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IEP Part I

Yesterday I attended IEP meetings for both Alex and Aden. The purpose of Alex’s IEP meeting was his annual review of IEP goals. The purpose of Aden’s IEP meeting was to discuss results from his articulation testing. Although placement for next year wasn’t on the agenda, I knew it was going to come up which is probably why I was more anxious about this meeting than past meetings.

Alex’s annual review was smooth-sailing. He continues to make progress on every goal and no longer qualifies for OT services. Wow. His teacher Ms. Katie talked about how much he has grown up. It’s hard to believe I will have 5 year-olds in just 5 months. Alex passed his kindergarten readiness test with flying colors and will be attending a typical kindergarten classroom next year. For the remainder of the school year, Alex will be joining the typical preschool class for both academics and opportunities for socialization. He starts Monday- yikes! I am overwhelmed with joy when I think about how far he has come. Years of early intervention have paid off. I’m so proud of him (Insert tears of joy!).029Switching gears to Aden’s IEP…

As I listened to Aden’s SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) go over the articulations results, I fought to hold back tears. I wasn’t surprised by the results. I listen to Aden everyday; I know his limitations. He’s talking more but it’s still hard to understand him which affects his ability to communicate and socialize with others. It makes me sad that he struggles with something that comes so naturally to others. I feel powerless because I cannot help him. It’s the worse feeling a parent can have.

Aden was given the Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation. Scores between 85-115 are considered within the average range. Aden scored a 62, putting him in the 3rd percentile. For intelligibility rating, he scored poor on single words and connected speech. His sound errors included substitution and omission, which means he’s either using a different letter in place of the correct letter or he’s leaving it out entirely. For example, if Aden says “up”, it sounds like “ut” so he’s replacing the “p” with a “t”. We’ve been working on this with him. After repeating the word with the correct end sound, he is able to correctly pronounce the word, so there’s hope!030Finally Aden used many phonological processes or speech error patterns including gliding, stopping, consonant cluster reduction, deaffrication, fronting, and final consonant deletion. I’m not going to define all of these. If you’re interested, google is a wonderful tool. In a nut shell, Aden has a lot of issues pertaining to speech which will take years of speech therapy to correct. To get started, articulation goals were added to his IEP.

Recently Aden started receiving private speech on Saturdays. His SLP, Karen is working on a new method of speech therapy with him called PROMPT. PROPMT is a tactile approach to speech therapy and since Aden doesn’t have any aversions to touch, he is responding well to it. I searched “What is PROMPT?” and found this great guest blog: http://heatherspeechtherapy.com/2013/02/prompt-prompts-for-restructuring-oral-muscular-phonetic-targets-guest-blog-post-by-kendra-egan-author-of-the-blog-the-speech-and-language-lady/

After discussing articulation goals, I was asked about my recent visits to the typical kindergarten classroom and the special-needs kindergarten classroom. Both visits went well. I could see benefits to each program. However at this point, I feel it is important for Aden to be around typical peers in a structured learning environment. He needs to see how other kids behave in an academic setting. After kindergarten comes first grade. There is no special-needs first grade so why not expose him to a larger class next year and get him used to it. The typical kindergarten classroom offers Aden the least restrictive environment (LRE) which I’ve come to learn is the biggest factor when determining placement.

After hearing my thoughts, my team proposed trying Aden out in the same typical preschool classroom as Alex for the duration of the school year. I’m on board with this. I’m hoping Aden does well. If not, I’m sure this will hurt his chances of getting placement in a typical kindergarten classroom. But no need to cross that bridge just yet…stay tuned for IEP Part II. 028

On the Fence

After weeks of worrying and weighing my options, I’m still on the fence about which kindergarten class Aden should attend next fall. Do I push for a typical program with a larger class size and peer models in a structured learning environment OR do I choose a special-needs program with a smaller class size and peer models only during specials, lunch/recess? Both have pros and cons. At this point, attending the same school as Alex doesn’t matter; it boils down to which program is better suited for Aden. It’s only one year, right?

