Tag Archives: special needs education

First grade

 

Well, Patrick’s been in first grade for 3 weeks now. I love seeing him becoming comfortable at school. He loves his teacher. He has been matched with a very good aide. He’s making friends in his class. I think the work is just challenging enough. So far, things are going well.

It wasn’t our smoothest start. When the official first day of school in the district rolled around and Patrick didn’t go because they weren’t ready, I took it harder than I expected. Not only was I beyond tired at that point, but I felt a little left behind. We did our best to make sure that Patrick didn’t know the difference. And thank goodness his respite provider was trying to pick up extra hours before leaving for school because she came and kept him company that few extra days.

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Back to school shopping - breakfast date a Dunkin Donuts

Back to school shopping – breakfast date a Dunkin Donuts

I also decided that if you can’t be in school when everyone else is, you might as well take advantage of it. Patrick Make-a-Wish trip came with free passes to several amusement parks for a year from the date of his trip. Including one near home. So I hinted, maybe even begged, Brian to take the afternoon off of work and we went to play at Lagoon.

We did it kind of spontaneously so we surprised Patrick with it. I don’t think he knew that we had roller coasters close to home. He could have stayed all day. In fact, used to Disneyland 3-day-passes, he was a little confused when we left and didn’t come back the next day.

He was a little skittish after trying the regular “white” roller coaster.. a good old fashioned wooden rollercoaster. So kiddie-land was his cup of tea. Especially when he got to “drive a car” all by himself. I think he’d have stayed on that one ride all day. We stayed till we got tired and cold from being wet from the water rides.

 

And eventually, Monday morning did come and Patrick got to go back to school. I spent most of the first couple of days going back and forth training the school staff. They were very nervous about lunch and potty and g-tube medications and allergies. So I’d come back at lunch and for mini training sessions. And I think I eventually helped them see that what we were asking is new but not really hard. And, honestly, not really necessary most of the time.

I think Patrick’s doing pretty darn well at school. We all wondered how he’d take being away from home for 7 hours a day. That is probably the hardest thing. He comes home exhausted every day. He had been used to a mandatory afternoon rest time and he’s not getting that right now.

He’s also starving when he gets home to me. I think he’s doing pretty well eating away from me for the first time. But sometimes the temptation of friends and recess is great and he hurries through lunch. Thankfully, his education plan includes snack times and a water bottle at his desk and he’s doing ok with those things. But I’m not surprised that he’s lost a little bit of weight since school started and I’m not certain that we’re going to make the goal of 100% oral eating this month. (It’s hard when we are 95% there!)

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On Patrick’s 3rd day of school, some kids dropped a box labeled “bomb” on the front porch. The school put the kids in lockdown and the school was swarmed with emergency vehicles. Everyone was ok. I watched from across the street at my grandpa’s.

But we’re starting to get a routine regardless. Patrick’s school starts late so there is time for me to make sure he gets a good breakfast at home before we leave. If we’re really on point, we even get to the school with a little time for him to play on the playground. Then we visit the potty and then take Patrick to computer lab. Because of the breakfast in the classroom program, I drop Patrick off there so he misses that extra allergy risk.

After school, Patrick expects me to be waiting with a piece of string cheese. We are finding that letting him have a single small portion of dairy once a day seems to be the right balance and he’s in love with string cheese. Then we drive home and he gets to snack and play and rest however he chooses. Lately, his preference is to play in the yard with his ride-on car and bike and hope that the little boy across the street will come join him. But some days he’s tired and so we snuggle up on the beanbag in the basement and watch TV.

After dinner, we buckle down and do his homework. We’re trying to figure out the right balance between making him practice writing and making sure he doesn’t get frustrated. Dyspraxia, or motor impairment from Patrick’s brain injury, makes writing frustrating sometimes. Especially when he’s tired. But with a mix of stamps and tracing we usually make it through.

So far, he’s putting up with math better than I’m used to. They’re working on writing numbers and counting right now. Basically, he’s working in the math book he started but didn’t get a chance to finish last year. This is good. I’m wishing I’d realized I had access to that when we were in Nebraska because it gives a better foundation.. But at least he’s getting it now.

