Frank Homeschooling

Homeschool vs Public School Rules

1. You ARE here to socialize.
2. You may speak freely and learn to have a conversation.
3. You WILL get a chance to speak.
4. I will not run out of time to have any conversation with you.
5. You may ponder wonderfully with what you just read all week or month until you understand what you need to to move forward.
6. You may introduce topics, pick books, and decide what you want to learn about today.
7. You may create your own goals and figure out strategies and tactics to accomplish this.
8. You may disagree.
9. You may go to the restroom and have privacy and take as long as you need.
10. You may sit anywhere you like-yes, even the floor.
11. Yes, your favorite YouTube videos count as learning – even watching people in other cultures playing didgeridoos, or building pools out of mudbricks they made themselves with kilns they made themselves and then irrigated water themselves and the space technology and animal videos where coyote Pete let’s scary animals bite him.
12. Yes, watching TV can count as learning too- especially Survivor which allows you to hear how people socialize, set agendas, manipulate others and see how people respond to this and what may or may not get you voted off the island and see how waving some money in their face changes everything . But mostly natgeo stuff which I actually do jot down in your learning log. I cannot tell you how many times a teacher rolled in a cart (every Friday an entire school year) to watch labyrinth.
13. You may choose your physical exercise – yes swimming in pool counts, so does going to park, riding scooters and bikes and walking your dog, oh and you are welcome to the Smith machine, dumbells/barbells/free weights.
13. Everyone you meet is NOT your friend when I take you out. They are part of the community you live in and you do NOT have to call bullies who are mean to you “your friend”. Your friends are people who are good to you, care about your feelings and treat you kindly. The people you see often and recognize are associates – people you know but have not formed a friendship/relationship with but you are to be kind to them too.
13. You may explore and reject interests/noninterests.
14. You will be 100% successful in life because you will find yourself sooner and be allowed to pursue your passions and as long as you are doing what you love or working towards that goal you cannot fail.
15. Your life belongs to you. Your feelings are real. You will not be taught to dismiss them but to cope and foster them. You will be taught boundaries beginning with owning your feelings and knowing where you stop and others start.
16. You MAY leave your seat. Please, yes, by all means get out of your seat, move around and live and engage the world. If I wanted you to sit in a chair 7 hours straight I would send you back to public school.

17. Feel free to share; but frankly, you do not have to. I do not share my house, car, or things with every person who wants a turn.

18. I am your mother and teacher. Some days the best thing you will learn and know is that I love you. I am not measuring you. Some days I will just want to be with you and hear you laugh. I want to teach you life is short and to never take living and being around those you love for granted. I have feelings too and it is important you learn this and get to know me too. Learning to rest is just as important as learning to rise.

19. We have not hired a janitor, you will learn to maintain your areas.

20. Frankly, class is always in session. Always be actively learning. The second you believe you know enough, is the moment you stop learning and become a fool.

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Frank Playdates

Spring is here, which means we are springing into socially awkward situations- even on social media. For children’s sake I cannot help but address this topic as it is one of the big three of the diagnosis. Every day on Autistic support group pages parents are employing advice on advocating for their child, communicating with their child, negotiating their behaviors and, this case in point, pleading for playdates and friendships to socialize their child. All of this is to be expected as the big three areas of concern of Autism diagnosis are communication, behaviors and social issues, so there is no surprise here. However, to my surprise, it seems parents really do not understand the social struggles which really do accompany Autism. And as always, I am going to be frank – about playdates.

You have probably learned by now that, with regards to Autism, socialization varies from child to child ranging from extremely social to socially crippling awkwardness and anxiety. For some children on the spectrum, typical socialization suffers because of other Autistic traits they have which interfere with the ability to participate to form natural bonds and relationships and overtime therapies can help those traits and a social life may bloom. For other children on the spectrum, one of their primary aspects of their Autism may in fact be just how severely they suffer socializing in and of itself. I read your posts, and yes, I know you want your child to engage, have playdates and form friendships but often it is the parent who is suffering social isolation, desperate to connect with other parents with children like their own and get upset when other parents are not meeting half way.

This happens for numbers of reasons and I could make several points here alone, but let it suffice to say, if you as a parent are arranging playdates to fill your own social voids then perhaps you need to form a parents of special needs group for parents which are social butterflies and try to meet without your kiddos, just for you, which is probably what you need to do anyway. But please, quit trying to drag our special needs kids to playdates which are primarily for you. If you need a playdate, great, form that group page and invite those interested. But for the children, please really consider how crucial the social struggle really is before you come on group pages loaded with attitude stating you want a playdate for your kid who needs a friend but only want people who will actually show instead of just talk about it. You are neglecting to realize a tremendous truth of Autism which is, even those who desperately want friends struggle with the process of forming friendships beginning with the thought of the engagement itself. If you are this parent, you may be the first barricade between your child and potential playdates. Before you get upset and “x” out of this piece I am going to give you tips on how to make frank playdates with our children—or – “kids like yours”.

