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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thoughts on vacation and school

Janey's April vacation was a good one.  We didn't have a lot planned, and most of the days were just Janey and me hanging out, watching TV or reading or playing outside.  We had two nice visits with my friend Maryellen, who Janey adores, and one outing for shopping (clothes, which Janey tolerated for FIFTEEN MINUTES!) and ice cream, but mostly we just did not much. 

Janey doing one of her favorite things!
By the end of the vacation week, I noticed something I often notice after times when Janey and I are at home a lot together.  Her talking increased a good deal.  She had been in a low ebb for talking, but by weeks end, I was hearing longer phrases and new words.  At one point, outside, I said "Look at my flowers, Janey!" and she said "The daffodils!", a word I had no idea she knew.  She was stringing together thoughts, like "want to go on the bed and snuggle under covers?" It just felt like we were communicating better than we had in a long while.

Janey's outbursts were short during vacation, and pretty easily dealt with.  I read a book about adopted children with attachment disorders.  That isn't what Janey has, as she isn't adopted and I don't think she has an attachment problems, but the strategies for dealing with that problem interested me, and weren't too different than I do anyway.  Mostly, it involves keeping calm when the child is not calm, and not ever using things like time out---instead, giving more attention when behavior is tough.  I've been trying that, not as something I'm going to always do, but trying it, and it is working well.  When Janey screams and bites herself, I say "I think you need a snuggle time with Mama" and often, very quickly, Janey is happy and smiling.  With her outbursts, it's a matter of whatever works, and it was nice to have that working for now.

I was interested to see how Janey did with school starting again.  I very much like Janey's teachers and therapists and everyone I've met in the autism program at her school.  But sometimes, I'm starting to wonder if just the whole structure of school is tough on Janey.  School is not really designed for someone like her.  I don't think she enjoys ABA, or any kinds of art type activities, or almost any structured learning.  She likes music, and being outdoors, and taking walks.  They do those things at school as much as they can, but she is not the only kid in her class, and they are charged with teaching her, not just keeping her happy.  

This morning, Janey was not at all eager to go to school.  That is new for her.  She almost always like going places, almost any place, and she's always been eager to get on the bus.  Today, she asked for a car ride right as she got up, and was very upset we told her it was a school day.  She seemed to resign herself after a bit, but as I watched her head to the bus, she looked grim, stressed.

Sometimes, that mean voice in my head which is my own judgemental side says "if you were a GOOD mother, you'd homeschool her!"  Well, that is not going to happen.  Janey needs school, and I need the respite that school provides.  Even with a good vacation, I was extremely ready for Monday to come and school to start again, and I feel quite sure Janey would be very sick of being home with me after not too long at all.  But I wonder what education for Janey would look like in an ideal world.  I am so lucky in that I honestly have never had a teacher for Janey I didn't love, and who I didn't feel loved Janey.  That's not the issue.  It's the whole structure of school.  School is set up for learning, not for life skills or for learning to do things that will provide lifetime happiness.  The goal at Janey's school, which has two parts, really, a "regular" part and an autism part, is stated as "We believe every student will attend college"  I do think they realize this is not a realistic goal for Janey, but my point is that the "normal" school model seems to be more modified than replaced when designing programs for kids like Janey, and that just doesn't always make sense.  This is a systemic problem, not a problem with Janey's specific school.

I'm doing a very lot of thinking lately about school and Janey, and about how I can be prepare her for the future.  I want to honor who she really is in this preparation, not a mold that doesn't fit her.  I hope I can figure out a way to do that which will work for her and for us.

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