Sunday, December 18, 2011

How Montessori Failed Our Autistic Son

It's almost the time of year when parents start looking at alternative school options for their kids.  I know we started this research around this time, last year, ourselves.  There's so much to check out that it can become a daunting task, and one in which you may desperately desire to get an unbiased opinion about the school, teachers and IF it's going to be a good fit for your child.

Our son is high functioning on the autism spectrum.  Not Aspergers, mind you, but high functioning with a normal IQ.  He has behaviors that go hand in hand with autism, like ADHD, some sensory issues, and anxiety.  If you're the parent of a child who's on the spectrum, you'll already understand that there's no one-size fits all for our kiddos.  Just like each of them have specific needs, each of them require specific environments to help enrich their over-all education/socialization needs.

I have been homeschooling my son since Kindergarten.  Our public school options back in California meant that he would be "resourced" for most of his academics.  Meaning he would be pulled out of his mainstream classroom to a resource/special education room with other kids who had learning disabilities.  It sounds doable on one level, but with all the education budget cuts that had taken place, we were left with one special education teacher, a big resource room, and several kids who performed on a variety of levels academically.  After hearing the odds that appeared to be stacked against him in public education, we chose to home school. 

Upon moving to Tennessee, I spent countless hours researching schools, both public and private. I liked that we lived in a county that promoted inclusive education; meaning they would keep kids with special needs in the mainstream class with the help of an aide, as long as they were able to stay up with the class and not disrupt the learning environment with behaviors.  Tricky, since I knew he was going to be anxious going from a one-on-one learning mode to having 30 other kids in class.  And, like many homeschoolers already know, we're pretty laid back about needing to use the restroom, asking questions, talking, and even getting up and roaming the house if need be.  Staying on task with a kid on the spectrum many times means going out of the box with options to bring them back into a focused state.  Traditional classrooms can't function like this, obviously. 

It was at this point we started researching alternative education options.  We were told by our new therapist that if he got more socialization opportunities, it would help in his over-all social development.  Not really understanding how we would facilitate this growth from the outside looking in, we delved into looking at feasible options.  And by feasible I also mean affordable.  Let's face it, private schools, especially the ones that would have staff who knew special ed, are expensive.  I kept telling myself. "we can't put a price tag on anything that would help (our son)."  But really, there are some wonderful schools out there that would take me going back to a full time nursing job just to pay the tuition.  While that wasn't off the table, entirely, we found what we thought might be a good and affordable alternative: Montessori!

There's some good information written about the Montessori method of learning, and how it helps kids who learn differently. There are good write ups on how Montessori allows kids to learn at their own speed, never pushing them to a level of anxiety, but also taking into consideration the whole child.  It sounded lovely!  It sounded too good to be true. And for us, it was.

I'm not here to bash Montessori schools.  Just like in any other alternative education environment, there are good fits and bad fits.  I'm just writing to tell you that not all assumed good fits will actually pan out. 

First, you must know that if your child is NOT self motivated, this may not be a good learning environment for him.  There are some kids who love the idea of learning and who can't get enough knowledge.  Our son, if given the choice of playing or reading will always-without hesitation-choose playing!  Plus he's smart enough to see when teachers try to combine the two, and will (and did) balk at the whole idea!  This particular learning environment increased his anxiety, caused him to wander the halls (because that's evidently ok with this particular school) and take many 20 minute bathroom breaks.  His teacher, who supposedly came with a degree in teaching special education, handed my son off to a teacher's aide, who had NO experience with autism and who was left frazzled at the end of the day from not having the necessary skills to effectively communicate with him. 

I think what I became the most irate about, was that Montessori gives the kids about a 6 week time frame to "adjust" to their new surroundings.  That makes sense.  But what does not make sense is that they NEVER ONCE communicated with either myself or my husband about our son's personal transition, his behaviors, or their concerns.  Hey, if it "takes a village", maybe bringing in mom and dad as part of the equation might be a good idea???  Just a thought...

In the end, my son didn't like going to school and they didn't feel like they could meet his needs.  Mostly because the teacher's aide decided that she no longer wanted to work full time.  It was a disaster! Our only experience was one of resentment, anger and frustration.  Our son, who gained absolutely NO SOCIALIZATION skills from this awful experience was brought back home, and I'm once again home schooling him.  He's now a happy, well behaved child...who has many friends and playmates.

Socialization is something that is better serviced when parents can get involved anyway.  People, even mutli-degreed professionals, who tell you differently do not always have your child's best interest in mind. 

Parents, you KNOW your own child.  His gifts, his limitations, his needs and his potential.  Think very stongly before entrusting your precious child to an educator or learning institution that sells you on the fact they are a perfect fit for your child.  Maybe they are!  But pray for discernment and then trust that inner voice!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm So Thankful that Mary said, "Yes"...