You need to understand first and foremost many of the Autistic children you want your Autistic children to connect with may have Autistic parents which means you will have to get through them first. If you display such little understanding of the depth of the difficulties which exist in the social aspects of Autism in your outreach then you will likely get little response. You need to know that yes, many of our kids do express a desire to have a friend but often the engagements are an extremely stressful event and require active guidance in the engagement because they are still learning to socialize appropriately. I have kids all over the spectrum. One could care less if he has playdates and friendships and is quite happy doing his own thing. Another is so painfully socially awkward it makes him sick, another wants friends and to play so much but misunderstandings nearly always happen and he needs explanation and guidance to work through “what happened”.

What you see happen in these groups is a fact of Autism; yes, we would like to make playdates. What you also see is another fact of Autism; we can barely get to these engagements. Ding ding ding! We have the truth! Both can be and are true. We are not just merely “talking about it and never showing up,” we have children which require a life of penciling in everything! Forcing playdates, activities, outings, social engagements is next to impossible but only if it continues to be approached the way you are attempting it. Our kids have appointments, therapies, meltdowns, bad days and parents who are worn out days to top it off. Add to that a forced engagement our child may not be receptive to or making plans our kids will not enjoy just to make a social connection while breaking our children’s precious routines and we are headed for “more trouble than it is worth”. Do not be discouraged, there is a solution to all this but I am not quite there yet. That is the prize for tolerating what I would like you to know about playdates with our kids.

Some of our kids actually do come with a list of instructions! So many parents just want to schedule playdates with any stranger in the group and know nothing about our kids. Our kids have special needs which means, these do need to be discussed and negotiated. If we do not negotiate all of this then the whole plan to socialize our kids could be hindered or backfire with yet another negative experience. Also, sometimes these playdates end up where the mom just wants a friend and to talk the whole time and distracts from all the guidance we need to give our children to help them through the experience. Like it or not, our kids cannot just be tossed in a social circle while we chit chat.

Here is the best way I can tell you to dip your child’s toe in the social pool, and the advice is ironically, normal. Take your child to a normal place like, a park. Watch to see who your child naturally gravitate to. If your child plays with a particular child the whole time then approach the parent. Say, “I notice our children are playing very well together, here is my number and anytime you may head to the park text me and we will try to join you. We will do the same”. What happens this way is that the child learns how natural bonds are made. It is not a forced bond with some random child. The child gravitates naturally to someone doing something he or she enjoys, learns to exchange numbers and enjoy each other’s company. This way you are not sending your kid on a blind date which is what it feels like.

Frankly, forced playdates are NOT natural, not for those of us on the spectrum – even as parents. They are forced, uncomfortable commitments at someone else’s convenience and made by parents for themselves who drag the child along and make them “go play” with some kid they may not even have chemistry with or communicate well with. I want my children to learn to build their own friendships. And please remember, if you score a next playdate, be mindful it is because your children had fun together, it is not about you. If it is a real friend you want for your child then allow it to happen naturally. Create a “little black book” if you will but instead of filling it with dates for yourself, make it a playdate book filled with numbers of kids your child liked. Parents make the mistake of thinking any child will do and while that may be true for typical children it simply is not for Autistic children. More often than not, for Autistic children, the answer is, “this one child will do”. Many times our kids can only handle one on one play and it is best if it is the same child they are familiar with. This is why they usually gravitate to one child.

But, the most important rule is, never toss that number. I, personally, have friends who I have had to say no to for the last several years because our schedules were never coming together. Here I am, years later, just now being able to say yes- here and there. When I mentioned “several numbers, “I only mentioned that for you, because again, often it is the parent who needs playdates scribbled in the calendar. A rule of friendship is to not place demands on friends which are too difficult. I see this being done before the playdate is even set by the parents. Learn to pencil in and erase and pencil another. Learn to make a frank playdate, and keep it frank.

Frank Education

We fought. We fought hard. We broke ourselves paying for attorneys to fight for our children to have a Free Appropriate Public Education. In my last piece, I had written about “mainstreaming madness” and how a parents advocacy for their child’s special needs at IEP meetings neatly aligns with the governments interest in the construct of the institution of education and heavily funds special needs to support its cause. No sooner than I had uploaded it had the reality of my own words begun to take root.
We pulled our children out of public school because of issues with the school not supporting our children appropriately. Our son had reached a point where he was ill everyday just at the thought of going to school. Two weeks later we moved. We tried to resume homeschooling schedule the second our belongings were moved in. It was not wise. We were of the mindset we would stick to patterns so bad habits would not form and thought it would lend a sense of consistency throughout the move. I will spare you the suspense, we were wrong.

