Endings and Beginnings

Friday

Today was Baguette’s last day at the school she’s gone to for the past year and a half (almost). We fought hard to get her into that school, and in the end we succeeded. She spent last year in TK, and overall we were happy.

Pros: The special ed teacher was amazing. She really cared about Baguette–and all her kids–and went the extra mile (and then some) for them. The kids were welcoming to Baguette, and didn’t mind when she screamed, and kept reaching out to her even when she didn’t seem to respond. The parents were friendly and supportive and made sure that Baguette was invited to birthday parties. The office staff was delighted by her, and repeatedly told us how much progress they saw her making. The principal always said hi to her, and made sure she was included in the morale events he sponsored, and told us how much change he was seeing in her.

Cons: The TK teacher didn’t want Baguette in her class. It was obvious, and if we could tell, Baguette surely could. Seriously, I don’t think this teacher said a single positive thing about Baguette all year.

At the end of the year, they tried to get us to move her to a special day class in another school, instead of staying in the mainstream classroom. The original plan had been to give her two years, so we insisted on staying for kindergarten.

This year is kindergarten.

Pros: A new classroom teacher, and several of the children from her TK class.

Cons: A new special ed program and a new special ed teacher, neither of them a good fit. A new principal (she could be fine–I don’t know her–but it is change). A classroom teacher who didn’t seem resentful, but who didn’t connect with Baguette either.

The real problem was that Baguette wasn’t fully participating in the class, and wasn’t demonstrating mastery of the curriculum. I need to point out that I think the key word is demonstrating. Baguette is constantly learning, but she knows when she’s being tested, and she does not cooperate. It’s a challenge. But it doesn’t mean she isn’t learning what you’re teaching her.

The thing is, it was clear that the staffing changes at the school meant the school had changed. The parents and kids and office staff were still great, but the teachers and the assistant principal (who runs the IEP process) are going by the book, and their book doesn’t include Baguette.

You know who knows that? Baguette. She didn’t take to the new teachers. And like a lot of us, she performs better when she knows you want her around.

So we agreed to move her, and move her now, because hopefully there’s enough of the year left for her to adjust to a new classroom. If we like it, and she does well, we can keep her there next year. And if we don’t, we may be able to find another school for her. We’ll spend the spring looking at how to do that, so that we know what our options may be and how to make the most of them.

We’re sad about leaving that community, and we don’t really want to take this step–but since we’re taking it, we hope it will be a good one for Baguette.

Monday

Change

Remember when I talked about how routine is important, but disrupting the routine is, too?

No?

That’s okay. Here’s a link. But you don’t necessarily need to read that, because I’ve got more examples from this weekend.

  • Mr. Sandwich read one of her “Touchy Feely” books using the adjective written on the page, but not the one Baguette prefers. She didn’t get upset, and she didn’t repeat the original phrase. Instead she corrected him, saying, “They are prickly.”
  • We were in the car, and she started to get a little fussy. She asked for her book (she has a sequence in which she reads the Touchy-Feely books, which are firmly in rotation. I asked, “Do you want Mommy to read That’s Not My Dragon?” And she answered, “I want Baguette That’s Not My Dragon.”
  • She’s been playing with the apps for The Monster at the End of This Book and Another Monster at the End of this Book. On Saturday she made up her own chant based on phrases from the apps: “Grover is furry, Grover is furry, YOU! Elmo is cute, Elmo is cute, YOU!”
  • As usual, we went to the zoo. Elephants are her favorite animal, and the demonstration enclosure is always one of our first stops at the L.A. Zoo. But the male elephant sometimes trumpets loudly and scares her. Yesterday the females were doing the demonstration, and she sat on my lap. Almost immediately, she said, “Time to say bye-bye elephants.” I said, “Are you sure? Don’t you want to watch them eat carrots?” She looked at me and said, “I want to go see giraffes please.”
  • When we reached the carousel, toward the end of our visit, I asked if she wanted to ride on one of the animals (she never does–we only ride on the bench seat). She answered with “I want to ride peacock, please.”
  • Last night, she handed Mr. Sandwich one of her stuffed animals and unilaterally changed one of her common Baguette-focused phrases (“I want Daddy take elephant”) to a straightforward instruction: “Daddy, take elephant.”
  • “Frozen” is also back in rotation, and she’s memorized even more of the dialogue. She’s also tailoring it to her own preferences, as in last night’s pronouncement: “It was an accident. She was scared. She didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean any of this. Tonight was my fault–I should be the one to go after her. Bring me my elephant.”

She’s been in school for three days. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always felt good. But it is good.

Little girl with a big stack of books

Lifelong Learning

Baguette has a significant language delay. We do a lot of interpretation.

