major challenge.

Elliot was terrified for awhile of the big school (kindergarten orientation was an overload/anxiety disaster), and I was terribly worried, and we had some rough days early on...BUT he is now doing really, really well, so well that volunteers have remarked about how much he has grown since the beginning of the year. Elliot doesn't have a full-time aide, but his speech teacher watches out for him and steps in whenever there are difficulties in regular classroom (and she and I keep in very close contact via notebook and email about how he's doing), he has a special place in the classroom just for him where he can go to to calm himself down or just "take a break" when he needs it, and he has access to OT and speech and other special services throughout the week.

The lunch room can be overwhelming, but he has headphones he wears to block out the noise, and he's the odd kid who kicks around in the mulch looking for treasures at recess, but sometimes kids join him and help him look, and sometimes he has good give-and-take interactions with them. He's not teased or bullied, just still trying to figure out how he fits. Elliot's speech teacher has done an AMAZING job not only with him but in reading books to the rest of the class about kids with sensory challenges that can result in strange or disruptive behaviors at moments, and she intentionally engages him in playing with other kids, either during speech or (now that the weather is starting to warm) at recess.

So for our family, I am now glad we let Elliot be in a place to try these new things and to have constant support (from his classroom teacher, speech teacher, specials teachers, bus driver and aide--he rides a special ed. bus). It IS a hard call making that decision--there are so many worries for you and for Billy. But IF you can trust the people who will be working with Billy (and this was key for me--I TOTALLY trust his team--his speech teacher is amazing at knowing what he needs and problem-solving to get through roadblocks that sometimes get thrown up), then they can be flexible and adapt to his needs, make whatever changes are necessary along the way.

Good luck to you as you work through your options to find the best one for Billy!

I don't have any direct experience with autistic kids, Amanda, but Hope has learning disabilities that require her to have a "Special Education Plan." While I appreciate the extra help she receives, I think she experiences a certain amount of stigma from her middle school classmates.

I agree with Maura...you're the best one to make a decision about your own child!

Hugs,
Wendy

I'm sorry you're facing such tough questions, Amanda. But if there's one thing I know about you, it's that you'll think think this through, and you'll absolutely make the right decision for Billy, whatever that may be. Just let your love and instinct guide you. This will work out, because you know him better than anyone.

I forgot to add that while she is in school, my daughter does have a para. She is supposed to be using the para less by 25% each quarter. First quarter, 100% para help. Second quarter, 75% para help. And so on. The school isn’t being as cooperative with that goal as I would like them to be, but they are trying.

If duct tape was an option, my six-year-old gypsy would spend her day crab walking around the classroom with a chair affixed to her butt. I know that a teacher would love to tape her to a seat, but I seriously doubt that it would do much more than present the girl with a challenge that she would be more than happy to overcome. She is six, and in kindergarten. She should be in first grade, but we held her back a year to help her acquire basic skills. Academically, my daughter is now ready to move on to the first grade. Emotionally, she is ready to enter kindergarten. She has no children her age that she considers friends. In my daughter’s mind, her best friend is my wife’s 30-year-old, married, co-worker and girl friend. We know that in order to function in a main-streamed classroom, my daughter would need a para by her side every minute of the day. It is the only way she would have a chance at remaining focused on her work, as well as the only defense against having her disrupt learning for every other student in her class. We agree with our behaviorist doctor that the biggest thing our daughter needs is to learn how to work independently, without the constant, direct supervision of an adult. The best program that we developed, in conjunction with our daughter’s speech therapist, occupational therapist, school counselor, and an extremely caring preschool teacher, is to have us homeschool the core subjects. We send her to the local school for 90 minutes each day. She receives her speech and occupational therapy, and attends “extras”: art, music, computer, and PE classes. This was the best way to meet her interesting mix of needs. She does not interrupt her homeschooling brothers in the manner that she does a classroom full of children her own age. After a semester with children her own age, she has yet to learn any of their names. This socialization situation does not bother me. My daughter is a happy, energetic, care-free girl. When she desires friends her age, she’ll make them.

For my wife and i, we knew "something was up" with S when he was in preschool, but we struggled with getting a diagnosis until he had already entered the school system. Since then we have had an IEP and worked on updating it each year. While he is "mainstreamed" he has to have an aide with him at all times. Even though his IEP states he is to have a one on one aide, his aides have often been assigned several students at once.

So, for us, we sort of stumbled into a mainstreaming situation and been going with it since.

I think you're in the best position to know what's right for your son. In my case, they were initially going to offer my daughter to be in a regular classroom with minimal support (45 minutes of a resource specialist a month) or the special ed classroom, but mainstreamed for academics. Neither of these choices made sense to me. During the IEP, things changed and we were able to get what we wanted--a typical classroom with a behaviorist. This has worked great for us. My daughter got to keep her behaviorist for first grade. She's doing pretty well, so I'm not sure she'll get the behaviorist for next year.

Before my daughter started kindergarten, the Assistant Principal did express concern about my daughter being in a typical classroom if there wasn't going to be an aide. The demands in these classroom can be a lot and not every child on the spectrum can handle it. We took the plunge and the AP later agreed that this was absolutely the right choice for my daughter.

You can always try one thing and change it during the year if you don't think it suits your son.

Good luck!

Total 14 comments

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