Sunday, March 31, 2013

We Are the Champions

When you have a child, you pick godparents who you would trust to raise your child in the event that you and your partner are unable to.

Some people judge godparents by other measures, or choose them with other priorities in mind. For us, though, that was the main thing.

Naturally, the child's godparents tend to be the parents' most trusted friends and siblings. They win such places of honour by having qualities the parents value highly.

I am happy to say that Little A has a winning crop of godmothers.

At his Christening, I gave each a toy wand and a notebook with the words "Godmothers make wishes come true" on the front. (His godfathers got miniature terracotta warrior replicas.)

In the last few years, these women have, truly, lived up to their positions.

Godmother 1, my younger sister, has constantly been on the lookout for Little A, particularly since he was diagnosed with ASD. She has interviewed all of her friends for information on the best schools and courses of treatment for her nephew, besides showering him with much love and affection and constantly inviting him to play with her daugters.

Godmother 2, my best friend from childhood, quietly makes recommendations based on discreet questions to her sons' teachers for inclusion programs and adapted regular programs and annually brings back from the United States whatever therapy materials Little A needs that aren't available locally.

Godmother 3, my soul sister who lives in Helsinki, (we share a name and a birthday) regularly emails links to news stories and articles from medical journals on the latest techniques in Europe.

Godmother 4 was the dark horse, as she has no children and until recently lived in Edinburgh. She always asked after Little A, gave great presents, and spent as much time with him as she could when she was in town. This week though, she and her doctor partner gave me the best birthday gift - a meeting with her partner's cousin, a Speech Pathologist and behaviour specialist based in New Jersey who was in town for a whopping two days for the Easter holidays.

This specialist took two hours of her precious holiday time to read Little A's reports and provide a detailed outline for a Communication and Speech Programme that should benefit him enormously if implemented properly.

Apparently, the techniques used in this country for Speech Pathology are over 20 years old, with many of them long since proven less effective than newer techniques. This being the Third World, however, and with brain drain as our country's biggest export, it is to be expected that we are behind the times in what really matters. (You can be sure that despite our massive national debt, everyone who can buy or steal one is equipped with the latest iPhone or whatever gadgets are hot off the press.)

This brings us to Godmother 5, Big A's sister, who lives in Singapore, where many of our best therapists are trained, or go for work. It isn't an impossibility that Little A will go there for more updated therapy techniques, or I will for training.

I have called a conference with Little A's team, and sent off an email outlining the new goals. I hope we can implement the programme and achieve the desired results. With such champions as these godmothers in his corner, how can he not? 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

End of (Preschool) Days

Sensitive to applause, Little A covers his ears to be sure.

The hat is a little bothersome, so off it comes.
Today, Little A officially ended his preschool days at the school he's attended for three years. Once again, children in the class wore togas, but since they are a mixed group, the 4 year olds sometimes stay another year to complete the Kindergarten level at this school, as Little A did. Several of his classmates were those he'd been with for a year or two, and one had been in the same class since the first year they both attended the school.

Little A's class danced, and while he had been practicing assiduously for weeks in the classroom and performing some of the steps for us at home, he was stage-shy, and followed the blocking, but did not do any of the steps on stage. The class then sat down to take turns announcing to the assembled audience what they wanted to be when they grew up (Little A held up a sign in lieu of speaking), and then again taking turns to receive their "diplomas".

It was a monumental achievement in the life so far of a young boy, particularly mine, as many children with autism who mainstream in preschool years do not go on to do so for grade school, either because of the lack of available inclusion schools with support programmes, or because parents feel the child would be better off in an entirely SPED setup, all things considered.

Little A's future school is still undecided, as we await news from the school he tried out last week. That bridge will be crossed as it gets here. More urgent is what's in the present - his summer schedule.

Easter is upon us next week, and then Big A has declared a trip to the mountains for the week following, so we all get a bit of a break. Beginning April 1st, however, a plan must be quickly put into place and instructions disseminated to Little A's team.