They’ve put Patrick the medium level reading group at school. He’s still got some to make up from kindergarten there, too. But he has a real knack for it. He is reading me little sight word/rebus readers every night right now without any hesitation. And he aced his last spelling test.

One day Patrick asked me if he could draw logos. I said sure, thinking it was fun to pretend. So he drew me the Jeep logo.

One day Patrick asked me if he could draw logos. I said sure, thinking it was fun to pretend. So he drew me the Jeep logo.

The biggest struggle right now is the potty at school. Because Patrick knows how to push through being uncomfortable, he seems to be having little problem with the idea of holding it for the entire school day. At first, he was just making it till his aide left at 2. But I put him leakier pull-ups. One accident and he started waiting for me to come at 3:30.

I started praying for a solution and the Lord sent a very interesting solution. A stomach bug.

We went to Denver for Brian’s nephew’s baptism. And on the 2nd night there, Patrick woke up at 1:30 a.m. and asked me to take him to the potty. Note: Patrick has historically had pretty big anxiety about unfamiliar potties. So that really surprised me.

The next day, that kind of became the story of the day. Trips to the potty. Lots and lots of trips to the potty. My knees were sore from all the trips up and down stairs and kneeling on the floor.

We were pretty worried about this. Diarrhea is a REALLY bad thing for intestinal transplant patients. It can mean rapid dehydration. It can mean developmental setbacks. And it can be a sign of rejection.

We should have been comforted that Patrick ran no fevers. At first we were. I was pretty certain that his upset stomach was a side effect of my letting him try both whipped cream and sour cream in the same day. But to the transplant team, no fevers made the odds of rejection higher. His symptoms lasted almost a week before improving and we had lots of conversations with his wonderful GI here as well as the transplant team in Nebraska. Thankfully, his labwork stayed stable. And I’m pretty proud of our ability to keep up with hydration using pedialyte through his g-tube.

Then, a few days in, I came down with the bug too. Who knew I’d ever be grateful for catching illnesses from my son. But it tells us when something is contagious and not malignant. And so far, I think it means that he gets to miss the opportunity of a sedated biopsy.

Patrick missed a couple of days of school because of being sick. But at least for me, he started using the potty there. And if he at least will go when I drop him off and pick him up, that’s one hour less of him just trying not to go. He’s gone for other teachers, too. Just not his aide.

He doesn't get much rest, but when he does, he crashes these days.

He doesn’t get much rest, but when he does, he crashes these days.

As for me… well, I don’t think I have the hang of things personally yet. I’m struggling to figure out how to work in appointments with school. Patrick’s had two half-days missed to go to appointments and subsequent make-up work. Plus make-up work for sick days. I’m grateful that his teacher sends the work home so that he doesn’t fall behind. But he’s not so much of a fan of the extra homework.

I’m not sure quite what to do with myself during the day, either. The first couple of days. I did nothing. Binged on Netflix. Ate foods that I wouldn’t make with Patrick home. (That first lunch that I didn’t have to consider Patrick’s food was a strange feeling.)

Did I mention we bought our hockey season tickets this month? We moved our seats to the nosebleeds for Patrick.

Did I mention we bought our hockey season tickets this month? We moved our seats to the nosebleeds for Patrick.

I’m doing some better quality scripture study for the first time in a while. I’ve even got a study notebook that I’m writing in. I’ll admit, though that I tried going back to traditional paper scriptures and I’m too hooked on the features of electronic study on my phone or tablet. It’s too nice to follow a footnote with a link or search a thought on the internet and find more information on it. Plus, I’m building a pretty nice little electronic annotation library of my own. (Seriously, look into the LDS Gospel Library App sometime. It’s got so much more in it than just fitting the whole Bible, Book of Mormon, and sunday school and institute manuals in your pocket.)

Some days I’m diligent and work on cleaning. I still feel wholly in over my head there. We have deep cleaning projects left from the summer before transplant. But I’m doing my best to chip away at it.  I’m doing much better keeping up on the regular cleaning and the yard work. I’ve cleaned out a few cupboards. Cataloged surplus medical supplies to donate. Canned tomatoes. Practiced the piano. Gone for walks. Finished a book. Filed medical bills and spent a lot of time on the phone making sure the last of what’s left from this spring is squared away.

