First Play – Planets

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Before Liam left his first school, he was in his first school play.

I was nervous that he would forget where to move or his line.

It turns out that his memory works in his favor for remembering everything from his and other people’s lines to the positions of himself all of the other kids in the play.

The play was about the planets.

He was the sun.

He smiled the whole time he was on stage. He might have been told that he had to smile, but he was also happy.

He remembered his line and all of the songs: “The planets, the planets, we’re talking about the planets…”

Every time a song mentioned the word “sun,” he held his huge prop up a little higher for just a few second. Afterward, he shared that it was heavy and his arms were tired.

But he never missed a cue and didn’t drop his prop.

In that moment, on stage, we could not tell that he was different from any of his classmates.

A Read Aloud in a Time of Need

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Kieran was upset those first few weeks in his new home and school. I brought him out a little early so I wouldn’t be living in our new home alone. Liam (with my husband and Mea) waited until PSSAs (state tests) were finished. As a first grader, Kieran didn’t take them.

One night, Kieran was talking about the things he was missing about first grade at his old school. In a quiet voice he shared, “Mom, I never got to finish hearing the book we were reading aloud in class. Could we get it and finish it?”

It was Cynthia Rylant’s Gooseberry Park.

I ordered it right away.

We pass the time until we would be a whole family again reading a chapter each night. We looked forward to what would happen next in the book.

It was a healing ritual that brought a bit of closure to what Kieran was going through.

It helped him feel connected to the friends he left behind.

It made his new home feel more comfortable.

New School for Liam

While there were many wonderful things about Liam’s new school: great teachers, guided reading, acceleration in math, excellent music program, trips to new parts of PA and MD, and other enrichment opportunities, there were things that (of course), were different.

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Most of these had to do with supporting Liam’s social skills.

There was no itinerant autistic support teacher. In fact, in his new elementary, there were no teachers who were familiar with how to support a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

Liam started to “get in trouble” (in the loosest sense of the phrase), for touching things and for being disorganized. When he would become anxious, he would either be sent for a “break” (a walk around the school with an aid (neither of which he had needed before), or everyone would rush to help him, which would make him feel more overwhelmed).

He even “worked the system” by asking for frequent breaks. It caused me to call his old school and ask if that was typical for Liam. When I found out I wasn’t, I put an end to Liam’s escape from class.

Everyone tried to help him. They had his best interest at hear. Because it was close to the end of the year and Liam had been doing so well in third grade overall, I neglected to bring everyone “up to speed” like I had in all previous years. I didn’t realize just how much the move had affected him, and how it would affect those who worked with him and his schooling.

Thankfully, we talked (a lot) and started to work things out. The last month was productive and Liam started to make the friends I wrote about in a previous post (ones he still has today). The school started to realize how good he was at math and music, and he started to learn more independence.

The lesson that I learned was: I could not over communicate about Liam. He was still in need of social skills support and I needed to ensure that we kept his services in place, regardless of how good things seemed to be going.

Two Precious Goodbye Books

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When Liam and Kieran left their elementary school toward the end of third and first grades, each class made a good-bye book for each boy.

It was filled with a page from each classmate, sharing about their friendship and how the boys would be missed.

It was an incredibly sweet token for each of the teachers to make. I had never seen anything like it before.

Liam smiled as he read through each page of his book. Then he put the book in his memory box. Liam would enter his new school with a fresh start – and make friends he still has to this day.

Kieran read the book each day, throughout the rest of the school year. He cried each day too. He asked if he could call the friends who had left their phone number on their page. He wrote letters to the friends that shared their addresses. He clung to the book – to remember his friends as he started a new school. Kieran has still not made a best friend like the one he left behind.

We “found” these books in the boys’ memory boxes just the other day. We are moving again (same district), and need to “downsize” our belongings a bit.

Liam smiled as he read through the book and quickly put it back in his box. Kieran secreted his away to his room. He still cherishes those first, fast, and furious friendships from first grade.

I will find a time in a few days to put the book back, to help him focus on today.

More Reading by Memory

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Switching to a school with a slightly different approach to reading helped us see just how little Kieran knew about phonemic awareness and phonics, and how much he relied on his memory to read.

