Tuesday, July 31, 2007

People Make The Difference

This year will see some significant changes in the life of the Bear. She will be entering Junior Kindergarten in September, and June saw some activity associated with preparation for that event. The same month also saw the Bear reach the top of the waiting list for IBI funding from the provincial government. Either of these events could have gone well or not so well. But fortunately, good people have made a difference.

I'm looking forward to the Bear starting JK in September. The school has been good so far. The Bear and I had a meeting in early June with the principal and ASD coordinator. She didn’t get her own EA (there are two other ASD children and two EAs already - a lot for a small school that only goes up to grade 5), but they had arranged to front-load the other two children with EA-assisted activities in the morning and more inclusive activities in the afternoon, so that one of the EAs should always be available to work with her. I actually quite like this solution, as it reduces the risk that she becomes too dependent on one person. The principal and ASD coordinator also both later indicated - I asked - that responsibility for educating the Bear resided with the teacher, rather than the EAs, who are there to assist. This reduces the risk that the teacher and EAs each think it is the job of the other to educate my daughter. The Bear’s Kindergarten teacher is a former SpecEd teacher, so this too bodes well.

Plus, the school takes a very inclusive approach, where possible. As well as favouring integration in the classroom, when appropriate, they buddy-up special needs children with peers and older children. My neighbour’s children used to attend the school - the youngest one just finished there in June. She had earlier told me about this, saying that she played with one of the other ASD kids at recess, etc. The ASD coordinator was quite clear in describing the buddying-up that in selecting the children they were not looking for ‘little mothers’. Instead, they wanted to help the ASD children to fit in and find support.

After the meeting the ASD coordinator took the Bear and I for a tour of the school. At one point we walked into a Kindergarten class, and stood at the back. The teacher and children were in a circle on the floor, reading and acting out scenes from a book. The Bear took a quick look around, and then walked over and sat down in the circle with the other kids. I knew she was in the right place.

In the week following our visit the ASD coordinator conducted a workshop for the Kindergarten teacher and EAs. Afterwards the teacher called me to introduce herself and asked for permission for her and then the two EAs to visit the Bear at her IBI program, to see what she was doing there and to establish a connection with the IBI school. I thought this was pretty cool (no, actually I was flabbergasted - they actually approached the principal and volunteered to do this). They even sent the IBI program a thank-you card afterward.

The Bear handled her Kindergarten Orientation quite well too, despite it being considerably more lively than the classroom that we had visited earlier. One of the other parents came over during the orientation and noted that the Bear was handling the class and the noise very well. "Um, yes. (pause) Er, do you know that she has autism?" I asked. It turned out that the parent was an OT. Unfortunately, her son will be in the morning session – the Bear will be in the afternoon – so they won't be together until Grade 1. Still, a child with a parent who 'gets it' is not a bad thing. The OT parent also went over and spent some time with the Bear, which was nice. The other parents also seemed okay. A couple of parents said hi in the parking lot afterward, and no one appeared to act 'funny' about having an ASD kid in their child's class. I was (am) a bit worried that some parents might fear that the Bear will be disruptive, or that any negativity on the parents’ part might rub off on their kids, but I didn't perceive any issues.

The ASD coordinator and principal have also continued to try to help out. As well as conducting the workshop, they're trying to get the school bus to pick the Bear up at IBI (which would save me about two hours of traveling each day, going from work to IBI to home/school and back to work). So far they're having no luck with this (officially, the IBI school is "out of area"), but they're still trying, and they volunteered to do this - I didn't ask. They also made the Bear an orientation video welcoming her to the school (which unfortunately is locked up until mid-August, since the school had closed for the summer about half hour before I could pick it up, and the remaining teacher and caretaker could not find it).

Overall, while we (parents) are still a bit nervous, we’re quite looking forward to the start of the school year.

The other big news for us is that we now have IBI funding from the provincial government. That saves us a lot (I mean a lot) of money per year, and also adds some hours to the IBI program each week (now officially 21, vs. 15 before). The Bear will continue with IBI in the morning, attending Kindergarten in the afternoon. Both are supposed to be 'fun' (our IBI is not doctrinaire ABA), so hopefully she'll be able to handle the hours (6+ per day in total, plus traveling time). We'll have to monitor this carefully, but the Bear has a great disposition and actually likes/craves novelty and stimulation, so hopefully she'll be able to handle both.

What was especially nice was that the staff at the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) went out of their way to be helpful. In an earlier post I lamented that funding required either the Direct Service Option (DSO), which was totally funded, but required the Bear had to be available from 9 to 5 every day, i.e. forgoing Kindergarten, or the Direct Funding Option (DFO), in which we received funding at the rate of $36 per hour (now $39) to select our own IBI provider, but the result would be a balance of approximately $20,000 per year that we would still have to pay ourselves. I explained this to the Program Supervisor from the MCYS while we were discussing the options. I indicated that we would probably prefer the DFO option because we wanted the Bear to go to Kindergarten, but that in effect this turned (public) Kindergarten into private school, since we had to pay a significant amount for the privilege of sending her there.