Instead, we should have stepped back. We all melted down in about three weeks. It blew up in our faces this past Monday. I found we needed more time away from therapies, appointments, curriculum and everything. We do not even have our living patterns adjusted in our new home. I would strongly suggest to parents of Autistic children to NOT add the pressure of learning in these unconducive conditions.
We need time to adjust to our new living patterns, new home, figuring out where we like to sit, new distractions, and new arrangements of furniture. We have disorientations which interfere with our thought processing. If you do not believe me, try changing where you place your garbage can. Put it on a different side of room and see how long it takes you to quit trying to throw garbage away in its old place. All of this is difficult for us. These are things your child needs to learn in life. Little things like this can throw us off and then we feel chaos, scattered, and defeated. We have to be forgiving of ourselves. Let your child learn a life-skill of adjustment! I would give anything to go back and not pulled out the books yet. Plenty of homeschooling parents said so, but I did not listen. I was not simply dismissive, there were just too many voices of opinion. This brings me to the most difficult challenge I have ever faced with not only my own children being Autistic but myself being Autistic.
Oh how I loved college. Nothing brought me more joy than the first day; receiving my syllabus and meticulously scheduling my calendar for the next 16 weeks. A detailed to-do list right before me. The next 16 weeks I knew what day I had to read what and what day I was testing and when every assignment in every class was due. This is why some of us are such great students. To this day I do not understand why public schools do not hand every child a 9 week syllabus. Public education at minimum dictates what must be done. But now, I am an unintentional homeschooler. What is different about this is that while parents on every special needs page may give advice, they are all aware of what must be achieved in public school where as there is a new opinion, goal, value and advice from every parent offering advice in homeschooling. So many children are being homeschooled now and receiving better educations for it. What has become very clear is that I need to unfollow those groups, not forever, but for awhile.

I have found myself in possibly the most ambiguous situation I think I have ever found myself in as an Autistic person, wife, and mother. I do not have to follow common core. I have talked to parents doing everything from “forest schooling”, unschooling, deschooling, Christian schooling, Christian homeschooling with Secular curriculum, dual enrollment schooling, online schooling, and I cannot even begin to tell you the overload of ways every parent is doing it. In public school your children are prescribed an education and the marching orders are served, I do not have that anymore. So many see this as a blessing and freedom, but my Autistic traits find this to be so ambiguous I do not know what to do with it. It has caused me severe distress with each and every thread I have read. One parent is sharing how they never test their kid and the next parent is asking about required testing. I have been reading every study and book about public education and homeschooling. I have purchased more curriculum than I can afford only to find none of them work for my kids.

Ambiguous.

I sat with my son feeling like we must do this math quiz in this curriculum and both he and I burst into tears. I was terrified of failing to teach him. I saw how frustrated he was and I was still, in that moment, feeling like homeschooling meant school at home. I still only had the ingrained notion that he has to know this and do it today when his online curriculum planner said. All the pressures of school invaded our home. I was all over the map because my advice was coming from parents in the global village. A friend of mine told me, “Calm down! It’s just education – you aren’t rescuing kidnapped children”! You may laugh but it took me about two weeks to really understand what she was saying to me and let those words settle. I could not calm down. I had been so anxiety stricken I had considered medication to cope. But something has occurred to me finally, I went from advocating for my kids needs and telling the school their needs to coming home and letting other parents tell me what my kids need—people I did not even know. I also realized it does not even do well to ask parents who are homeschooling typical children because homeschooling Autistic children does not look anything like it.

I realized that homeschooling is giving my children the most appropriate Individualized Education Plan they have ever had. I can now truly focus on their needs and if health is the biggest concern right now we will sacrifice math today and let their serotonin level out after years of trauma coping with public school. My kids have spent several years trying to survive public school and now they can actually have a chance to be normal, comfortable, happy, regulated, interested children in their home instead of trying to understand when they can talk and when and why they cannot another minute at public school and receive downgrades on their behavior charts because they are not understanding the rules of talking and then being defeated all day and coming home crying or throwing up. That run-on sentence was intentional for expression. Public school IS no place for Autism. No sooner than I had written my last piece had my words taken root. But only now are they really pushing something out of the ground.

You may ask, “But wait a minute, how can public school be no place for Autism if you say you did so well”? There really is an answer to that but let it suffice to say it reinforces the problem. All of my best education was self-education. Which brings me to some final resolves. I have decided to unfollow every homeschool support group I am on because frankly, it is too many voices of opinions from those who are experts in their own children – not mine. I have written two goals for my children for now as targets which are to teach them to self-educate and self-discovery. Too many children graduate high school with not the first clue who they are or what they want to do. It is already difficult enough with Autism to know who we are and our place in this world. I refuse to gas-light my children like the school did but instead really listen to their needs and be attentive to their interests and explore them further. I intend to hone in on their interests and strengths as their drive. Perhaps we will call it hone-school. I am going to quit doubting myself and remember that this may not have been my plan but I am accepting the challenge. My one son stopped vomiting the day we pulled him out. My other stopped melting down and yet another wanted absolutely nothing to do with public school anymore. None want any of it. My kids are already doing much better so that means something is going right. Because I know what my kids need. They need to learn to negotiate life, life-skills, and how the world is set up. They cannot do that sitting in an environment that is identical to prison with prison rules eight hours a day. What my kids need is a frank education, and I am just the one to give it to them.

Frank Momma Bears

Many things are becoming apparent to me in my journey as a parent of Autistic children that fuel the fire to advocate strongly for Autistic children and parents everywhere. Mainstreaming our children is the primary source of stress in our home. As if it is not challenging enough to raise a child but, we are raising several Autistic children and doing it well, until we have to cope with the school. The school is supposed to support my children; but instead we are having to seek support and psychotherapy just to cope with the school.

