This first week of October 2008 marks the first month for my nonverbal son Matthew in Middle School as a sixth grader. He has had many adjustments this school year - wearing a uniform, taking the bus, longer school hours, PE uniform, new school, new teacher, new classmates, no recess, nutrition, shared bathroom, horticulture, gardening, new classroom and new therapists.
Previously he was in the same class for four years at the Elementary School. The same teacher, classroom and classmates. The first three years he had the same OT, Speech and Adaptive PE teacher.
Matthew has adjusted well to the early morning alarm and wearing the school uniform that consists of a white polo shirt and navy blue pants or shorts. The PE uniform is a white logo shirt from the school and royal blue shorts. I need to get royal blue pants soon since the weather here in Los Angeles changes daily. This past week we hit 100 one day with the last day of the week at 74 as the high, when it was the low the other morning.
We wait at the gate at the front walkway for his assistant to come. He has to park on another street and on Thursday and Friday it is hard to find spots due to street cleaning. The bus is here before 7 AM. Matthew is happy to see his aide and get on the bus.
The bus returns with Matthew and aide before 4PM. Matthew has his regular movements he makes before going inside the house. He likes to run through the yard, scaring all the cats that might have been resting there, then he peaks around the corner at the back porch, looks under a window in the living room and the other side before going into the house.
At first he would run in the house and change into the clothes I had laid out on the bed for him. Now he wants me inside too. So I am talking with the aide through the screen door as he stands in the yard.
On Fridays they place the PE clothes in backpacks for washing. I bought two PE shirts and place the second one in there and rinse the shorts and shirt. I made the mistake of doing them both at the same time. We do not have laundry facility at this rental house and I am not about to take two kids to laundromat on a weekend.
On Friday afternoons after I have unloaded the lunch bag and put in the snacks for nutrition I place it in another room along with the backpack. This is the visual for Matthew to know there is no school the following day. Sunday afternoons I get both bags out and keep in the kitchen for Matthew to get back in school mode. I also get out the juice boxes and lock and lock container for his lunch and keep on counter.
I received feedback from the aide that Matthew runs many laps around the track for PE. This is a class that has general education students and one of two classes that is mainstreamed or known as inclusion in some areas. Physical Education is after lunch and these shirts smell bad. There are a total of four kids in the Mental Retardation Severe (MRS) class that Matthew is in. The two girls go to the locker room with the female classroom aide. That leaves Matthew and another boy in the classroom to get dressed. The teacher has been in the same room for 17 years and this is normal procedure.
During back to school night I saw the section where the gym clothes were hung and saw the other boy already has his pants there. There are so many rules on what is allowed at school that I asked the aide about deodorant and he said the other boy does not use it (he is older than Matt) but that he would try it. I really wanted a solid, even though my other son Nicholas uses stick. The only product with no Aluminum was Tom's stick deodorant. That is now kept in the backpack with extra socks, school bus book, brush, lip balm and aveeno lotion.
The aide has relayed to me that Matthew picks up his arms and allows the back and forth motion of sliding on the stick deodorant. I could tell a difference in the smell of his shirt today as well.
I noticed today as they got off the bus Matthew was waving bye to others on the bus. This is progress. He waves to me at the computer, which is located in the kitchen, when he wants me to pour or open something.
The aide was hired specifically to follow Matthew to Middle School and High School. He started in February at the Elementary School. There they went to the Nurse's office to change diaper. Here they go to a building that has restrooms that is located next to their classroom building. The classroom opens onto the outside, but there is a fence there to keep inside the school premises. At the Elementary School the class opened up to the playground. Many times when I picked him up at the classroom there would be chairs stacked at the door to prevent opening the door and leaving.
Matthew's aide is very observant and attentive to Matthew's needs. Earlier this week he asked me how Matthew lets me know he needs a diaper change. I indicated that he gets one out with the plastic bag and wipes and keeps on dresser. When it needs changing he gets out the newspaper on the floor and that means now is the time.
I let the aide know that during the six weeks of summer camp Matthew would grab a diaper and let them know it was changing time. Each camper had a cubby hole and that was where his items were kept. I asked the aide if the diapers were visible and he said they were kept in a cabinet with gloves, bag and wipes. I suggested taking the bag and hanging it someplace in classroom and maybe they could take a photo of it for the communication device he has known as the Go Talk 9+ that I purchased in March.
