The Daughter Chronicles

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mia's schooling takes a turn

About a month ago, Mia's teacher informed me that she would not be teaching Mia next school year. Due to murky circumstances that have still not been completely explained but no doubt have a great deal to do with funding, Mia's OI (Orthotically Impaired) class is going to be merged with the class next door, which is an MD (Moderately Disabled - I think) class, and as Mia's teacher does not have seniority, she'd being transferred. It's all very frustrating, especially as her teacher was one of the few in the district who had a lot of experience with TBI kids like Mia. We still haven't gotten a letter from the school district explaining all of this, which is quite annoying.

I mentioned this problem when I wrote about her IEP meeting, because we discussed where Mia should go next year. Her teacher and therapists were unanimous in thinking that the MD class probably wasn't the best place for her, because most of the kids are even lower-functioning than she is, so she'd have no role models to give her an idea of what she can do. I set up an appointment with the school district to check out a couple of schools with programs that were similar to Mia's. The first place I went was unacceptable. It wasn't a horrible school, but it wasn't really right for Mia. The actual room was too small and crowded, and I was worried that she wouldn't be able to move around very much. The class had about 10 kids in it, with one teacher and two aides, which isn't a bad ratio, but it was still a bit much for the size of the room. The kids also seemed a bit too high-functioning for her. I want her to be in a class with kids who function better than she does so she has a role model, but not too far ahead of her so that she can't even try to catch up. I wasn't extremely impressed with the teachers, either.

I liked the second school more. The classroom was much bigger, and the school had a more diverse population of special needs kids, so I felt the teachers were more equipped to deal with someone like Mia. The teacher-student ratio was about the same, but the kids weren't as high-functioning as the other school, although they were better off than she is (none of them were in a wheelchair, for instance). The therapists are all on-campus, too, unlike the first school, where she would have to be transported to an OT. It was a nicer school, too, just in general.

We decided to send her to the second school, although we still have some concerns. I told the Area Director of Special Ed. that Mia needs an aide pretty much constantly, and that's not up for debate. She said they were doing everything they could to make sure she has one, but that's really not good enough, so we'll see what happens with that. I'm still very disappointed that the district busted up her class, but I suppose we'll have to deal with it. Her new school is fine as far as we can tell, but we'll have to see it in action, of course, as visiting for a few minutes doesn't give you a good idea about it. We have other options, but we'll wait to see how the new school works out.

It's always hard dealing with change in Mia's life, because she becomes so comfortable with her routine and it helps her get better at things. Now she had to learn a new school and new teachers and new students, and I hope that she does it quickly, or at least more quickly than she did two years ago, when she went from pre-school to kindergarten. That was a difficult transition, but she finally seemed to have gotten into a nice routine that has now been upset. It's frustrating, but that's why she's a tough girl!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Performance week!

It's the end of the school year (at least here in Arizona), so it's time for performances! Mia and her class were practicing a cute little play for a while, and Norah finished a semester at Little Gym, so she put on a dance recital. We were there with both digital camera and video camera, so sit down and gaze on the cuteness!

First, Mia's play. On 13 May (yes, it's been a while, but I've actually been busy, for reasons that don't belong in this post but will be the subject of the next post), we went to see Mia in her play. Her school PT read from the book There Was a Coyote Who Swallowed a Flea and each kid was one of the things he swallowed or the coyote himself. The PT would read "There was a ..." and the kid who was the coyote would say "Coyote!" and then the PT would say "... who swallowed a ..." and the kid who was the flea would say "Flea!" and so on. They made cut-outs of the various things they were supposed to be, laminated them, and stapled them to sticks, which they would hold up when it was their turn.

