Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Roller Coaster Rides On…

Room 10 has been on blogosphere hiatus… my apologies to the faithful followers who are wondering what’s going on with us! It has been a very difficult last month or so, and the unfortunate part (I’m learning) of being so open in a digital venue is that some things just can’t be blogged about in a professional context.  Telling stories related to the kids is the meat and potatoes of what I do here, but the reality is that not everything that happens in Room 10 is kid-related, and it makes it hard to paint an accurate picture of how things are going in the room when I’m limited by professional boundaries. Take from that what you will, but that’s all I can say…

Moving on…

Thursday  was an amazing day in Room 10.  Which is saying a lot, considering it is almost June, and a Thursday, which means all 6 kids in the room. Usually Thursdays and Fridays are a mad scramble to keep the kids engaged and happy, to keep this one away from that one, to keep this one from imitating the behaviour of that one, etc. Not this week. This Thursday was the kind of day that I pictured in my head when I asked for this assignment in the first place…

Everyone arrived happy, which is always a good start. Happy and calm… hands, feet and everything else to ourselves… One we got all the kids into the room and engaged in their preferred activities to start the day, I actually looked around the room and counted twice, just to make sure they were all there and that I wasn’t missing anyone, it was THAT calm. When we transitioned to Circle, everyone made it onto the carpet without protest, and not only sat through circle, but participated happily. Some added calendar pieces, some sang along and did actions to our little songs, and then when we broke off to go do work, same thing – smooth as silk.

On Thursdays, I try to make sure I work directly with one of my students who is only with us two days a week. Her other three days are spent in IBI – an intensive behaviour therapy program.  Because we see her so little, and because her weeks are so fragmented (3 days at IBI, 2 days at school, 2 days at home, repeat), it’s been really hard to track if we’re making any progress on learning goals, and to get a handle on managing behaviours and triggers, since there isn’t much consistence. I digress…

One of the programs I’ve been working on with a few of the kids is a reading method developed by Patricia Oelwein (originally for students with Down’s Syndrome).  There is a really great article describing the basics here, but the general idea is to build on the relative visual strengths of kids with ASD (matching) to teach them whole-word recognition, starting with personally significant words to build meaning and interest, and building to more generalized language over time. Ideally, attaching meaning to print will help them access language to read and communicate, even if they have limited or no verbal output.

For this particular student, I started with classmates’ names. She is very interested in others and has some verbal, and she loves to name all her classmates while pointing to their pictures throughout the room. I thought that would be a good place to start, and I knew that she was already attaching meaning to the pictures by naming them aloud. So we’ve been working for the last few months on a variety of matching activities using the names and pictures, as well as just the names themselves.

Thursday morning, I had chosen the name-matching card with pictures and without, giving her the immediate memory to work with, and she did a great job – matched every one and named them correctly on both trials. I was quite pleased with the whole thing, since this was something new I had been trying this year and I wasn’t really sure if it would work. In the afternoon work block, I took out the picture cards entirely, and gave her an activity with just the words – I knew she would be able to match them correctly, but would she actually read the names without the pictures for help?

Not only did she name each and every one without hesitation, but when I asked her to point to the different names, she got those all correct as well – incredible!

I’m not going to lie – part of the joy was incredible personal & professional gratification.  There are so few days in Room 10, especially lately, that I actually feel like a teacher – like I am actually helping students to learn tangible things that they might not have gotten to without my support.  Her success with this activity that I had chosen, created and worked on with her was immensely satisfying to me as a teacher.

The other part of the joy was the confirmation that this method could work – that this first small step in success was just the beginning of a world of language that would be so valuable to her in communicating her needs, wants and ideas. What greater learning could there possibly be in Room 10?

While we’re on success stories, there are all kinds of little tidbits that have happened recently – just as inspiring in their little moments as the reading one.  Sometimes it takes this time of year, when report cards and IEP updates are looming, to make me look at the big picture of our year and see the little successes that have added up to big progress in our little world.

One of my kids has tactile defensiveness – hates the pressure of anything on his fingertips, which, if you can imagine, makes it very hard to do all kinds of everyday things. Typing on a traditional keyboard was abandoned with him long ago, but he’s a whiz with a mouse and should finally have an iPad arriving in the next week or so – a year-long project to help him move to expressive language as well, since a touchscreen takes far less pressure to manipulate.  In the last few months, he has learned to open his own water bottle and pour his own water AND to do up his own jacket zipper – huge goals that both home and school have been working on for years – check. Now if only we could get him to wash his hands without a fight!

My littlest guy, who used to move when a door was opened and throw everything he could reach, is also making little miracles.  He’s a wiggly little guy and hates having anything done, and his poor mom asked us long ago for help with anything we could manage in regard to personal hygiene – I can’t imagine trying to give him a bath! The first time we tried to cut his nails back in the fall (after several serious scratching incidents), it was a full-on panic and took three adults helping.  Now he sits in my lap and barely protests while I clip them quickly every other week. This week, we gave him a haircut – right in the middle of our classroom!  The other kids were fascinated, his mother was thrilled, and he managed with barely a tear while I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over and over again into his ear and one of my staff snipped away as quickly as possible.  His first IEP communication goal in September was to “Indicate interest by activating a cause-and-effect toy spontaneously”.  That’s it.  Today, he strings beads, plays with lego, puts together simple puzzles and even sometimes passes a ball back and forth – way beyond that simple goal of engagement he started from.

And my “challenge” – the one who was so aggressive that we had to rip out the sensory room, isolate him from other children, and were barely getting through our days? Here he is, sitting happily beside another student, watching a Dora video during free time. 

Side by Side
Finding the correct medication in the correct dosage has helped him self-regulate to the point where he’s not only not aggressive, but he can demonstrate skills we didn’t even know he had.  He follows multi-step instructions, matches and sorts, communicates through gestures and pictures.  He participates in classroom routines, plays with other kids with a ball or at the water table, went swimming with the other grade three classes 3 times this month, and is learning to use the iPad. Best of all, he laughs, smiles and is happy at school. Say what you want about medication, its advantages and disadvantages, but in his case, it has truly been life-changing.

As the roller-coaster of Room 10 continues to heave, thank goodness for this blog – a chance to slow the train down for just a few minutes, and remind myself why on earth I strapped in in the first place.  I suspect it’s easier as a spectator to see the learning and growth that happens in our room, where you’re not overwhelmed by being right in the thick of the dizzying ups and downs, but at least this way, I can look back and enjoy the ride afterwards, even if it’s tough to do in the moment. June awaits. Bring it on. Hands up, eyes open, and possibly screaming all the way down… J