Getting ready for 5th grade...
Today we had an early meeting with B's school team to get ready for next Tuesday's CSE (Committee for Special Education) meeting. B's triennial review (required by law in our state) was last November, so we didn't have to have another meeting this year, but we were concerned about B's IEP not being up to date by the time he starts fifth grade in the fall- which would be 10 months after it was last updated. So we requested a meeting just to get things in place for the big transition. At B's school, moving up to 5th grade is a big transition. His school has 3 floors, with the pre-k through 1st graders on the first, the 2nd-4th graders on the second, & the 5th-8th graders on the third floor. On the third floor the kids get their own desk (rather than a cubby) in addition to a locker to keep organised. The school- & -homework expectations increase. On the third floor are the big kids... 'nuff said.
When you ask B about moving upstairs, you get varying answers- it'll be ok, there will be more homework, he already knows some of the kids... (some were 4th graders in last years' 3rd-4th grade class with him), but you don't get a lot of strong emotions from him on the topic. Even when he found out that one of his best friends at school, presently in 5th grade, is "looking for another school" next year (for various reasons...), he doesn't seem terribly disappointed, which I've found interesting. Our concerns are much more concrete- how do we make sure B either has or quickly develops the skills he'll need to cope with "the next level"?
One thing that was apparent today, compared to our last team meeting in February, is that B is no longer in a limbo-ish place developmentally. When we last met, it was mostly because we all found that the various coping mechanisms we'd put in place to help B with the OCD/Tourettes tics/thoughts/behaviours were no longer working, & that B was in a very unsettled state. Many of the ideas we brainstormed, such as allowing B to leave the classroom to do his work in a quieter place, have worked well & he's been coping pretty well with school in spite of a general increase in sensory-overload-type symptoms & behaviours. Every member of the team reported instances where B was able to state that something was bothering him & to find a solution before the sensory or emotional overload became overwhelming. This is the kind of progress we're hoping to continue to build on, & it's heartening that eveyone's seeing it. We're all also seeing increasing instances of "preadolescent" behaviours, such as sarcasm & snappishness, &, yes that's heartening, too (although annoying), because it means he's developmentally on target. Talk about your mixed blessings... :)
Cherie, B's consultant teacher, had prepared an update with input from B's classroom teacher, speech therapist, & OT. We went over this & fine-tuned it it a bit. It's always a difficult process because B's behaviour is so erratic. Almost everything positive- & there is a lot- had to be qualified with "when not disturbed by OCD "thoughts" or tics". At once point I asked how many hours of the school day did B need intervention/assistance for these problems, & the estimate was 3 hours a day... when you consider that B is in school for 6 hours a day, it's a pretty significant amount of time. So the first priority for B's CSE seems to be to make sure his 5th grade classroom receives the "ISC" (Independant Special Classroom) designation that they gave this year's classroom. This designation allows B to receive the consultant teacher hours he needs, without having to have a one-on-one aide. B has stated specifically that he does not want an aide & it's thought that it might be counterproductive to his growing independance to have one- as long as he gets sufficient time with the consultant teacher. It's all such a balance!
B's speech therapist said that she is requesting an increase in hours with him, to help him bridge the very real potential socialisation gap. We are particularly concerned about B's ability to distinguish friendly teasing from the mean-spirited kind that seems to be a part of older-kid play. B is able to tell the difference when it's happening to someone else, but does not process his own experiences quickly enough to keep up with the flow of group dynamics. Another thing we discussed whether we should request a laptop to replace the AlphaSmart- or, at least, when would be the best time to request an "upgrade". He does so well with the Alpha that he might benefit now from the versatility of a laptop. His OT said she'd consult the Adaptive Tech person who got B started with his Alpha & see what he thought. B's OT has also arranged for a consult from our school district's Autism Spectrum Disorders team to help her set B's goals for next year, since they seem to be more more sensory-integration/motor-planning oriented than anything else. She's been working on ways for B to help organise himself better, & also working on the group efforts to help B learn to anchor himself better time-wise. It occurred to me yesterday that these efforts- helping B to become more independant about keeping track of the passage of time & sequences of events- will also help to alleviate some of the OCD anxiety, since it should be easier to take his mind off the disturbing OCD thoughts when he has learned how to focus on his environment more.
Outside of specific ideas for the CSE meeting, we talked in general about strategies for helping B cope with the end of the school year, & for us to cope with him; as well as ideas for helping his transition upstairs. One wonderful resource that we turn to every time we face transitions with B is a book called Asperger Syndrome & Your Child- a Parent's Guide by Michael D. Powers with Janet Poland. The school-setting recommendations are very helpful, & one that we passed on to the team was to put together an "owners manual" of information the new teacher(s) should have to help them understand B's quirks & hot spots. Some of these do change, but there are enduring topics that are best avoided with B (such as the word "relax", which will send him into full-body tics... not exactly the expected result from using that word). A strategy that we came up with for end-of-year coping is a system that should help B to not only take better charge of his behaviours at school, but to motivate him to participate more in classroom activities. When brainstorming motivators, we came up with the idea of Pokemon cards, which he'll do pretty much anything to earn, & saves all of his pocket money to buy... so we decided that he & Cherie will design & make a set of cards that will be distributed to his teachers & therapists, who will then use them to reward appropriate/desired behaviours. When B collects 7 cards he'll get a small pack of Pokemon cards to add to his collection. We have been doing behavioural charting at home since kindergarten, but the closest thing we've gotten to this at school has been docking his allowance for swearing (his teachers keeping track for us, updating when necessary). Interestingly, this worked almost immediately, & we never had to dock his allowance for in-school swearing, which cleared the problem up very nicely :) So were are hoping that the cards/rewards will work as well & also be something that can be carried-over into the next school year.
All in all, I am once again left in wonderment at the dedication, skill, & love B's team of teachers & therapists possesses. We are one lucky family... & with this kind of assistance, CSE's are just not the gut-wrenching experience they used to be. Onward to next Tuesday's meeting...!