Kender and School

It feels weird to be talking about Kender going to school.  We’ve been homeschoolers for so long.  It’s all about what’s best for the kids, though.  In Kender’s case, right now, a group learning environment seems like the best choice.

Although Kender is still making lots of progress, he still resists being directed and guided in one-on-one play and learning.  This is part of what we are working on in his therapy sessions, along with other communication skills like talking about what hurts or what happened.  This resistance, though, makes it very difficult for me to teach him at home right now.  He doesn’t tolerate sitting down and coloring, playing games, doing calendar time, or any of the other activities I’ve usually done with my kids for preschool and kindergarten.

What Kender has shown that he can do, though, is to learn by listening.  He is also beginning to show an interest in playing alongside others.  These things are what make a group environment such a good idea for him right now.  He can participate or not participate in class activities, as he feels comfortable, but he will still learn just by being in the room, by listening and watching what the other kids do.

Kindergarten and preschool are also a great time for inclusion.  Kids in these classes have not yet learned about bullying.  They haven’t learned how to be really mean.  Instead, they are still curious and inquisitive, helpful and caring.  I wouldn’t want Kender to have to go through elementary school.  But kindergarten will be perfect.  He can learn about social skills and be included without being bullied.

The trick: Finding a preschool or kindergarten willing to accept a 7-year-old and treat him like one of the 4-year-olds.  Government school was right out.  Quite aside from my complete lack of faith in the school district’s ability and willingness to accommodate Kender’s special needs for blindness and autism, I’m fairly certain that they would want to place him in first or second grade because of his age, then pull him out for resource room activities and special tutoring.  This would completely eliminate the benefits of being in a group.  My next thought was that Montessori, with their philosophy of child-led learning and multi-age classrooms, would be a great fit.  I called four different schools in our area, but none of them would take Kender; they couldn’t deal with blindness and autism, and they didn’t want a 7-year-old who hadn’t already been in Montessori for many years, regardless of his developmental level.  The preschool program at our therapy center didn’t want him because he was about to age out, again disregarding his developmental level.

I had given up…when I remembered the daycare at Jackson, where Brian works.  Sure enough, they have programs all the way through first grade, and they had a few openings in their kindergarten classes.  And they were willing to take Kender!

So today we made a visit to the classroom to see how Kender would do.

It may have looked very different to people who don’t know Kender.  But to me it looked like a great success, and made me excited to see how this fall goes.

Kender spent most of the first hour lying on A’Kos.  The room was close and crowded, and the other kids were constantly hovering around, wanting to pet A’Kos, asking questions about Kender.  Near the end of free play inside, Kender finally got up and walked around a bit, exploring around the tables and chairs.  He even helped put away a few things as the class got ready to go outside.  Outside, he was again quiet for a long time, huddling on the play structure and listening.  But eventually he got up and started exploring.  He rode on two different trikes, carried a hockey stick around and banged on the ground, and played with an empty bucket.  He interacted with one of the teachers a bit, accepted redirection and occasionally responded to questions.  When outside time was over, he helped pick up a little, and he came to wait in line with A’Kos before going inside with the class.

Anybody who knows Kender knows that was a great success!

We left at that point, with the other kids sitting down to lunch.  On the way out, I spoke with the director a bit.  They seemed very comfortable with allowing the classroom teachers to handle A’Kos (after some training from us, of course), and also with allowing me to add Braille to the classroom and train the teachers a bit on how to teach a blind child.  All-in-all, they were hugely accommodating.

Later, Kender told his dad and his sisters about his day.  He said, “I went to school.  I went to kindergarten at school.  I played with blocks.  There were bubbles.”  He said he had fun.

I haven’t asked how much this is going to cost yet, but we’ll find a way to cover it.  I think this is going to be great for Kender!

Transformation and Perspective

One day last week, while hiding in the coat closet, Kender discovered our old vacuum cleaner.  It’s been hiding there for many years, gathering coats instead of dust.  He decided this was going to be his new toy, and he pulled it out, hauled it to the hallway, and plugged it in.  Our first response was to take it away and try to hide it in the basement.  That did no good.  Every day, Kender goes down and finds wherever we’ve hidden the vacuum, pulls it out, and tries to haul it up the stairs, spilling the cord behind him.  Step by step, he heaves and tugs and eventually lugs the hefty machine to the top of the stairs.

