Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to School Week: Helpful links

Theme week: Back to School Week

Here are four sites that I think will be helpful in terms of educational resources:

1. Ten things to Consider as Your Child Starts School this Year: Just ten helpful tips for parents shared at the Autism Society of America website.

2. Model Me Kids: This site features a time for School DVD for sale that promises to be great for students attending kindergarten through fifth grades.

3. LD Online: This one is for parents and teachers alike. A friend noted that L.D. can stand for Learns Differently! The page I linked to will go to a page with a sample letter on getting started with requesting special educational services.

4. Wrights Law Special Education and Advocacy: This is a great site for looking up special education law and past court cases.

My son's future school career

Theme week: Back to school

Yesterday I wrote about a post about my son's rather unusual public school career in the semi-special educational system. He's only in the third grade and already has been assigned to most of the elementary schools in our mid-sized district. It's not that he's that difficult to educate and that no one wants him. On the contrary, a lot of his teachers really like my boy as he makes them laugh and is enthusiastic and fun when he isn't being overwhelmed or headstrong.

Anyway, my son just got caught up in some major organizational switches. See his crazy school timeline here.

Here's his future timeline as will be probably suggested by the IEP team unless he gets caught in another switch or if we decide to go to a charter school, opt for homeschooling or move.

Fourth grade: Pullen Elementary School where he'd only be for one year.

Fifth and Six Grades: Fancher Elementary School

Seventh and Eighth Grades: West Intermediate School

Ninth to Twelfth Grade: Will they suggest the technical school, the alternative high school or the regular high school? Or will they suggest all three at different points of his high school career. I wouldn't say that is an impossibility. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A crazy timeline: five schools in five years in one district

Explaining the Timeline for "typical" students

The standard number of schools for children (not in special education) atteding kindergarten through fourth grade in the Mt. Pleasant, MI school district is one. However, because of various organizational changes that is the fault of no one in particular, my son (from early childhood ed on) has already attended five schools in the district over a five year period and he is only in the third grade!

The standard number of schools for Mt. Pleasant area children (not caught in the mix of organizational changes) in special education for K-4 is two. Usually children who are assigned to the mildly impaired class attend one school for K-2 and one school for grades 3-4. Not counting his preschool years (where he attended two different schools), my son will have actually attended three different schools so far for the K-4 years.

However, he may be going to a fourth depending on what we decide upon for fourth grade. The Mici class we had in placed in this year is really designed for (K-2), but we've decided to push it for the third grade in order to stabilize his educational career.

Please see our timeline below. I added brief explanations and commentary for each year my guy has attended. Has anyone seen a timeline as crazy as this?

Our Timeline

2003-04 (The 2nd year of his Early Childhood education)

My guy attended a Early Childhood classroom at Mary McGuire from September to December of that year with a wonderful substitute teacher I'll call "L.M." (The previous teacher for the room, an older woman, injured her back and retired.) As a sub, LM was only allowed to teach for half a year. So myyoung boy moved with his class to Kinney school (now closed) to be taught by Mrs. O, who has degrees in teaching and speech pathology.


As a brand new elementary school student, my son attended Ganiard Elementary School. He was placed in Mrs. M's MiCi room and also attended developmental kindergarten with Mrs. Sw. My husband and I were so naive as to what was to come in future years.


My guy was moved to another school because the MiCi room was moved to Rosebush Elementary School where Mrs. M. was given a larger room. My son attended kindergarten in Ms. Sh's classroom.

The year before, Mrs. M suggested that he repeat kindergarten because my son still needed a lot of help with his fine motor skills. Although that meant my son had to repeat Kindergarten as a seven year old, we agreed that it was probably best for him to go back to Kindergarten. Emotionally, that was a difficult decision because we had to face the fact that our son was indeed delayed in multiple areas.


My guy stayed with Mrs. M at Rosebush and attended 1st grade with Mrs. R. I should note that Rosebush is five miles or so north of Mt. Pleasant and that my guy had a long bus ride both of the years he attended that school. At that point I was starting to realize that we were on a very curvy educational path and was glad to have in him the same school two years in a row.


Mrs. M was assigned the MoCi rooms, so my guy was sent to Vowles Elementary School to be in Mrs. C's MiCo classroom. Mrs. C had previously been the MOci teacher. He attended 2nd grade with Mrs. L. I was sad to have my son leave Mrs. M's room because she was a wonderful, effective teacher whom my child respected.

Although my struggled with Mrs. C in the MiCi room at the end of the year, he delighted in walking to the school (under very watchful eyes) near his home. Reports coming from Mrs. L, the 2nd grade teacher, about our son's behavior in her class were generally good.