Apart from his regular OT and Speech therapies, his home ABA teacher will continue to come and do lessons with him. I do plan to enrol him in a music and/or art class, and to attempt some Integrated Play Groups, after attending a most excellent workshop the other day detailing some of the requirements, benefits and a basic program outline.

Little A knows that this is a new time for him. While I told him several times that after this day he would "no longer be a Toddler but a bigger boy," I wasn't sure he really understood that he was moving up and moving on. On the way home though, from lunch after the commencement exercises, he solemnly typed in his iPad "IfyouhappyknowitToddlers". I could be wrong, but am taking this to mean he understands, and that this is his way of telling us he was happy at Toddlers Teachers Inc, and is feeling bittersweet about those days coming to an end. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


What goes around, comes around. Pay it forward. We hear and read things like this everywhere. Every religion talks about getting what you deserve, in this life or the next.

This week, I realized all the sayings are very, very true.

When Little A was sixteen months old, I enrolled him in a playschool across the road. The owner of the school was a neighbor with a son a few months older than Little A.

While the school didn't last too long, she did make use of her space to open a Tomatis Centre, and held two seminars, both of which I attended. The first introduced the therapy and its benefits. It was at this event that I met the doctor who would become Little A's developmental pediatrician.When Little A still wasn't speaking at age 2, we made an appointment to have him assessed, and a few months later, he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

The second seminar was about Special Education in Regular Schools - inclusion programmes, in other words. When this event took place, Little A had started at his preschool, but I was already feeling that he might need a shadow teacher. I met one there, who turned out to be working at the preschool I had wanted Little A to attend had it not been so far away, owned by the same people running Keys Grade School, where we are now applying him for next school year.

The second speaker was from Brent International School, the school Big A dreamed his son would attend (because in our time the girls from there sported the shortest uniform skirts imaginable). Hearing about Brent's inclusion programme put that school at the top of my list for his future applications, which are no longer in the future but very much in the present!

Upon submitting Little A's application last October, I was told by the Admissions Office that for several years now, they have stopped accepting children on the autism spectrum. Disappointed, I went on with the school search.

Then, two weeks ago, Little A's PROMPT therapist, newly back from maternity leave, mentioned that two of her colleagues were setting up a new inclusion school to open this coming academic year.

This therapist also happens to be the in-house speech pathologist at Brent; her students who do not attend the school are seen at home, or, in Little A's case, his grandmother's house, which is as far north as the teacher is willing to travel. She sent me the link to One World School, and I contacted the person-in-charge, who set a meeting the following weekend.

When I arrived at the meeting, who did I meet but the very speaker from the inclusion seminar in 2010, whose name I hadn't gotten back then and couldn't find later through the neighbor who hosted the seminar! Truly, it was serendipity. He and his colleague told me about the school, and I in turn told them about Little A and handed over the obligatory set of therapist reports, psychoeducational assessment, health certificates and the like, all of which I have in multiple copies for any school applications that may suddenly turn up.

Since the school is still under construction and no marketing has yet begun, I was one of the first to apply, therefore securing my son a place. Hooray!! Their programme is good, but it will mean Little A will have to "repeat" his last year of preschool, as for the first year they will only be offering preschool classes and adding grade levels as the students progress.

The good thing is, the team heading the school is experienced and able. The campus is conveniently located, and the facilities will be at least as nice as what is currently available at Little A's current preschool. The tuition is more than twice what the other schools are asking, but we will no longer need to provide our own shadow teacher, which will save us more in the long run rather than paying school fees and the shadow's hourly rates for possibly Little A's entire academic life.

This school will take him through to age 18 and beyond, as they will offer transition programmes and life coaching for adults with special needs as well. So truly, this is a fervent prayer answered, for as long as we can afford to keep Little A there, that is. It's a huge load off my mind.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

School Search

As only a parent of a special needs child will know, getting your child a place in a good school, one that suits the child's personality and supports the child's needs, is nearly as difficult as finding that proverbial needle in a haystack.