Usually somebody stops him somewhere in this process, tells him no, and returns the vacuum cleaner to hiding.  Today, though, he made it all the way to the living room and found an outlet to plug it in.  I came out of the shower to find him happily sitting on the exercise bike, turning the vacuum on and off.

So I let him have it.  A couple of times today I went over and tried to show him how to vacuum properly, putting the beater bar against the floor and moving it back and forth, picking up extension cords and large pieces of trash that might be in its way.  Who knows? I thought, we could end up with a cleaner house.  He went along for a little bit, but always went back to just holding the handle sideways, finger on the trigger.

Did I mention that it is an incredibly LOUD vacuum?  This did nothing for the terrible headache that left me whimpering for a chunk of today, in pain the whole day.  I didn’t want to do anything today, nothing at all.  But I would settle for knitting in front of the TV.  So I turned that into an opportunity, challenged the kids to finish morning chores, and rented a documentary for us to watch.  Obstacle successfully converted!

Watching TV did require getting Kender away from the vacuum.  This meant our movie was continually punctuated by alternating screeching and very quiet and polite request to vacuum more.  We got a brief respite from that when Kender found the blueberries in the fridge.  As soon as the movie was over, Kender was back at the vacuum, happily making lots of non-screaming noise.

While dinner was cooking, we tried to pry Kender away from the vacuum again.  I got out a loop loom that came with our last Oak Meadow shipment and never got used, wondering if I could interest Kender in stretching the loops across the frame.  I netted a Jarod instead, while Kender huddled in a chair and fussed.  Once Jarod was off and running with the loom, I made Kender a deal: First we would read a book, then he could vacuum.  He screamed about that a few times, but then he did go get a book to read.  He screamed when I sat down to read it, but then he listened to the rest of the story.

And then he got to go vacuum.  He didn’t even want to come back into the dining room for dinner, and once we did get him to sit down, he had to take a couple of vacuuming breaks during the meal.  He’d get up and run into the living room, we’d hear the vacuum turn on for a few seconds, then he’d be back at the table, saying, “Thank you, Dad, this is a good dinner.”

When we announced bedtime, Kender went with a minimum of fussing, only asking me to please put the vacuum away for him.

I got to the end of the day feeling a little useless because of the headache and accompanying listlessness, but what did I really accomplish today? I took a shower and got dressed, I got everybody to watch some educational TV that actually sparked some good discussions, I used one of Kender’s obsessions to get some reading into him, I got Jarod started on a new craft, I got new tires for the van, and I saw Brenden’s last wrestling match of the season.  Not bad, really.

The Kender Project: A Roundtable IEP

My first children were a set of triplets born at 26 weeks gestation, 14 weeks early.  We went from happy young couple planning to start a family to being thrown straight into the crazy and confusing world of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, times three.  Because they were both triplets and micropreemies, we got a lot of freebies, and we also got enrolled in a lot of research studies.  One of these was looking at outcomes from improved communication between medical professionals and families.  As part of this study, we were able to meet with all of the doctors who were caring for the triplets all in one room, every week.  Neonatalogy, cardiology, pulmonology, ophthalmology, everybody met in one conference room.  Each doctor would give a report on how the triplets were doing that week, they would outline their plans for the upcoming week, and we would have a chance to ask questions.  Everybody could hear how all of the pieces of the triplets’ care fit into the whole and get an integrated picture, instead of just dealing with their little pieces.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a training conference about the concept of a medical home and integrated care.  They invited (paid, actually) me to attend as a parent of a child with a genetic condition, specifically.  We talked about the idea of having one medical professional in charge of a child’s care, one person who would talk to all the other doctors and integrate their practices.  The idea dissolved over the course of the day, though, as it became obvious that we, the parents, were the ones who were doing this work.

I am the only adult in Kender’s life who talks to the ophthalmologist, the family doctor, and the psychiatrist.  As a homeschooler, I am also the only one who orders and pays for adaptive equipment like canes, audio books, and braille.  I am the one who handles his service dog.  I am the one trying to figure out, by myself, how to meet his needs, both medically and educationally.