2008 IEP note: I, in total mother mode said "no" last March to having my child moved to Pullen Elementary School, the only K-4 elementary in the district my guy has not attended. A move to Pullen would have meant six different schools in six years in the same school district!


Mrs. C took, my guy's previous teacher took an MoCi teaching job in Alma. Mrs. T. has replaced her as the MiCi room teacher. She will teach primarily 5-8 year olds (K-2), but will have one very stubborn ten-year-old student with equally stubborn parents as well.

The new teacher found out about her new position just last Thursday (August 21), which gives her 1.5 week(s) to settle in. My husband and I met her yesterday. She seems nice.

I also found out my son's third grade teacher will be Mrs. N. I happen to know that Mrs. N has experience teaching boys with AS, so I think that placement may be a blessing.

My son's attitude:

He hasn't said anything about all the school switches he has had, but has indicated that he doesn't want to in the MiCi room anymore. We told him what the letters stood for (mildly cognitive impaired) when he asked late last Spring (after his IEP meeting). Since then he has balked at being part of the class. He has been adamant about just being in the third grade for many months now.

What we have recently done:

We made an appointment for yesterday (August 27) with the principal, Mr. H. just to communicate that our son (who is quite headstrong) is having difficulty with the idea of being in the Mici room. We vowed to continue our communication and support with the Vowles elementary staff. I indicated that as a stay- at-home mom that I'd be happy to help anyway I could.

A positive reaction from the principal:

Mr. H said it was the goal to include our son in the third grade as much as possible and then he introduced us to the brand new Mici teacher. The principal then left and my husband and I quickly briefed her on the situation and agreed that I'd meet with her once school starts to see how things are going.

Note: My son has made great progress during the years he has attended school in this district. I am not angry about all the changes, but I am bewildered and thus ready to be proactive about stabilizing the remainder of my son's school years. I am hoping to post about our future timeline next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Photos: Back to School Hair Cuts at Grandpa's Barbershop

Theme for the week: Back to school

Hair cuts used to be hard until Grandpa started giving his eldest grandson "fireman haircuts" when my guy was four. Until the idea of "fire man haircuts" came about, Grandpa needed a few extra hands to gently keep my distraught (squirming and screaming) son still. After the fireman idea appeared to be a hit with my son, hair cuts were much easier.

As a four year old, he beamed with pride when grandpa put "fire man lotion" in his hair. Now at ten, my son still gets lotion in his hair, but is too old for "fire man" hair cuts. However, he now loves to go to Grandpa's barber shop where his grandpa has cut hair part-time for more than 30 years. In fact, he often beats his brother (below) to the barber's chair to have his hair cut first.

My little one, now five, never had a "fire man hair cut" because he sat still from the beginning. However, like his brother, he does get the lotion and a treat from grandpa's candy bowl that is on hand for all the children who come in. Grandpa's barbershop is a three hour drive from my house, but we don't go anywhere else unless we can help it.
In the winter, we sometimes end up in a different barbershop in our hometown where someone else's grandpa cuts hair. That barber also has a candy dish...

Photos taken by Julie Lorenzen at the Anthony Wayne Barbershop.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Theme Week: Back to school

Back to School week

In Michigan this is the third year that schools have been mandated by state law to start school after Labor Day (September 1). The idea is to give the state's tourism industry a boost. I can't complain about the delay as it gives us a bit more time to get ready for the school year.

My third grader's first day is September 2 and my kindergartner will start the next day. The first day of school can be the great cause of anxiety for students whether they are on the spectrum or not.

Those of us who have children on the spectrum know that big transitions such as going from no school to five full days of it week after week will be difficult. This huge change represents many small, medium, and large sized changes such as not being able to sleep in as long as one wishes, moving from room to room, having six hours dictated by a school schedule and going from being in a quiet more predictable surroundings to noisy, less predictable surroundings. A lot of the unpredictability stems from the behavior and noise level of other students, various drills, and the personalities and/or teaching style of the educators.

My third grader who is on the spectrum seems fine with the idea of the change, but I'm getting nervous. He wants to be a regular third grade class, which he'll be in for part of the day. It's the other part of the day he'll object to: The MiCi room. He asked me what MiCi meant last Spring so I explained that the letters stood for "Mildly Cognitive Impaired." Ever since then he's objected to being in the class. Unfortunately my explanation to him came after his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting in March instead of before.

His school situation for the 2008-09 year was decided upon when we had his IEP meeting. I guess I could call another one, but I'll try talking to his principal first. It's not something I look forward to as directly addressing conflict is not my strength. However, I will have to at least give the principal an understanding of what is going on in regards to my child's wishes. The sooner I do this the better.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vacation Photos

Photo: I felt like doing a "happy dance" as I posed with my two happy, well behaved boys (during the morning anyway) at Planet Snoopy, which is part of Cedar Point Amusement park in Sandusky Ohio.

