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January Goals: Laying The Foundation

9 Jan

launchpadSo, now that I have started 2012 off with a week of inspiration from guest bloggers, it is time for me to solidify my own goals for this year. In short, this year is going to be about me. That does not mean that I will ignore my children, refuse to cook dinner for my family, and let everyone go around in dirty clothes. It simply means that I will do a better job of taking care of myself.

Since becoming a mother, I have put the needs of my family first. Which is fine – the truth is that ultimately, everything I do is for my kids. The problem is that I have been taking care of everyone else at the expense of myself. This has led to me being overwhelmed, exhausted, and in many instances, frustrated and unhappy. In a way, I have allowed the essence of me to get lost, to be buried underneath all of the layers of responsibility that I have imposed upon myself.

And so, this year, I am going to find some balance. I am going to pursue some dreams that have been in the horizon of my mind for some time. I believe that being more balanced, less tired, and more in tune with myself will benefit everyone around me.

In 2012, I am aiming to make great strides in my running. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra Kennedy, I am going to break 2:10:00 in my Run for Autism in October. I am going to make inroads in the world of writing. And come hell or high water, I am going to develop a positive relationship with food that allows me to build good nutritional habits. The old pattern of alternating binge eating with starving myself is going to come to an end. Sometimes I’m thin, sometimes I’m fat, sometimes I’m in between. I’m tired of the yo-yo, and it makes clothes shopping impossible.

My focus in January will be to lay the groundwork for success. This is my plan:

  • I will realign my sleeping habits to go to bed earlier, so I can wake up early in the mornings to run without feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. When I start my training program on January 30th, I will be used to getting up at five in the morning. My body will have already made that adjustment.
  • I will learn how to do the strength training exercises that Phaedra gave me, so I can incorporate them in my training program right off the bat.
  • I have ordered my Precision Nutrition kit (thanks, Phaedra, for the tip). When it arrives, I will not just dive into it like an overexcited puppy. I will take the time to look over it properly, learn how to use it, and plan appropriately.
  • I will contact a web designer about revamping my site to incorporate both my blog and a general writing component. That will make it easier for me to market myself as a freelance writer.
  • Since I already have a day job, I will start to use my commutes for writing. That’s exactly why Santa brought me this nifty little ’puter that I am writing this post on.

By the end of this month, I will have built myself a launch pad, and I will be able to spend the rest of the year in pursuit of my goals.

Hop on, it’s going to be a wild ride!

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10 IEP Survival Tips For Parents Of Children With Autism

25 Oct

If you want an autism parent to break out in an instant sweat, just mention the initials IEP. The Individual Education Plan, which is theoretically in place to help children with autism and their families, can instead be one of the biggest sources of frustration. The IEP process, during which the child’s educational goals for the upcoming year are formulated, is about as much fun as a root canal. It is also just as essential. Without an IEP, our special needs kids would be eaten alive by a school system designed to teach “typical” kids who can do “typical” things.

Putting together an effective IEP requires collaboration between the parents and the school, and differing viewpoints can lead to difficulty. The school views the child as one of a number of students requiring IEP’s. They want to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as they can: the less interaction they have to have with parents, the better. From my experience, teachers like to draw up the IEP, send it home for parental signatures, and be done with it.  Parents, of course, view their child as a unique individual. They want their child’s IEP to be given care and consideration. They don’t want a cookie-cutter IEP; they want a plan that reflects their child’s needs. After all, the “I” in IEP stands for “Individual”.

It doesn’t have to this frustrating. There are things parents can do to derive real value from the IEP process. Today I want to share with you some tips that I have learned over the years, both from my own experiences, and from other people who have been through the IEP wringer. If you have tips of your own, please feel free to add them in the comments section.

