Doin’ The Math.

In class, the children were given a “worksheet”.  I don’t understand all that is involved in assessing children to create the appropriate curriculum to teach them all ‘together’.  The more contact I have with teachers, the more I learn it requires expertise.  I’m only an onlooker.  I am looking to increase my son’s chances to develop enough skills through education to make it in the world independently, with a lifetime disability.

I will do whatever I have to, in order to assure he has not just adequate but the best education possible.  This is the best gift I can give him.  I will not be there forever.  An education will last his whole life.

The worksheet was this:

His input looks pretty good but I can see where he was getting distracted on his 4’s and 5’s.  You see the part I set to highlight in the sunshine at the bottom? It’s his favorite:  an equation.  The ABA tutor let me know that Toots read the instruction on his own and wrote the equation without prompting.  The other kids in class, apparently, left it blank. 

Now, Toots loves his equations.  Not for what they stand for necessarily, but, more for their “cuss” value.  He “cusses” equations.  His favorite “cuss” equation lately, is the one above.  I hear it 2 to 3 times a day, on average.

Looking at this paper, it’s impressive. For the instruction on the worksheet, not only did he know the answer but he read and understood the “number sentence”, using a plus sign as instructed.  Proud of his work, his ABA tutor prompted my son to go share it with his new teacher.  He did.  Rather than look at the paper, she absently said, “Good job!  You finished?  Put it in the basket.”

It came home that day.  As you can see, it is unmarked.  Unacknowledged.

How many moments like this will be lost in the sea of 28?  How many day to day teaching opportunities will blend to invisibility?  A teacher can only respond to one person at a time.  If one distracts, the other 27 suffer.  A request to use the bathroom, go to the nurse, spilled paint… all require attention.  The ability to review, individualize the learning experience, is sorely limited.

Praise that should serve to encourage academic growth evaporates into thin air. Accomplishments meet silence.  The excitement and eagerness to learn through the opportunity to share that learning, and be acknowledged, is lost.

355 minutes of school per day.

40 minutes of lunch

15 minutes of recess

5 minutes to settle in and 5 minutes to clean up and finish for the day.

Without other distractions (bathroom breaks), that leaves about 290 minutes of school per day.

28 kids.  That’s 10 .3 minutes per day per student if each student received only individual attention for the entire day.  Realistically, individual attention per student per day will be a minute.  So, how long will it take for this teacher to learn how to teach my son? The child who is different from all the rest.

She may be skilled in reading children’s faces, behaviors, feelings and learn from words and actions.  This will not happen with my child.  He may smile.  She might think it’s because she just read that funny part in the story to the group.  But he will be a million miles away, playing PacMan in his mind.

She may devote 15 minutes to talking about trains and he’s looking intense.  She may read that as deep interest in her topic.  The reality will be that he’s ready to scream, but suppressing because he hates trains, but knows better than to tell her to quit talking.

In fact, there was a message in his worksheet.  He’s cussing.  While she was so busily believing he was quietly ‘blending in’, he was shouting to be heard, screaming that he’s done this writing exercise that he did at the very beginning of kindergarten.  He’s bored.

Yes, it’s just the beginning of the year and I have to give her a chance and some time, I know.   And I will.  I just wonder how much time it will take.  And the effect of the passing of such precious time on my son.  She will leave an imprint on my son’s life as his first educator.  What will that be?

A white paper from the International Center for Leadership in Education, put forth these thoughts on cultivating academic achievement:

“The one-on-one relationship between student and teacher is the critical element that can lead to increased student motivation and higher levels of engagement in academics and school life.” 

“It is primarily the teacher’s responsibility to engage the students, as opposed to the teacher expecting students to come to class naturally and automatically engaged.”

“Each student brings a unique set of characteristics to the classroom:  different background knowledge, a unique learning style, a variety of interests, and varied parental support and expectations. To anticipate that each student will learn in the same way, at the same speed, and using the same material is an unrealistic expectation.

Some teachers fall into the false assumption that the student is responsible when he or she fails to demonstrate adequate achievement. But often it is the lack of personalizing learning that is the source of failure. There are many individual practices and strategies that contribute to overall personalization. As a start, teachers can create a more engaging classroom situation by getting to know their students and using examples during instruction that relate to students’ backgrounds, cultures, and prior experiences.”