And I don’t think the two can really be separated.  His blindness affects how the psychiatrist evaluates him, and it affects the ways in which we meet his educational needs.  His autism affects how he presents his blindness to the optometrist and the ophthalmologist, and it affects what kinds of adaptive equipment and skills he can use.  Everything affects everything else.  His eye condition led to chronic pain issues, which slowed down his development, and the autism kept him from being able to communicate changes in his vision or pain issues.  Even his dental needs affect his autism and his education, because he was in pain from tooth problems that developed because his autism affected his self-care skills, and his autism also prevented him from telling us there was a problem.  And round and round it goes.

Something about that conference sparked an idea:  What if I could set up with Kender the kind of roundtable conference that we had with the triplets in NICU?  What if I could get an optometrist or ophthalmologist or both, a Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI), a psychiatrist who has done a recent developmental evaluation on Kender, a teacher from either a Montessori or Waldorf school (preferable with experience in autism or blindness), A’Kos’ trainers from 4 Paws, even an occupational therapist (OT)?  What if I could get all of these professionals to sit down with me in one room, corporeal or virtual, and talk together about Kender?  What if the ophthalmologist and the psychiatrist could interact directly with the teacher, without the conversation being relayed through me over months and years of scattered appointments?  What if everybody could communicate together, and together we could come up with the best possible strategies for facilitating Kender’s continued growth, development and education?

I thought this was a hugely exciting idea, and I’ve been trying to pursue it for the past couple of weeks.  I’m not having much success, unfortunately.  I’m running into the same walls that I always have.  TVI and OT professionals work for the school districts exclusively and have told me in the past that their contracts forbid them from working privately for somebody.  The Commission for the Blind does not work with children, because that is the school district’s job.  The autism professionals have no experience with blindness.  Most of the professionals, educators, and researchers with experience in the conjunction of blindness and autism are in Texas, at the state School for the Blind there. (No, Michigan doesn’t have one.)  The Montessori and Waldorf teachers don’t want to work outside their schools.  Maybe our ophthalmologist would do it, just for fun, being an inquisitive and research-minded kind of guy; I haven’t asked him yet.  I would pay all of these people, and it would have to be out of my own shallow, bedraggled pockets.  I would do it, for the chance at this roundtable, for the chance to really have a sense of direction with Kender.

I can’t do it alone, though.  I’m hoping to spread the word through some extra channels now, through both the blindness and the autism communities, even through the education communities, to find some folks willing to work with us on this.  I will teleconference, if it comes down to it I will beg, borrow, sell whatever I have to to travel.  I want this to happen.  Kender needs this to happen.  Not just Kender, but the other kids like him whose parents are also lost in the sea of multiple doctors and disciplines.  Even school IEP meetings don’t feature this kind of meeting of the actual doctors who really know about the conditions involved.  I refuse to believe there are no professionals out there interested in this model of care.

So please, share this around, and let’s find some professionals.  I may have a psychiatrist lined up, and I’ll be approaching our ophthalmologist about the idea.  I can talk to the trainers at 4 Paws.  But I also need a TVI and a non-traditional teacher, at a minimum.  If you know anybody willing to work with us on this, please send them my way.

A’Kos Goes to School

I realized after we got home that I didn’t get any pictures of A’Kos and Kender today.  I’ll have to remedy that next week!  Today was A’Kos’ first trip to Foster where we have our homeschool co-op classes.  Kender has been waiting to go back to Foster ever since the last term ended, and the last few days he’s been asking if we were bringing A’Kos to Foster.  Yes, we were!!

A’Kos was just as wonderful and helpful at Foster as he has been everywhere else.  Kender has always been painfully slow about getting in to the building, walking down the hall, and going up the stairs.  A’Kos makes that process much, much faster!  Once we got to the community room, Kender immediately ran off to the kitchenette to play with his old friends: the sink, the microwave, and the empty cabinets.  Robin, the office staff member that we deal with for scheduling, came down to say hello and admire A’Kos.  Everybody was so happy to see him, after watching our fundraising efforts and especially after sitting in Foster with Kender every week for the past several years.

A typical day with Kender at Foster has involved constant “Where’s Kender?” checks as he hides in the cabinets, plays with the light switches, escapes down the fire escape stairs, climbs a table and opens the second story window next to it, or just runs off down the hall to play in the water fountain or the bathroom sinks.  Most days I would spend all or part of the day just sitting at the doorway to the community room where everybody not in classes hangs out, blocking the way so Kender couldn’t leave.  Getting him to stop doing the things that were dangerous always involved screaming and thrashing as we pulled him away from the activity.

