As a mother, I will never give up on my child. As a mother of a child who has autism, I will never give up hope.
I look into his eyes and I see all the potential that he has to offer to this beautiful world and I just know that one day the world can see what I see.

Follow my blog as I share my life and my experiences as a person who loves someone with autism.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bryce’s Story (part three)

Entering the school system was our first time going into the community outside our little autism bubble. Everyone previously in our life were familiar with autism so we never had to explain it to anybody really. At first we didn’t know if we would be accepted by anybody. My biggest fears were Bryce never being invited to birthday parties, asked to have a play-date, or being teased all the time.

We enrolled Bryce into a parent participation pre-school, which I thought was a great place to start to help Bryce build some social skills with children his age. It was also great that I could take part in his learning curriculum and see how he would be in a school setting. This was also going to be the first time he would be somewhere without me.

We started to utilize all the school programs that were available for us since our free services were dropped. We were fortunate enough to be provided with a one-on-one support worker who would help Bryce throughout his time in pre-school. This meant that Bryce had a personal supervisor while he was at school that helped him transition throughout the day and kept him out of harms way. This was funded by the school district, and to my understanding, is allocated amoungst other children in the community with disabilities or special needs.

Prior to Bryce starting elementary school we had a meeting with the principal for several things.

We had to sign documents saying that we knew Bryce had a disability and would never be eligible for a British Columbia Certificate of Graduation or "Dogwood Diploma” and come high school graduation would get a certification of completion instead. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do.

We were informed about Individual Education Plans. Students with special needs who are receiving ongoing special education service require an IEP. This plan is a concise and usable document which summarizes the student's educational program. The IEP should be implemented and reviewed/updated at least annually. Its development should be seen as a dynamic, ongoing process:

  • are written records of planning prepared with input from students, parents/guardians, school personnel and other service providers, i.e., preschool staff.
  • describe students' current learning, strengths, styles and needs, and identify appropriate goals.
  • help in determining the degree of intervention needed.
  • describe individual team members' responsibilities.
  • provide coherent plans for student learning and service needs.
  • should include planning for students' transitions.
  • Assist in determining criteria for evaluation.
  • help in determining how well students are meeting their goals, and form the basis of reporting students' progress.

In reality it’s just a piece of paper that gets filled in, revised once or twice a year through a meeting, and sits in a filing cabinet till it’s next revision. I know that the school means well behind it, and it’s probably great to have a record of it, but in the end it’s not very structured and doesn’t lead us anywhere further than we were before. However, I really enjoy the IEP meetings because we meet with everybody involved within the school system and I feel it’s important to have those meetings with the people who are helping you raise your child.

During the meeting we were also informed that we would have a SEA (Special Education Assistant) who give special attention to students with physical, learning, or emotional needs by:

  • implementing individualized or group instruction in communication skills, life skills, behaviour management techniques and adaptive physical education
  • assisting in the modification of curriculum, assignments and tests to accommodate students with special needs
  • attending to and providing personal assistance to students in toileting, positioning, mobility, feeding, grooming and dressing
  • transferring and assisting students to and from wheelchairs, desks, special equipment and work areas
  • supporting all students in classroom environments

They say that everything you need to learn you learn in kindergarten, so I was excited to hear that we would have somebody with these qualifications to assist Bryce.

When school started we had several temporary SEAs. By temporary I mean twelve. Every single one of them informed me that they would be Bryce’s temporary SEA until his full-time SEA was hired. Apparently working as a temp SEA makes more money and is more convenient in hourly work compared to 2 hours a day, 10 hours a week full-time work. At least that’s what a couple of our temps told us. I think the school year was about half way through when I actually took some charge and demanded to have somebody full-time working with Bryce. Fortunately a really sweet lady who worked in Bryce’s daycare was going to school for this and agreed to be his worker for the end of the school year. I can’t emphasize enough how important structure and routines are for children with autism. I honestly don’t know how Bryce coped so well.

So come grade one, being full-time in school, everybody said that the hours were more ‘appealing’ to SEAs. I was not about to go through a repeat of the year before, so I pleaded for the lady who worked with Bryce in kindergarten. Unfortunately SEAs are hired based on seniority and somebody with more years under their belt was hired. It’s really an odd system and I think a parents say, as well as the child's say should outweigh any decision. It’s not like I didn’t like our new worker, she was really nice too, I just liked the idea of structure and familiar faces, and not having to sit down and explain everything about Bryce all over to a new face.

Grade two came and Bryce’s principal informed us that the hours allocated between the school district had dropped and we would be losing 5 hours a week of paid SEA service. I kept hoping that we’d find somebody who wanted those hours and we were very lucky to come in contact with our next SEA. This lady is incredible. If I wasn’t Bryce’s mom, I’d think she was Bryce’s mom, because she just knew Bryce so well. You know those rare types of people that don’t do the job for the money but do the job because they love their job? She’s like that type of person. We noticed a huge improvement on so many levels with Bryce in grade two. She had taught Bryce so many things. Their is not enough Tim Horton’s gift cards to repay her and not enough Hallmark cards to thank her and tell her how much we appreciated her.

You can imagine my disappointment when we were originally informed that she would not be working with Bryce this year in grade three. Again, the seniority rule came into play, and her application for the position was bumped down. However, plans changed when the SEA we were supposed to have went on maternity leave after she got the job (don’t ask) and we got to have our old SEA back!

So it turns out the school system wasn’t as bad as I thought. We've been with this same school since day one. I could go on for hours about all the things Bryce's school does for us. We are so fortunate to be with a school that not only understands us, but accepts us.

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