When will that “getting to know” take place in such a large setting? Is that even realistic?  How can she personalize if she doesn’t know each child, and where will she find the time to get to know all 28?  When she does know them, the year will be over…

She is already operating under the mistaken assumption that my son is “just like the other kids.”  That statement alone says to me:  she is not paying attention or doesn’t understand high functioning autism;  she highly values “normal”;  in valuing “normal”, she is not comfortable, capable or trained to deal with “other than normal”, prejudice, bullying and acceptance.

At the grocery store, recently, we are in front of a male cashier who is joking and laughing with the woman in front of us.  Then it’s our turn.  As usual, Toots is talking to himself, smiling and walking around the check-out area.  First, the cashier asks him how he is, tries to get his attention.  Toots ignores him.  Next, the cashier makes some funny faces in his direction, nonverbal communication – utter fail.  He turns to me, and says, “Ah well, he’s in his own world.  That’s okay – looks like a great place to be!”  He said it in a kind way.  I’d never seen nor met him before.  He’d never met or seen Toots before but what he said was entirely true and dead-on.  In 60 seconds of observation, he saw my child.  His teacher has observed Toots for a total of 18 hours now but I don’t think she’s seen him at all.

You do the math.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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27 Responses to Doin’ The Math.

  1. You just perfectly described one of my greatest fears and major issues that we deal with in the mainstream school setting as well. Is so true, they don’t see our kids and they truly believe that they are no different.
    I really hope that Toots gets noticed and given the appropriate attention ASAP. He deserves no less.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks so much Fi. It is an important unknown at this point. I’m still grappling with what to do but we will find a way to make him heard for who he is. I just hope the people who need to, will understand.

  2. Oye. Tough one. It’s always going to be a battle I think. As our children move up the grades. Too many students, not enough teachers. It’s said that students who have parents who are active and involved in what’s going on in the classroom get more attention from teachers. If a teacher knows that a parent is watching and observing and will question things, they will spend more time with that kid. I hope it’s true because sometimes that’s all we can do. I say just keep talking/e-mailing/sending notes to the teacher on a regular basis so she knows that you are not missing a thing. I hope as the year progresses, things look up. Give her some time.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks, Deenie. I knew to sign up to help in class! She sees me every day but she is avoiding all parents right now- maybe its a strategy…? I’m giving it time. Hope to be very wrong about my instincts.

  3. Flannery says:

    I think you know how I feel about our public school setup. It’s just not the most conducive way for our children to learn. It’s not individualized, it doesn’t promote a child’s unique learning or their exploration. This is going to be a long, hard road.

    • solodialogue says:

      Your feelings about the public school system were proven true in my very limited experience. The long, hard road is not for me though. An alternate route, and an off-road vehicle are preferable…

  4. Lisa says:

    I just want to give you a hug. This is so stressful!!

    I have to agree with Deenie that if you are active and present, and you show the teacher that you know what’s going on with your child, they tend to give your child more attention. As my mom used to say, “Be the squeaky wheel.” We don’t have to be in-their-face…but we can let them know that we’re vested.I hope that the teacher takes some time to get to know her students. As he’s in school longer, and you get more time to see him in his element, I hope that you see some improvements. I find it odd that she’s avoiding parents. At my boys’ school, the teachers have always been out and mingling with parents in those first few weeks…it eases the nerves of everyone! Especially first grade parents!!

    P.S. Tate was upset yesterday, and he shouted, “1+2=3, MOM!” in a fairly strong tone…I immediately thought of Toots…are they emailing each other?!

    • solodialogue says:

      Haha! Toots and Tate must secretly read our blogs! So cute.

      I went to “back to school” night for parents last night. The teacher actually told us that she thought all our kids were sooo “cute”. Really? That’s all you have? They’re not smart or full of potential, or above average. All she could come up with was “cute”. She seemed awkward, stuck to her written script, talked about buying things that would contribute money to the school and vaguely referenced a “core standards” sheet she put into our materials. She looked for volunteers and had me set up for two separate positions. Despite this attempt to get involved, she seems to stick to talking to two mothers who, I found out during the meeting, are also teachers. She had nothing substantive to really contribute. Don’t worry about me though. I already have news I will share on Friday… 😉

  5. Lizbeth says:

    Ohhhhh Karen, I hate to say it but start your documenting…..I have had teachers flat out deny there was something wrong until he had a bender, hit another child or started to strip naked. All of those garner attention really quickly…..T will show her more about himself, give him time. In the meantime, keep cool, get things going on behind the scenes. Hugs my friend, this is never easy. xxoo

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Lizbeth. That advice is expert advice and I agree with it entirely. Time, however, is a precious commodity in this early years game. “Behind the scenes” is my specialty and that behind the scenes stuff is very busy right now.

