Thursday, September 25, 2008

A letter to Classified Camas Public School Employees

Microsoft Word - <span class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_0">FACTSA</span>~1.DOC

Dear Camas Classified Public School Employees,

I have seen your signs all over town. I get a lump in my throat each time I see them. Yes, classified work has value. Yes, classified workers care about our kids. You are not paid what you are worth, and I don’t buy the district’s argument that your pay is less than Evergreen or Vancouver school district because Camas is smaller than these districts. I am in solidarity with you, except for the “yet”….and the “yet” is about those seniority rights….

You see, my nine-year old son with autism is what the district calls a High Needs student. The para-educators (we call them “paras”) who work with high needs children like him gain valuable on-the-job training from the teachers they are assigned to. I have seen a number of you with great skills and a knack for getting our children to learn. I have seen class rooms where the paras and the teacher get into a great groove together.

Yet, each spring there is this mystical “bidding” meeting to determine the next year assignments for classified employees. From what I understand, this process is based solely on seniority. At this meeting, para-professionals choose their assignments for the following year. The position they are now in may or may not still be open for next year when their turn comes.

So, let us say that “Miss Betty” works great with Teacher Smith in the high needs elementary school class room. Teacher Smith has provided her with specialized training regarding communication tools, positive behavior strategies, learning techniques and so on. The two of them mesh and make each other more effective at teaching children and managing the class room. This makes for a smooth running class room where students learn and parents are happy. What’s not to love??

Yet, under current rules, “Miss Betty” will not be able to work with Teacher Smith the next year if she is “out bid” by another para-professional with more years of seniority, even if that para has worked for ten years as a play ground monitor but has never stepped foot in a special education class room (let alone one for high needs children.)

And this benefits who? Union members, I just don’t understand. The district has recognized this problem and is proposing a change to this system, which I will present here in their own words:

The second proposed seniority modification relates to Class III High Needs Para-educators and Class III Professional-Technical positions. These positions are usually highly specialized or student specific. Many of the positions involve high needs students. As such, they require particular training and/or skills. The district is proposing that these positions be awarded initially by the interview/qualifications process. However, once a person is assigned one of these specialized positions, he or she would have seniority rights for a similar position in the future. For example, if a high-needs para position with more hours opened, and a current paraprofessional in a similar position was interested, the open job would be awarded based on seniority.

Yes, I am union sympathizer and no, I of course do not want a strike. But I am also a parent of a special needs child and do not want union rules to directly interfere with the quality of my child’s education – which I have seen happen.

I am also a woman who supports the professionalization of women employees– and let’s be honest; almost all of the special ed paras in Camas are women. I honestly can’t understand why some of you would oppose a modification that recognizes and respects your special education skills and expertise? Maybe your union fears that this would open the door to a further crumbling of seniority rules?

Good luck to all of you in your contract negotiations. You can never be paid what you are really worth, but please consider accepting the school district’s proposed seniority modification regarding high needs para-educators.


A Special Ed Mom

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Resources for Building Friendships

My recent post on loneliness and belonging hit a nerve with readers so I'm following up with a few resources for building friendships.

Model Me Kids is a web site with DVDS that model social skills, such as Model Me Friendship This DVDis designed for upper elementary and older children with Aspergers or other autism spectrum disorders. We've gotten a few of these for Sayer and he's enjoyed them [that said, he tends to watch a video over and over and then he is "all done"].

The Model Me Kids web site now has a Social Network for parents, teachers and friend to share experiences about children with autism spectrum disorders. There are on-line conversations on topics such as "Is it Bullying?" " Adolescence/Puberty and autism" and "How do you teach your children to handle rejection?" I haven't sign up for the network; I'm nearing Internet/e-mail overload but I'd love to hear from another mom who has signed up. Let us know what you think.

Playtime with Zeebu is another friendship/social skills resource designed for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, nonverbal learning disorders and developmental delays. This social and emotional skills building video was created by a local mom and dad, Kim and David Gallo. This music-filled video uses thought bubbles as a way to help children see that their friends have thoughts and feelings, and includes a Zeebu character puppet. The web site features sample video clips and a user guide.

Are there other friendship and social skills resources that readers would like to share?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Only the Lonely

Listen here to a moving commentary by a National Public Radio listener, Jennifer Hendrick, about how she deals with other parent's reactions to the behavior of her son on the autism spectrum.

Jennifer talks poignantly about something we don't hear about in IEP meetings - the impact of loneliness in the lives of people with disabilities and those who care for them. Professionals who work with our families don't always talk about loneliness either, or the importance of relationships for our kids.