The problem is Aden is inconsistent. He’s inconsistent behaviorally and academically. Meaning, one day he can follow directions, regulate himself, and use clear words. He can also identify letters and the sounds they make. The next day, Aden is moody, unable to focus, and gets his letters mixed up. But is inconsistency enough to choose special-needs over typical? I don’t know.

Some days I observe Aden and think to myself: There is no way this kid belongs in a special-needs class. Other days, sometimes days within in the same week, I observe Aden and think to myself: This kid definitely needs to be in a special-needs class. It’s extremely frustrating.

Aden has come a long way. Aden has a long way to go. I know he is hard to motivate and generally does what Aden wants to do. I also know what he is a capable of when he puts his mind to it. The kid has potential. But by choosing a typical program, am I challenging him or setting him up for failure? Again, I don’t know.

I hate that class size even plays a factor. I attended the recent SECAC (Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee) meeting which discussed the new laws pertaining to special education for Maryland public schools. It was informative, but information can be good or bad. At the meeting, I asked the question: How do schools determine the student: teacher ratio? I was referring to typical classrooms. No one knew the answer. So does that mean some schools will have 15:1, 20:1, or 20+:1? This is a problem. How can teachers be expected to manage twenty kids and be effective? And what is the outcome for the students aka my children?

This week I observe a typical kindergarten program at Aden and Alex’s home school and I also observe a special-needs kindergarten program at a nearby school. Hopefully after observing the two, I will finally be able to make a decision and get off the damn fence. tumblr_lzke3n7qp51qchpilo1_r1_500

Perfect Decision?

Nothing worries me more than making tough decisions. I’m generally indecisive, just ask my husband. But when I’m faced with making decisions about Aden and Alex’s future, indecisive is an understatement. These decisions are the toughest ones to make because I’m responsible. I’m responsible if it ends up being the wrong decision.

When my students are choosing topics for their papers, I tell them there is no such thing as a perfect topic but instead how you develop it. Some students spend so much time agonizing over their topic that they waste time that could be better spent. Does this same theory apply to making decisions? Is there no such thing as a perfect decision?

With only four months remaining in the school year, decisions are starting to be made regarding fall placement for Aden and Alex. At my first parent-teacher conference, it was recommended that Alex begin typical kindergarten whereas Aden would attend a special-needs kindergarten. At the time, I was on board. Since Aden is still struggling with sensory and behavior issues, he would have trouble adapting into a typical kindergarten class with upwards of 20 kids.

However, recently Aden had an appointment with his developmental pediatrician. After spending an hour with her, she asked about Aden’s placement for next year and was quite surprised when I told her he would be attending a special-needs kindergarten. Her words exactly: “I see no reason for Aden to attend a special-needs kindergarten, Aden needs to be around typical peers for modeling purposes”. I remember the words clearly because I repeated them over and over in my head on the way home. Was I making the wrong decision?

When I arrived home, I wrote an email to Aden’s teacher at CARD asking for her opinion. She has been working with Aden for quite some time. I was hoping for a tie-breaker and someone who would ultimately make the decision for me. Instead, she could see benefits to each option. She recommended something called a “split”. A split is when a child spends time in a special-needs classroom for individualized attention and also spends time with typical peers for social interaction. PERFECT! But does this type of program exist?

Since our home school doesn’t have a program to meet Aden’s needs, he will be attending a school nearby. My plan was to get permission for Alex to also attend the same school but in a typical kindergarten class. Even before autism, I knew I wanted them in separate classes throughout their school years. They are twins but they are also individuals and therefore need to learn to thrive on their own. However, I would like them at the same school for obvious reasons.