  6. Mary says:

    I hope you told the cashier that he’d make a great teacher.

    Freckles used to say equations but I never thought of it as cussing. When she was @1yo though, she could Pebbles Flintstone cuss like a sailor. And roll her eyes. I knew I was in trouble.

    School is always boring at the first of the year because they are reviewing. Freckles was so bored in first grade that I almost had her skip second despite everything else. I did go in and make the teacher move her up for reading. I was glad I didn’t have her skip second though because her second grade teacher was awesome-tastic. Every kid was working on their own level and somehow this woman was able to keep up with all of them.

    The third grade teacher didn’t grade papers either, but I like him for different reasons. He’s fun and that’s ok sometimes, too.

    I’m wondering if your teacher is feeling a little intimidated by you. I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. (In fact, you might want to sit in class one afternoon a week. Unless that bothers Tootles of course.) She may just not be used to having witnesses document everything she does. I can see why that would bother her as a teacher, especially with you being a lawyer. And her so close to that pension. I wonder if that’s why she wanted to get his tutors (or whatever they’re called?) out of the room. ?

    • solodialogue says:

      I didn’t tell the cashier, but I certainly thought it!

      At 1, Freckles was cussing like that?! That must have been so cute then! (It can be cute at that age!)

      Yes, I understand the boring part and the assessing all the kids part but I learned last night that she does plan to really start anything of substance with the kids until September 10th! They’ve been there since August 22nd! Every paper that’s come home is unmarked, not reviewed.

      I don’t think she a bit intimidated by me as she chose to put me down as a room parent and as an Art Docent -teaching the children an art project every month, as well as helping in class every Tuesday! And it’s not her that wants to rid us of the tutors – it’s the district personnel in charge who hold the pocketbook to fund the tutors in school. They don’t want to pay to accommodate my son’s disability.

      This trek into public school has really opened my eyes. I’m saddened to say – not for the better. This placement is just not appropriate for my son so far. We don’t need babysitters – we need an education. I haven’t seen any signs of that yet. But don’t worry. Meaningful education is on its way for my son – and soon.

  7. Allie says:

    I think you’ve probably figured out enough about me from my blog to know how I would feel in this situation. After all, we are choosing the homeschool path and everything you mentioned is at the top of the list of why we chose that path. I want my child to be recognized as an individual and I want the person who is educating her to know how to best reach her and to know her personally. You can’t get that in a class with 28 kids. I’m not saying homeschool is the way to go, but think about all the options for T. A big NT class may not be the best fit for him or for you. If you want to talk more about the school stuff, I’ve got a listening ear!

    • solodialogue says:

      You are a smart woman, Allie and I’ve been thinking about how you are handling SH almost every day. I think most parents want exactly what you say – their child to be recognized as the individual he/she is and use that information to best reach the child for education. You can say all day long that you have a lot of experience teaching large groups of children like this – (and she did say that at back to school night – “I’ve always had large groups like this”) but that doesn’t mean you’ve given that child an appropriate or fair education. It certainly does not mean you’re an experienced autism educator in any way. Toots does need the NTs for social skills but how could that possibly be facilitated by her with 27 other children to educate? She’s not even getting down to educating until September 10th! I appreciate your ear and I almost bent it but suddenly a “wormhole” opened today and I see our way now… I’ll tell you on Friday. 🙂

  8. Kristine says:

    I think a mainstream teacher thinks that what we’d want to hear. That comformity occurred. She wants to see him like everyone else cause that is the goal in her mind, to be like everyone else. To be treated like everyone else. She is supposed to treat them all the same and see them all the same. I also think their main goal is to reassure at the start of the school year.

    • I think Kristine brings up a good point. When I was a teacher, I tried to avoid singling out any students. Sure, I knew to adapt instruction to “meet needs,” but I cringe to think about how often I actually didn’t meet every students’ needs.
      I hope that things get better.

      • solodialogue says:

        Thank you! Every teacher is different and each brings strengths and weaknesses just as in any profession. For me, there is a balancing that must take place between what she can provide and what she cannot. One side is much heavier than the other and I can only wait so long before that scale tips over entirely. Today, I got lucky and things have changed. I will talk about it Friday! 🙂

      • I look forward to reading your post on Friday!

