Tag Archives: School Stream

The T-Word: A Scary Word For Autism Parents

13 Apr

This morning heralded the beginning of a new phase in my life as a special needs parent. We met for the first time with George’s transition planning team to sign the paperwork that kicks off the process of transitioning him to full-time school.

Any parent of a child with autism will tell you the same thing: that the word “transition” is one of the scariest words in the English language.

“Transition” means that the routines that pretty much hold the world together for a child with autism are about to be turned upside down and inside out.

“Transition” means that there are likely to be meltdowns, that for a period of time my child’s anxiety will be mirrored in his eyes in a way that will make me want to weep, and that the entire family will be without sleep as George makes the adjustment to his new reality.

Despite the fact that this is a process that makes me fraught with anxiety, it is a positive thing. When he started IBI therapy two and a half years ago, George did not have a lot of skills. He had virtually no vocabulary, no self-help skills, he couldn’t follow directions, he couldn’t interact, his emotional regulation skills were nowhere, and he had all kinds of fears that made his life very difficult. There was always a spark in him, though; a light in his eyes that made people sit up and take notice.

After two years of full-time therapy, the progress in this child was off the charts. It would be a stretch to describe him as fully verbal, but he was making requests using full sentences, he was starting to interact in a limited way, he was no longer afraid of the dark, he was starting to verbally express emotion, he was able to follow instructions with multiple steps, and in a giant cognitive leap, he had started to display his quirky sense of humour (deliberately being funny for the purpose of making other people laugh is huge. HUGE!)

And so, six months ago, the decision was made to cut his therapy in half and graduate him to the next program up. Instead of traditional IBI therapy, which is intensive one-on-one programming, he is now in a School Stream program, which is conducted in groups of five. It is a simulated classroom environment, designed to help children with autism learn the kinds of skills needed in school. There is  teacher who leads school-type activities, and each child has his or her individual support person to help with prompting and reinforcing.  The children in this program attend School Stream for half of the day, and actual school for the other half.

It has proven to be a very effective program for George. It has helped improve his social communication and interaction skills – areas that remain difficult for him, that traditional IBI therapy is not designed to address.

And now, effective from September of this year, George is being deemed fit for full-time school. This is a testament to the progress he has made, both in IBI and in School Stream. His teacher at school, who has had him half-days for the last six months, is excited to take him on full-time, and he will be with her for at least two years. At our last meeting with her, she had glowing things to say about George. He still struggles intensely with social communication, and he is not nearly verbal enough to hold his own in a conversation, but academically he is flying. He has developed the skills to function, and function reasonably well, in a classroom setting, even if it is a modified classroom designed for children like George.

That George is ready for this transition is a positive thing indeed. It is something that makes me so proud of him. He has had to work so incredibly hard to get to this point.

But still.

The process of transition is not going to be easy, which is why the planning starts six months before the transition takes place, and does not end until six months after the transition has happened. This morning’s meeting with the transition planning team was the first of what will be many. From what we’ve been able to tell, there will be good supports in place for George and for us over the next year, in order to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

I cannot help being anxious about it, though. George’s departure from the therapy centre will mean the removal of a layer of support that we have had for the last three years, and although George might be ready for it, I don’t know if I am.

I might just have a harder time with this transition than George will…

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/misskprimary/1038145678)

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Letting Go Of The Training Wheels

10 Jan

In September, my son George will be making the transition to full-time school.  For two years, he was going to school one day a week (he is in the “mild intellectual disability” program at the public school), and for the other four days he was going to the therapy centre to undergo IBI.  For those not familiar with the term, IBI stands for Intensive Behavioural Intervention.  It is intense, one-on-one therapy based on prompting and rewards.  It can be used to teach social skills, daily living skills, routine, pattern recognition, and many other things.

Under IBI, George’s progress was off the charts.  He did so well in the first year alone that he made 23 months’ worth of gains in a twelve-month period.  The second year saw similar improvements, and the tiny spark of hope that had been present in me and my fiance bloomed into this kaleidoscope of possibility.  George can be held up as a shining example of what many kids can achieve in IBI.

After two years, though, it was time to move him to a new level.  The one area where George was not making significant improvements was in his social interaction skills, and IBI, by its nature, does not address this deficit very well.  IBI is one-on-one, and George needed to be in a placement that would involve group interaction.  He was also having trouble following school routines.

He was placed in his current program, which is called School Stream.  He spends every morning at the same therapy centre where he received IBI, in a simulated classroom setting with four other kids.  There is a teacher, and each kid also has his own one-on-one support person. The kids do school-type activities, like raising their hand to answer questions, participating in circle time, taking turns, and playing interactively in the gym.  At lunchtime, the school bus picks the kids up and takes them to their respective schools, where they spend each afternoon.

It’s a great program.  The School Stream in the morning and actual school in the afternoon are complimentary programs that reinforce each other and allow for a crucial element: the transferrence of skills to different settings.  We are seeing George progress in different ways.  His teacher at school has reported that he is now following school routines with very little problem, and everyone involved with him is seeing a big increase in speech.

The kid’s probably never going to be big conversationalist, but he is at least functionally verbal, and for George that is a step that is big gigantic equivalent to man walking on the moon.  Academically, he is performing so well that his teacher is now describing him as high-functioning.

There are still challenges, and there probably always will be.  George has a resistance to change that is problematic. Picture extreme tearful anxiety when a lightbulb burns out or when the coffee machine is three inches to the left of where it should be.  There are various meltdowns and anxieties that do not make sense (to us; they probably make perfect sense to George).  We would still like to see him talking more, interacting more, coping with sibling rivalry in a way that does not involve him headbutting his little brother.

But as hard as the challenges can be, they are overshadowed by all of the phenomenal accomplishments that we have seen in George, thanks first to IBI, and then to School Stream.

George will be exiting School Stream in August, and from September, he will be spending all of his school time in actual school, and our three-year involvement with the therapy centre will end.

This is causing me a great deal of anxiety.

It’s not that I think George is not ready.  It’s that think I’m not ready.

The therapy centre represents an avenue of support that has been a part of my life for three years.  I have had many, many conversations with the therapists and supervisors there, and they have given me so many great ideas and strategies for dealing with various things.  They have arranged parent education evenings that have given me valuable information and new ways of looking at things.  And to be fair, they don’t just discharge their kids and then forget about them.  They do have a support program that lasts for six months after the transition to full-time school.

But still.  This change, while being necessary and timely, represents a letting go of support.  It’s like finding yourself without training wheels when you still feel unsteady on the bike.

And this Mama just ain’t ready for that.