I heard the schools attorney refer to another special needs parent as “one of our adversaries”- are you kidding me? I have left so many IEP meetings beating myself up because “Momma bear” showed up only for the truth to be affirmed when I overheard the discussion. We are not at those meetings at all to decide together as a team how we can help my children thrive mainstreaming, I know this because I essentially arrive to listen to them explain why the answer is no (which they have already determined before arrival). This is why “Momma bear” comes out every time. We are nothing more than the “adversary” making demands for services we know our children need and they do not want to even try to see if it helps before knocking it down.

I have spent the last couple years having the same argument with the school and I have not been able to successfully articulate my angle with them. The school argues that services and accomodations are only meant to help educate the child so if a child’s grades and test scores are good then they conclude the child does not have any “educational needs”. I argue that just because a child’s grades are A’s across the board does not mean they do not have any “educational needs”. And exactly here – we have gone round and round. It has been extremely frustrating.

A very common trait in Autism is “masking” and apparently my children’s needs are being neglected due to their own masking despite my consistent fight for their strife and struggles. A mother knows her children. If a mother is sitting at an IEP meeting desperately fighting for her child and insisting on her child’s need then it would do the child very well if the school would at least consider it whether they “see” it or not. If she is in Momma Bear mode you can rest assured she knows what her child needs. I understand the team sees themselves as the educational experts but the mother is the expert of her child, so if she is roaring, listen.

It seems what the education system is not understanding is, the point, frankly, of the social construct goals of the education system and how a parent of a child with Autism’s’ goals for mainstreaming their child neatly aligns with that; the federal government is on our side of the argument and funds it heavily to par. But, somehow, the schools keep missing this. It is extremely ironic that educators have such a narrow view of the purpose, needs and benefits of education in its whole and what education, in fact, is. It would do the education system well to be mindful of the government’s interest and purpose of education. It is the government’s first and paramount form of societal control. It does not merely prescribe education, it means to conform citizens and mainstream them into society. If our children do not get the support they need to socially connect, communicate, and thrive in our schools then it is less likely they will become contributing members of society. Our children need the support now so they continue to thrive later otherwise you are just shoving them through the chute and passing the buck. Pardon me a moment while I check to ensure I used the phrases appropriately…

Precisely.

We seem to have gotten a bad wrap have we not Momma Bears. The IEP teams treat us like we are overbearing helicopter moms who do not like to see our Autistic children in any discomfort – as though we reinforce their Autism. This makes me ROAR! They fail to see that we knowingly send our children out of their comfort zones on a daily basis. We are striving to get our children through this construct for the same reasons educators preach about education and the government insists on the construct. But, they make it so hard for us to do that they doom our children for failure. My children do not even know what Autism is and the school expects them to overcome it before they have even learned how it is affecting them and how to negotiate it. They do not even know why they are having a hard time. This sink or swim mentality is causing children to give up before they have even entered the race. Especially with Autism, where perfectionism has to be leveled out with encouragement and reframing perspective.

I know without a doubt that I am a full on roaring Momma Bear. The problem is such an epidemic that at ASD diagnosis we should be handed a starter pack complete with an arc therapy chew, a weighted blanket, and the “Momma Bear” shirt with the Autism puzzle piece on it. There is an entire market merchandising these Momma Bear shirts as though we carry the stigma of a roaring parent. They are available on every ASD related site. Some days I proudly wear mine embracing the role as I constantly fight for my kids special needs; other days I am infuriated this is the status quo.

There is no greater stress in my home than the fact that I have to deal with a school which will not listen to help my children thrive even in their tender elementary years (!!!). There is no greater stress in my children than having to go. I have told the school repeatedly they will not back me into the homeschool corner. So many others tell me the school will constantly fail my children and if that is the stress for my children why do I keep sending them, why not homeschool? Do you see the irony there? My kids are uncomfortable with school so I should keep them home? The school is always going to fail them so stop fighting for them? Bingo! I know it is hard but if they never go they will never be able to integrate into society later. If the school does not support them to help them integrate appropriately then they will resign. I am literally telling the school how to make my children contributing productive members of society and I really do not think it is acceptable that they keep failing them and everyone knows this. I must advocate for my children and as long as I am the only voice they have I might as well roar.

What is more is, I believe the government agrees with me. For all of these reasons I believe Autism in and of itself is in fact an automatic educational disability. Education is not just about grades; it is absolutely a social construct. A child may have straight A’s but if they are becoming physically ill to perform to standard then the school is literally making our children sick. If our children cannot connect socially then that information is isolated in their brain and not exchanged with the world. There are so many aspects and issues with Autism. And lest we forget that a common trait with Autism is masking compliance so just because the school does not see their sufferings is not an acceptable answer, especially when it is noted they do not project or emote as a typical child which is exactly what the diagnosis says.

Frankly, Momma Bear will roar and you will know.

