Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the tough stuff

So I took Punkin to his dance class again today and it went pretty well. But that's not really the point. We arrived about 10 minutes early and after settling into our seats, a little boy from his class came up and asked me, "Is Punkin going to wear that black suit again?"

Now, it took me a second to register that he was talking about his compression vest. It's made by Spio and is amazing, although slightly difficult to put on. It's several pieces, one piece for the torso and a leotard type piece to wear over his legs. "I don't know. If he wants to wear it, he will."

"Why does he wear that thing?" Now I'm wondering where this kid's parent is, because normally by now they've intervened. Everyone in the waiting room is staring at us, so I have no clue how to proceed. I don't mind the question, I just have no idea if it's okay to engage this boy.

"Well, he wears it because it helps his body feel better." He stares at me. "You know how tags on your clothes or bright lights or really hot weather outside can bother you?" He nods. "Those things bother Punkin a lot. So he wears the suit sometimes to help his body to calm down and feel better."

Now everyone is really staring at us and I feel like I'm now the spokesperson for sensory integration disorder. "But what does it feel like? Why does he like it?"

"It feels like a big hug. It helps him to feel calm."

"But is he gonna wear it?" And that's where the conversation ended, because someone else he knew said hello and his  mom/sister/caretaker pulled him away and told him to be mindful of other people's space.

It was weird. It left me feeling oddly defensive. I wanted to yell, "Because he wants to and it's none of your beeswax!"  But he's a kid. And honestly, he must have had needs of his own or he wouldn't have been there. I don't mind the asking, I just never feel prepared to answer.  I guess it just reminded me that if this kid noticed a difference and thought he was strange, then a lot of kids must notice. And then I worry about bullies. *Sigh* We've come so far, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

take a bow!

I signed Punkin up for two classes offered through his occupational therapist's office. One is a sports class where they will learn and play a new sport each week and the other is a dance class. There are four children with various needs and they are learning an actual routine. It is quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever witnessed. Here he is practicing at Oma's house.

Take a bow!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

change in plans

So I had this sense of peace all school year because this summer I didn't have to worry about where Punkin would go for his summer day care; he would just go back to the program he attended last year. I signed him up, gave them my check, and anxiously awaited telling him he would be back with his summer friends. And then through a series of meetings, phone calls, and more meetings, it was determined that Punkin would not be able to attend this year; they simply felt unable to meet his needs. I think they are wrong, and they know that, but it is what it is and I began looking for something else.

I finally settled on sending him to a well-known, national center that provides meals and some field trips. Before actually enrolling him, I wanted to speak with the director to make sure the program would be appropriate. I emailed, I called, I called again. I stopped in. Someone called me back and told me to call a different person. I called that person, who never called me. So I signed him up anyway.

The big day came and I still hadn't received the additional forms I needed for him, like health history and such, so I took him in early to pick them up and help acclimate him to the new routine. His "classroom" was a small, windowless room in the basement set up with tables and one rug to play on. I saw one bookshelf that looked like it was about to crumble under the weight of the wooden blocks it was holding and another piled so haphazardly with books the entire mess would have spilled like a Jenga game if one title was removed. It just didn't even seem clean.

A woman sat at a desk right inside the door and greeted us, but didn't introduce herself. Another woman sat at a table working with a few other children and said nothing at all. I took Punkin over to the carpet to play with some Barbie cars, all three of which were missing wheels.

We stayed for forty minutes and I couldn't tell you even one staff member's name or relay anything any of the staff said to my son directly; I had no idea who was in charge. In that forty minutes, the kids just roamed around freely; there was no structure. And after asking, I learned that this was typical of the entire day.

Punkin tried escaping multiple times. It was time for me to go to work. I didn't know what to do. I knew I didn't want to leave him there. Could he wait until someone picked him up in a little bit? My heart sunk into my stomach. We left. I cried.

Sometimes the stress of it all comes bubbling over, and this was one of those mornings. This was also a morning I felt extremely thankful for friends and family who could take over and watch him (My mom will be with him from now on). Many, many parents are forced to leave their children in places they don't love because they have no support. I'm telling you, as a friend, one of the most precious gifts you can give a family of a child with special needs is a play date. As a teacher, one of the most precious gifts you can give a family is a sense of safety.

So what should teachers do to help families feel more welcome?
1. Return phone calls.
    Or write in notebooks, or send notes home. However you choose to communicate is fine, just do it. 

2. Be Organized. 
    Hey, I work in the world's tiniest classroom. No, really, I do. But it is bright, cheery, clean, and organized -- even without windows. That's a post for another day.
3. Introduce yourself to parents and children. 
    Nothing shows more respect for a child than involving them in conversation.
4. Provide parents with a schedule of your day.
    Maybe you can make up a new student packet with a  handbook, a list of basic supplies, and some classroom information such as your daily schedule and the best ways to contact you.

Read  more of my posts over at PrekandKSharing.