Today, I could take A’Kos over to where Kender was and distract him, then get him to follow us back to something more appropriate.  I didn’t have to follow him around, though, or even sit at the doorway (although I did stay near the door); I was able to sit and chat with my friends and even get some knitting done.  We walked out to the playground with A’Kos after lunch, and when Kender got tired we walked back inside and even took the elevator.  Kender took a nice nap with A’Kos in the afternoon, and then played a little bit before we left.  A’Kos especially enjoyed all the attention he got from the other kids, who also learned lessons about when it is okay to approach a service dog and when it is not.  When it was time to go, Kender got his handle and we walked on down to the van together, with no detours into random ballet classes.  Very little fussing, no major meltdowns even after we got home.

What a difference!

Odyssey of the Mind

Today’s theme is “Hurry up and wait,” as I sit here in the Traverse City Central High School cafeteria while the kids do their Odyssey of the Mind State competition.  Odyssey of the Mind is a creative competition that gives kids problems to solve and tasks to accomplish and then scores them on how well they come up with solutions.  They get extra points for style, creativity, and teamwork.  Outside assistance is strictly forbidden. Even the coaches can’t really coach or offer ideas or suggestions.  All the coach can do is facilitate what the kids want to do, and I think warn them if they stray outside the guidelines.  I can’t keep my mouth shut when I see something that could be fixed or improved, so I absolutely can’t coach this event.  I stay out of the way and leave that to our wonderful friend Katharine.  I try not to find out anything about what the kids are doing until the day of competition, because I know I’ll just have to butt in and give advice that could be disqualifying.

This is the second year of Odyssey for the triplets, and the first for Liam.  They are working with some other boys that they worked with last year.  It has definitely been a part-time thing for them…until they saw the other teams at the Regional competition.  Our kids had met for 2-6 hours a week, and while they fulfilled all the technical requirements for their problem, they didn’t really go further.  There was paint and cardboard, and a creative script.  At Regionals, they saw teams that had been meeting for 10 or more hours a week consistently since September, that had been working together for years and so amassed a collection of props and devices to draw upon.  There were elaborate constructions on wheels, with spinning parts and music from speakers.  There were costumes ready for a professional theater performance, wooden structures, all kinds of things.  The kids were impressed.  They really only ended up going to State because they had no competition in their division and problem, and their Style score was so low that there was some question for a bit whether they would meet the minimum points requirement needed for State.

As soon as they got back from Regionals, the kids got busy.  They met formally for at least 6 hours every week, and various of the kids would stay at Katharine’s for hours after a meeting had officially ended, painting and building and sewing and gluing.  They took acting lessons and fleshed out their script with more jokes and puns.  They worked very hard for all of March, and from what I could see when they loaded all of their gear into the van Thursday, they made quite a leap from where they were.

They may not be ready to place high enough to go to Worlds.  They will have direct competition today, from teams that already passed the test of Regionals.  (Frankly, we parents are kind of hoping they don’t go on to Worlds, because that’s another $5000 and a whole week in Iowa!)  I promised to take them out for dinner if they medal, but I’m just excited to see what they come up with.  It’s amazing what sprouts from their heads and hands when they really set their minds to something.  Meanwhile, they’ll get to see another level of competition that they’re up against, and will go home with more idea of the standards they’re facing.

And maybe next year, or the year after, they’ll go to Worlds.  That is, if Katharine can stick with us that long!

Socially Acceptable Venting

I’ve been having a pretty tough day today with Kender. I’m taking advantage of the few brief moments here and there when he is silently pouting to type this out.  I need to get this out, even (or maybe especially!) on a bad day like today, because sometimes I feel like I have no voice.

We have made and still make a lot of alternative choices in our lifestyle and our parenting.  We chose to have children with a disabled parent.  I used medications to reset my hormones and restore my fertility instead of continuing to use fertility drugs.  We chose out-of-hospital births. We chose breastfeeding and cosleeping, cloth diapers and rags.  We chose to use convertible carseats  from the beginning instead of carriers, and slings instead of carriers and strollers much of the time.  We chose natural medicine as much as possible, with personalized vaccination schedules and avoidance of antibiotics.  We chose to homeschool, even when we found out our children had disabilities.