Growing up Catholic, I remember a lot of emphasis being placed on the importance of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Yes, in some ways I felt that there was a sort of worship of Mary that was expected. Biblically, I disagree that anyone except the Trinity is worthy of worship.  But now that I'm an Evangelical Christian--a bit non-denominational mixed with a sprinkling of Protestant seasoning-- I am saddened that many in the church want to totally ignore the importance that Mary played in the whole scheme of salvation.  She's much more than what many give her credit as being.  Like it or not, she was the mother of the Lord Jesus, the Christ.

We must remember that Mary said "YES".  She was a sinner, just like you or I.  She needed a Savior, just like we do.  But she had a choice when she was approached by the Angel Gabriel that fateful day.  She could have chosen the path that was a lot easier. Mary, a young girl, who knew that she would have been questioned about infidelity and her lack of chastity the rest of her life (which unlike today was a pretty serious offense, punishable by stoning), chose without too much hesitation to be the handmaiden of the Lord.  She chose to give up the social comforts that living under the radar of public scrutiny would have afforded her.  All this because she loved God, and trusted Him. And remember, God chose HER, too.  Out of all women, He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus!

If you were approached today by a Heavenly messenger, and asked to do something for God that would take your life off of its current course; knowing that what you were asked to do would bless others but make your life a lot would you answer that calling?

We must also remember that Mary, yes 100% human, deserves our respect as the mother of Jesus.  She was not merely a vessel, anymore than I was a vessel for my own children.  I am their mother.  Mother's know their children's hearts. They stay up at night with them when they're sick.  They wipe their tears when they fall or have a heartbreak.  They put the needs of their children ahead of their own, and love them unconditionally--and forever.  Now, imagine you are the mother of Jesus.  Knowing prophecy, and knowing that He would have to die save the world; That his purpose for coming to Earth was that of the perfect sacrificial lamb for the whole world's sins.  Can you imagine what she must have held deep in her heart?  As a mother of two sons, I can only partially imagine...but even just imagining, it's too painful.

While I choose to not worship Mary as a deity of any kind, I respect her so much!  I love her so much!  And one day, when I get to Heaven, I hope to tell her how grateful I am that she said, YES.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Important to You is the Issue of Faith When Choosing a President?

If you live in the United States of America, you’re aware that we have a Presidential election coming up next November. You’re probably keenly aware of this fact due to the mudslinging that has already started among the Presidential contenders. And sadly, it’s only just begun!

It can be argued that a candidate’s character, and world view is just as important as where they stand on fiscal and social issues. Maybe even more so. As Christians, we are supposed to see, speak and act in accordance to our relationship with God. We seek future leaders who live in that same accordance, and who do not bare false witness against their neighbor. That’s a biggie if you watch any of the debates!

This particular election cycle has brought on discussions of individual faith, and for some, a deep concern about what a candidate’s faith might mean to their Presidency.

When John Kennedy ran for the Presidency against Richard Nixon in 1960, there was a deep anxiety in the country about his Roman Catholic heritage and the potential for clerical intrusion into presidential decision making. What did Kennedy do during the closing weeks of the campaign to allay the fears of Christian and other voters who were not Roman Catholic?

On September 12, 1960, Kennedy addressed 300 Protestant ministers of the Houston Ministerial Association. He made three major points: he believed in an America where separation of church and state is absolute; no religious body should impose its beliefs on the general populace or the public acts of its officials; his decisions as president would be based on good public policy, not sectarian doctrine. The key sentence was:

“I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters - and the Church does not speak for me.”

Some 50 years after that address, President Kennedy’s words are still being debated among church leaders and political candidates. A big question that’s still being debated is, did Kennedy separate himself from his Christian/Catholic faith so much, that it made it clear that whatever decisions he would face as President would not be influenced by that faith?

Many feel that Kennedy, in his speech, did not necessarily divorce faith or the Christian frame of reference from the public square; rather, he rejected claims of church authority upon his conscience and the public interest. He said:

“But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

Just how important is it to you that the President’s character and all decisions once in office be shaped by their world view? Please take a moment to think about this one: Can an honest, fair, person of integrity, without a personal faith in God successfully hold the office of President of the United States?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Survival Tips

I love Christmastime!  The lights and decorations are magical. There is a brotherly love that fills the air. The kids are all behaving nicely because "Santa Claus is watching"... and to that genius who invented Elf on the Shelf-- I love you! Yes it's our feel-good time of the year.  But, the holidays can also be some of the most stressful times as well.

We may be forced to celebrate this time of year with people who we may not even want to be in the same room with.  Yes, sometimes we are related to these knuckleheads, and sometimes they are our co-workers.  Either way, how does one get through a holiday party without starting World War III?

Simple.  Hold your tongue!

There will be ample time after the holidays to confront your nasty brother.  If it's a co-worker that rubs you the wrong way, the last thing you need to do is start something that will end you up in the human resources department on Monday...having to explain your way out!

Another simple rule:  If you lose your inhibitions to tell the world what you REALLY think of them at 2 glasses of wine... only allow yourself ONE glass.

Keep this holiday season focused on what we are truly celebrating; the anticipation and celebration of our Savior's birth!  Oh yeah... and that whole "Peace on Earth" thing, too!

Merry Christmas!