  1. Parents, educate yourselves. Find out the special ed laws in your area. Make sure you know what you as a parent are entitled to request on behalf of your child. Do research on the IEP process. If possible, try to get your hands on the IEP form if you haven’t already seen it. If you know what information the form calls for, you can be better prepared.
  2. This is not a battle – or at least, it shouldn’t be. No matter how frustrated you are, avoid approaching your child’s teacher in a confrontational manner. You are not on opposite sides of the table. You are members of the same team, working together for the benefit of your child. If you adopt a collaborative attitude, chances are that the teacher will do the same. At the end of the day, your child will derive a lot more benefit from a cohesive team than from a roomful of bickering people.
  3. There is another reason to play nice with your child’s teacher. The special ed community is fairly contained. There is a good possibility that the professional you are dealing with today will crop up in some other role in the special ed world at some point in the future. I’m not suggesting that you give in to what the teacher wants. I’m just saying, be nice. Treat all of the professionals you encounter with respect. Yelling at an uncooperative teacher may get you some short-term results, but it will also burn a bridge that you may need further down the line.
  4. Be realistic. Your child’s goals should be formulated with reference to where they are today. A child who has not yet learned how to count to twenty is probably not going to be able to add triple-digit numbers.
  5. Instead of requesting goals in absolute terms (“I want my child to be reading by the end of the year”), phrase them as an ongoing process (“The ability to read one- and two-syllable words, with a view to reading simple story-books.”)
  6. Remember that kids don’t necessarily do the same things at school that they do at home. My son’s teacher, who is with him for the third year in a row, sent home an IEP draft that included the goal for him to rote-count to 100. I was initially perplexed, because he’s been counting to 100 since he was four, but it came out that this is not a skill he has demonstrated at school. Conversely, he has shown more promise in interactive play at school than he does at home.
  7. Don’t be shy about writing comments on your child’s IEP. The IEP form does not allow a lot of space for comments – feel free to break out a separate sheet of paper, write your comments on that, and staple it to the form.
  8. As a parent, you have the option to meet with the teacher, or to just add your comments to the IEP and sign it. I strongly recommend that you meet with the teacher. Even if it’s the same teacher for the second or third year, the goals will have evolved, and it can be very difficult to keep things in context without a face-to-face meeting.
  9. If the IEP does not include a goal that you feel should be there, be persistent. You may need to compromise on the wording of the goal, but make sure it gets written into the IEP in some form.
  10. Remember that the IEP is not cast in concrete. We don’t have crystal balls, and we cannot always say that the plan we come up with in October will still be valid in, say, February. If a strategy or goal that was written into the IEP is not working, talk to your child’s teacher about modifying it.

Is Finishing The Race A Good Enough Goal?

26 Sep

When I came back to running two and a half years ago, I came back from a zero-level of physical fitness. For several years my body had been completely devoted to growing babies and then nursing them. My mind had been devoted to trying to survive post-partum depression, the loss of my father, and my son’s autism diagnosis. With everything that I had going on, physical fitness just wasn’t on my list of priorities.

Therefore, when I started running again, speed was not an issue for me. My only goal was to simply get out there and complete whatever distance I was aiming for. Standing at the start line of my first half-marathon for autism, I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a speed demon. I did not aim for any particular time. I just wanted to finish the race; I did not care how long it would take me.

Since that first half-marathon, I have run 12 more races. My approach to each of them has been the same: stumble across the finish line in whatever time I can manage. I have looked at my races not so much as competitive events, but as training runs with added zing.

Two weeks ago, though, I came to within a minute of my 10K PB (personal best) at the Energizer Night Race. This was a race run at night, on narrow park trails, with this weird headlight thing on my head. Most amazing of all, I actually had energy to spare when I crossed the finish line.

That race was a turning point for me in two ways. The first was that it made me re-evaluate the role of music in my runs. The second was that it made me ask the question: if I can put in a performance like that without really trying, what will I able to accomplish if I push myself beyond what I am used to?

I have been a somewhat complacent runner, being happy with just finishing the race. I still advocate that approach very strongly for beginner runners. But I am not really a beginner anymore. Perhaps it is time for me to start pushing the boundaries a little.

Tomorrow: read about how a change in race strategy this weekend worked out for me.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tdd/3524924669. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)