So after my last post about the horse therapy, I have been mulling over my thoughts and ideas on lessons learned. But that needs a little (well maybe a lot) more editing. So instead, here is something more positive, an excellent IEP meeting.

As luck would have it, the Wise Old Owl's IEP transition meeting was postponed from early May until late May, scheduled for 2 days after a parents' food allergy support group meeting that I attended. What a great meeting to attend, it was all about preparing for the next school year. So I walked away with a folder full of handouts and sample 504 plan accommodations. (I'll put a few links at the bottom of this post for anyone interested in similar resources.)

The Wise Old Owl will be in his second year of preschool, which will meet at the primary school site, rather than at the early childhood facility where he was this past year. I met with his IEP team to discuss his speech and anxiety issues as well as modifications for his food allergies. (Often, allergy accommodations are in a 504 plan, but since he already had an IEP, the modifications are part of that.)

Anyway, it was fantastic to walk into the meeting and to see that the school nurse had made it. She was able to tell me all kinds of helpful things about the school policies and made me feel like she truly understood the life-threatening nature of food allergies and the worries that I deal with. I handed out several informative flyers I had received at the recent allergy group meeting. The teachers and nurse said, "thanks" enthusiastically, not the polite thanks with an eye-roll that I had been worried about, but a real thanks for the info, we are always learning. We talked through my suggested accommodations and they were on board with almost all of them. (The procedures for the bus were scrapped due to lack of a bus service rep at the meeting, and I still need to call the bus service to find out more about that, but really, if I end up driving him to preschool that is definitely not a problem.)

My favorite accommodation is the one that says the teacher will not include any food items in lesson plans. She was completely on board with that and so in it went!!! What a relief for next year AND down the road it cannot be easily taken out unless there is a good reason. It is a legal document, superseding any elementary school teacher's plans for a gingerbread house. I think my stress level went down about a thousand percent!

Overall, we had lots of great discussion about allergies and how it affects my son's learning in the classroom, how it goes hand in hand with his anxieties. There were certainly a million more things that I would have loved to put in the IEP, but I picked my battles and felt like I needed to put my top priorities on the table first, leave the rest for later to improve my chances of getting the really important ones.

We wrapped up the allergy portion of the meeting, the nurse left, and we then moved on to the rest of the IEP goals. His new SLP will continue the articulation and social language goals, of course. But now that I am a bit wiser, I laid out on the table my expectations for the classroom in general. How I hoped that the general ed teachers would really take the lead and not rely on the SLP so that my son would trust them to help with social interactions. We talked about staff acting as an intermediary since they are more approachable for him, and how they can re-direct his conversation to the kids, recognizing his anxieties and stepping in to help him work through them, helping him with transition to play time with specific suggestions, and just generally playing with kids on the floor (something that surprisingly seemed to never happen in preschool this past year...). Again, it was a great conversation. The lead teacher actual looked a little surprised that I would request some of these things, she commented something to the effect that those were generally things that any preschool teacher should do with any kid. And again, my stress level went down and I breathed a little more easily.

Now it is summer and I am taking a big break from worrying about preschool. When ESY comes along in July, he'll be with the same amazing and trustworthy special ed staff that he has known from the past year. And I am feeling optimistic about his fall classroom. For the moment, it is time to relax, bake some allergen-free cookies, and play at the playground!

For anyone wanting some information on how to communicate with your child's school about allergies and sample accommodations for an IEP or 504 plan, here are a few helpful links that I have found.

Lots of tips, FAQs, and handouts from Kids with Food Allergies (KFA)
Downloadable school guidelines from FAAN
Sample 504 plan
The role of school nurses

We have had a tough few weeks with our once beloved horse therapy facility. I am really at a loss to understand why this happened.

First, a little history. We found out through a teacher about a horse therapy program about 30 minutes away from our house. I read about equine therapy and about this particular farm and was so excited for the potential. We got on the wait list and in March 2011 got a call that we could start lessons. It was completely amazing. I watched the Wise Old Owl go from signing commands to whispering to audibly giving the horse commands. That was a huge deal! I was excited about what good core strengthening exercise it was for him. I loved seeing Herbie paying attention, following multi-step directions, getting lots of good sensory input as he groomed the horse, and grinning from ear to ear when he got to trot. I raved about the place to everyone I knew and made monetary donations beyond the very expensive riding fees. Fast forward a year. We had not been there for a few months for the winter. I was itching to get them back in the saddle. At the first ride, both kids rocked, they did everything perfectly including SMILING AND WAVING TO THE OTHER TWO KIDS IN THE LESSON!!! That was new from last year and I was so amazed. We had a few weeks in a row of awesome rides.

Then the Wise Old Owl actually started saying "hi" to the other kids, and the instructor decided that waving was not enough for Herbie. He needed to say "hi" as well. She prompted him several times and he could not do it. She asked why he would not say "hi" to his friend and he answered that she wasn't his friend. In hindsight, I don't think that was his reason, but her use of the word friend probably made him think to say that. So at home we we talked about how we define a friend and different types of friends and being friendly, etc. I encouraged him to continue smiling and waving. The next week was similar, with much prompting and no greeting. The following week, our babysitter took the kids and the Wise Old Owl was SO excited to show her around the place. However, it was not such a great time for Herbie. He was prompted again to say "hi," and apparently after a long time of awkward discussion he was told the next week he could not ride if he did not cooperate. I spoke on the phone with the instructor, asking her if he could whisper or mouth the words as a first step and she was of the opinion that he was being obstinate and did not budge in her position. She also made some comments about how he got too rowdy with his reigns and he was "pushing her buttons," I sensed a lot of anger, something I had never detected in her before. We were not getting anywhere discussing it over the phone so I ended the conversation.

