Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Results of Inclusion

Recently, Colin's Karate school held an event that they do every so often called "Buddy Week". It's an opportunity for members to bring a friend/family member and participate in class together. When I asked Colin who and if he wanted to bring anyone, he quickly responded with Kelsey, his friend from Kindergarten last year. This was an opportunity for Colin to share something he enjoys and works hard at with a friend of his.

.At one of our most recent IEP meetings, I mentioned one of Chris' and my life plans for Colin which was to grow up to be an active, valued and contributing member of society. This is something I think we all strive for our children and the only way we can hope to achieve this is by raising our children at a very early age to be kind, respectful, loving, hard working, resilient, and inclusive. I said that the only way he can possibly achieve this is by learning alongside, in the same environment as those same peers he will one day be working with. When I brought this up, I was told that "we aren't talking about what happens after high school, we're talking about now". This is a contradiction to the very thing that all schools work hard to do, prepare our kids for the future.

The formation of self contained classrooms many years ago was well intentioned at the time because it was working to provide children with disabilities an education that met their needs for the first time. However, for decades now, research has shown time and time again with valuable data that students with needs like Colin's can make valuable gains by learning in inclusive environments. On the contrary, this also teaches the general population of students respect and acceptance for those who learn differently than them.

Colin has benefited in so many ways from learning in classrooms with his typical peers both academically and socially. He continues to make meaningful progress, especially this  year with educators who truly believe he is capable of making achievements, even if it's at his own pace. The thing is, I'm pretty sure that his peers are also learning from him working with them in the same classroom.  They are learning that kids have differences including the ways they talk, learn and act sometimes.

We are thankful for friends like Kelsey who promote acceptance, inclusion and respect just by being who they are. We wish all adults could learn the things that a lot of kids already know.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Childhood Memories

This past weekend on Good Friday, I went up to visit my parents with the kids because we weren't going to see them on Easter. My mom had some egg dying, an egg hunt, Easter crafts, and we finished the day with a turkey dinner. The kids were really excited to go and had a great time.

Since it was a nice day, we decided to go for a walk down to the lake that I grew up going to up through high school. The town is made up of one large lake and two other smaller lakes that have a variety of beaches around them. Every day throughout the summer, we would pack up and spend the day at the lake. We all took swim lessons every summer through the years and as we got older, we would ride our bikes to the clubhouse for a variety of activities including participating on the swim team. 

When we got down to the lake, I asked the kids if they wanted to throw rocks in the water and make them skip across the lake the way I used to do and so it started off innocently enough.

Despite my warnings to stay out of the water, I started noticing that Kailey was putting her toe in and then start moving it in a little bit further.

When they started to go in further, my first instinct was to tell them to back out but then I thought to myself that I had done this so many times through the years with my siblings growing up. We also used to do it when we would take a day trip down to the ocean and would end up jumping in at various off season times.

Kailey started proclaiming "Mom! You should try this! The water is so warm!"

While I didn't have any interest in going in myself, I got much enjoyment out of watching the two of them run through the water, splash around and hear their laughs as they enjoyed themselves. I mean, what kid doesn't enjoy the water, especially when they really aren't supposed to be going in.

It was one of those moments that brought back so many of my own childhood memories while I enjoyed my own kids making memories of their own...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Long Road Ahead

We had an IEP meeting yesterday to discuss Colin's placement for 1st grade that was technically a continuation from the last meeting. Despite how well this year has gone and how much progress Colin has made they still want to remove him from his current placement where has been so successful this year and place him in a self contained setting. The only reason that we are given as to why this should be the case is because he is not at the same academic level as his peers and according to IDEA, he does not have to be to be learning in his least restrictive environment with his "non disabled peers". I want to know when families like ours will get to stop using valuable resources on fighting for our children's basic right to be learning in a general education classroom, especially when they are making progress and are successful. It's wrong and I'm tired of it. He's 6 years old and we will starting this long road all over again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Colin Earns His Half Orange Belt