A lot of my days have still been devoted to taking care of Patrick so I haven’t really scratched the surface of what I dreamed of doing with this time.

But today – well, today I decided it was time to update the blog. I’ve put it off too long. And when I get behind, it’s always harder to write. Because I know the post will end up long like this.

I dream of a schedule where I have blogging day and laundry day and volunteer at the school day and regular exercise and study and visits with family. Maybe someday.

Kindergarten – untraditionally

It’s a quiet snowy afternoon and seems like time for an update. This is a busy week comparatively for us. With spring break over, Patrick’s back to a regular schedule with his home hospital school. In this district, they have assigned him a teacher for 2 hours a week. She comes one day a week on Tuesday afternoon and stays and works for 2 hours.

When I heard that schedule I was actually really upset. We had 3 hours a week scheduled as 3 one-hour sessions when we were in Nebraska. Patrick rarely stayed on task for the whole hour. We often didn’t get all 3 sessions in. And I really wondered if this schedule could possibly work.

I would never have expected how well this would work. Ms. Emily is a special education teacher in a “behavioral” classroom in another elementary school in the district. That means that it’s no longer just me with strategies to keep Patrick on task. His teacher is really good at finding a balance between pushing him to do hard things and finding ways to turn breaks into educational opportunities or “teaching play.” It’s teaching Patrick to ask for a break when he feels overwhelmed or frustrated and that is a skill that will go a long way for him.

I really worried about the long sessions, but she’s good at keeping a variety. Patrick earns the chance to play educational games on her iPad when when he completes more challenging work and that seems to make the time pass. (And gives us moments where she stops and teaches me ways to work on the same skills at home.)

I think the best thing, though, is that she is bringing me tools that actually are helping me to make good use of the time I spend teaching Patrick. Not that I wasn’t doing my best before. Thank goodness for the resources of the internet or Patrick would have been much further behind. But there is something to be said for materials prepared by a professional educator for your child’s needs.

For example, she brought me a stack of sight word flashcards. They are printed on goldenrod yellow paper which she says is the color our minds learn best reading from. Patrick was pretty resistant to these when she first used them to try to test his knowledge. But she started to plant the idea of sounding out words to him and pointed out a few sight words that he could use that skill on. Patrick and I sat down that week to run through the cards and before I knew it, Patrick was figuring out words by sounding them out, and asking me for more cards to work with.

He is practicing with about 20 sight words cards right now, most of which he’s mastered at a glance. As he gets good at these, we just add a few more in at a time and soon he’ll have that whole stack memorized. She added to that showing me how to use some touch prompts on his arm to help him sound out and blend words together and he’s really starting to be good at reading most any CVC word, new or not.

In the same session, she gave me a stack of worksheets that she’d cut out of a handwriting notebook. And two plastic page protectors. I really doubted this one… but as it turns out, Patrick is totally in love with this particular workbook. I looked online to just get a copy of it and it’s about $100 off the shelf. Basically, it’s pages where he practices tracing numbers. But it has just the right mix of activities that catches his interest. Trace a number 6 times and then practice drawing that many pictures of a totally simple object for a kid to draw, for example. Who knew Patrick would love drawing suns and balloons and candy canes? And on the other side? We practice counting and patterning. I really need to make it to a teaching supply store and get some tanagrams and counters to match the workbook.. But he doesn’t seem notice they’re missing so far.

This work has been reinforced by another little bonus this school district threw in. To honor Patrick’s IEP, they send an occupational therapist out to work with him for 20 minutes a week. 20 minute, again, sounds like nothing. I feel bad for the therapist who devotes 2 times as much driving as she spends teaching. But her support in handwriting and other fine motor activities has taught us a few helpful things like labeling the lines on Patrick’s page with sky, flowers and grass that help him fit his writing within the lines. And because the therapist comes from the school he used to attend, she brings along familiar things that he worked with before that really make him happy and willing to work.

The grand sum total of this is that instead of spending time hunting for curriculum for Patrick, I’m given tools to work with and all the time that I can fit in for school work is spent working and Patrick’s making good gains.