For several days I tried role playing with Herbie but his anxiety was so evident that I decided not to push it. He stayed home and I took the Owl to the next lesson. I spoke with the instructor in person and tried to plead his case, pointing out that it is in fact incredibly common for kids with autism to have trouble greeting their peers! She kept saying that we just needed to push him, she was clearly not considering his point of view and I was incredibly frustrated. I suggested rewinding, perhaps introducing the idea of doing greetings on the ground (rather than mounted on the horses) and giving him some time to warm up to the idea. She agreed to the on the ground part, but still insisted that he audibly say "hi."

Herbie had been sick all week (painfully constipated, very unusual for him since he eats way more than the recommended 5 servings of fruits & veggies a day) and it all seemed to be stress related. This was the biggest stress for him, so we decided to end it. I felt sad going from absolutely loving the place and envisioning my kids attending there for years to suddenly leaving, especially since the Owl loved it so much. But it needed to be done. So I wrote a letter and after multiple edits to take out my real feelings, sent an email stating that the Owl would come for one more lesson so he could have closure and then we'd be done.

I second-guessed myself a million times. But then the next day, the instructor called, we had a very unpleasant conversation, and it confirmed my decision entirely. I went ahead and sent the Owl with the babysitter for his last lesson, at which they skipped the greetings altogether (to spite me??) and then trotted (Herbie's favorite activity) much much more than usual. The Owl came home practically in tears because he was so sore!! Usually the kids trot two lengths of the arena, and after the first, he will ask not to do the second and she will grant that request. His low muscle tone makes it so hard for him to control his body when he is bouncing up and down on a horse. But apparently this day, she denied his request to walk rather than trot and kept going multiple times around the arena. With his voice cracking, he told me, "Susie made me keep trotting and my butt hurts." The only positive thing to come of that is he no longer is sad to discontinue his lessons, he does not want to go back. Fortunately after 4 days of using the heating pad, he seems to be fine, but my brain is still going a mile a minute thinking of all the things I want to say to her! I am writing this epic blog post instead...

Well, we certainly learned a lot of lessons, which will be another post. Thankfully the end of May was capped off by a fantastic IEP meeting and a lovely Memorial Day weekend.
I have been thinking a lot lately about my kids' behaviors and how we seem to be struggling with the same things day after day. For awhile we will make some headway, sometimes issues even seem to resolve, but they always seem to come back. Well, I'm not really sure if they all come back, but at the moment I feel like they do. Somehow when I'm bogged down in the anxieties of the day, it is just so overwhelming that I convince myself we have been stuck here forever. I'm sure that is not true. But there are definitely some recurring problems that we can't seem to figure out. Like bathroom issues and not peeing all over the floor. I suppose I should remember the past when the pee was in the trash can or the sink or the soap dispenser and be glad that is not happening. But it's still not in the toilet. So have we made progress or haven't we? I also worry about Herbie's impulsivity. He just does the first thing that comes to his mind, whether that is hitting his brother or running out the front door if he sees it open. I used to think our house was like Fort Knox, but he is gradually figuring out all of the locks so it is only a matter of time... I had thought by this time we would have achieved some level of understanding with him that he can't run in the street or hide behind the neighbor's house, etc. But we're not there yet and time is running out.

So what is the cause of all this? I just read an interesting book called "Lost at School" by Ross Greene. He argues that kids do well if they can. He argues that motivational rewards and sticker charts, punishments and logical consequences are all of no use. They do not teach lagging skills. It sounds completely logical. I don't know if I'm 100% in agreement (after all, we are human beings living in a fallen world, we all screw up things we are capable of getting right), but in general I wish more people would think along those lines, teaching kids how to behave, realizing that rewards and punishments don't teach actual skills. I might argue that a sticker chart or reward system could be useful for creating habits of newly acquired skills, but again it is really hard to say based on the things that seem to be resolved and then pop back up 6 months later.

Greene's conclusion is that we need to collaborate with kids to solve problems and teach skills, brainstorming and settling on mutually agreeable solutions. Sounds great and I have done this to some extent for various specific behavior problems but I can't see how it can help with impulsivity. Actually, the challenging behavior that I really want to understand is the Wise Old Owl's aversion to eating normal foods. I get weary of the comments on my parenting, the opinions that I am "spoiling" my kids, the popular view espoused by Herbie's former psychologist that we just need to be firm. We stopped seeing that psychologist not too long after we started since she was mainly working on motivation for Herbie, not the root causes of his challenges. So while I have no idea how to collaboratively solve impulsivity or eating problems, I do think that I will be more intentional about using this method for addressing other issues like how to appropriately interact with other kids, expected behaviors on the bus, participating in circle time, and some of our other difficulties. Maybe I can even think of a way to use it for the toileting issues--I can only hope!

Today Herbie came home from school and excitedly reported that his classmate, S, told him he was his best friend! It was so fun to hear! This particular little boy also has some special needs, but my impression is that his needs are pretty much the opposite of Herbie's needs. He is polite and sweet, listens and follows rules and directions, but struggles mightily with academic subjects and sounds like he has some articulation difficulties. They ride the same bus and for several weeks have been working through Highlights Puzzle Buzz magazines on their way to school. We met up with S and his parents at a playground the other day and had a fun time getting to know them. Then we had S over for lunch after school and I took him home after they boys played for awhile. Herbie has not stopped talking about it, and apparently S can't wait for the next time either.
Herbie asks questions about why S likes him, so that makes for a good discussion starter about how people like you if you are kind, and other qualities of friendship. It is nice to have a basis for discussion finally, rather than it being so abstract about why he should be nice to people and how they feel when you treat them well. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he can maintain this friendship through the summer and hoping they are assigned to the same classroom next year.