My plan was to have both boys start at the same school in different classes and stay there. Consistency and stability is important for any kid but especially kids on the spectrum. However, due to the county’s latest initiative to send special-needs kids back to their home schools, this doesn’t look to be an option. Aden is expected to attend a special-needs kindergarten nearby and return to his home school for 1st grade. At this point, I am unsure whether or not to seek permission for Alex to attend the same school as Aden if he’s only to return for 1st grade. Why make them both endure transitions?

When I first heard that Aden and Alex would be attending different schools, it was a tough pill to swallow. It’s still sort of lodged in my throat. Not to make this about me, but I like to be involved at school; I like to volunteer and participate in fundraisers. I don’t like the idea of dividing myself between two schools, dealing with two buses, etc…I keep telling myself it’s only for one year but I still feel unsettled and I don’t feel like it’s the perfect decision.

Ringing in the New Year!

For over a year, Aden and Alex attended a playgroup at the library. It is designed for children under the age of three who have developmental delays. Along with their parents, toddlers experience a structured learning environment, complete with sensory-motor activities, circle/story time, and finally play. I loved the playgroup but I loved the teacher even more. Jillian is her name and she is more than a teacher to our family, she is our friend. 057On rough days when I spent most of my time chasing the boys around the back of the room, Jillian always put me at ease. I admire her energy and positive attitude- it’s contagious. She is someone you want to be around. 020With that said, I was happy that we remained in touch. She even let the boys attend her outdoor playgroup held during the summer at a local church playground. I’m sure we’ll be back this year!

I was thrilled when she invited us over for her family’s annual New Year’s celebration. Since the boys wouldn’t last until midnight (and neither would I), she did a kid-friendly New Year’s party complete with juice toasting and a balloon drop. We were able to ring in the New Year early and Aden and Alex got to attend their first NYE Party. 019020Cheers to 2014 and of course good friends!  015

Busy Making Memories

Yes it has been awhile. I apologize for the hiatus between 2013 and 2014. My excuse: holiday hectic-ness and exhaustion. Over the past two months, by the end of the day, I had no brain power left for composing blogs. And so now it is time to play catch-up.

November

The weekend before Thanksgiving my Mother-in-law arranged a day trip to Pennsylvania to visit the famous Koziar’s Christmas Village: http://www.koziarschristmasvillage.com/home.html???????????????????????????????Here’s what we saw when we arrived (I apologize for the shakiness): http://youtu.be/FmsMyI-efcY

We tried to beat the holiday rush but unfortunately didn’t beat the winter temps considering the east coast was experiencing record lows. It even snowed while we were there which only added to the holiday feel. I wish we could have stayed longer. It was quite an experience and I’m sure we’ll return again someday…when the boys are older…and they don’t want to be carried.

Thanksgiving was business as usual: a huge selection of yummy foods and I’m pretty sure the boys ate chicken nuggets. Whatever, I’m tired of fighting that battle. When I asked Alex to try a new food, he said to me, “Mommy, I will try new foods when I grow up”…well my palate has changed over the years and hopefully theirs will too.

December

???????????????????????????????Elf on the Shelf made an appearance in our house this year. His name was Oatmeal and he made quite an impression. The first day he arrived, Alex was having a meltdown. He probably couldn’t find a green crayon…but to him, it’s the end of the world as we know it. I said, Oatmeal is watching, do you want him to report back to Santa? He said to me, “I don’t like Oatmeal; he needs to go away and not come back”. In other words, I don’t like this stupid Elf spying on my bad behavior and then reporting back to the big man. Alex is a smart cookie.