We also decided that since Matthew was not really hip to drinking from the school water fountain, (and who could blame him), that I would fill one of the Rubber Maid plastic juice containers with bottle water and the other one with either soymilk or rice drink.
The last few days Matthew has taken many sips of the water from the container at both Nutrition and Lunch times. This is progress. I mentioned to the aide that I was thinking of expanding Matthew's drink options to include Almond Milk. He said he has tried it since his Mother drinks that and soy milk. Nice to know the aide is aware of these products.
The other day when the aide was asking me about toilet training and saying he wanted to learn more to be better, I told him that I have plenty of books. He is very eager to gain insights into autism and Matthew. He really wanted to observe a day at the summer camp but was busy doing the summer school in another part of Los Angeles and could not get it into his schedule.
I placed some extra pecs boards for scheduling in the backpack the other day suggesting maybe the Teacher wanted to utilize them. The aide told me that the Teacher was interested in them and was going through his supplies to see what he had. They also started a list for taking pics of various things for Matthew's school day. My other son Nicholas is the voice on the output device.
I was surprised to learn the the Elementary School Teacher threw out many of her pecs supplies and gave a bunch to the aide. He was going to go through them this weekend to see what he could bring to school. Why would a teacher toss out these supplies instead of saving them, sending them to speech department or giving to parents, that makes no sense.
The aide is also working on getting Matthew lunch through the school. There does not seem to be a menu for parents, but the school personnel has access in the morning to this. He wants to know ahead of time as well what they are serving. I did not want to fill out the lunch program form that requires income and SSI number to be sent to the school. We do not qualify for lunch program. I just wanted to know the price and system for my son to get lunch the days they have burgers and pizza. The lunch program participants get tickets. The aide needs to pay $1.50 for Matthew to get lunch. I let him know that he can let other kids eat what Matthew does not or to put in the classroom refrigerator. Since they have juice I asked about getting that for Matthew as an alternate drink option.
Back to school night we were able to sit in the classroom and speak with the teacher. At one point Matthew lunged at me, but the teacher told him to fold or hold his hands and that is what he did. We went through the hallways to find the Horticulture class and met the teacher. She showed us the area they do gardening in. She said the kids are good with Matthew and his classmates and are used to special ed students. We saw one kid with a walker and a few with canes walking with their families. Even my son Nicholas said he liked the school. This kid was very verbal about how much he hated Matthew's last school as kids were running all over and it seemed chaotic and uncontrolled if we were still there when bell rang. We always went fifteen minutes earlier and signed Matthew out to avoid that nightmare.
I did get some feedback from the teacher that the Speech Therapist has a full load and as she is removing students she will start with Matthew. I will wait awhile before filing a State Complaint. We already have one year of compensation for speech services.
One day the aide and I spoke about the OT and what type of questions she was asking him and the teacher. He was able to tell her what Matthew did last year in Elementary School. I also asked him to compare the school settings and tell me what he thought. I also indicated I wanted him at the IEP meeting next year.
It is really good to have a positive vibe from the aide. This helps everyone tremendously. The atmosphere is calm, my son is getting more attention since prior there were 8 or 9 students and several aides. Matthew will not get on the bus without knowing his aide is behind him on the steps. They have formed a good, strong bond.
The first month is a positive one. The teacher is receptive to my Daily Report form filling it out almost everyday and only missing two times, one of them being today.
My other son Nicholas is in his second year of California Virtual Academy (CAVA), now as a seventh grader. The first week of school his teacher came for us to fill out the Master Agreement only to get notice that Saturday morning that she quit Friday for a position in another school district. We just met new teacher a week ago for home visit and testing.
Previously art and music were elective subjects you did not have to partake in. This year CAVA changed that, but you could choose either Music or Foreign Language, so Nicholas is now taking Spanish and enjoying art. He is also doing good in study island.
The community day is on Tuesdays, which is also the early release day in LAUSD for teacher meetings so the time frame is not in our favor to make it home in time to meet the bus. I promised Nicholas we would visit the Zoo more often and perhaps bowling. I am looking into going to the Zoo next week. He is enjoying shows on History Channel and likes visiting their website and Animal Planet. He has taken an interest in Star Wars and moving beyond just animals as his interest.
September was good for both kids. I am hoping October will be just as good and maybe even better.