Tag Archives: new school

A Teacher You Want to Clone

Having had a downright, dreadful experience at our daughter’s ABA based preschool that was publicly funded and had come highly recommended, we were determined not to make the same mistake twice.   We found a private school, the only non-ABA based school around at that time and for the next six years she went to it.  She was loved, she was well taken care of and she learned almost nothing.  It wasn’t that no one tried to teach her, it was that the way she was being taught was not a way she was able to learn.  So we hired a private literacy specialist and over the next two years, Emma learned to read and write.  But there was a “behavioral” piece to this person’s program that came at a cost.  I don’t mean a financial cost, though there was that too, I mean a different sort of cost, the kind you can’t completely assess or gauge until years later.  It was the cost that comes with being put into an emotional strait jacket.  So, at a certain point, as I learned more about autism from Autistic people I realized we could not continue, despite her terrific gains in learning to read, write and type.

A year ago we found a public school (most no longer adhere to any one methodology, thankfully) where Emma is loved and well taken care of AND is learning.  Her teacher is wonderful.  The kind of teacher all parents dream of for their child.  Loving, patient, kind, observant, respectful, presumes competence of all the children in her class, smart, has a sense of humor and open to anything that may prove helpful in teaching.  The sort of teacher who takes time out of a Sunday afternoon to sit in on a session with Soma Mukhopadhyay and Emma and takes notes and then asks to borrow books written by Soma on her method.  The sort of teacher who then comes over to our house to do a strategy session and begins to incorporate what she saw and has learned into her teaching.  Suddenly Em’s backpack is filled with material from a grade level curriculum she is now doing at school with this amazing teacher.  The sort of teacher who seems too good to be true.  The sort of teacher you wish you could clone…  The sort of teacher who is better than Xanax, Wellbutrin and Prozac without any of the side effects.  Except that the school year is almost over and this amazing teacher is leaving to teach somewhere else and Emma is entering middle school, so we must say goodbye to her wonderful school and her incredible teacher.

This morning we toured a middle school.  And guess what?  It emphasizes the performing arts AND it looks wonderful, with a fantastic sensory gym and a “theatre room” with photos lining the hallways of the children performing their own musical that they wrote and performed in.  Could we have created such a place more perfectly suited to Emma?  It could be a little closer to where we live, but that would be nit-picky of me.  So come this September, Emma will go to yet another school.  That’s three different schools in three years.  For any kid, that’s a lot of change.  For Em, who was such a trooper about her “new” school last September, I am keeping my fingers crossed the transition will be as positive.  Anyone have a cloning machine perfected?  Because if her current teacher could just be cloned and her head teacher in this newer new school, I’d have no stress at all!

In the meantime, Em will visit her “new” school a couple of times over the summer months.  From what we’ve seen so far, we are filled with hope!

**Em

A First Day And Life Continues..

Bounce, bounce, twirl!  Bounce, bounce, twirl!  I’d provide a visual, but I don’t have one, so you’re going to have to take my word for it…

Yesterday was Emma’s first day at her new school.  Emma was scared and anxious.  I was scared and anxious.  Every time I tried to do the breathing exercises we’ve been practicing, Emma begged me to stop, “No Mommy.  I don’t want to do breaths!”  So I did them quietly to myself hoping she wouldn’t notice.  We did exactly what we planned.  I took her to school.  I brought her up to her classroom where she joined three other children, two non-speaking and one verbal.  I stayed with her longer than I should have, but seated across the room out of her line of vision.  Her head teacher, who’s been teaching for more than ten years, and special ed for six of those ten, was kind, respectful yet reassuringly authoritative without seeming intimidating.  I set the timer for three minutes, gave it to Em and told her I’d leave when the timer went off.  She said, “Go sit with other kids when Mommy leaves” and I cursed myself for not having set the timer for 10 seconds, at the same time congratulating myself that I hadn’t set it for 10 minutes.  But that was the kind of day it was.  A day of juggling opposites.  Emma’s favorite book kept up a steady patter in my head…  Matman stands, matman sits, let’s say opposites!  Staaaaaannnndddd!   Siiiiittttt!  Staaaaaannnnndddd!  Siiiittttt!

And in between matman’s curious chant, I watched and listened.  I could see Emma relaxing.  I could see her watching.  She began to join in.  The timer beeped, I stood up, Emma walked over to the table to join her peers, just as we’d mapped out and I left.  When I returned to have lunch with her she was happy and laughing.  As we sat in the cafeteria with her teacher, aides and other kids I mentioned the “letter” I’d written.  I said, “I hope you didn’t feel it was condescending, I didn’t mean it…” and one of the teacher’s aides interrupted me and said, “Not at all!”  She then went on to tell me she’d gotten out a highlighter and made notes.  She and the head teacher reassured me that they appreciated it and credited it with the success of Emma’s first day.  I was relieved and grateful for their kindness.  When Emma was finished with lunch, she turned to me and said, “Go with Mommy to the big carousel?”  This was what I’d promised and I nodded yes.  As we got up to leave, Emma turned, said, “good-bye” and then said each person’s name and blew each a kiss (the ultimate compliment from Emma and not something she usually does.)  It was all I could do not to openly weep with relief.

There’s a great deal of talk about us parents.  How we feel, what we think, our emotional state, our perceptions, our understanding of events as they occur, what we think our child may or may not be feeling, thinking, understanding.  All of it is through the filter of our own experiences, what we’ve learned or been taught.  It takes a leap to realize what we think we know or believe may be incorrect.  That’s a hard concept to digest.  It’s taken me eight years and there will always be more for me to learn and understand, I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey.  This fall will mark eight years since Em’s diagnosis.  Eight years ago when I believed I knew things about my daughter, only to learn how very wrong I was.