When Colin first joined Karate in the fall of 2015, our goal was to find another outlet that he would enjoy but also work on essential skills like direction following, discipline, confidence and respect. When he first started, he was receiving private instruction so that he could learn the basic skills and is where he received his first belt promotion from white to half yellow. Eventually, he was able to progress into the group classes and last July in his first group testing, was promoted to full yellow belt. Since last July, Colin has made progress but had a few little hiccups along the way, particularly when he was transitioning back to school this fall. Instead of being ready to test for his half orange belt sometime in the fall, we ended up needing to give him more time to iron out the hiccups and continue to work on skills needed to test for the next promotion. Colin was ready on Saturday to test for his half orange belt and we had discussed that I would have to wait outside while he was performing his test (parents typically wait outside). However, when the introductions for the test began, he ran out of the room and started to cry and kept saying he was "scared". After talking with me and encouragement from two of his instructors, we finally got him back into the room (and I was allowed to stay during the test). In a display of readiness, he wiped away the tears, turned to me and said "I do it Mom" and ran into his room.

I am so proud to say that in the end, he tested very well and was promoted to half orange belt. There is a little ceremony after the testing where the students receive their next belt and I was surprised to find out that Colin also received an extra honor; a trophy that says "100%" for continuing to work through all of his hiccups and despite the length of time it took him to get where he was going. As tears were streaming down my face, I turned to Colin with a big smile and a thumbs up and he looked at me so confidently and proudly, and with a very serious look on his face that read something like "I got this mom!".

In a follow up email to the test congratulating Colin on his efforts, the owner of the school said this quote, "the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step" and it couldn't be more true for Chris and I and how we see Colin and his progress through life. It doesn't matter how long it takes him to make progress, as long as he keeps moving forward one step at a time, we will always be proud.
Chris and I are also so incredibly thankful to the staff at Paul Prendergast Karate for all they have done for Colin along this journey the past year and a half. They have supported him, made accommodations when necessary, pushed and challenged and are always ready to find ways to help Colin be successful. For that we are so grateful...

Saturday's ceremony will be one of those that will always stand out for me. I am so proud of Colin for continuing to work hard and show us just what he is capable of!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Happy 5th Birthday Kailey!

Kailey turned 5 yesterday but it's been awhile now where she has been seeming so old to me. She has been turning into such a loving, helpful, active, imaginative and creative girl.

She is into anything girly lately and has been especially into her dolls and being a mommy. If you asked her recently what she wanted to be when she grew up she would have told you a mermaid. However, just last week when asked that turned into being a Mommy. She has pretended to be pregnant lately and has really been asking to bring her dolls everywhere we go just so she can "keep an eye on them". She is doing so well in school and is more than ready to start Kindergarten. She keeps asking almost daily how many more days it is until Kindergarten starts just so she can ride the bus and be at Colin's school with him.

She is so patient, loving and helpful with Cody. He bugs her and nags her and tries to take her stuff but most of the time she tolerates it. She comforts him when he gets upset and really tries to take care of him. She is just as loving with Colin but a little less tolerant of his antics at times.

We love what a special little girl we have and are thankful for her every day. We can't wait to see what the next year brings!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Special Olympics NJ Baseball Clinic

Colin recently had an opportunity to participate in a two part clinic with the Princeton University Baseball Team and Special Olympics NJ. Colin was really excited as he LOVES playing baseball so I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out and play. I wasn't really sure what to expect but I was really proud of Colin for how well he did and for how well the clinic was run. 
As a parent, I was so happy to see how well the players worked with the athletes. I thought it was neat in watching them because I could tell they were not sure what to expect in terms of Colin's abilities but then get excited over how into it Colin was and how well he could actually throw and hit. Colin was really comfortable playing with them and on the flipside, I could tell that they were comfortable working with him (and the other athletes as well).

I also have to say that I was proud of myself for trying to stay back and out of the picture and let Colin just do his thing with the guys. I can often be a "hoverer" making sure Colin's understood when he talks, that he's listening and following directions and doing what he's supposed to do in the moment. However, I really forced myself to let Colin be on his own and was so impressed with how well he did and was able to communicate and participate without  needing me to get involved.

It really was a fun experience and I look forward to future opportunities for Colin!

Thank you to the Princeton University Baseball Team and Special Olympics NJ!