NighYouRah

She works so hard at communicating. I’m so impressed with her, and how diligent and persistent she is with any number of tasks. These are traits that are going to serve her well no matter what she chooses to do with her life.

These traits are invaluable with ABA. She makes no secret of the moments when she is bored, or frustrated. There are plenty of times when she resists completing a task or participating in an activity (to the point of banshee screams). But there are so many other times when she will Just. Keep. Trying.

She does this with speech, and I want to encourage her. So I try really hard not to tell her that she’s saying something incorrectly. Instead, I say things like this:

    “Mommy doesn’t know that one yet.”

    “Mommy still has to learn that.”

    “Maybe you and I can figure that out together.”

Because I want to let her know that communication is a two-way street, and the burden isn’t entirely hers. I want to let her know that I’m still learning, too. I want to show her that adults also struggle. I want to let her know that it’s possible to share tasks and work together.

Ultimately, I want to help her make herself understood to others. But first, I have to show her that I understand her. I have to show her that I’m going to work hard with her. I have to show her that I think hearing her, listening to her are worthwhile, even if it’s not immediately easy for me.

Oh, and Nigh You Ra? She requested it for days. I asked her ABA providers and her teacher and Bestie’s mom and a co-worker with a daughter slightly younger than Baguette. And then (as you can see above) I turned to Twitter–and I was not surprised at all when the answer came from Cloud, with an assist from one of her daughters:

Back to School

Baguette is four. Today she started her second year in a 3-year-old room at her day care.

In fact, she’s been in a 3-year-old room for close to 18 months already, because she moved into that group just before her third birthday. So why are we keeping her there?

Because it’s the best solution for her, although we didn’t arrive at that in a straightforward way. If it weren’t for a screwup on my part, she’d be in pre-K today. But that wouldn’t be the best solution. It was a fortuitous screwup.

Baguette’s day care has a re-enrollment system. Each year, in the spring, you pay a fee and file some forms to indicate that your child will be coming back in the fall. (My friends with children in similar centers find this surprising, but it’s how Baguette’s center does it. And, yes, I do think it’s weird considering that we paid a deposit up front when we first enrolled her four years ago, to cover her last month, but that’s how the center does it. Fine.)

The director sent out the re-enrollment information, and I submitted the form and paid the fee. Later, she sent out a reminder, and I thought, “Should I confirm that I submitted everything? No, I know that I did.”

Except I was wrong. I hadn’t sent them in. We learned this in June, when the director emailed me to ask if Baguette would be coming back in the fall, because there was no re-enrollment form for her. Oh, and all of the pre-K classes were filled, but we could be first on the waiting list.

Cue discussion of how we’ve been there for four years; how we’d paid for a year of Friday pizza at the school fundraiser in the spring, and maybe that indicated an interest; and how the policy really makes no sense to begin with; and so forth.

Also, cue panic. I sent off inquiries to a number of other day care centers, one of which we later toured. Mr. Sandwich and I each sent emails to the director to get clarification on our options. Finally–maybe a day later, but it felt longer–the three of us had a conference call.

The director offered us a solution: One of the existing 3-year-old classes was very large, and was being split into two. While pre-K did not have any open spots, one of the new 3-year-old classes had room. Baguette already knows the teacher, who gets her and who she loves. The class, while still for a 3-year-old bracket, is a little more academic than the developmental class she’s been in for the past year and a half. So she’ll get new experiences and challenges, but in a more comfortable and familiar environment.

Pre-K would not be as good a fit for her this year. The thing that stands out for me is that the children are required to sit still at a table and work in workbooks for 30 minutes at a time. And each week, they have homework.

I don’t think 4-year-olds should do that, period. That’s not how they learn, and that’s not how they should be taught. But I really don’t want to ask that of Baguette. She loves to learn new things, and she has an amazing memory. She’s much better at listening and following instructions than she used to be. She should not be asked to sit still for that long so that she can complete worksheets.

I also don’t think that they should be doing homework. At this age, they should be learning through play, and they should also just be playing. In Baguette’s case, she gets 10 hours of ABA at home each week–on top of the 15 hours per week she’s getting in the classroom. That’s enough homework. She’s doing enough.

If I’d turned in that re-enrollment form when I meant to, she’d be in a pre-K classroom right now. And that would be wrong for her.

I want my girl to be confident, to be capable, and to have the skills she’ll need to succeed in whatever way she chooses. She doesn’t need to be doing worksheets and homework this year in order to accomplish that.

Next fall, she’ll be 5. She’ll be old enough for kindergarten. Will we have her go into pre-K instead? I don’t know. We’ll figure that out over the next year. And we’ll decide based on what seems best for her at that point. I have the feeling that this is going to be a big year for her. Without worksheets.