I think I understand and then find I really don’t.  I don’t “own” Emma, she isn’t “mine” in the sense that she is not my possession.  She is a being in her own right, with her own ideas, opinions and thoughts.  I have ideas about what constitutes a quality of life, I have opinions about other people I meet, I view their lives through the lens of my life, my hopes and dreams.  It’s easy to fall into the idea that my views are the correct views, but I know how often I am incorrect.

I began this blog to record Emma’s journey, but have found I am increasingly uncomfortable making the assumptions necessary to actually do that.  In recent months I see this more accurately as a record of my journey.  I find myself not wanting to talk about Emma as much and when I do, I ask myself is she okay with what I’m writing?  I have her photo splattered all over the internet and while I am perfectly fine divulging the gory, messy details of my past in a public way, I haven’t given Emma the choice.  I’ve just done it.  I don’t know where to go from here.  Just because she often cannot communicate her ideas and opinions doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any.  I know now how incorrect this assumption is.  I’ve asked her about this blog.  I’ve shown it to her.  A few times she’s asked me to read her a post I’ve written.  I’ve asked her which photo is okay to post, but just because she points to one, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay.  It’s a dilemma and one I am not clear on, though increasingly I’m uncomfortable with the choices I’ve made.

Someone once said to me, “We give birth, the umbilical cord is cut and from that moment until we die our job is to learn how to let go.”  The timer hasn’t beeped yet, but I know it’s ticking.

Chalk Art on 7th Avenue – “Happiness”

“Step Inside”

Anxiety, Fear and The Buddha

Emma’s new school begins Thursday.  I’m grateful for this because the pulling sensation in my stomach coupled with the constriction in my chest is increasing with each passing day.  As awful as that feels, it’s a familiar feeling, one I know to identify as anxiety and it feels better than the feeling of fear AND anxiety I’m going to feel Thursday morning when Emma looks at me with abject terror and says, “Please Mommy.  I don’t want to go to new school.  We go together.  You and me together.”

When I explain to Emma, as I have every day for the past two weeks, that I will be with her, when I explain that I am going to go into her classroom with her to meet her teachers for the first time, because the school has not returned any of my phone calls or emails since we returned from Colorado, when they explain how busy they’ve been, when they say that the assistant principal did, after all, reach out to me and whose name, phone number and email address I scribbled on a piece of paper because I was in Jerusalem at the time and cannot find that scrap of paper, I will nod my head.

I will hand someone the letter I’ve written about Emma so they can better help her and understand what she needs.  The letter that Emma would not participate in writing with me, but instead wandered off, insisting that she be able to watch the Hubble Imax theatre movie in our bedroom instead.  I will thrust that letter into her teacher’s hands and hope she will get around to reading it.  None of this is happening the way I envisioned it.  None of my plans, while in Colorado have been put into action because the school was closed, not a soul was around by the time we returned to the city.  So I will make some utterance of understanding, just as I did two minutes ago when I finally got through to the Office of Public Transportation who was unaware Emma was attending a new school, which means there will not be a bus for her until this gets straightened out.  It will require a dozen more phone calls to her new school who hasn’t picked up their phone, a dozen more messages like the one I left this morning will be left, and finally I will physically go to the school and find someone to speak to face to face because leaving endless messages on various extensions is an exercise in futility.   I know this.

In between writing this post I will pick up the phone and call several more times, just in case, just on the off-chance an actual human being will pick up and miraculously connect me to someone who knows that Emma is enrolled in their school and will be kind enough and compassionate enough to understand how big a deal this is for her.   Someone who will understand the enormity of this next step in Emma’s life.  Someone who will hear me when I say she is anxious.  Someone who will not judge me for wanting to ease Emma into her new school and will be kind to both Emma and me when we arrive.  Someone who will agree to work with me in these next few days or weeks, or however long it might take before that anxiety, that terror subsides.  Someone who will honor those feelings and not dismiss them.  And in the meantime while I try desperately to find that person who may not exist, I can, at the very least, be that person for my daughter.

I am walking that precarious fine line of honoring her feelings, while not changing the subject or saying anything that might encourage more fear and anxiety.  Identifying my own feelings, helps me in keeping my own overwhelm at bay, so that I might better help Em manage her own.  I try to reassure Emma, but not promise things I cannot know or keep.  This requires finesse, calm, tact, a level head, the knowledge of when to remain quiet and when to speak, this requires things I do not possess, but am trying to learn.

“I don’t want to go to a new school,” Emma said again yesterday.

“It’s scary to go somewhere new,” I answered as she put her head on my shoulder.

Em nodded,  “I don’t like the new school.  I’m scared, Mommy.”

“New things can be scary, Emmy.  But on Thursday I’m going to go with you.  I’m going to meet your new teachers with you.  And then when you are safe, I’m going to go for just a little while and then I’ll come back and we’ll go somewhere together.  Somewhere fun.  Where would you like to go?”

“Mommy will be right back.”

“That’s right.  Where would you like to go after your first day of school?”

I want to go to the big carousel and the zoo,” Emma said.

“Okay.  That’s what we’ll do then,” I promised.  I’ve cleared my calendar for both Thursday and Friday.  I am planning on hanging around the vicinity of her new school, I will be there to pick her up, I will go with her in the morning, I will photograph her bus driver and the bus, her teachers, her classroom, her classmates.  I will go over these photographs with her on the weekend.  It will take what it takes.  I can’t remove her fears, but I can try to ease them.

Over the weekend I took Em shopping for a new dress to wear to school.  We didn’t find one, but we did find some other things for her to wear.  On the way to the store Emma stopped in front of a shop window and said, “Look!  It’s a Buddha.  It’s a wonderful Buddha!”

And in that moment we were both happy.