Stories From the Heart: Why Can’t I Pass Fourth Grade?

Several years ago, a student whom I will call Frank, came to my classroom, introduced himself and said to me “I just cannot seem to pass fourth grade.”  I told him we would figure it out together. Off we went to fourth grade for a lesson and I sat at the back of the room and watched my new friend participate.

The teacher illustrated something on the board and then turning to the class said “If you get this, raise your hand.” Frank put up his hand with the others. So far so good. The teacher then turned her back to the class and went on to write something new on the board. Frank kept his hand up, long after the others had put theirs down.

Suddenly realizing that he stood out, he looked very worried, put his hand down and began fidgeting in his seat. He also began flapping his hands and rocking. As the teacher droned on, Frank had tuned out and was missing a great deal of the next lesson. All because there was an implied direction rather than a spoken directive such as “hands down”. He pulled himself together admirably, but this took time, and time was not on his side.

Frank and I next went out to recess. Frank looked for a group to participate in and as he found one, he stood there frozen just outside the perimeter of the game.  He was on the outside, staring in at what he wanted to be his part of his world.

We had much work to do. Frank could pass fourth grade with help, but what he could not pass for was a child who blended in. We devised strategies to help.  These included:

1) When in doubt, just do what everyone else is doing. This gives time to blend and attend.

2) Stim modification….when Frank needed to flap/wring his hands, he went to the sink and did so while washing his hands. Frank came up with his own strategies…..I watched him one day start to flap outside and turn it immediately into a pretend swing of a baseball bat.

3) Added visual supports. For whatever he said he did not understand, we made a visual of what was truly going on. We also used index cards as cue cards that he would carry.

4) Role play..we practiced how to enter a group, how to exit a group, what a proper speaking distance was. We would practice it; he would try it out, and then report back as to how it worked. If it didn’t, we modified it until it did.

Frank passed fourth grade that year and got invited to his first birthday party!

Frank has the potential to be anything that he wants to be. Yet he was lost in a system that failed to recognize his unique strengths and challenges. He came to me completely baffled; with no tools or strategies to succeed. No one had ever sought to empower him by teaching him self-advocacy. No one had ever made it OK for him to be the magnificent child that he was and continues to be.

Frank didn’t fail fourth grade. Fourth grade failed Frank.

By Marie Inglee

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: ADHD 101 for Parents

ADHD has had different names over the years, being first identified in the early 1900’s.  ADHD is a diagnosable illness, however the cause is still debatable.  ADHD is often not diagnosed until children are in grade two or three. There are four main things that parents can do for children who display ADHD-like characteristics:

1. It is important that parents and child to learn as much as they can about the disorder.  Parents need to become their child’s advocate.  Some of the possible ways of doing this are by reading and parent networking groups.

2. Behaviour modification is also used both at home and at school.  Some parents confuse this technique with bribery.  Behaviour modification is a system of positive rewards for good behaviour (e.g. stickers on a reward chart).  Negative rewards are given for inappropriate behaviour (e.g. time out).

3. ADHD is a medical condition, and as such, has to be diagnosed by a physician.  Parents are encouraged to seek medical assistance for ADHD.

4. Parents need to reach out and connect with other parents who are experiencing similar issues.  Parent support and networking are critical to maintaining a positive attitude when parenting a challenging child.

There can be difficult moments when raising a child with challenging behavioural issues.  Parents need extended families and their communities to be supportive and understanding. Parents need to realize that there are lots of happy moments and that most behavioural incidents are over quickly and that’s the time for hugs and kisses!

By Cheryl Thacker

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Parenting Outside the Box

Everyone gives birth to a perfect child—even a child born on the Autism Spectrum.  I am the parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.  As a result, I parent outside the box of normal.  I anticipate rather than react (or at least I try).  Rather than being spontaneous, I plan and prepare.  I struggle with organization, but with an Aspie (an affectionate term) it is almost impossible to live outside of being organized.

Even though she did not receive a diagnosis until she was 12, I knew that she was “different”, but I had no idea these differences were anything more than a unique personality trait.  I still believe structure is what makes her stand out from everyone else and is a big part of who she is.

She sees the world differently than typical children but seeing the world through her eyes has made it come alive again.  She struggles with change and loves structure.  She likes doing the same thing every day and knowing what to expect ahead of time.  She is obsessed with music and drama—from watching and listening to it to singing and acting herself.  She struggles with school and relationships but nothing is as difficult as just living in a world so different from the one she thinks she lives in.