Photo: My two guys went on a lot of rides together. Both fit the height requirements for the kids' rides which worked out great because my oldest, unlike some people on the spectrum, dislikes roller coasters and most fast (scary) rides. The day went pretty well, especially in the morning when it was cooler with fewer park guests. We all became a little grumpy later in the day as it became quite warm and more crowded. However, the morning was wonderful. As part of our resort package we were allowed into the park an hour early, which was a real perk!

Photo: My boys and I just before we left the park, on Lake Erie beach in front of The Breakers Hotel, which is part of Cedar Point Resorts. To see a picture of the hotel or to get more information about the resorts(s) click here.
We stayed two nights and visited Cedar Point Amusement park in the day between the stays. The hotel also had two pools (one outdoor and one indoor pool) and we visited both as well as going to the beach twice. I think the boys had as much fun swimming as they did going on the rides.

On Saturday we returned from a week's vacation in Ohio. The biggest highlights were going to the amusement park, visiting relatives and celebrating my son's tenth birthday at a place called Monkey Jump (it had a gym full of air-filled bouncers.)

Real life is back in full swing. School starts up here in Michigan after Labor Day and we aren't quite ready. We'll be working on that in the next week. I'm hoping to go back to regular themes instead of posting on day-to day- life every once in awhile as I have been doing lately. I received a few requests via comment while on vacation and I hope to address those soon in upcoming posts.
In the meantime, my boys (especially the one on the autism spectrum) have to get used to the idea that we can't do something fabulous and fun every single day! Well that was an issue the first weekday after returning from vacation. I caught my older one downloading a map to this zoo which is an hour-and-a-half away! However, today was peaceful and without too difficult to meet demands. Hopefully, we can get away with a few quiet days at home this week.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ten Years Ago...

My now, not so little boy was born. I cannot believe we just celebrated his tenth birthday! Time goes so fast. It seems almost like yesterday that I...gave birth to my baby on his due date, August 17, 1998, around 9 p.m. Everything went smoothly from the pregnancy to the birth. Of course I checked my newborn out from head to toe as soon as the nurse placed him in my arms.
Right away I noticed the folded over ears that I thought would round out, but never quite did, the birth mark on his left forearm and that crop of dark hair that lightened to a golden brown. All those traits (that can be seen in the photo above) are still there.
However, as you can see in that first photo, he is much bigger now. He is growing up so fast. Currently, my guy loves his scooter, looking at our family photos on the computer, and of course, Froggys!!
P.S. The swing pictured above turned out to be a huge sanity saver for my husband and I. Our baby boy needed almost constant motion from the time he was born. In hindsight, we realize that the ongoing need for movement was one of the first traits of autism that our little guy exhibited. And yes, he's still bouncing, swinging, rocking or scootering through a great deal of his waking moments! : )

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New autism school opens in Chicago

I'm a small town girl, but the big windy city called Chicago is starting to look pretty good right now. Why?

The Chicago Tribune recently ran a story appearing online about a new school (that also doubles as a research facility for autism) that opened last month. The school, housed in a new 32 million dollar facility, is called the Easter Seals Therapeutic School and Center for Research.

The school can accomodate 150 students. It will combine education with independent living skills. Although it is possible that some people in the autism community may object to the school for one reason or another, I can imagine that a long waiting list of prospective students will be in the school's future if it doesn't exist already.

Features the school building has:

  • walls and hallways designed to dampen sounds
  • high windows so that students do not get distracted by looking through lower set windows
  • schools alarms that do screech, but instead play Stars and Stripes Forever
  • air vents that do not buzz or hum
  • walls with non-glare paint (light colors)

My thoughts: This article did not include many details about the school's curriculum or much about how the school is staffed. For example, I wonder what the student to teacher ratio is and how many aides are assigned to each room.

Still though, it was interesting to read about the features of the school building. Not too many schools are built or adapted to fit the sensory issues of students who are on the spectrum. Alarms, in particular, are problematic for my child at school. He would much prefer a song to the screeching sound those darn alarms make.

If you lived in Chicago and your child had the opportunity to attend this school, would you send him or her? Please let me know via comment.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Knee deep in volunteer work: Fundraising and writing for CMASA

Central Michigan ASA's Golf fundraiser

My local autism advocacy group is having a Golf Outing fundraiser this Saturday. For now, this shy blogger is trying to sell 50/50 raffle tickets to everyone she knows. They are $5 a piece or five for $20. I'm hoping to sell fifteen or twenty. We'll see. Profits will also be made from $100 hole sponsorships and from team registrations. All the proceeds will go to Central Michigan Autism Society of America.