Every single one of those choices is outside of the mainstream, and so whenever we are having trouble with pretty much anything, those are the first things that people suggest we change.

It doesn’t seem to matter if the problem would even be fixed by the solution suggested.  To people who do not share our choices, our choices are the problem.

It reminds me of the problems that fat people face when going to the doctor.  No matter what their health complaint is, they are told the answer is losing weight.  I’ve been told this myself.  I’ve been told that I should lose weight in order to fix a medical problem that causes weight gain…now there’s an infinite loop for you!  Other people have been told to lose weight to fix anything from strep throat to broken bones.

If Kender were in the government school system, it would be completely acceptable for me to complain about the IEP process, about the school refusing to teach him Braille or to use a cane, about how many medications he needs in order to be nice and quiet and compliant, about how getting the schools to actually provide him with an education is a full-time job.  When we homeschool, though, we’re not allowed to complain about how expensive Braille materials are, or how difficult it is to contain him, or about being tired, or anything else.  No matter what my difficulty is, to some people the answer is that he should be in school.  As if somehow that would make all the problems go away, rather than magnifying them or replacing them with an entirely different set of unsolveable problems.

When our lifestyle choices are questioned, there is no consideration for our individual concerns.  There is no consideration for where we live, our past experiences with the establishment, our goals in life, our children’s unique needs.  Everything comes down to, “You are different, and you do not deserve any sympathy or help until you conform and become like everybody else.”  Every problem is reduced to some choice that we’ve made that is obviously the source of all our problems.

Fat and sick? You must become the socially-acceptable Not Fat before you can be treated for your health problem.

Libertarian and lost your job? You are not worthy of charity if you do not support government programs.

Homeschooling a disabled child? The only possible solution is government school.

Trying to find out what makes your child tick instead of medicating him? Sorry, does not compute.

Dealing with a difficult situation and have no support system? You need to change your religion so you can go to church and get help.

Do people who respond this way have any idea of how demoralizing it is to be told these things? How dehumanizing and impersonal it feels to be told that you, your personality, your preferences, your life, your SELF are the source of all your problems?

It’s no wonder that some of us draw into ourselves, that we withdraw from online message boards and real life support groups.  When every time we reach out, we are slapped in the face, eventually we are going to stop reaching.

Another Week

Time just seems to fly by sometimes.  This week has been so busy, with Brenden’s broken finger and things here and there and everywhere.  So much has happened.  I’ve gotten things accomplished, if not the same things as last week.  I fell down skating on Sunday, and so I’ve been horribly sore all week, every muscle aching.  Still, I kept going. I went to Foster on Tuesday. I did shopping on Monday for the Vikings feast even though it ended up getting postponed. I skated on Sunday and Wednesday.  I got the girls started on ninth grade math and reading.

I started doing Circle Time again with Jarod and Kender.  Kender just loves circle time.  I decided to start using my main altar candle for Circle Time, instead of separate candles for them.  We bring my candle to the table and light it, sing our songs, and when we close, instead of blowing it out we move it to my altar, and I do my regular devotions at that point.  This works well to give them a real flame, to connect them with my altar, and to give me a concrete reminder to spend this time with them.  What I would like to do next is find a way to incorporate calendar work into Circle Time in a way that Kender can access.  All the Braille calendar systems I’ve found are so expensive, but so far I haven’t found anything better. I’m open to ideas, though.

I’ve also started reading to Kender again, and after a couple of days he has started sitting still for it and even trying a bit to read along, feeling for the Braille again like he used to.  I hope that keeping this a daily habit will get him relaxed and happy around books again, and maybe we can move forward on language and reading skills.  If not, it’s still cuddly time in my lap, and that works, too.

I did a pretty good job this week of cooking dinners, working with things that were in the cabinets and the freezer, getting creative and keeping the shopping to a minimum.  I’d like to keep that energy going and see how far I can stretch it, but hitting payday sure made getting some convenience food awfully hard to resist!