Not once have I ever sought a cure or prayed for a change.  At times I would like to modify her reactions to negative events. I want to teach her how to deal with the confusing life that’s going on around her. There are especially times when I would like to lecture the people that tease her and do things to make her over-react, but that would only make matters worse.

As a parent living outside the box, I’ve learned not to make excuses for her behaviour or apologize for it.  The stares I get from other people no longer faze me.  I don’t care that they think my child is a spoiled, obnoxious brat or that I’m a lousy parent.

If you are a parent living outside the box, forget about what others think about your children and your parenting skills.  Love your children the way they are and create an atmosphere that allows them to be who they are, not what the world says they should be.  Forget about the world’s definition of perfection and create your own.  Perfection, after all, is a process which we strive for but never attain completely.

We are parents of unique children who deserve to be treated fairly, with respect and compassion.  Typical children are not better, just different.  Once the world realizes the contributions our children can and will make to society, they will envy the gift we were given at the birth of our special children.

By Jill Jones

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: Keepin’ Your Eye on The Ball

Ahhh high school graduation! It’s the day where children and parents everywhere rejoice in the end of a 13 to 14 year struggle. Finally completed! Or is it?

I voluntarily gave our family a reprieve for a couple years after graduation…not asking, wanting or fighting an uphill battle for anything. I regrouped and re-established friendships and started new ones. I felt the healing process had begun.  I thought to myself “This is the person I used to be” before all the frustration with the endless IEP’s and   meetings with district officials that began over a decade ago.

Here is some sage advice:

“Vacation is good, but never take your eye off the ball”.

Remember how we fought so Johnny wouldn’t regress if he didn’t have summer school? Well the same is true for services after high school. There needs to be a continuum for our young adults. You need to be ahead of the game and keep things progressively moving along.

Programs end at ages of 18 and 22 and often there are times when it seems there is no one to help with the next steps of the journey. But you have to find those people to help you. While your child is in high school, that is the time to prepare for adult hood.

Be in touch with programs through SSI, like “Ticket to Work” in the state of California that helps your adult child get prepared to work. They will provide services to get them there, such as life skills, social skills training, using a bank and learning how to use public transportation.

In California we have Regional Centers that provide more services at this stage of the game. Every state has a different agency and you should know the ones in your area. Get to know them and be on the board if you can.

Network with other parents and find out what your local Autism groups can help with. Don’t wait till the last minute where everything will be taken and there may be waiting lists. If you do wait you might be waiting for a very long time.

In these economic times, it is unfortunate that there are fewer programs to choose from at a time when our children need more.  If your children are going to college many are impacted and it will take more planning to get your child to succeed.

Collaborate, Network, think ahead and most importantly do it with a cool head.

By Christinna Guzman

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

Stories From the Heart: The Glass is Half Full, Today

Every year when school begins I am filled with hope that my son with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will enjoy his school year, making new friends, connecting with his teachers, and grasping the subject matter.  I no longer compare him to his older sister or younger brother, but try to find the areas that he is improving, if only slightly.  He is going to school willingly every day since school started, and has made it through without any anxiety.  He is also initiating doing his homework, and completes most of it on his own so far.  He likes his teachers and has made some new friends this year, too.

But, each year I am also filled with anxiety, wondering if he will be able to make friends, how he will deal with the bullying, if he will like his new teachers, if he will make it through the school day without a panic attack, and if he will be able to understand anything his teachers need him to learn.

I have tried to let go of any expectations that I have for my son on a yearly, monthly, weekly or daily basis, but I am only human.  How far behind in math, reading comprehension, and writing will he be at the end of this year?  Will he be able to handle the increased work load without increasing his anxiety?  Will he continue to have friends that want to play with him and will stick up for him if someone is bullying him?

No one knows what the future holds for their children.  I wonder what the future holds for all three of my kids.  I hope that each of them reaches their full potential.  However, the question remains.  What will my son’s full potential be?  I try not to ponder this, because it can literally drive me crazy.

The good news is, for now, I am hopeful that today will be a good day, and this week will be a good week.  Although I can’t be sure what will happen tomorrow, I can sleep tonight knowing that I can choose to believe my glass is half full!

By Darcy Kahrhoff

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism and special needs experience.

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