My inlaws are visiting today so I won't get to ask most people until tomorrow. Then my push for selling tickets will begin. Vacations and other delays have prevented board members from selling them sooner.

I think the fundraiser will be a big success in general. The father of a son with autism does fundraising for a living, so he knows what he is doing. We are happy that this father decided to help us out.

Our brand new nonprofit status gets us around gaming rules. We received chapter status from ASA late this Spring. We were pretty excited about getting accepted as an ASA chapter.

I'm trying to be as supportive of this event as possible despite not being a golfer or avid fundraiser. Hence, my drive to sell more tickets (and no I'm not asking readers to buy tickets at this time.) The point today is to document the efforts and to explain the slow down of posts to this blog. However, if you live in the Mt. Pleasant area and wish to purchase a ticket, please email me at julielorenzen(put in "at" symbol)

My Writing Project

My contributions to my group are usually writing oriented. That is where my talents seem to lie. So far, I have written our letter of intent to ASA, chaired the bylaws group, and composed the minutes for five board meetings so far as chapter secretary. The big writing project currently in my inbox is for CMASA's annual plan of action which is due soon. I'll be hoping to complete the plan of action this week while fitting in ticket sales. That said, I'm unsure if I'll be able to post again this week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

No Meltdowns While Returning Home from Camp!!

Picking up from last Sunday's post

The last time I posted I wrote about the possibility of a meltdown because we traded in our old minivan for a new one while my son who has ASD was away at summer camp. He was dropped off in a cranberry-colored Plymouth Voyager, but picked up in a dark blue Dodge Grand Caravan SE.

Should I have worried? Not at all. He was actually quite excited when I told him that we had a new van.

"Let's go see it!" he responded, bouncing up and down. So he was happy. He even let me drive a new way home. This was after I explained that there was a detour anyway because of road construction. He's never been a fan of road construction and detours.

I will admit to not pushing my luck too much. My guy started insisting that we stop at a rest area--after we passed it. As we were not on an expressway, it was easy enough to backtrack back. Should I have made this concession? I don't know. What I do know is that he probably didn't have to "go" too bad. He just wanted to stop and check the rest area out. Sigh... A difference a year makes.

Two of the counselors in my son's cabin were also his counselors last year. Both said they could tell that he "grew" quite a bit in the year and they didn't mean by inches, although he has grown some that way too. They said he talked more, did better when it came time to go to bed (didn't cry to go home) and willingly participated in all the activities.
The difference from age six
While it's more difficult for me to see a year's difference than the two counselors (who hadn't seen him since the camp last summer), I can certainly tell the difference in my son from how he was years ago when he began attending camp as a six year old.
Today my fourth-year camper was much easier to bring home than he was that first year after camp. It appeared to us way back then that he was having a meltdown because he didn't want to leave. However, I now believe the real issue was his difficulty with transitions. He's come such a long way since then in dealing with transitions. Other than a little grumbling and one insistance to stop, we had no difficulty with that today.
The Sand Man
As they are every year, each camper was presented with an award. My guy's award was for being the "Sand Man." Apparently the counselors noted he liked to get down to his elbows in dirt (though the counselors also said he always washed up after such play.) Okay, I'm pretty sure this is a newly discovered passion. Hmm. Maybe I should reserve some of our new backyard space (created by a recent removal of thick brush) for dirt play as he seems to have abandoned our sand box.
A Photo CD helps tell the story
I still depend a great deal on counselors to figure out what went on at camp. My guy can tell me about a few things he did like celebrating Christmas in July, but I would have been clueless about the sand man award without the counselors' explanations.
Two other things that helped was a half page newsletter (which explained some ideas behind the art he brought home) and a photo cd that he brought home from camp. (I'd post a few, but I do not have permission yet.) While we've gotten always gotten the newsletter, the photo cd (similar to the one he brought home from his day camp in mid-July) was a new feature last year.
Will he go back next year?
If nothing unexpected comes up that prevents him from going. He loves camp so much. This I can tell. We all missed him and vice versa when he was gone, but my guy thrives on independence and this overnight camp two hours from home is good for him.
As for me, it was the most difficult on an emotional level to let him go that first year. Maybe it was because he was only six, but maybe it was because it also was the first time he was away from home and family for multiple days and nights. All I can say about that is that my son is not the only one who has improved in some ways over the years. I am not (and am proud to say it) the worrywart I was four years ago. Thank goodness for that.