While still reading “above” grade level, now that he was headed into short chapter books, his frustration with how to say multisyllabic and unfamiliar words was clear.

He reverted to looking at the first letter or two within the word and guessing at what it might say, based on the context of what he was reading. Sometimes he was right, which reinforced for him that he was “fine.” Many times he was incorrect in his guess, which helped us show him why we wanted to help him better decode those types of words.

While he would struggle with phonics again, later on in his elementary career, we were lucky to “catch” this behavior and need at the end of first grade. It might not have come out if we had not changed schools, and saw his reading through a different district’s eyes.

Moving

Early on in the boys’ first and third grade years, I took a job two hours away. Starting in November, I couldn’t commute home during the week.

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We kept the kids in their school until we sold the house. We put our house on the market in October, but it didn’t sell it until February. By then, we thought we would keep them in their current school until closer to the end of the year, so they wouldn’t have too much disruption and keep all of their friends.

The time was hard on all of us. I cried a lot at night, as I talked to and said goodnight to my family 100 miles away. I ate a lot of take-out and spent most nights alone. The boys had times when they struggled, which showed up bad behaviors at school.

Through it all, they had teachers and friends who helped them during this time.

We reunited as a family at the end of March, in our new home and school.

My husband stopped working that January so he could take care of Mea full time. She stopped going to pre-school to save on money. When we were reunited, she didn’t notice much difference; just that I was home more often and she had to share her dad again.

I’m happy to say that the move was ultimately a positive one for our family. I have many stories of wonderful educators and experiences from this new adventure.

Making the Most of Memory

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During third grade year, we realized that while not like Sheldon Cooper, Liam does have a strong memory for academic information, which he was encouraged to see as a strength.

It’s important to recognize strengths, while boosting the areas of need, so that a student feels capable in some areas of their school and home life.

Memory has allowed Liam to find success in math – he’s good at math facts and remembers how to do a new math problem after just one time of seeing it done.

In third grade, he also learned Spanish. The teacher, being from outside the district, was impressed with his memory for vocabulary. In language arts, memory has helped Liam stand out in vocabulary and grammar skills.

So, while he struggled to pronounce the words in Spanish, he could remember what words meant and enjoyed the class.

To this day, in Technology Student Association (TSA) events for example, he does better on the ones that require memory. This year, he placed first in Tech Bowl Written (knowing information about technology). Last year, he placed tenth in Tech Bowl, in the nation, after only studying for about a month (we found online resources such as Quizlet to help him study).

Having this strength has helped him shine amidst other areas of need.

But please don’t ask him where he put his socks. He won’t remember that at all.

An Inspiration

I met Tommy’s mom through a mutual friend. He is a handsome, strong, respectful young man. He was 16 years old. He has autism.

He talks, but repeats phrases that he has heard, mostly from movies, rather than generates original conversation.

His mom and I have developed a relationship because she sees her son’s “light” and what he is capable of doing. She wanted more, academically, for her son.

He has spent most of his schooling in an classroom for students with autism. He has learned ABA exceptionally well. Tommy is extremely polite and well behaved. But at the time, he was not being given much academic work to do.

Because his mom felt that he could learn, she requested that his placement be switched.

Because he was only given a standard IQ test, not a non-verbal version, she believed that his score was unfairly low, and requested the appropriate re-testing.

Because, when I tested him with the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test he was able to understand some abstract concepts, which was remarkable given how little academic learning he had received, she asked that he be given the opportunity to learn to read and use the FastForWord program, which has been used with students with autism.

Because she saw academic abilities in her son, she also pushed for him to receive ST Math, which teaches math concepts non-verbally.

The school district listened to Tommy’s mom advocate for her son. Yesterday, she shared two videos of how he is doing in his new setting. Take special note of his brilliant smile.

http://www.gametimepa.com/videos/high-school/york-adams/track-and-field/2017/05/03/watch-spring-grove’s-tommy-salter-finishes-100-meter-dash/101236602/

http://www.gametimepa.com/videos/high-school/york-adams/track-and-field/2017/04/28/watch-disabled-runners-inspire-spring-grove-track-team/101039916/