Updated: Dec 9, 2020
So where are all my parents out there? Yeah - I see you!
And where are all my special (needs) parents at? Woot! I see you too! Drop a heart for all the parents!
For those that don’t know my son is 13 and was diagnosed with #autism 10 years ago. AND my step-daughter has cortical dysplasia. Special needs? Yep - we got them! So who else is about ready to pull out your hair with all this virtual learning? It’s been a challenge in our home for sure also but take heart, no matter what you are struggling with I am sure you are not alone. And today I'm going to share part of our story to help inspire yours.
We stopped regular school right around St. Patty’s day this year and still haven’t gotten back into the classroom. In that time I have tried all kinds of things to try and support my son with virtual learning.
Tasks in MY calendar
From the very beginning of COVID I have felt like routine and schedule was going to be important. Little did I know how important as we want from days, to weeks, to months without school. With autism, schedules are really important. I'm very blessed that my son is really flexible and can make transitions easily. This is not the case for everyone on the spectrum. No matter who you are though everyone starts to get antsy when they just float around without a lot to do for months.
I sure did. Routine is one of the things we use in our lives to keep us on task but also create a sense of stability in our lives. We know the sun is coming up tomorrow, we brush our teeth, have coffee and all is right with the world.
A schedule for my son during the day wasn't anything I've really needed to put together before. When he gets home from school he is allowed time to relax and chill, then we have dinner and start our bedtime routine. And on the weekends he has some expectations for getting outside but he is mostly allowed to do whatever he can come up with. A rigorous weekday routine though became an obvious need by the end of May. We got through the summer and I had the hope that if school didn't return to in-person, that I could work with his teacher to create a system for him.
This ended up being a sort of Murphy's Law thing. It seemed like everything was stacked against us in making progress on a routine for him. His school had a late transition with his teacher. That means we had a new person start that wasn't part of the transition meeting as he moved to 6th grade. And the new teacher, lovely as she is, just doesn't know Jack or how he works best. In addition, while I know what my son is working on in school, I don't necessarily know how it is getting done. Nor do I have a license in special education. I mean, I know my son, and I'm intelligent, but there is just a lack of skill that comes with experience for some things. I was really frustrated as the school year started and it became clear that my visions of an independently executed schedule would be postponed.
I was looking for something that would help my son get through his day with a decent amount of work while allowing me to just monitor from the sidelines while I was working too. It didn't happen that way.
Special education is its own breed of crazy. In honesty the system as it is currently just isn't really set up to help kids learn. And resources will always be an issue. To keep myself from getting on a soapbox let's just say that the process of figuring out what Jack needed and how to put it together for him was frustratingly long and every day that went by I felt like I had failed again.
In the midst of frustration though, are always the seeds for growth. While it wasn't happening as fast as I wanted it to I could find some really beautiful understanding come out of this. For one I was going to be WAY more familiar with Jack's understanding at school. Not only did I know what he was doing but I for sure knew how he was doing it. And because I needed to think about his day in such a strict way I was also able to realize just how much needed to be included for him to have a "full" day. I mean math for him isn't a 90 minute event, like it would be in a typical classroom. It might be 15 minutes. So all that time needed to be filled with something other than YouTube. His current day has three live sessions with his classmates and teacher but they don’t take up much of his day. Not only that but I’m really trying to keep an enormous regression of skills from happening. We were just working on starting multiplication before COVID and that isn’t happening anymore. :(
I’ve been reaching out to his teacher, his school, all the things but everyone was still struggling so much I couldn't find something that was supportive.
Finally last week - I decided I was done. I realized that I had been waiting for someone to tell me what would work instead of just asking for exactly what I needed. I’m like look - just give me whatever it is that you would be putting together for him if he were at school, I’ll figure it out. It was still not quite clear what to do simply because no one is 100% sure what school will look like when they ARE able to go back. I did however at least get a list of topics. At that point it’s about making the schedule visual.
Now if you have ever done this before drop a heart below because unless you are PAYING for an app or software this is a tedious process of
creating a document,
printing out the document,
cutting everything out and then
attaching it to something that’s changeable (think Velcro or tape).
I know that this doesn’t sound like too much but depending on your skill level with this stuff it isn’t as easy as you would think. I know my son really well, but as I said, I’m not a special ed teacher or therapist. I work with my son’s team because they are professionals and they know those strategies. I rely on their guidance when it comes to these things. But I do know schedules and I also know that his tasks/work is going to be short, maybe 15 minutes of independent work max. So I started thinking of things to fill his time with other options that were easily available in our home, not what he would be doing in school, that he could do as independently as possible. I also decided that this would be a good opportunity for my now teenage son to start managing some of his own time so I wanted him to be able to help me create his schedule. He is right now as I type this upstairs doing what I’m calling “adult skills” (I never cared for the term life skills) and is cleaning his room before speech therapy starts.
Currently what seems to be working is a combination of a schedule broken into 15, 30 and 60 minute sections on a white board and reminders in my Google calendar.
For anyone that has ever made a #pictureexchangesystem let me just tip my hat to you...this isn’t my first but I still didn’t find it easy. And this one is more complicated than any I’ve made before. A #taskschedule for going to bed or getting ready in the morning is VERY different from this. And it isn't as close to amazing as I have seen some folks put together...but we needed SOMETHING to get us going.
This was a transition year for my son as he moved from elementary school to middle school. So new teacher, new school, new classmates. I guess it’s still a transition year but different from what we were all preparing for. He does a pretty good job managing himself on Google Meet with his little class and engaging in that work. The next step will be setting up timers so that he knows when to check his schedule independently.
If I can make this one of my most important things in the next couple of weeks and get him on this routine he will start to manage it with less of my support and know when and how to follow his schedule. That will be a huge win for us at the house, especially if we don’t go back to school in the coming months as we were originally planning. And it will be amazing skills for Jack that I now know he is capable of doing.
What's the takeaway in this? Through this little process I've fallen back on some skills that I designate as critical success tools.
know what the problem is and have a clear idea on the solution
get flexible in how you can get to the goal
just start - even if it isn't exactly what you are looking for get started then refine
be proactive in asking for support
These 4 things will help you get along in anything you are trying to complete. All of them are critical but I think the ones that help me the most are 2 and 4. And I find 3 and 4 the hardest to do. I often forget that people can't read my mind. My son's teacher has no way of knowing what I need or what will be helpful if I don't very clearly talk to her about it and ask for what I need. This is true almost with anything.
And getting started can trip up a lot of people. We can easily fall into an "all or nothing" way of thinking. When you catch yourself doing that stop.
Ask yourself, what is the next right step and then just do it.
The rest will become clear as you move along - trust the process.
I'm really glad with the progress we have made in the last few weeks with this. It has been a frustrating, long, exhausting road and we ain't done yet.
So hats off to all the parents out there! Keep on keeping on.
Don’t forget to reach out and ask for support.
And don’t be afraid to take charge and just get the stuff done. Sometimes both need to happen for anything to get done.
And hopefully this will be helpful for anyone working this same deal right now.
Don't forget everyone -