It was, of course, very cute and wildly chaotic. Anyone who's seen a performance by kids, especially young ones, know that things tend to veer into chaos, and if you add the fact that all of these kids are special needs kids, you get the picture. Mia, as usual, said her line (she was a chili pepper, so she said "Chili!") very quietly. She enjoyed waving her chili around when she wasn't putting it in her mouth (she still does this too often, but not as much as she used to). The kid next to her had a giant cactus on his wheelchair, and she thought that was awesome, so she get bothering it. Then, when her teacher went away to bring out another kid, she kept missing her cue. That was fine, though - it was a fun thing for the kids to do, and it was nice seeing them all work (sort of) together. We also met a few parents, which is always nice too. Occasionally, especially with a kid like Mia, you think you're alone in the universe. It's good to meet people who are going through similar situations.

Here are some more pictures of Mia at her play, plus a video. The video is a bit long (over 3 minutes), but there's a lot of Mia, so of course it's totally worth checking out! (It reads "Norah dancing" because I put it all in the same folder, but it's Mia's play, trust me!)

Then, on 18 May, Norah's semester at Little Gym ended. She was taking the dance class this time around, because we thought she'd enjoy it a lot, and she did. A few of the kids really didn't like going in and dancing, and I couldn't figure out why their mothers kept forcing them to. One mother said early in the semester that she had danced when she was younger, so maybe that was it, but her daughter had no interest in the class. She would whine every single week, and her mom never threatened to take her home in an effort to get her to behave. On only one occasion, Norah was in a bit of a bad mood, and when she whined about going in, I simply told her very quietly that we were going home. I didn't make a big deal about it, I just said that if she was going to be a pain, she could do it at home. She immediately calmed down and went in and did fine. I do a lot of things wrong as a dad, I'm sure, but I don't get parents who try to coax their kids do things they don't want to. If this girl was just being whiny, call her bluff and take her home (or threaten to, at least). And if she really didn't want to dance (she would often come out of the class even after going in), why force her? Oh well.

Norah was interesting in the class, too. She would often not participate, just watch. She seems to do that a lot - she doesn't want to do anything unless she's sure she can, so she just watched. She's done it in Little Gym before, when she was doing only gymnastics. The dance class would always begin with tap dancing, and Norah often sat that part out. She might get up and do a few steps, but she often didn't join in at all. She wasn't being bad and she didn't look like she was upset, so I didn't care too much, it was just odd. The next part of the class was in ballet slippers, and she was much more into that. I think it was more "girly" and therefore she liked it more. But I could be wrong.

On show day, I forgot to bring Norah's swim suit for the first routine, which was a tap dance to "Splish, Splash." Yes, I'm often forgetful. She was wearing a leotard for the second routine, so we just let her wear that without the pretty dress she was wearing for the ballet dance. I felt bad, but she didn't mind. They did each routine twice, which was good. The first time, Norah simply sat there and watched the other kids dance. We encouraged her to get up, but she wasn't interested. Then they did it the second time, and she jumped up and did it. Again, I think she wanted to check the situation out before committing to dancing. She did the routine very well, so she had picked it up. For some reason, she wanted to wait until she was completely sure she could do it. Then, for the ballet dance, she jumped right in. Again, I think she liked the ballet more than the tap, so she was more keen to learn. Finally, all the kids did a brief solo. Norah did a fantastic job. They finished the class with a brief gymnastics routine, which Norah has been doing for a while (she started at Little Gym in August of 2007, so she's been in this situation before).

Norah, of course, had a bit of a meltdown when Krys tried to go back to work, but during the routine, she was great. We asked her if she wants to stay in the dance class, and she was pretty keen on it, so she's starting a new "semester" (the summer term is shorter than those during the year) on 8 June. I'm sure she'll have a good time. As above, here are some more pictures, plus a few videos showing her performance. The tape we were using ran out of room, so I couldn't get her ballet performance on video, but I did get her solo dance. Enjoy!

Mia is done with school and Norah is done with pre-school, and now they get a few weeks off before summer school/camp for Mia starts and Norah goes back to pre-school, which has pseudo-summer camps for the kids. It's always tough figuring out what to do with the kids (especially Mia) in the summer, so I'm glad the schools have things to do!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Random photos of Norah

Yeah, another week without updating. I actually have some things to write about, but Mia's lack of eating is driving me so crazy I have no desire to relive it just at this moment. Let's look at some photos of Norah instead!

