Wednesday, September 30, 2009

a visit to Grade 6-E

Yesterday I had the privilege of giving a little talk to Allison's class about Asperger Syndrome. Although Allison seems very happy at her new school for the most part, there have been some incidents of her getting very upset over some sort of misunderstanding or unexpected situation. Her teacher has been very helpful and communicative, but I was feeling concerned that these episodes might cause Allison's classmates to distance themselves from her.

As it happened, yesterday Allison had a dentist appointment that would require her to leave school 1/2 an hour early, so Rich went with her to the appointment and I took the opportunity to visit her class (having cleared it with the teacher, of course). I explained a little about Asperger's being in the autism "family" and about some of the strengths people with Asperger's often display; and then I talked about challenges like friendship skills, handling emotions, and difficulty with social rules. Although there were a few kids who seemed less interested, most listened intently and offered good comments and questions. One girl commented on how good Allison is in math. Another said that she had asked Allison what she was reading and Allison said, "You don't need to know"; so we talked about how that might have made the other girl feel bad, and what she might have said in response. Then another girl said, "I actually heard that happen so I told Allison that I'd read that book too and it was funny, and she smiled."

I also asked them how they could be good classmates or friends, and they had many good ideas like "ask her to play" or "ask how her day was" or "put yourself in Allison's shoes." I also mentioned that Allison likes to find her brother at recess and play basketball with him and his EA, "Mr. O", and I suggested that a classmate might want to join her sometimes. And in fact, Mr. O told me today that at morning recess a couple of Allison's classmates did join her for basketball, and they all played together.

Allison's teacher also got quite involved in the classroom discussion, reading some sections from a book on Asperger Syndrome, commending the class on times that they had supported Allison in the classroom, and urging them not to bombard her with attention in a phony way but just to do what came naturally to them. So it was a great half hour of sharing and raising awareness. I enjoyed looking out at all these earnest little faces and seeing how different and interesting all of the kids are.

I realize that there is probably something of an ethical dilemma involved in talking to the class about this without Allison's knowledge; in fact, one of her classmates asked if Allison knew I was coming in to talk to them. But we really felt that doing it without her knowledge was better than not doing it at all, and I knew that she would probably become upset at the suggestion. Judging from the reaction, it seems to have been the right thing to do.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

settling in

The kids now have 3 weeks of school under their belts, so it's safe to say we're getting settled into a routine. Jonathan is very happy in Ms. Mardicis' class, and his EA, Joe ("Mr. O"), is doing great work with him. It is nice to have the same person working with him all day, to keep things consistent and clear. Besides basic "academic" skills like math (sorting, number identification, counting) and language (letter recognition, matching letters), they work on physical, self-help, and social skills. Right now Mr. O is encouraging Jonathan to greet people with "Hi" and their name, rather than identifying them first by a colour or object (Jonathan tends to go up to teachers and say "skirt" or "blue"). One challenge is to channel Jonathan's interests/obsessions into teaching tools: for example, right now he's really into jigsaw puzzles, so Mr. O tries to find puzzles that relate to what the class is doing. Jonathan's also obsessed with shooting baskets, particularly throwing his ball into this thing on the playground that has red, blue, and yellow openings where the ball can fall out. He spends all of his recesses, some time after school, and an hour or so on most weekend days, doing this activity. I'm not sure how this can be translated into an academic activity (!) -- but the physiotherapist did suggest using heavier balls to increase Jonathan's upper body strength. It's neat to see the EA and other team members working together to improve his various skills.

Allison also seems happy in her grade six class. Her teacher, Mrs. Bush, runs a structured, teacher-directed class, and that structure seems to suit Allison. Mrs. Bush says that Allison works hard and participates enthusiastically, but social situations and accepting criticism and direction are still problem areas. However, she really enjoys connecting with Jonathan at recess time, and also comes home for lunch with Jonathan, which is a nice break in her day.

So far things seem to be going well in the world of school.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

super seven

Jonathan turned seven years old today. Here he is sharing a laugh with Grandma (top) and yelling "Cheese!" Happy Birthday Jonathan!!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

off and running

Yesterday was the first day of school; here are Jonathan and Allison all ready to go. For the first time, they are attending the same school, which is really exciting.

Up until a few days ago we assumed Jonathan would go into Grade Two with a new teacher and probably a new EA -- but one thing you learn about the primary grades is that nothing is ever really set in stone. Last week Jonathan and I were at the Rideau playground where he loves to play, and the principal came out to talk to us. She said she would try to let us know in advance who Jonathan's EA would be. On Friday night at 6:30 she phoned us with the good news that not only would Jonathan have "Mr. O" as his EA (Mr. O'Connor worked with him for about 1/4 of the day last year), but they were also going to be forming a grade One-Two class to be taught by his former teacher, Ms. Mardicis -- and Jonathan would be assigned to that class. So yesterday, instead of getting used to a new entrance, new room, and new teacher, he went in the same door to the same room with the same teacher as last year. For some kids, having the same teacher 3 years in a row wouldn't be desirable, but for Jonathan this consistency is great. Ms. M. said that he came right in and sat on the carpet and knew exactly what to do. He is a bit perturbed that his special friend Ms. Beals, who was his EA for the first 3/4 of the day last year, is not with him any more; he sees her on the schoolyard and watches her lovingly, wondering why she isn't coming to take him to class. But he likes Mr. O and I think they're going to have a great time together.

Allison is entering Grade Six and for her, everything is new. She is going from a school of 65 kids to one of 400+, so it's a huge change. But we got a chance to meet her teacher, Mrs. Bush, last week, and she seems very friendly, caring, and enthusiastic. Although it's only been a couple of days, so far Allison seems to be enjoying the experience and seems quite unfazed. So we're really looking forward to a good year at Rideau Public School!