We’ve been working on getting our two remaining cats to stay inside.  That way, if we get a new kitten, hopefully we won’t lose it outside the way we did Darwin.  It’s hard to do this because the blind folk can’t tell if they’ve let a cat out, but we keep trying.  We’ve gotten more catnip toys and spent more time actively playing with the cats, instead of just petting them.  We’ve also gotten out more treats, and anytime we can distract them from the door or get them to come right back after dashing outside, we give them treats.  The sticking point seems to be the litter boxes.  Max and Teddy Bear are convinced they need to go outside, and refuse to use the litterboxes.  I can’t decide whether to keep fighting with them over it.

On to the weekend, with a cake to decorate and more planning to do.

This week was great because…

Similar to the ideas of focusing on the roses, or of enumerating things to be grateful for, another idea for improving positive thinking is to focus on what has been accomplished and what has been good.  Fat Man has used this idea pretty successfully himself, and it’s been floating to the surface of my mind this week.

This week has been good because I went skating twice, and skated so hard that I was sore the next day.

This week has been good because every day (that I’ve been home; Foster doesn’t count!) I have gotten my basic daily chores done.  I’ve done laundry.  I’ve cooked dinner.  I’ve been writing.  I’ve been practicing with my bodhran. I’ve been picking things up.  I haven’t been able to get this much done this consistently in months, maybe years.20131025 Kender's big check

This week has been good because I finally made a trip to the bank to deposit Kender‘s donations, and he showed off his giant check to the tellers.

This week has been good because I learned more new things for my Vikings class, and learned more about a new craft that might help keep my hands and feet warmer in the winter.

20131108 Midnight in cageThis week has been good because I caught Midnight escaping her cage, and I moved her and her things into Pixel’s old cage before Teddy Bear actually caught her and decided she was tasty.

This week has been good because I discovered my pie crust recipe makes an excellent, tasty wrapper for pasties.

This week has been good because I played Othello with Liam and Jarod, and I got to watch Jarod learn how to think ahead and anticipate my moves.

This week was great.

IEP Torture

We had reasons for homeschooling from the beginning, reasons that had nothing to do with disabilities, especially since we had no reason to expect any disabled children. (Remember how the doctors told us Brian’s blindness was not genetic?) We had reasons like my experience being the smart one, the geek, the outcast, the loner, the one who was picked on.  We had reasons like Brian’s experiences with exclusion and bullying and how he resolved them (with violence, not recommended).

What I hear from other parents of autistic and blind children and their dealings with the government school system just makes me more determined to keep my children home, no matter the cost.

I have had a touch of dealing with the government schools and the IEP process myself.  When we first started suspecting that Caitlin was on the spectrum, we approached the local school district for an evaluation, wondering if some kind of therapy would be beneficial to her and help her bridge that social-interaction gap.  We were told that she was on grade level for all her academic accomplishments, and therefore she didn’t, and never would, qualify for any services no matter what her disabilities were.  Later, when she was in third grade, we put the triplets and Liam into school for about six months to see if it made my life any easier.  At that point Caitlin had her official Asperger’s diagnosis, and again I approached the school requesting services to help her with her social and interpersonal skills, to help her integrate and belong.  I was told she didn’t need any help, but that they would keep an eye on her and let me know if she did.

As much as ten years later, I am still finding out from Caitlin about the things that happened to her that I was never told about, despite my explicit requests for an IEP and services.  The times she was actually pulled out by the special ed teacher along with the deaf and developmentally-delayed children.  The times she was excluded from recess, the bullying she put up with.  None of this was ever communicated to me by the school or her teachers, who apparently thought it was okay to change their stance and suddenly provide some kind of services without consulting me first.  I may never know what all happened to her, what all they did to or for her, because she really was unable to tell me about it at the time.

The next time I dealt with IEPs and government school services was when I found out I had blind children, especially with Kender.  I found out that all the teachers for the visually impaired (TVIs) and orientation and mobility (O&M) teachers had non-compete clauses in their contracts forbidding them to do private work.  Beyond that, they were so overloaded and overworked that most of them couldn’t have taken on private students even if they had wanted to, and the schools were laying off and buying out more teachers every year.  When we sat down to do IEPs for Jarod and Kender every six months, the process was excruciating, requiring all sorts of detailed evaluations. Kender had to be marked off on developmental skills checklists that were completely inappropriate for a blind child (recognizes faces? knows his colors? follows along with picture books?).  As Kender got older and it became obvious (should have been from the beginning) that we were going to insist on homeschooling him even though he was blind, the teachers stopped really trying to provide services and instead spent all their time trying to tell me all the reasons he should be in school.