Santa arriving on the fire truck/tree lighting was a new event for us this year. Held at the town hall near our house, everyone gathers in the parking lot and inside the hall to await the arrival of Santa on the fire truck. There was a bounce house, an outdoor movie, and concessions- plenty to keep the boys busy. It was night time and crowded; Aden was a little overwhelmed and perhaps experiencing some sensory-overload. He stayed with Daddy watching Rudolf while Alex and I walked around. Here is a clip of Alex dancing behind a group of carolers: http://youtu.be/hNqkHCa4rY0

Tree decorating was fun this year. The boys were more excited than last year…a little too excited, which unfortunately resulted in a multitude of ornament causalities. Let’s just say when I packed up the decorations, I packed a box of ornaments for the boys to put on the tree and a box of ornaments that will be put on the tree after they go to sleep. 008Breakfast with Santa was a HUGE success. Last year whenever I said the word “Santa”, Aden would freak out. He wouldn’t even go near the Santa house. This year we decided to visit Santa before heading into breakfast which proved to be a great move. Aden sat on Santa’s lap and even posed for a picture! I love the Santa there, better than any I’ve ever seen. I think he’s the real Santa. I really do.009We had our last snow of the year which the boys loved, Jon included. I was happy it was on a weekend- Jon is usually working on snow days and never gets a chance to play outside with them. Plus it gave Mommy uninterrupted cleaning/decorating time. Here they are playing in the back of Pop-Pop’s truck while Daddy trash talks Mommy: http://youtu.be/xN2pR1fTi2U

Nap time and bon-bons…I freaking wish.

The week of Christmas, both boys suffered high fevers with no other symptoms. Alex was lethargic the day before Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve and then Aden Christmas night and the day after Christmas. It was funny, their bodies allowed them to be fever-free on Christmas morning- best present of all. Oh what fun it is to deal with sick kids all week long…but hey, at least they didn’t miss school.

Here they are on Christmas morning coming downstairs (in case you can’t understand him, Aden is commenting about the cookies and carrots being gone)… http://youtu.be/WVzkr71JEuw This is what I call magic- such a precious time in their lives. It will only last until someone bombards them with pesky logic…so what if we don’t have a fireplace! Oh well, we’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Both loved opening presents this year and both had different approaches. Aden took the tear open in less than 15 seconds approach whereas Alex was much more delicate. If there were similar presents, let’s just say Alex was never surprised because of Aden’s enthusiasm.

Aden’s favorite present was Incredible Hulk pajamas (how fitting) and Alex’s favorite was a Leap Pad2 which he calls his “iPad”. Aden and Alex also received their first instruments: a key board and drum set, here they are testing them out: http://youtu.be/gtZzR_MYpnA (So far I haven’t needed ear plugs)???????????????????????????????100It’s sad when Christmas is over. No more build-up, anticipation, “magic”. When the decorations are put away and the house is bare and the long winter is upon us…it’s sad. I just have to remember all the wonderful memories we made and we sure did make a lot this holiday season.  ???????????????????????????????

2013 Recap

At the end of 2012, I did a year-in-review. It was a great way to look back and remember all of the things we had accomplished.

I stated in my 2012 recap blog, “2012 has been a tough year, maybe the toughest of my life”…well I could say the same thing about 2013. I’m sensing a trend.  

Throughout the year, I suffered bouts of depression and was constantly in need of attitude adjustments. I’ve come to realize as life goes on and challenges are overcome, there will be new ones to replace them. It’s a harsh reality but better to realize this now and be prepared for what’s ahead.

So here goes, a highlight from each month…

In January, I hosted a play date for M.L.K Jr. Day. I took this video of Aden dancing with his friend, Gabby. She may be younger but he didn’t seem to mind. It was adorable but more importantly, he was interacting with peers! http://youtu.be/N4S0KEUULXE

In February, both boys were on their way to learning how to swim. Here is Alex for the first time without a floatation device: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM2N3RgrHjs

In March, we attended a sensory-friendly event at White Marsh Mall and both boys sat on the Easter bunny’s lap! But before the bunny, we captured this on video: http://youtu.be/lUrumnwJkoU Both boys responding to their names! It may seem small and insignificant but for us, this was one of our red flags for Autism. Notice how I said, WAS.