Later the same afternoon I phoned the Program Supervisor back with a couple of questions. She indicated that she and some of the others at the Ministry had been discussing our case, and that they would see what they could do. What they ultimately did was to negotiate changes with the current DSO provider, another local ASD support agency, and our IBI provider to get us both full coverage and the ability to send the Bear to Kindergarten. On their own initiative, without any prompting from me, the people at the MCYS ‘made it happen’, and probably at less cost than that had we selected the original DSO option.

Obviously we have been very lucky with the way that both Kindergarten and funding have worked out so far, and are also very appreciative. In both cases we have been fortunate to have dealt with people who have gone out of their way to help. I’ve read of many difficult encounters that parents of children with ASD have faced with school boards and securing government funding. In two recent examples, Shawn wrote about bullying by school administrators, and Wade Rankin wrote about the issues another family faced with their school district over a communications device. Some of these issues may be bureaucratic in origin, but even in bureaucracies - in the most pejorative sense of that word - people can sometimes find some room for discretion and maneuver, if they really search for it. Sometimes there is also an ability to cause changes to the rules if they cannot.

In our case it is good people who have made the difference.


Frogs' mom said...

Wow! That sounds like a wonderful start to the Bear's formal education. I've not experienced that level of coordination and forethought on the part of a local school district before. It reminded me of Bud’s school as described by MOM-NOS. And Bear joining circle time is a good sign. I bet she will enjoy her school experience.

Continued good fortune to Bear and your family in the coming year!


Ian Parker said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the nice comment and for stopping by. It is nice to hear from you.

In a recent meeting with our IBI provider, they said that this was the best encounter they have ever had with a school. The IBI provider also demonstrated their willingness and support to keep the dialog open with the school, so we're fortunate on both ends.

We're still a bit nervous, but we're optimistic. FWIW, the school bus pick-up at the IBI school has now officially fallen off the list, but I was impressed that they tried (they also suggested a couple of alternatives to consider). While one can't have everything, we're still very fortunate to be dealing with good people on all sides, who appear to be very willing to help make things work out for the best.

Frogs' mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frogs' mom said...

Our local school district has a lot of good people with a lot of good ideas, but they are not very organized and a few of our team members are very set in their ways.

Our busing experience has been comical. At first I refused busing - we live in a small town, the infant and toddler program was a three minute drive from our house, and Frog was only two years old. When he turned 3, the other parents and his new teacher started pressuring me to let him ride the bus. I stuck to my guns for another year, but let him start riding to school last summer when he was 4. The school is about a 5 minute drive from our house, but he got to ride all over town collecting the other kids and seemed to enjoy it.

When the regular school year started, I received notice from the transportation department that they would pick him up at 8:10am at our house and drop him off at 11:40. Every morning Frog, Diva and I would pile into the family van and drive Diva to school for the 8:05 bell (3 minute drive), and then Frog and I would race back-up the hill to meet his bus. When Diva's bell was late to ring, we were late for the bus by a few minutes, but the school complained. One of the Para's suggested that they just meet us at Diva's school. Problem solved - until the Principal at Diva's school complained that the extra bus was getting in their way and could I please have him picked up at the College - 3 minute drive to the East from Diva's school. Frog's school is a 2 minute drive to the West of Diva's school. I suggested I should just start driving him to school again. "That's great" said the district, "We'll have his bus pick him up at his school!" (and drive him all over town until his teacher is ready for him). This was followed up by a school employee telling me how those special ed parents just demand all this special service and waste the district's money when then could do it themselves. I also came to realize that his 8:30 start time was usually not actually starting until 8:50 at a loss of 80 min. of service a week unless the bus ride is considered education.

My plan for next year is to refuse morning busing. We are going to drop Diva off at school and then walk to Frog’s school getting our movement work from Frog’s ENKI homeschool program in along the way. My hope is that the staff will get used to him arriving on time, 8:30, for school, and I will get some exercise too!

Shawn said...

It sounds like the Bear will be off to a good start this year. For all the complaining that we parents do, there's some pretty good things happening in the schools.

Ian Parker said...

Hi Shawn,

I stopped by the school today and finally picked up the video and a specially prepared orientation workbook that came with it (another pleasant surprise). So I would agree that there's some good things happening out there.

Having said that, it is also appreciated - especially by us newbies to the whole school thing - that parents who have more experience write posts to help educate us as to what to watch out for (e.g. your bullying post).

farmwifetwo said...

Here busing is from primary residence only. Which is a HUGE problem for working families.

The little one takes the spec ed bus. The eldest the regular bus.

I'm slowly working my way through your blog :)