For one, there is the list of available schools, which, as I have mentioned before, does not exist for children on the Autism Spectrum. A friend whose daughter has Down's Syndrome was given a "Bible" shortly after her child was born, detailing doctors, therapists, schools and various other programmes available at the time. This directory is regularly updated at doctor's visits.

Children on the autism spectrum, on the other hand, are rarely diagnosed before they are two years old, and when they are, because each child is different, finding the right course of action is always a long process of trial and error. There are diets, biomedical treatments, assorted therapies and many more. Finding a school, when the child is of age, is just one more challenge.

After ruthlessly questioning friends, teachers, therapists and random women in waiting rooms, supermarkets and bank queues, I made a list and went through it one school at a time.

First was Reach International School, an inclusive school even nearer our home than Little A's current preschool. A visit though, led me to think that this would not be the best environment for my son, as the work is done on a largely self-motivated basis. There was no teacher and class interaction, or even small group work. Students meet with the teacher one at a time for instructions and complete the set work quietly at their desks. At the moment my son needs a shadow teacher just to keep him seated long enough to complete a single worksheet, so this type of school was not right for him.

Next came The Laren School, a Montessori school located in a commercial building not far from home. My parent's visit morning was very eye-opening. While my sister attended a Montessori school, I knew very little about it beyond that the preschool advocated independence and taught children self-help skills as part of the programme. I thought Little A would benefit hugely through their manipulative material-based learning methods.

Unfortunately, it turns out there will not be a space available for him this coming school year. Since Laren runs vertical classes, children aged 6-9 are in one group, and there were already 3 special needs kids among them. A new student would only be offered a place if one of the special needs students was ready to move to the regular group.

Inclusion schools generally accept a maximum of 2 special needs children per class, in classes of up to a dozen students. Larger schools run on more traditional programmes do not support inclusion at all.

St. Mary of the Woods's SPED coordinator impressed me throughly with her knowledge and years of experience in the field of educating special needs children in a traditional setting. I wasn't sure though, if Little A would benefit from being mainstreamed in Filipino language social studies classes, but I did like that they are a Catholic school, as I want my son raised in the same faith as his parents, grandparents and cousins.

The Learning Child turned out to be a bit of a dead end as they have started phasing out their grade school levels and are maintaining only the preschool.

The Abba's Orchard, another Montessori school, did not seem very keen to process Little A's application, as after I paid a visit and made several phone calls, they never got around to scheduling him for an assessment.

Create School had a wait list as long as my arm. Plus, they weren't really an inclusion school in that Little A would be in a separate class, along with other special needs kids of his same level of ability.

Britesparks School was recommended by a friend of my sister, whose child attended the school and has since moved successfully to a traditional one. However, a visit and telephone call revealed that their SPED support department had dematerialized due to talent being lost overseas and to other industries over the last two years. They will only accept very high-functioning, Asperger's students. Not proper inclusion, then, so not an option for us.

I was hesitant to even apply Little A to Keys Grade School, as I had it from one of the directors and the principal back in August that spaces for special needs children were reserved years in advance by the students attending their preschool. However, my mum's former student turned out to be the vice-principal, and she convinced us to pay a visit anyway. I was so glad we did, as we were beyond impressed by the teachers, the programme and most of all, the students. They were, without exception, confident, articulate, interested and positive in an environment that clearly nurtured and developed them properly.

As a special needs applicant, Little A's entire support team was required to attend an open day, and then write recommendation letters. His application has been processed and he is scheduled for assessment and a two-day sit in next week.

Keys is a fair school, assessing all applicants over a period of at least two days and making final decisions and issuing offer or rejection letters in mid-April. As their academic year begins in early June, this does not leave parents of children who are not accepted much leeway to find backup schools at that late time.

Apart from those, my alternatives were SPED centres, which would focus more on self-help and life skills rather than academics, which seems a shame when considering that Little A was reading ahead of his year level and has achieved many improvements by modeling his neurotypical classmates. I prayed we would find a place at an inclusion school.

My prayers were answered. More on that next post!