In April, we finished up with two studies. First, we completed the SEED study (Study to Explore Early Development), which was a wonderful experience and a great way to give back. Second, Aden completed the EAAS(Early Achievements Autism Speaks) study which was an amazing opportunity for our family. Aden’s progress by the end of the study is by far one of the biggest highlights from 2013.013Parent training was another incredible experience. Not only did I learn so much but was lucky enough to meet and become lifelong friends with some of the coolest people. I have many graduation parties to attend in the future.

I participated in my first fundraiser: ROAR for Autism and raised over $1,000 for Kennedy Krieger Institute. I also held my first Autism Awareness event: “Howl for Autism” at Howl at the Moon. Finally, our family attended the ROAR Family Fun Festival at Oregon Ridge- we all had a blast!   

In May, Alex attended his cousin Kellen’s 6th birthday party and actually joined the group and participated in party games. I had a moment- it was a sight to see.

031In June, we had a successful vacation to Busch Gardens- it was the first time I wasn’t ready to come home. Also by June, both boys had learned how to swim! We were able to enjoy the pool more and worry less.

In July, both boys attended Extended School Year (ESY) for the first time, they actually held my hands and walked with me from the car rather than eloping. Huge strides in this department! They also started going into their car seats without “the chase”.

In August, after so many attempts and failures, both boys were finally potty-trained the month they celebrated their 4th birthdays. I learned so much from this experience and if I could offer advice to other parents fighting this battle: Awareness is everything. Don’t attempt unless they’re ready. You’ll drive yourself crazy.

In September, both started riding the bus to and from school and loved it! We also had our first successful beach trip to OC, MD.

In October, Aden had his first positive testing experience. During post-post testing, Aden completed tasks I had never seen him do. I was in tears and for once, it was tears of joy! I also took them both to the zoo for the first time BY.MY.SELF. No tears at all. 

In November, we visited a playground I took the boys to when they were teeny tiny just 15 months. It was awesome to experience a bit of nostalgia as I watched them run and play. I snapped a few pictures and was able to capture then and now shots.  Alex slide then and now???????????????????????????????Finally, in December, Aden wasn’t afraid of Santa and actually sat on his lap. 

Overall, 2013 was a challenging yet rewarding year. I chose to highlight all of the good and positive experiences when in fact; I could have just as easily filled the page with bad or negative ones. Lately I’ve become obsessed with the saying “Find the good in every day”. I’m even thinking about putting it on my wall. It would be a nice reminder. In this blog, I chose to find the good in every year. 

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Build-A-Bear

On Sunday November 3, we attended our first ASBC (Autism Society Baltimore-Chesapeake) event: Build-a-Bear Social. We joined the Autism Society last year but unfortunately we hadn’t participated in any events offered for members. Last year was a difficult year and I was probably too afraid to go anywhere. Not this year…things have changed and for the better.

The event was held at Towsontown Center before the mall opened to the public. Waiting in line was hard for Aden but I was impressed with Alex. Jon waited with Alex while I wandered around with Aden.

Both picked bears to stuff (they have other animals to choose from). Alex chose a button with a message that said, “I love you” while Aden picked a button that sounded like a beating heart. If you’re not familiar with Build-a-Bear workshops, they have all sorts of accessories and add-ons to completely personalize your stuffed animal.

After you choose your stuffable add-ons, it’s time for fluff! This part takes a few minutes and requires a bit of patience. Again, Alex was fine waiting while Aden and I continued to roam around the store.012Aden and Alex’s favorite part was the washing and drying station.015 017Finally it was time to dress the bears. Since the boys were still in Halloween mode both chose superhero costumes. Aden chose Batman and Alex chose Spiderman. Aden was a little disappointed that he couldn’t wear the costume but finally he agreed it would fit better on the bear.021020After the social, we went to the food court for pizza. At lunch, we talked about “building” the bears and the boys named their bears. Aden named his bear, Bat-Bear and Alex named his, Spidey-Bear, how original.025 What a great experience! Thank you ASBC and Jenny for hosting such an awesome event!  029

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