The more I see how things are being done right here, the more convinced I am that things were done very, very wrongly by Omaha Public Schools. Patrick’s teacher was a sweetheart who really meant well. But I’m certain that several of the rules governing special education were broken. I can tell you I certainly will do things differently if I ever have to work with that school district again.

The upside is that things are good here. It’s still a struggle. Patrick is a little bit TV addicted right now and he isn’t always happy when I pull him away to work. But only at first. He’s always happy once we get started.

And we especially struggle on the days that Patrick doesn’t feel as well. We finally finished the 2 week course of antibiotics. It is so nice to only have to get up to refill formula, not to wake up and stay awake to try to give antibiotics. It took a few days to get Patrick past the insomnia that giving him Benadryl every time he woke up was causing. But finally, the family is getting a little better sleep and that helps all of us do better.

Sadly, though, allergy season hit just as Patrick came off of the Benadryl. He had some hayfever symptoms those first couple of days. Or at least, that’s what we thought was going on. Two evenings ago, Patrick started to sound stuffy, too. By yesterday morning, he was sounding pretty congested. Of course, there was also this massive wind-storm that came through and I thought that was to blame. Then, overnight, it snowed. 6 inches. It has snowed all day today. And Patrick isn’t breathing better with the air cleared out.

We had an appointment with his GI and an intro appointment with the liver transplant clinic today, too. I took him, masked. And his doctor thinks this is likely a virus.. so far, he doesn’t think it’s anything overly concerning. (Though I guess we are watching in case his immune suppression causes a latent virus in his body to get worse. But they don’t think that’s it. It’s more likely he caught something over the weekend when we splurged a bit to spend time with family.) Anyway – so far, we are just supposed to keep a watchful eye. Patrick isn’t horribly sick or getting worse. He’s not running fevers. His oxygenation isn’t the best while he sleeps, but humidifiers seem to help with that. And he sounds pretty cute when his little voice gets croaky and cuts out.

Otherwise, it was a productive appointment. It is actually kind of comforting to know that Patrick’s been assigned a transplant nurse coordinator here in town who can get us a doctor quickly is Patrick needed things. They’ll also be watching Patrick’s weekly labs and making phone calls to doctors, the Nebraska transplant team, and us if anything looks off.

Dr. Jackson and I talked about getting orders in place for Patrick to be able to go back to school part-time. He needs to write a letter summarizing what Patrick’s medical and nursing needs will be as he goes back to school. So we talked about my goals and how what he wrote could help with those. He said would recommend for nursing support for Patrick because, as he put it, a multivisceral transplant makes him “one of the most complex patients in the valley.” I wonder how the district will interpret this. I’ve been trying to get an appointment to talk about and plan for Patrick to transition back to school and need this doctor’s letter first because the district trying to figure out what services he needs to attend school and where he’ll go that those can be offered.

Anyway – in brief summary, this is what the school year is looking at right now at our house.

With a lot of Bob the Builder in the background. Patrick rediscovered Bob the Builder this week. He is thrilled to find that he already owns Bob the Builder toys. He doesn’t remember this was his favorite show when he was 2.

I’m trying to figure out how to make Bob the Builder do math. Surely that would increase the incentive and willingness to work at it. Patrick hates math because counting is boring. (And hard in the midst of his ADHD and brain injury.)

Oh, P.S. As I cleaned off my car this morning, I was pretty sure that that much snow overnight would have shut down Nebraska school. Kudos to Utahns for being hard-core in all sorts of weather.

Another IEP meeting behind us.

I feel like a huge weight has been taken off of my chest. Although we have always been very blessed with a caring and cooperative IEP time, hammering out an IEP that meets Patrick’s many needs is no small feat. And this year, with everyone on the IEP team, except the classroom teacher, being brand new to us, I was especially worried.

So I got dressed in my best “I’m competent” clothes, a change from my usual “I’m a special needs mom and you’re lucky I am dressed” wardrobe. I even put on makeup and did my hair. I packed a bag of toys for Patrick and brought along a stack of supporting documents for me. I stopped at the store and picked up some new puzzles for Patrick, even. Then went to Dunkin’ Donuts for goodies since the meeting was at lunch time and I wondered how at least the classroom teacher was going to manage to eat.