First, here's what happens when one of her stuffed animals pisses her off. Oh, it's not pretty!

(This is not staged at all. I walked into her bedroom and found the poor guy like this. She wasn't even in the room.)

Every once in a while, Norah climbs inside the laundry basket and pretends she's in a boat. Yes, it's adorable.

Here she is licking the beaters after Krys made some Easter candy. That used to be my job. Now I'm sad.

All of this activity wears her right out!

(Okay, this is a completely different day from the others. Still, it forms a nice narrative!)

Soon enough I will explain how Mia is still trying to vex us by not eating. But for now, enjoy the cute (yet evil) younger daughter!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mia's IEP meeting

I've been meaning to post about Mia's latest IEP (Individualized Education Program for the uninitiated) meeting for a few days, but it kept slipping my mind. Hers was this past Tuesday, when we all get together to discuss her school progress and set goals for the next year.

Everything went swimmingly, as everyone involved gets along and the teachers aren't antagonistic toward us and we're not angry with them. Each person goes over her goals and whether she reached them or not and what they think is realistic for the next year. This year, naturally, her physical skills have regressed a bit, thanks to her hip surgery. She's been out of commission since January, basically, and even though she's recently been doing more PT, she's still way behind where she was. But even there, she's doing better - she stands more willingly each time she tries it, which is nice. We doubt that she will be really ready to stand and walk until July, when her doctor removes the metal plates in her legs. The plates are really uncomfortable, from what we can tell, so we don't think she's going to be ready to do much before then.

Her speech therapist and her teachers are very happy with her progress in that area, however. She's saying a lot more spontaneous things, like complimenting her fellow students when they accomplish something (the extent of it is "Good job, _____!" but it's still spontaneous and not modeling on someone else) and she's putting more and more words together. They're working on rudimentary addition skills and getting her to recognize the difference between "more" and "less." She's doing a fine job in the regular class - she had a bit of a behavior problem last year, mostly because she was so excited she would disturb the class, but this year she's much better and she talks to a lot of the other kids, who of course adore her. She's moving up next year to first grade, which should be nice.

The only real problem that came out of the meeting was where she would be next year. Her teacher called me a few weeks ago to tell me that because of the budget problems in the state, they were getting rid of her specific special needs class. At the school, there are two different classes. Mia's class has five kids in it, and one is graduating to junior high next year. In the other class, there are eight kids, and three of them are leaving. Her teacher doesn't have seniority, so she has to be reassigned, and the current plan is for Mia and her class to be blended with the other one. No one thinks this is a good plan. The kids next door are, for the most part, more severely disabled than Mia and her classmates are. They are largely non-verbal, for instance. Mia has made so much progress this year because her classmates are very verbal, so it forces her to talk more. We all fear that if she's in a class where everyone has communication devices and she doesn't hear a lot of speech from kids her own age, she will regress. There's also the problem with the number of kids. They anticipate that the class will have at least ten and possibly eleven kids in it. It's not a very big room, and they need aides for the kids, so I'm sure it will become obvious very soon that they need to ... split the classes, like they are now. Sheesh. The state is having a lot of financial problems, of course, but one of the first places they always cut is special needs funding, both in education and in therapy. Hey, those crippled kids can't speak for themselves, right, and they don't contribute anything to society, so why shouldn't we cut all they get? We have expressed our displeasure with this probable arrangement to the head of special education, and soon I'm going to visit a couple of other programs that might be better suited for her. It's very annoying - her current teacher is very knowledgeable about traumatic brain injuries, and it would be nice for Mia to have some continuity in her education, mainly because it takes her so long to get used to something. By the time she's learned the names of her teachers and aides, it's almost the end of the school year. When she changes teachers every year, it's tough.

The actual IEP was fine. We set goals for next year and discussed where she was heading with her education and therapy. We'll have to find out where she'll be next year. Unfortunately, that's one thing that's not settled.