Performance Anxiety

I’ve always been conflicted about children and performances. Growing up, I performed in piano and ballet recitals, and was in the occasional play. The stage wasn’t my natural habitat, but I never had any real qualms.

But when I was in junior high, I went to see my friend’s sister perform in her dance recital. She did just fine–but there was a class of tiny girls who went on stage with teddy bears, and one of them should not have been there. This girl just stared out into the darkened theater and sobbed, and none of the teachers went to help her.

Ever since, I’ve had misgivings about the idea of very small children performing on stage. Enter Baguette.

December 2010: Baguette’s first school Holiday Performance

Her class was all infants, and they were propped up in bench seats. Baguette was mesmerized by the stage lights and had no idea there was an audience, so that went well.

By the way, if there is anything more ridiculous than putting infants who can’t stand on a stage and calling it a performance, I don’t know what it is. (Although Bestie stole the show that year, I do have to admit.)

May 2011: Baguette’s first school Spring Performance

Each class sang and danced a little to a song. The infants got wheeled around in a cart and looked bewildered. It was fine.

December 2011: Baguette’s second school Holiday Performance

She was starting to get a cold, and couldn’t spot us in the audience. One of her teachers kept her from actually sobbing, but we could see the tears.

May 2012: Baguette’s second school Spring Performance

She had just moved to a new classroom and didn’t know the song. She knew she didn’t know it and she couldn’t spot us in the crowd, so she started crying quietly.

December 2012: Baguette’s third school Holiday Performance

I took her backstage to drop her off with her class, and she started sobbing and screaming. I left her, in the hope that she would settle down when she realized she was with her teachers (who she didn’t much like) and friends. After a few minutes, I asked the school director to check on Baguette. A minute later, she was back, holding Baguette and saying, “She’s not 100%.” We watched most of the show from the audience and then went outside and ran around in the patio.

May 2013: Baguette’s third school Spring Performance

Mr. Sandwich picked her up early and brought her home.

December 2013: Baguette’s fourth school Holiday Performance

We checked with her teacher (who she adores), who shook her head and said, “I think it’s going to be too loud for her.” We stayed home.

May 2014: Baguette’s fourth school Spring Performance

Again, we checked with her teacher, saying, “We don’t want her to feel left out, but we don’t want to put her in a situation that makes her unhappy.” The teacher said, “You know what? I think she’s going to like it this time. She’s really into practicing the song. She sings it all the time.”

So with trepidation, we showed up at school and hid. Because we know from past experience that if she sees us, she’s going to come to us. And what did we see? A girl who knew all the moves and nearly all the words, who followed her teacher’s lead, and who was beaming as she performed with her class.

little girl on stage with class

She would not have done that a year ago, or two years ago, and we know that because she didn’t. But she’s learned so many skills in the past six months, and she’s become so confident. This is huge.

This is huge.

Don’t Panic, It’s Just Autism

So as I’ve discussed, Baguette has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We’ve been trying to navigate the process of working with the local school district, insurance, and a psychological agency to get her the services that she needs.

This is taking much longer than I think it should.

Part of this is because we are overwhelmed by it. There is always more paperwork–we still haven’t finished the intake form for the regional center. There are so many different service providers. And there is insurance.

The agency did an evaluation in September. We had all hoped that they would be able to start treatment this month. But the insurance authorization just came through this week. Thanks, insurance.

And in case that isn’t enough fun, keep in mind that we will have to change insurance companies in January, because our employer is going to stop offering our current plan. (This is not an Affordable Care Act thing. This is the routine “we’ll no longer offer that plan” thing. It’s irritating, no matter why it’s happening.) Will we have to go through authorization again? I suspect so. Will Baguette’s care be interrupted? I freaking hope not.

Authorization also means that we will be changing the kind of support we’ve been providing in Baguette’s classroom. For most of the past year, she’s had a “shadow” who gives her help in the classroom for part of the day. This is not covered by insurance. But when we start Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABA), there shouldn’t be a need for the shadow. Which will mean that we will be spending less on this–although we will still have co-pays for ABA–but also means that we will have to tell someone who’s been doing exactly what we asked her to that her services are no longer needed.

All of us, including the shadow, knew that this day would come, and indeed that it was a goal. That doesn’t make it easier.

And it looks like part of the ABA will take place at preschool, and part will take place at our home, on a mix of evenings and the weekend. So I’ll need to figure out how to modify my work schedule, which offers a variety of challenges as well. I am particularly anxious about this.

It’s a lot. And it’s not going to be easy. But the idea is that it will help Baguette, and that makes it worthwhile.

I just think “worthwhile” should come with less paperwork.