    • solodialogue says:

      Kristine, that you for leaving a comment! I appreciate and value all opinions! You’ve got it exactly that she thinks I want to hear that he conformed and in that way – she thinks she is reassuring me. In fact, she’s done just the opposite. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against her or the school. I was actually looking forward to being in our district and enjoyed the tour of the school. The reality just did not match the hype and you could teach him in a dim shack if the educator had the right numbers of children, the right tools and understood the individuals involved…

  9. Sarah says:

    I recently came across your blog! I am a mother of a middle school son who has ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s. I am about to have a stroke worrying about him going into a middle school of 950 kids. I am also an elementary teacher. The start of the year is hard. I always welcome parent input. YOU are your child’s first, best, and forever teacher. I am with him for a year. I look to the parents to help me learn about their children – to see the whole child. From there I have to see each child and try to meet their needs. With larger class sizes it is harder each year. The beginning of the year curriculum is much review of the year before. I try to move that along quickly. That is my “teacher” side of things. From my “parent” hat I say TRUST your instincts. I am a bit nervous at what you have shared. If you are feeling this way now, is there another room with a different teacher he could be moved to? I have learned that we parents need to advocate for what is best for our children. He sounds as though he really needs an advanced curriculum and someone who is comfortable delivering it. He needs someone who isn’t trying to get him to “fit in” but rather to differentiate his education – both academically and social/emotionally.

    You will do what is best. Give the time you feel is needed….but really, seriously, TRUST your gut. Good luck!

    • solodialogue says:

      What a very informative comment! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! The only other first grade class of which I am aware, is equally full. Now that you mention it there is a third class but I am unaware of its location or the teacher’s name. All three classes though, are equally full.

      Just listening to me you understand me so well! His education needs to be different to accommodate his needs both academically and socially. This setting is not a fit. The luck has come into play today! I will talk about it on Friday.

  10. You know how I feel about this too… Little Miss is taking half days at the autism school specifically because of this reason.

    I think you’re right to keep this on your front burner. Give it a quarter — or maybe even a semester and go in for those parent-teacher conferences. If you haven’t changed that gut feeling by then, I’d say it’s time for a change.

    • solodialogue says:

      Ooh, my Karla! You give it a lot longer than me! The autism school you have sounds wonderful. There is nothing like that around here. I did get a referral to an autism school but it has like 14 students and some are adults! This is just so not the right place either. After “back to school” night, I’m convinced this is not a good fit. So we are forging ahead, a different direction… and I’m quite happy about that today. 🙂 (You’ll see on Friday!)

  11. You’ve already received so much great advice from others who have already commented. I know that you will do the best for your son. I agree with you that it is wise to give it some time. It is still just the first of the year and the teacher could be feeling a little overwhelmed herself, no matter how many years experience she has.

  12. angelina258 says:

    I don’t know what school setting your son is in or what services he receives, but from my experience as a school shadow for several autistic children in a dozen different schools over the course of 6 years…there remains a constant theme: Mainstream teachers do not understand autism….at all. They don’t realize when something is a shining accomplishment for a special needs child, because it may be expected or common for other students. They don’t understand how to modify things in way the special needs child might understand (breaking down the steps, rewording the question, providing a visual, etc). And they don’t know how to interact in a way that helps with the student’s other deficits (pushing for eye contact, waiting for the child to respond rather than quickly moving on, encouraging peers to play with him, giving him a schedule or token board, etc). BUT!! Having a 1:1 shadow with him will give him the opportunity to get acknowledgement and reinforcement for his accomplishments, and can help him with all the other areas he may need help in. That’s been my experience anyways. Teachers are not trained on how to include special needs children into their classrooms.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks for your perspective, Angelina. My experience is more limited but much more positive than this post would have you believe. My son had an absolutely wonderful year in kindergarten in a neurotypical classroom with a one-on-one ABA trained tutor as his shadow. The teachers did not understand autism well but my son, as they put it, educated them as they educated my son. It was a beautiful symbiotic relationship that raised awareness for the whole class. He was one of 12 students (11 at the end of the year) with two teachers, in a private school which made all the difference. The students were wonderful.

      First grade has been huge difference compared to that idyllic setting. One that is not fair or appropriate and is about to change…

  13. oh….as a past teacher and mother of a child with special needs….boy to I ever relate to this. For me it was emails……on time out….trouble getting along…..doesn’t listen.
    what about all the huge progress, the positives??? I’m glad I read your posts backwards, and know your son is in a better place now. But these posts and your experiences will help others. You are such a gifted writer. 🙂 Anyone ever told you that you might be on the spectrum…hehehe Hugs and tea from your favorite place! 🙂

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