Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs

Blog # 24~Top 10 Things I Have Learned While Navigating Nick through School

Top 10 Things I Have Learned While Navigating Nick through School

This weekend I was prepping for a lecture called “A Parent Perspective” which I do at Aurora University.  For this semester there are two classes one undergrad and a graduate student class all who are/ or planning to become teachers.  Since Nick is a senior in high school I decided to include a top ten list of some things I have figured out over the years. While compiling this list I couldn’t help but think back to those early days. I was a novice and such a chicken when it came to IEP meetings.  I have a degree in teaching secondary education (Kinesiology and Health) but very little experience teaching special education.  I took a class similar to the one I am lecturing while at The University of Texas.  It gave a broad brush of special education and included an internship in a self- contained classroom and gym class. Beyond this I knew very little on how to take the helm and steer these uncharted waters.

Aurora University working with Elliott who leads the classes….

The early intervention program was easy (birth-three years old.)  The staff was nurturing and it was a *can of corn.  Once the cord was cut Nick entered the early childhood/ pre-school program things were more serious and the meetings took on a different tone.

Because Nick had very low muscle tone (a trait of Down syndrome see blog #7 Mama Mia, for more information on DS traits) he was delayed in gross motor activities.  He didn’t walk until age 3 ½ nor eat solid foods.  At age three during the transition from early intervention to early childhood/pre-school I enlisted a private speech therapist who specialized in feeding.  Amazing how one person can impact your life.  Pam opened up my eyes.  She got me thinking outside the box.  She also worked at a private school in Houston and suggested we look at putting Nick there.  The private school called The Arbor School had one opening three days a week.  It was an oasis, this all-inclusive resort with all of the speech, occupational and physical therapy right on campus working together.  They got their hands on Nick and worked magic. Nick attended The Arbor School three days a week and the public preschool program the other two days.  When the IEP came around at the public school, the whole Arbor School team came.   Our entourage sat down and matter of fact like made sure every attention to detail was addressed.  I was stunned.  What you can actually assert for yourself and get all kinds of services, equipment and therapy hours, I had no idea.

Nick at the Arbor School…..

The petting zoo came to the Arbor School during Go Texas Rodeo Week…

In California when Nick was in first grade I found my concerns of his need for a communication system going on deaf ears.  I brought in the Director of the Down Syndrome Connection support group.  The entire staff sat up straight as she advocated for my son.

Nick and I in Livermore, California…..

Much the same in middle school I enlisted the help from Little Friends Center for Autism.  I can’t say enough about the Arbor School, The Down Syndrome Connection and Little Friends.  What a gift they gave me as they showed me how to become an advocate for Nick.

So here is……….….The List!!!!!!

Top 10 Things I Have Learned While Navigating Nick through School

  1. Determine a method to communicate with the staff (communication notebook, email, daily reports.)
  2. Meet with the support teacher to discuss goals for the following year. Request all goals and reports from each department for review before the IEP meeting.
  3. Get everything down in writing in the IEP (from a 1:1 Aid to the chewy sensory toy.)
  4. I am not a bad parent because my child won’t keep gloves on/ or has a meltdown in school.
  5. Sometimes the parent has to be the one to rattle the cage.
  6. Get help when you need it (support groups, workshops, trainings, respite care, etc..)
  7. Know your rights, Read Wrightslaw.
  8. Don’t settle for just any solution if a problem
    doesn’t get better. There is always a better way.
  9. Sometimes as a parent you have to let go of your own dreams for your child so they can move down a different path.
  10. The parent is the biggest advocate for their child with special needs, trust in that.

Bringing support into IEP meeting does give a parent confidence.  But in most IEP’s my hand has been on the helm.  What I know for certain is that communication lines have to stay open.  I also learned to quit beating myself up because Nick had meltdowns (now we know that he was powerless because he couldn’t communicate his needs and it is not my bad parenting.)  Once the autism diagnosis was given, I had to reach out for help get more training and arm myself to fight the big fight.  I quit settling with the school staff and learned that I had to ask for more to help my son thrive. I wasn’t being a bitchy mom; I approached the problems in a matter of fact, but firm manner. And sometimes that means I have to be the one to rattle the cage to obtain services to support my son.  In addition, I found that just because I have a dream for Nick doesn’t mean he can fulfill it.  Facing the fork in the road that separated him from an academic curriculum to a functional curriculum enabled Nick to focus on what he was meant to do. Hello T, he just isn’t ever going to write his name, let go of that academic goal.

So here we are, Nick’s senior year and after riding some rough waves now the seas are relatively calm.  We survived and came out on the other side much wiser and stronger.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Until next week, I hope yours will be a *can of corn.

~Teresa

* According to Wiki Answers: The term “Can of Corn” is a phrase used to describe a softly hit baseball as it could easily be caught. The term originated as a customer would ask a grocery clerk for a can of corn the store clerk would grab a can from the top of a stack of cans, and would softly toss the can down to be caught without harm.

 

Author:

Teresa is the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 23 years old and has special needs including Down syndrome, autism and verbal apraxia. She is a parent advocate, speaker and writer who is currently working on the memoir of raising her son, Nick. You can follow Nick world on our Facebook page and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism. Find Nick on Instagram@ #nickdsaustism, Twitter @tjunnerstall.

2 thoughts on “Blog # 24~Top 10 Things I Have Learned While Navigating Nick through School

  1. Great blog (as always). This seemed to be a full circle post. Must be very cleansing to get it out there. I cannot wait for your book. T, you are simply amazing. The best & coolest Mom Nick could have ever hoped for. I love you Sis !!

    1. Thanks Sis seems those benchmarks in our lives (like Nick graduating soon) bring about perspective and clarity. You know how wimpy and non confrontational I use to be but Nick made me much stronger. Always appreciate your love and support and know you are always in my corner! 🙂

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