David Pitonyak is one exception, he believes our children are often lonely and that it is very important that we build their relationships with family members and community members - that we have people in their lives who are NOT just paid caregivers or teachers. I encourage you to read a few of his articles on the importance of belonging.

Sayer loves to hear a list of people who love him in his life. We do this while he is lying under his weighted blanket while I squeeze him in the mornings, to help calm him down before school. I squeeze him while singing "So and so loves Sayer, so and so loves Sayer" as in "Mom loves Sayer, Dad loves Sayer, Jacob loves Sayer." I continue on to name relatives, friends friend's parents, teachers, and so on. If I forget any he reminds me, and he looks right at me and is so engaged during the whole list. I can tell it means so much for him to know there are many people in the world who love him.

What role does loneliness play in your family? Do you think that society isolates us and our children? How have you built relationships?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

See my heels? I AM a working mother

This year, we have decided to try enrolling Sayer in after school care run by our school district, rather than private care givers. One important reason for this is that the husband is working from home more than he did last year. I work from home, too, writing grants among other things. So, its helpful to not have Sayer underfoot during our "working" hours.

Nervous are we putting Sayer into a care situation without a "one-one-one." The first two days "Miss Heather" was there to get him used to schedules, create visuals, give the staff some tips. While Sayer was there I worked on a grant deadline from the comfort of my home office. I didn't wear pajamas - I've never been able to work in those - but I did dress, let's say, casually.

But, when it came time to pick up Sayer I felt compelled to change into a skirt, to demonstrate that I am a BUSY WORKING MOTHER, not a slouch passing off her special needs kid. And I spruced up the next day, too. I have felt a need to say, "I am VERY BUSY WORKING ON A DEADLINE (which is true!) so need this child care, thank you very much.

Now, would I be doing this is Sayer didn't have autism? I have looked at the other parents picking up their kids; yes, some are in suits but others hardly look like they were enmeshed in corporate America. Maybe they have jobs that are informal, or also work at home. Or maybe playing mah jong - it's their prerogative.

Deep inside I know it isn't any one's business what I do when my child is in child care, as long as I pay my bill and he fits in reasonably well. But that other part of me feels a need to justify my actions. Does anyone else feel they have to "prove" they are worthy of services and treatment that others without "special" kids do not? Is it part of the 'ole "mommy wars" thing? Do you think that being a stay-at-home mom is more "virtuous" when you have a child who has disabilities??

Sayer doesn't go to child care on Wednesdays, but he will on Thursday. That day I actually DO have a meeting in Portland. When I get home, I won't change into a shorts and t-shirt; I plan to wait until after I get Sayer. I know I can't keep this up - for one thing I'll run out of clothes. Any ideas to help me "snap out of it"?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy 50th Brithday to "P"

HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY "P" - A wonderful woman, mother, wife, advocate

A mutual friend told me that today is the 50th birthday of "P" a regular reader and comment-maker here. "P" - have a great day! Read about celebrity folks turning 50 in 2008 and you can see you are in good company. And here are yet some more famous turning 50-ites. This list include the bassist for R.E.M and Grandmaster Flash. ROCK ON!!!

Does anyone have any words of advice or encouragement for "P"? If so, send them along.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Praise be to the goddess of school

At approximately 8:13, a miracle occurred. The school bus came - early! - to pick up Sayer for his first day of school. He had his back pack at the ready with his new Dark Knight lunch box (yes, he chose it; no, he hasn't seen the movie.)

After a disastrous open house, the details of which I'll spare all, Sayer is ready and excited to be going back at school. Sadly, he keeps asking for "Miss W", a para-professional (teaching assistant) that I know won't be in his room this year. I didn't know he felt so strongly about her until he started asking for her as school approached. Oh wait - kids with autism don't form bonds - NOT!!

Out in the blogosphere, school has already started for kids in other parts of the country. Read about how blogger Brilliant Spectrum Child is dealing with the dreaded Picture Day. Barb over at Awalkabout's weblog is struggling to find social opportunities for her "Apsie" son who just started middle school - she could use some ideas. And the bloggers at Mid-Century Modern Moms have a number of back-to-school posts, including those on getting "typical" high school and college students going on their school year.

So, how are you spending the first day of school (which is actually tomorrow for some)? Are you doing the happy dance? Me, I'm taking care of a bit of business and then watching my TiVo episode of either Swingtown or Mad Men or - gasp - both!!!