Frank Emotions

Once my children were diagnosed with Autism I was introduced to the world of therapies, support groups, and drowning in books to learn about what Autism even is- but more specifically, how it applies to my children. I struggled to find a support group which I found both helpful and comfortable, so, do not be discouraged-it took me about ten “unfollow”‘s before I finally found a good fit. In this time I have heard parents exchange names of doctors, preferred therapists (or fired therapists), and which therapies are best for specific issues their child is experiencing. They also exchange a wealth of methods to try and what did or did not work and why. It took me a while to understand which issues would be addressed at which therapy. There are some particular issues you may address that only a handful of other parents in the global village have experienced further proving how unique our children really are. In the list of overwhelming information of therapies you will read about Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, Speech therapy, Occupational therapy to no end. What interests me is the most seemingly neglected therapy which I have never once seen mentioned, ever, except by yours truly-me- which I will argue here has been the most crucial therapy since my son became verbal-Emotional therapy. We are even adding children to the therapy now. If only we had heard of this even when he was non-verbal (or the rest of them) . If I could reverse time I would have focused on emotional therapy before OT or even dabbling in ABA.

When we are handed the full report of our child’s diagnosis it too lists ABA, OT, ST, Social Skills etc but no where even on that documentation did it recommend emotional therapy and how beneficial and life-changing it can be for your child. Our children are struggling with communication, sensory dysfunction, and behaviors to par which makes it difficult for them to interact, engage, and relate to others. Even their most basic senses are overwhelmed just by living and breathing. All six of their senses-yes, six-are overwhelmed and it is a process to regulate all of this. It is a mission of discovery, assisting and teaching them to self-regulate-hopefully. Your child feels all of the same emotions of any child at a much more extreme level and does not express them or regulate them in typical ways raising the intensity even more. All of these things are like sticks of dynamite lying around waiting to set each other off in a chain reaction. It all effects each other and it will not all work together without the emotional aspect being addressed appropriately; not even ABA which is why ABA has such a traumatizing reaction for many parents and their children on the spectrum.

Emotional therapy can take all of those therapies and tie them together in a spectacular bow. The therapists are trained in being able to connect with the child on an emotional level and build a report with the child-in short – build a relationship! They use play therapy to help the child learn to play, learn through that play, and communicate through that play to really gain a sense of what is happening within your child. They can see what your child is enjoying or when they resign and understand what just happened within your child. The therapist will listen to your family dynamics and needs. The therapist can reach children, figure out what is going on, and help them identify what they are feeling and learn to express it, negotiate it and cope. The therapist helps the child negotiate an abstract world where rules change, social expectations change, schedules change and even moods, drives, motives and desires of people. Faces change and they struggle to even interpret facial expressions and the emotions they are conveying!

For example, our therapist has been helping our son negotiate the confusion of siblings and parents liking to scare each other with Halloween masks and such but the baby is terrified. It is so difficult for him to understand the bad reactions he is getting from scaring the baby or why we keep telling him he cannot scare her. All of this leads to emotional misunderstanding for him. It has been quite a bit for him to navigate. He will have to work through the ambiguity of the emotions of others from person to person and he will not learn this through ANY OTHER THERAPY. This is a tremendous task for all kids on the spectrum for one reason or another. No matter what their constellation of markers in Autism -most or all of them are suffering connecting to others, forming and maintaining healthy relationships. They must have emotional therapy to manage all of their particulars, identify and express what they are feeling and negotiate all of this with others. So, why do I not see ANY other parents talking about emotional therapy for their child?

I received a message from my sons teacher saying he would need “extra steps” today. This phrase basically means he is triggered, overloaded, overwhelmed, melted down etc- and will need our “first responders” methods from the second he gets in car all the way through to bedtime to help him cope with the events of the day and recuperate his senses and emotions. She said he had told a little girl at recess that she was “annoying him” and “go away” and this made the little girl cry. His teacher apparently had a talk with him about this. She was absolutely right, Jude came home an emotional mess. He was very confused but not for the reasons the teacher believed he was. I told her, I am sorry for the little girls feelings but on the brighter side of things he expressed what he was feeling and we are happy for that. Jude is learning BOUNDARIES and we feel he did nothing innately wrong. He identified how he felt, he expressed it and told her to go away from him-just like his therapist had taught him to the day before! He did not hit the child, he did not call her names-he created a boundary and self-advocated – this is good! While the little girls feelings were hurt, my son is not yet equipped to manage her feelings as he is just learning to identify emotions and express his own. There are adults who still do not carry this emotional equipment and so, if my son has come this far from being non-verbal in this little time-we will take it.

He has only been in emotional therapy for six months and this is a hell of a breakthrough. His therapist had done role play with him merely the day before and did an entire recess scenario as to how to deal with kids who do not want to play with him and ran through different scenarios. Precisely these words were used as a way to handle the situation. What this means is he exercised it. It worked. The problem is he did go to school and use his new skill and it blew up in his face when his teacher talked to him about what she felt were not good choices when he had done precisely what he was taught to do. How confusing and frustrating for me, let alone my son with Frank Autism and frank emotions! The issue here is that we now have to go back to therapist and explain to her the confusion of what happened and help him cope with this crushing feeling that he did what he was supposed to and was completely misunderstood again and got bumped down on his ridiculous color chart and was told he made bad choices – choices he was taught to make. I, for one, am PROUD OF HIM and we, as his parents, commended all that was correct. A child with Autism cannot navigate all of this without emotional therapy! This is just one single scenario in a moment of my children’s lives.
So, again, why am I not hearing of more parents of Autistic children accessing emotional therapy?! We had gone to his neurology appointment and we discussed all the life-changing moments that have occurred in the short time he had been in therapy. We proclaimed his therapist is our answered prayer! His neurologist knows we have opted to negotiate Jude’s youth without any medications to not mask anything and simply discover and negotiate. At the end of the appointment she blessed us to continue course as she could see such dramatic improvements and was thrilled to hear about his emotional therapy. I asked her why I am not hearing of any other parents in the community doing this therapy. Her answer was ready, because of the stigma of “counseling”. It is called counseling and the second parents hear that they have all these negative feelings surrounding counseling and why they are there. They feel icky about it. They feel like they are failing somehow if their kid requires counseling. They feel so many things and what they picture when they hear counseling must be their kid sitting on a couch talking and sharing deep dark secrets (even the non-verbal ones) lol. I told her, quit calling it counseling then. Start suggesting “emotional therapy”. Everyone in the Autistic community has grown accustomed to the world of “therapy”.
My sons emotional therapy is happening at the same building as all his other therapies which is wonderful because all of his therapists can communicate about him with each other and it all ties together beautifully. Because all of their issues are connected, so should their therapists be.

