Don't Miss The Boat
Navigating through the autism spectrum takes one or two captains at the wheel of the boat and a few key team players to help make sure that the boat is in good condition and moving ahead through the calm and soaring seas. I like to refer to this group of good people as: the “A Team.” The most important people on the team are the parent/s – the captains, and they select the proper teammates to help guide our little explorer Jake, to reach his destination while being well equipped. This team aside from its captains, includes teachers, the ABA team comprised of a BCBA (board certified behavior analyst) and an ABA tutor (ABA is applied behavioral analysis, the most common therapy that facilitates learning for individuals living with autism), speech and occupational therapists and equine therapy (horse assisted therapy) teammates. As we change locations for military assignments every few years, the team members do change, but the mission is still the same: teaching survival skills for academic and social settings, with the motive of becoming an independent, fully functional individual in society who will be able to have a meaningful and fulfilling life. As all teams need a cheering section of loyal fans, this one has the support of family, friends and an autism specific support group for the team captains. The team captains alternate when necessary, but their job never ever stops. Getting the right key players on board would make the difference in the type of learning and progress that goes on throughout the journey at hand and the team captains are in charge of making sure that the boat is always steering in the right direction.
Appealing To The Senses
|A screen displays a candle for a calming affect|
A glimpse through one of the boat's windows has left me reflective of this morning's events. I visited Jake’s classroom today for a Thanksgiving lunch. Even though it wasn't the easiest mornings because Jake thought that he was coming back home with me, I look back feeling thankful. Jake’s teacher took us to the Sensory Room, where the kids spend time during various points in their day. I took some photos of the room and could easily see how the kids would enjoy spending time in there, and how the room would have a calming effect. The various stations that were set up left me feeling appreciative that the kids get to be somewhere that was so thoughtfully cared for by some of our teammates. Stations were set up with tubs of clear plastic balls and glowing rubbery spaghetti strings in different sizes. The photos here don't do the room justice, but you can form an impression from them anyway.
Getting With the Program
Jake goes to a public school kindergarten program that has an autism and speech pathology class combined as well as integration to the general education Kindergarten class. On his IEP (individual education plan) we selected a certain percentage of integration to the general ed. Kindergarten, and this is different for every child that enrolls in the program, depending on their needs. We decided to start low and overtime amp up the percentage, as Jake builds skills to tolerate being with his neuro-typically developed peers and learn in a typical classroom environment. We want to make sure that he gets all the one-on-one teaching and assistance that he needs right now, so as he becomes more adapt to the classroom, he will be in the regular class room more. Research has shown that the quicker a child integrates into the general ed, the more adapted he/she will be at adjusting to society and blending in.
This is his first year at the program and we have seen some wonderful progress in just the few months that he’s attended. He gets bussed to the school and is there from about 7:30am-3:30pm. This is a very structured program that is so wonderful for kids that live with autism, and Jake really thrives on a tightly structured day. His teacher and classroom aids work with him through a picture schedule, so that Jake can see what he’s expected to do at the moment as well as what is coming up next. One of the biggest challenges for kids living with autism is transitions, and this is one of the things that help the most for alleviating anxiety about what is coming up next. Since autistic kids are super visual learners, the picture schedule enables them to process the various stations of their day in a more tangible way. Jake has also worked early on with a picture schedule while at his PPCD (public school program for children with disabilities) in San Antonio, since the age of 3. We also used something similar at home in order to work on transitions in his day. We no longer need to use this type of schedule at home, but it was helpful when we first started out on our path through the autism spectrum.
2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back
Typical of Jake’s progress, it’s usually 2 steps forward and 1 step back. We rejoice in the small successes, and the steps back can be a bit of a roller coaster, but since this is the “norm” we’ve sort of gotten adjusted to it. It is hard to not get upset when it’s step back time and this can also be frustrating sometimes on the other members of our team, but we all know that this isn’t a sprint – it’s a lifelong marathon and a lifelong condition so really, learning doesn’t ever stop. We mostly just try to keep in mind that even when he takes a step back, it’s still a part of the learning – you fall down and get up again and try it some more. As long as he keeps making progress, that is really the most important thing, and we are there to support him through it all. Sometimes it may take a bit of luck to run across teammates that are willing to go the extra mile, but I believe in karma, and putting good energy out there, and with it, that energy returns back to us – sometimes even more then we had anticipated. So I give thanks to all the teammates on our “A Team” because without you, we may be lost at sea. Thanks for coming on board and happy Thanksgiving!
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