You did it! This week you finished yet another successful year as an Oakview Owl, closing the chapter on first-grade! Yay!
If there was one word I could use to describe this amazing year it would be “Yes!”
OK, so that may need some explanation.
I've said it before and I’ll say it again. Teachers, but for the sake of our experience, specifically special education teachers (who are more like multitasking ninjas) don’t get nearly enough credit for the love, time, sweat, tears and endless amounts of paperwork that go into making each child achieve their education goals. Your IEP (Individualized Education Plan) alone could be considered a chapter book! And that’s just yours! Multiply that by the number of students in your class, and it’s as if your teacher has written an entire bestselling series in one year! Yikes!
We have been blessed each year with the best of the best when it comes to teachers (I mean that wholeheartedly) and once again you have made amazing strides not only academically but developmentally as well. You see Ad there’s no specific milestone chart for autism - it’s a trial and error for what, and a wait and see if when something “works.”
When it comes to educational goals, neurotypical children generally learn through their environment with exploration, creative play, modeling, and interaction. Most autistic children such as yourself may lack skills it takes for such activities and actually have very little interest in learning this way.
Using the typical teaching methods can lead to a heavy dose of frustration or using certain behaviors to avoid such activities. You, my dear, are already a master at getting out of things, so these typical teaching methods may not be in our best interest. Need we not forget your boredom (prompting the ever so popular “I want baffroom please” 4-5 times in a single one-hour soccer practice for Clara and Gabe. Ah yes, leaving me equally parts grossed out and proud of using porta-potties - well played Ad).
Now knowing how smart you are, and even heading into the beginning of this year with the ability to say and identify your alphabet, it was time to find your way to reading!
Knowing conventional methods probably weren’t the right option and this not being her first rodeo, your teacher, Ms. Tio along with a dream team of support set out to use something called Discrete Trial Teaching for receptive and expressive language with you. This method has been known to show great success with not only communication but also with social interactions and self-care in autistic individuals. In no way would I imply I’m an expert on this but here is a basic view of how it all works. It is a small unit of teaching implemented one on one in a distraction-free environment with your teacher. Lucky for us, you are only one of four kids in your class, so we were already in a perfect setting. Each trial has 5 basic parts: Cue (instruction), Prompt (assistance for you to respond correctly), Response (You give an answer), Consequence (Reinforcement or correcting the incorrect answer), & Intertrial Interval (time). Any of this can be slightly modified by the teacher if they see fit for the student.
Due to each trial being short, working one on one, and with the precise format (structure is your jam) it creates a more individualized approach to maximizing success and hopefully minimizing frustration and failure.
In true Addie fashion, you took no time at all mastering the DTT and were then transitioned to a the Edmark reading program. With more hard work, dedication and persistence you are now reading! That's right, you are a READER!!!!!!!!
Insert happy tears from mom!
But that’s not all you’re doing! I mean, you're kind of a Rock Star in my eyes!
Some people might be surprised to hear that you had homework every week this year! Generally consisting of a writing worksheet, matching worksheet, math worksheet, and short story to read and answer comprehensive questions on. There were no free passes (nor did we want one) in completing your work, even with your ongoing struggle in fine motor with writing. Your teachers had amazing confidence in you and weren't going to let a fine motor struggle hold you back. Where there's a will there's a way, and you were provided cut out pictures and words to answer your comprehensive questions, while you continue to work on your writing skills. Even Clara and Gabe helped with homework by using your giant stack of vocab flashcards you’d mastered to create sentences for you to get reading practice. Addie watching your kids helping each other is unbelievably heartwarming I promise you.
While the amount of words you now know is extensive and there has been endless hours that have gone into learning receptive and expressive language - I still longed to have a conversation with you. Something that wasn’t echolalic of what I said, prompted or given multiple choice for the response.
I’ll admit sometimes I’m jealous (I am human after all) of other parents that I see at pick up, whose kids have exciting projects to show and tell them all about! I badly want to do this with you too. Or just say “how was school?” and hear about how someone sneezed milk out their nose or that you got to play basketball and loved it in PE today! I know that may sound selfish and greedy because I know how hard you are working, but I just know you have so much to say and I'm anxious to hear it all! I know our day will come.
The jealousy melts a bit remembering life is a delicate balance of patience as well as perspective and when we get home their kids might run off to play while you can’t wait to collapse into my lap to snuggle. Looking about as comfortable as a baby giraffe might look with limbs awkwardly everywhere, you gently place my hand on your toes saying “this little” as you happily stim every time those pigs go to the market and are equally excited when they come back home. My cup runneth over with these sweet moments of joy we share.
This past weekend, as we were gearing up for our last week of 1st-grade life, I had taken Gabe and Clara to a recital for friends while you were set to have a fun pool day with daddy! After a long day, we had all arrived back home at the same time. I was helping you change into dry clothes and I started talking to you about your day as I normally would and said: “Addie did you have fun with daddy today?!” Not thinking much of it, I fully expected to hear an echolalic response. Well for the record you do an excellent job of always reminding us to expect the unexpected and you yelled “YES!” jumping up and down stimming away like you couldn’t wait to tell me! My entire world stopped while daddy and I immediately looked at each other almost as if to reassure each other we heard the same amazing thing. We’ve longed for this moment for so long and it happened while mommy and daddy were both there to hear it! That was all you! Your heart was speaking to us! There was no prompting – YOU said yes! If there was ever a moment I wanted to rewind…
You see Addie, there is not a single teacher that goes into teaching thinking about the financial reward. They will always deserve so much more than they receive in my opinion. They do it for these priceless “yes” moments. It was just as much theirs, as it was ours and we are forever grateful for those who have joined our journey and brought us to this moment.
It really is One Team, One Dream baby girl. Congratulations on another amazing year! We are SO proud of you!