Emotional therapy requires NO referral. Any parent can access this and I urge you to take advantage of this even before you finish the whole process. Any child can benefit from emotional therapy. Coping and setting healthy boundaries seem to be a skill not being extended to children. We see how grown adults struggle with boundary issues even on social media and this is confusing even to neurotypical children. For example, while we understand the other little girl at recess had hurt feelings and we acknowledge that, we do not own that and neither can he. We have to teach him self-advocacy and appropriate boundaries to protect himself. We cannot teach the other child coping skills and boundaries but there is emotional therapy for her as well (wink) to cope with her emotions, to be frank-and it does not even require a referral.

My goal here is to hopefully help you by giving you the gift of a different perspective and change the way you think of counseling. In addition to going into secret super private groups and being at your wits end and saying so to people who live no where near you to help you help your child-be proactive and seek emotional/play therapy for your child. The therapist will also help you and encourage you-not judge you. It is not what you think it is. It is play therapy. You can ask for emotional/play therapy and you will arrive at the same hopeful place we have and be frank with your child’s emotions.

Frankly Speaking

If you speak with me in person, you might not believe I am the same person as the one you have read. There is a vast difference in my verbal and written communication abilities. Just because I have the vocabulary and can type my thoughts as quickly as I think them does not mean I can find the words and articulate them enough to verbalize them on demand.

Majoring in Public Relations and Communication in college helped me with many of my communication challenges in respect to learning communication models and analyzing receptive communication. It also helped me to identify ambiguous words and ask for clarity. It also helped me in my attempts to hear patterns in speech and word choices and gain an understanding of how framing can reveal what people actually think and feel in a conversation when I am not correctly interpreting social cues or facial expressions. It helped; but, after class, I was thrilled to put on my headphones before briskly walking across campus with my music on so I did not have to listen to any chatter. I did not remove my headphones until the professor arrived and was ready to begin lecture.

Perhaps the explanation for my Autism going under the radar so long was because I stayed under the radar due to my constant miscommunication issues. It is frustrating even as an adult. I would much rather just send a text or email-and even those are long proving the struggle. But all the above is stated as yet an adult with Autism and further one who still breaks into tears upon the stress of the sheer act of conversation and the pain of miscommunication.

As a mother of children with Autism who were non-verbal until they were almost five and knows they continue to have communication challenges even after speech therapy – I know the pain from both perspectives of parent and child. Here, I would like to share two very different methods in two very different children to begin communicating needs and building speech.

One method you may be familiar with is called PEC books. If you are not familiar with it, PEC is an acronym for “picture exchange communication” books. However, I found a flaw in what we were given thanks to my own Autism and was able to tweak a perfectly effective solution.. When Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital sent me home with their PEC book I could see immediately where it fell short by my own literal thinking-the objects in the pictures my child was meant to point to communicate were drawings and not the literal thing my child wanted or needed to communicate. Drawings are ambiguous.

Thanks to the invention of smart phones I was able to take a picture on the spot of every single person, place and thing my child came into contact with, needed and wanted. And as my Autism goes I grouped these photos into specific categories. I took pictures of our car to indicate leaving and then each store front from the parking lot, I took pictures of each park, church, therapy, and took pictures of the therapist he was seeing. I created a “PLACES” collage with a collage maker application. I then took pictures of HIS cup, HIS favorite foods, snacks and drinks and built him a menu for him to point to exactly which food he wanted individually. I grouped them by breakfast foods, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks etc. With the collage maker application I was able to do this in moments, print, laminate and use a hole puncher to use a key ring to bind. But what was more is after the collages were made they were saved for use on the go, even outside. The key is to literally have picture exchange communication for their own needs. Initially, for them to understand the NEED for functional communication you have to begin with their own desires and respond to them. Take pictures of bath time, bed time, their tooth brush, and their personal toys and games.

For them to appreciate communicating you will have to respond to what they point to. When we started the PEC menu, it was a bit crazy the first week. When we gave him his food we would show him the picture, point to it and say the word. The next day or so he was already pointing to items, so, we responded quickly in delivery as he appreciated the function of communicating his desires. Quickly, he caught on to the function and was thrilled to exercise for the first time his ability to have a demand met-and he had a blast with it. It was liberating for him. We were giving him three or four different items and even handing him things he did not even really want but it was more of a necessary life button he had just learned to push.