I hear so many awful stories.  IEPs that are routinely broken by the schools. Teachers who belittle and abuse their students.  Children with autism and sensory processing disorders who are restrained with force. Visually impaired children who are denied access to Braille instruction because the TVI doesn’t even know it anymore. Visually impaired children who are denied access to O&M instruction and how to use a white cane because the school doesn’t want to deal with it. Autistic children who are passed from grade to grade with no real instruction, then given a “certificate of completion” instead of a high school diploma before being abandoned to spotty adult mental health services.

What makes me so sad and furious is all the parents who believe that their only option is to work within this system that seems so determined to thwart them and abandon their children.  Parents who have been convinced that only the government and its specially-trained certified instructors are capable of teaching their special-needs children, even though the evidence shows they are often neither fully trained nor willing.  So many parents believe that teaching their normal, healthy, on-target children is a job that can only be accomplished by professionals.  It’s even worse among special-needs parents.  So they believe they have no choice but to stick with this system that is broken, and because they are a captive audience, the system has no incentive to improve services.  It’s a vicious cycle, resulting in a downward spiral of worse services and worse education, turning out more and more children who are incapable of functioning as independent adults, and neither side is willing to break out.

My only thought when I hear parents telling these IEP horrors stories is Why? Why do you stay with this system? Why don’t you just pull out? Why would you sacrifice your children to this game the government schools want you to play?  I don’t understand staying in.  I’m out, and I will stay out.  I won’t play that game.

The Kender Report — Kender Does Zumba!

An amazing thing happened yesterday.  Kender participated in a class!

A friend of mine teaches lots of Zumba classes, and she offers several at the homeschool co-op in which we participate.  She encouraged me to sign Kender up for her youngest Zumba Kids class on co-op days, even if all he did was curl up and listen to the music like he’s done before.  Honestly, I am not going to spend $35 for Kender to listen to music.  I can provide that for free, and we do it a lot at home.  I said that we would try it out, though.

At first, it was exactly what I expected.  He didn’t want to go in the room. Then he didn’t want to leave my lap.  He wanted to be held, he wanted to curl up on the floor.  I kept encouraging him to get up and go out there.  I walked him over and tried to lead him through a limbo game, but that only got him shrieking.  I sat down and let him wander, assuming child’s pose in front of the speakers, checking out the tumbling pads in the corner, playing with the blinds.

Then the miracle happened.  Kender stood in the middle of the floor for a minute, and then slowly started imitating the teacher’s movements, stepping back and forth, spinning around, waving his arms a bit.  It only lasted for part of the song, but it had me and her both nearly in tears, it was so amazing to see.  Kender went back to curling up and listening for a while, but a couple songs later, after some other kids had come into the class, Kender opened back up and copied them for part of a song, crawling around on his hands and knees and spinning.

After the class, I continued to see more interaction and tolerance of others.  We went up to the community room, where the other kids had already gotten into the toy box we bring full of balls, puzzles, Perplexus, legos, and more.  He spent well over an hour hanging out at the toy box with the other kids, pretending some blocks were phones, singing songs, etc.  Normally he won’t spend more than a few minutes playing that close to the other kids, preferring to wander around the room and climb on the furniture, stealing food, playing with the window blinds and the doors.  Again, an amazing and really cool thing to see.

When we went to leave for the day, we had to walk past the room where the Zumba class had been.  I had my hands full with a box, Kender was right behind me, and the van was parked right outside the door, so I hurried out and tossed the box in the van, expecting Kender to keep mosying on down the hall.  Instead, in the 30 seconds or so I was gone, Kender found the Zumba classroom (which now had a non-homeschool dance class starting), gone inside, plopped himself down on a mat with the other little kids, and the teacher had called the office over the intercom to report the little blind child who had wandered in!  Yet another thing I would not have expected him to do, especially the part where he paid attention to the other kids and joined them on the mats.

The rest of the afternoon, we heard bits of Zumba songs in what Kender was singing.  Last night, when I asked Kender to go tell Daddy about his Zumba class, this is what happened:

Needless to say, I have no problem whatsoever spending the $35 to keep him in the class for the rest of this term.  I am excited to see what he does next!