Then, as I was sitting waiting for Brian to meet me, I noticed that I’d mixed up my brand new jeans with an old pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch that I’d worn gardening last week. And I crossed my legs and shook it off because I couldn’t let that throw me today.

It seemed like this year’s IEP was all the more important than years past. Before, we were just making goals to help move forward his academic and developmental progress. This time we were dealing with new and worsening behavior problems as Patrick has become aware of his limitations. He wants with all his heart to fit in and make friends, and he just doesn’t have the skills and savvy to do it right. And so he’s taken to hitting, kicking, and pulling hair when he feels frustrated instead.

I had a feeling stress was building. But, I’ll be honest, I’ve been surprised and quite devastated that things got this hard this fast.

As the school year ended last year, I knew that impulsivity was getting to be more of a problem the more Patrick could do things for himself, but still couldn’t be independent. I asked his neurologist for help and he referred me to an amazing program designed to help children with developmental delays and behavioral issues.

But when I started down that path, insurance informed me that the program was through a non-contracted provider. They are a non-profit and we could maybe have made things work, but it was going to cost us more out of pocket than I expected. And, to make matters worse, their wait list was months long… all summer long in fact… just to get an evaluation.

My sweet insurance case manager felt so bad delivering this news that within a day, she’d called around and found a neuropsychologist who they contracted with who could squeeze Patrick in for some developmental testing. I had to fill out a mountain of paperwork. The questionnaire was over 50 pages long. Plus provide a medical/developmental history. (Another 50 pages at least). Then, Brian and I went in for an interview where we talked about all of the things that concerned us about Patrick’s development and behavior. Then it was Patrick’s turn. 4 hours of alternating standardized testing and play therapy and observation. In the end, we got a 25 page write up describing our child. His strengths. His weaknesses. His learning style.

In the end, Patrick was diagnosed as having many physical and cognitive delays stemming from his brain injury. (No surprise there.) And with ADHD. (Also no surprise, though really nice to give it a name we can work with.) The evaluation also included testing for autism and the doctor and Patrick’s therapists and I had a long drawn out series of conversations in which we discussed the way that Patrick’s brain injury sometimes makes him act like he is autistic (sensory processing disorder, social difficulty, quirky little obsessions).. but in the end decided that that diagnosis would only cloud and confuse things for him as it doesn’t exactly fit.

Armed with new diagnoses and 25 pages about how to help Patrick learn (with very specific examples of areas to teach him in), we supposedly had all the makings of a rockstar IEP.

Hence my anxiety over the past month in trying to get things just right. I’ve been e-mailing and talking to Patrick’s new special education teacher (this is an extra teacher who works with him in a regular classroom). I have felt like the super duper stubborn bad guy with my list of unreasonable demands. I really wondered if they were starting to hate me.

But today’s meeting was yet another IEP success. I feel like Patrick’s got a group of very astute and caring team of people working with him. And, in the end, they found a way to give Patrick just about everything we were asking for for him. In fact, a little bit more, even. Like a motor aid to help him in PE. And picture schedule cards for each type of activity in the class. And a more supportive chair for work table time. The occupational therapist offered to work with him on a sensory diet (meaning physical activities to meet his sensory needs throughout the day), which is virtually unheard of in IEP’s in Utah. And the speech therapist offered to build Patrick social stories with him as the main character on her iPad. And, as icing on the cake, they have a written behavioral plan in place for Patrick and are calling in a psychologist to consult and help Patrick learn to control his temper in class.

Of course, the trick now is finding practical ways to make it all work together.. But it is such a relief to feel like we’ve got our feet pointed in the right direction again.

And a big relief to be done with a crazy month of trying to see all the doctors and all the therapists and gather recommendations and write firm but kind “parent advocate” style e-mails that say what they need to, but then have to be trimmed down because, face it, I’m verbose. It will be a relief to be done rehearsing arguments about the IEP in my head all the time.

At least till next fall. Or maybe spring. Or maybe earlier, if things aren’t going quite as they should.