If we had not responded he would have lost trust in the only method of two-way communication he had besides screaming while we run through thirty things guessing upsetting him more each time we were incorrect. So, I urge you, do not say no. Get up 100 times and deliver -just fail to add Oreos to the PEC book-surprise treats are great. Always attempt to get them to say the word but make it fun and not forced-the words will come. Pressured speech is also frustrating and I will address that in the next tip. You have to prove function of communication first. Imagine four years of not being able to so much as point to a need. Be sure to take a picture of your home also so when you are out you can point to the picture and say “going home”.

Eventually, you can build your child’s vocabulary with pictures of YOUR couch, tv, potty, table, chairs etc. I cannot emphasize enough the need to clearly explain words “and”, “or” and “but”. Go watch Little School House Rock’s “Conjunction Junction” to understand why these words are so difficult for them to jump thought tracks this way. So much language we use are terms they do not understand. As speech comes in be sure to ask your child if they know what the word you used means. Do not assume.

Another method I have recently discovered is quite sweet to say the least-singing. It is no secret that children learn through songs but this is a whole different level to what measure this is required in our home. My littlest one we noticed at a year old acts out entire scenes from movies but was not talking. She can sing songs and actually has quite a vocabulary of about 25 words and a few phrases. This sounds right on the mark for a typical child but there is a striking, although adorable, difference in her- and if parents are not careful it can go right under the radar.

She only echoes, repeats and sings. She will repeat back those words if we say them in a sing-song manner but she is not using them to communicate for the function of communicating. She can sing her A,B,C’s , Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, and a few other songs, she can count to ten at 28 months old, she can make the sounds of every animal in the Brown Bear Book and her sounds puzzles, but she only speaks through song and sounds. She is a most enchanting darling and I have zero complaints over her adorable ways. But, when it comes to her needs, just as her brothers did she will make sounds and complain “eh, eh, eh” and increase intensity until her overtures are met with response.

I know that she can repeat the sound “ma-ma” and may attempt to insist she say “ma-ma” each time she needs me but she is offended by that. She hates pressured speech. When I was trying to push her to use the word “cup” when she wanted her cup she would become very agitated, offended even, at the exercise. This is when I realized pressured speech was certainly not going to be effective. I had been trying it from the beginning and it had not worked. But, I knew she loves to sing.

Every word my child has in her vocabulary is through singing with me. And now I am only communicating with her through song. I sing, “let’s go take a bath”. I sing every word I want her to repeat. She still does not say “ma-ma” to me or “da-da” to dad, or call any of her brothers by their names. But I did manage to teach her the word of one of her brothers by singing his name. So when she does gain the sense of functional communication she has the words. They still are not really attached to anything beyond the sound of the sing-song tones. But I can reach her through sing-song tones.

In a matter of about two weeks of earnest singing I have successfully managed to teach her to ask for “cup”, “paci”, and “outside”. These are the first three words she has successfully asked for something so the function of communicating needs is hopefully setting in-even if it is only received in song. This would have been a whole lot more enchanting if God had given me a singing voice. The fact that her first sing-song words were “Thank you” is just as delightful. Now we just have to sing all the words of pictures from her PEC book.

The key to communicating with your child is to find a way to reach them. We have a long way to go even with the older children who do have a vocabulary. Communication involves so much more than words. For one child we need constant pictures for visual communication to reach him and for another child we have to sing-song words and this has not even taught her to functionally communicate yet, but it has helped us find a way TO communicate with her-frankly speaking.

Frankly, Fight for Them

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I FEEL stronger and bolder than ever this school year. The shock factor is over – no more tears. I expect the IEP team to refuse my child’s needs and I am ready to fight this. Last year, I cried at every iep meeting and I will say it was mostly due to the shock and awe of going in there with documentation of what my kids needs are and thinking, “How can they argue with this documentation?” They did-plain faced. I watched them deny to my face what we have known about our children for years. It took my breath away. I swore to myself at EVERY IEP meeting I would NOT cry and each time I became melted down from the hours of talking and struggling to understand how this was happening. But not this year. I am ready. Are you?

