Last year Anahí started the year doing Kindergarten at a Montessori charter school here in Cedar City. She was really happy with her class, but she didn’t progress much over the course of her first semester. It was during that time that Betty and I decided that we wanted to give home school a whirl, so after Christmas break we pulled Anahí and Kimball both out of the school and started teaching them at home.
Anahí did much better academically with us at home. She is so easily distracted that it just made sense that she would make better gains if she could have just one person working with her. Her handwriting improved, and she was able to pick up on simple math concepts, but perhaps most of all she was able to really make strides with her reading.
Anahí’s simplistic communication fools a lot of people, but if you spend much time with her you will realize that she is actually very smart. One of her best skills is her ability to memorize. So while phonetics are tricky for her, she can read quite well by memorizing words. We made good progress with her, but when we started Brain Balance, we decided to focus exclusively on strengthening Anahí’s brain by going back to the beginning, working on her core strength, her eyes, her fine and gross motor skills, and on helping her to drop her primitive reflexes.
When this summer ended we had a choice to make. Would we keep Anahí at home and do homeschool work with her? Or would we put her back into a public or charter school and see how she was with her new communication and focus skills? We decided on the latter and so both Kimball and Anahí have been attending Cedar East Elementary — which is much closer to our home and has an excellent dual-immersion Spanish/English program for 1st grade and beyond.
The second question we had to tackle was what grade to put Anahí in. She didn’t do much in kindergarten at her previous school, but she had made good strides with us for a couple of months before starting Brain Balance. Ultimately we decided that it would be best for her to do Kindergarten over again.
It is never easy to make the decision to have one of your children repeat a grade. When we were thinking about it, my mind raced to her turning 16 a year before her friends, or 18. She is already different. Did we want to expose her to something that would make her stand out even more?
I suppose those are legitimate concerns for some people, but the more I thought about them, the more I realized that it was crazy for me to base this decision on anything but what would be best for Anahí right now. We have got to make sure that we get a good foundation in place, and not put her in a real bind today because of what she might go through ten or twelve years from now.
It looks so far like our decision is paying off.
Last week we had parent-teacher conference. The night before Betty and I were both pretty worried about what we might hear. Betty spent the entire first month of school attending with Anahí and basically functioning as her aid. They had placed Anahí at a table with some other kids with special needs, and Anahí’s behavior and academic performance had suffered because ot if. She had started to mirror some of the behavior of one of the kids in her group who struggles particularly with handwriting and speech. We wondered if Anahí’s teacher would maybe be reluctant to place Anahí in a different group where she could model better behavior. Those small concerns quickly turned into larger ones and what began as a discussion concerning what we wanted to talk to the teacher about turned into the both of us seriously contemplating pulling Anahí out of school and homeschooling her again.
It’s crazy how we can let our fears run wild like that.
In the end our cooler heads took control and we decided to go in, explain our concerns, and see what the teacher had to say. We did so, and she was very understanding. She said that it would be no problem to have Anahí change groups, and she even let Betty (who knows the class pretty well by now) choose where to put Anahí. She also said that Anahí is in the highest academic group in the class — despite her struggles with handwriting and her distractability. She is doing great!
So we are feeling pretty good about Anahí’s situation today. She enjoys her class. She talks to us about the kids. She seems to be learning and growing. One of the IEP team worked at Anahí’s previous school last year, and she said that she can hardly believe the change over a period of less than a year. She calls Anahí “a completely different child.” I think she is still the same, just struggling less with some stuff. Her enthusiasm for what we have done with Brain Balance has even made the school more willing to provide help with Anahí’s exercises during school.
So what did I learn from all of this?
Well, first of all I learned that as a parent of a child with autism, it is tricky balancing the needs of the future with the needs of the present. But in the end, I think that you have to deal with the child you have now and not the child you think you might have in ten years. I am very comfortable with that.
I also am becoming more comfortable with the idea of being an advocate for my children. I’ll talk more about this when I discuss Kimball’s situation, but it is awesome to be able to go in, express concerns to a teacher, suggest a solution, and then see that teacher respond positively. I don’t know why I always get so nervous about it. Since Kimball was in kindergarten I have never had a teacher deny a reasonable request. They want what is best for these kids as well, and many times they are at a loss on how to help them. As parents we can do a much better job of getting involved, staying positive, and offering suggestions.
I believe that when we work with teachers like this, we can really see our kids have success.
As always, please feel free to comment on and share this post with your friends and family. We hope our story helps other people working with children and adults with autism. Feel free, as well, to click on the thermometer and donate to help us pay for the Brain Balance program that has done so much for us. Every little bit helps!