I am hearing a lot of chatter from special needs community parents who are either “new-to-diagnosis” or just beginning kindergarten and I am prayerfully worried (if those terms should merge) for them and their children because just reading their questions I can see many of them do not know their child’s most basic rights or the laws surrounding their child – and that worries me. I can see now in retrospect how the team played on my ignorance. But here is what I do know, just because a parent may be ignorant to the laws and process does not mean the team is not responsible for following them. I feel a need to assert the importance of the IEP in maybe some perspectives you might not have heard before. The more seasoned parents are so used to the acronym as part of their vocabulary that I worry even many of them have not quite grasped the reality of this document. Do not expect the school system to explain this to you.
If you are not already aware, let me be the first to tell you that it is in the Federal Governments explicitly expressed INTEREST to support your child in the public school system. The Federal Government cares. Supporting children as early as possible can mean a life time of raising up independent contributing members of society versus children with unmet needs becoming dependent on public assistance for the rest of their life. Education is first and foremost the most significantly important social construct we have. Some days it feels it is prized even over family life and that particular punch is felt in compulsory attendance laws to par. The Federal Government cares so much they have Child Find Laws that have obliged educators to actively seek out children with needs and with haste address them. Some states, such as Tennessee, have additional state categories such as Developmental Delay, for IEPs to blanket children in for services and accommodations because they have needs that require attention but they haven’t quite yet pinned the tail on the donkey as to the source of the issue-whether this child has a disability or explanation for what is going on no matter how big or small that may hinder educating them. Many children are not discovered to have a learning disability until they arrive in the learning environments. Child Find laws are proof in point the government cares.
That said, it can be a mind blowing experience when educators battle you every step of the way at IEP meetings until you learn just how serious this IEP is. You are not walking in to negotiate some speech and get a “yes” or “no”. For a moment, I want you to hold your breath on what they will or will not agree to and focus on what the IEP is and hold on to a different perspective; the IEP is a legal document alerting the Federal Government to a full description of your child’s needs and how educators intend to address them with measurable goals tracking progress as to what is and is not helping your child to become educated, independent, contributing members to society. Do you feel the weight of that? The IEP is governmental OVERSIGHT on educators and what THEY are doing to educate this child. It is so important to the government they PROMISE the money to the school to fund these needs in public school to the point of even giving them the money for personal aids and supplying everything your child needs to succeed. So any notion you had that the school was short in budget is an absolute wash. It’s the governments primary concern and funded to match. The government knows educating as early and possible and setting them up for success means less government spending on social programs and support later. It means a higher driven economy of working adults feeding in to the economy.
Years ago, in 2012, I showed up to IEP meetings thinking “IEP” was just random lingo for signing paperwork for my son to take some speech. After signing my husband and I thought they were always so nice and even strangely celebratory afterward. Fast forward to years later, insisting my children had more needs and meeting resistance. So, I found myself begging the question. “Why then? ” It wasn’t until I started digging – fighting for my children’s needs, reading laws, and finally took an advocacy course through Vanderbilt that I learned it is NOT about the money. Money is not the root of all evil-PRIDE is. They don’t want the oversight. The mood of every meeting changed the moment I looked through IEPs of past only to discover they left out every discussion of my child’s Autism. Not a single phrase in that document described how we had known since he was two he had AUTISM and this was fully discussed. They called IEP meetings, gave him some speech and sent me on my way. I began then, going through every single word in those IEPs making sure whatever they did not say in there to fully describe my children and their struggles – were in there and documented. I made sure to write a complete statement to attach to the IEP since they so meticulously left so much out that my statement alerts the government in documentation to who my children are, their particulars, what I FEEL they need, what the doctors STATE they need and my requests. I had to set aside everything the school said and whether they agree or not. And whether they would support my children appropriately I could not control-but what I can do is provide a “basis of knowledge”. I told the government. Needless to say moods have changed. The celebrations of how easy this ignorant parent is have turned into meetings where we aren’t “discussing” and arriving at solutions for my children at all–I show up to their decisions and denials of what every doctor and myself has said my child needs. And in their refusals to appropriately support we have lost a lot of way for my children and they have SUFFERED because of it. When I started paying attention to what the educators were saying and documenting – demanding things be states in the IEP – moods changed.
No matter what your child’s needs are, whether the school agrees or disagrees, or what the decision of support is – make sure that IEP ACCURATELY describes your child. When I read my sons IEP it described a whole different child that contradicted my sons abilities and needs. Make them omit any and every detail that is not completely accurate and express in writing what they haven’t if you feel it should be in there. You do not know which details will be significant later. This IEP is not just for you and the school-this is for the Federal Government to ensure the educators are doing their job of addressing these needs and supporting them in its full interest of raising your child up to become an educated, independent, contributing member of society. The more they do now-the less they do later.
Do not wait until everything feels terribly wrong to start learning your child’s rights. Walk in with the armor. The moment you learn you must attent an IEP meeting read those procedural safeguards, know you are allowed to disagree, you do not have to sign, you may make corrections, you may add statements, you may make omitions, clarify points, state your child’s strengths and weaknesses YOURSELF ALSO, look for inconsistencies, do not sign that day in the moment – take it home and read it over with a pen and a cup of coffee. If you do not know the terms and laws surrounding FAPE and are not well read on IDEA ACT PART B then you should seek an advocate who will help you learn the seriousness of your child’s rights and help you learn to navigate all of this. If you have reached a point where you feel like your child’s needs are not being met seek legal council if anything for peace. A special needs attorney can appear at the meetings to negotiate the IEP and make sure everything is on the straight and narrow before a mess happens. If you know it has been a mess for awhile and something feels wrong – a simple consultation with a special needs attorney may be in order. 
 
You are not negotiating service for cable, you are signing legal documentation that calls the government to their interest in supporting your child – and the team knows it. Shame on me for not knowing my childrens rights sooner, shame on them for knowingly circumnavigating them. 
Frankly, it is okay to cry, be emotional, feel angry or even think they hear the music of the wicked witch of the west when you walk in – this is your child. Learn their rights! 
 
Frankly, fight for them!