A Little Hard To See

Each Monday at school, Cordy’s class starts their week by writing down all of that week’s homework assignments on a homework log provided by the teacher. This helps the kids plan their week and, more importantly in our case, helps Aaron and I guide Cordy on her homework for the week. I absolutely love the homework log.

At first, Cordy’s homework log was written in pencil. However, I think she was getting bored with pencil, and so she started bringing home a log written in different colors of pen each week. I wasn’t concerned, other than pen made it impossible to erase or make corrections without scratching something out.

Apparently she became bored with pen, too, because two weeks ago she brought home the homework log with everything written in pink highlighter. Not terrible, but it wasn’t a fine point highlighter, so it was a little hard to read.

Last week, however, I think we reached an intervention point:

Cordy's homework log

“Yellow highlighter?” I asked as I squinted and tilted the page to try to read what was written. “Don’t you think that’s a little hard to read?”

“No, mom, it’s okay. I know what it says,” she responded dismissively.

“You do?” I asked incredulously. “You must have better eyes than me, because I can’t even read the dates at the top of the page.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” she cooed. (At this point I’m reminded to be careful to not sound too condescending to her at any point, because she mimics the tone as well as the phrase. And clearly in this moment she was giving me the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head.) “See? That right there says December 3 to December 12.”

“Uh, Cordy? The dates for this week are supposed to be December 8 to December 12.”

She paused for a moment, looking at the log with her eyes wide. “RIGHT! 8! It says December 8. I said the wrong thing earlier. I meant 8.”

Sure you did, kid. I’m just thankful there weren’t a lot of assignments last week to decipher.

It’s IEP Time Again (Nobody Panic)

Last week, Aaron and I met with Cordy’s teachers for her annual IEP review. I know many parents who have felt like they needed to armor-up and prepare for battle before walking into their child’s IEP meeting each year, but we’ve always been fortunate to have never felt that way. Our school has always been welcoming to special needs, and I feel like the staff there genuinely wants to do whatever is reasonably in their power to help Cordy succeed.

It’s one more reason why I believe Cordy’s special-needs preschool teacher should be on the list for sainthood. If it wasn’t for her, and her incredible ability to look deep into this child and see her potential, we wouldn’t be at this elementary school. Yes, it’s on the other side of Columbus from us, but her preschool teacher knew the right school for Cordy and made sure it happened.

That’s not to say there haven’t been bumps in the road. Cordy has thrown some challenging behaviors their way at times, and there have been a couple of teachers that she did not click with at all. But in general, the school has been tolerant, gentle in discipline, and works hard to understand her unique quirks.

So really, we don’t mind attending IEP meetings. When Cordy was first given an educational diagnosis of autism at three years old, her future was murky at best. The special needs department couldn’t promise that she’d ever be in mainstream classes, or have any chance of graduating from high school, much less attend college. But thanks to the early intervention in preschool, we quickly learned how much she was capable of, and her preschool teacher told us she had high hopes of her being fully mainstreamed at some point.

Pre-K graduationCordy’s pre-K graduation

Her current school agreed with her preschool teacher’s analysis. While she missed the mark to be fully mainstreamed in kindergarten, she did have some inclusion time with a kindergarten class, and otherwise had one-on-one teaching with her special needs teacher, Ms. M. I was disappointed at the time, but it turned out to be the best possible arrangement for Cordy. Because of the one-on-one teaching, Ms. M began to see just how bright Cordy was, and began suggesting to us that she was gifted. She taught her at an advanced level, which eventually led to being tested for gifted identification in math and reading.

At this point, Ms. M gave us more hope: this child will graduate from high school, she told us, and there’s every reason to believe she could go to college. She said she was always cautious to make that kind of a prediction, and that she’s never been wrong.

In first grade, Cordy was fully mainstreamed, and this teacher also saw that she needed an advanced curriculum. Keep her challenged at the right level, and Cordy’s too engaged to let her anxiety bother her as much. In second grade, she started going to third grade for reading, and was further evaluated for gifted services. It was also during this year that Cordy was due to be re-evaluated by the school psychologist to determine if she was still eligible for special needs services.

This was a big year. Cordy was identified as superior cognitive by the gifted department (to go along with already being identified as gifted in a handful of subject areas), and the psychologist confirmed her high IQ, saying it was the highest he had ever scored an elementary school student in eleven years. She still met the requirements for special needs, too, primarily due to her severe anxiety and deficit in social skills.

So coming to the table again last week for her IEP meeting was something we looked forward to. Cordy is in a self-contained gifted education classroom this year, which we hoped would keep her engaged enough to keep her sensory issues and anxiety in check. The transition at the start of the year was very rough, though. Previous classes hadn’t provided the same level of challenge to her, so she was scared by suddenly being forced to work hard in class. This led to escape attempts – mostly asking to go to the bathroom where she would hide out for 10-15 minutes to avoid classwork. Her team (including her external team of her pediatrician and her psychologist) worked together to find ways to reduce this behavior and help her feel more comfortable in the class.

During the IEP meeting, we learned that the adjustments made by her team are working and that she has been doing better in class. Her gifted teacher said she could see Cordy was putting more effort into her work and trying to keep her anxiety in check. Her special needs teacher said that she hasn’t seen her as much in the last two weeks, but that Cordy still has her “take 5” pass she can use to visit the resource room whenever she feels she needs a break. Both teachers, who happen to have rooms right across the hall from each other, have collaborated to ensure that Cordy’s special needs – on both ends of the spectrum – are being met, with each handling her area of expertise.

This is individualized education at work. Two teachers, both contributing to Cordy’s education in their own areas, working together for continuity, and sharing what’s working and what isn’t working with each other. During the meeting, both teachers expressed that they are really enjoying working together for Cordy, and they feel it’s having a positive effect.

One funny story shared from the meeting (because every teacher at this school has a “Cordy story”): her gifted teacher told us that one day it was announced that there would be a meeting after school in her classroom. Cordy asked what they were meeting about. Her teacher, knowing that Cordy has recently been trying to learn humor and had been saying funny things to the teacher lately, replied in a joking manner, “Oh, we’re all meeting to talk about you, Cordy, and everything you’ve been doing wrong.”

Cordy completely fell apart, of course, unable to get the joke, and the teacher was left to backpedal and reassure her that she was just joking. Afterwards, she told the special needs team what happened, and they looked at her in shock and said, “Nooooo! Why did you think that would be okay? She doesn’t understand when you’re joking about her!” Cordy’s teacher did apologize to Cordy for upsetting her, and she told us it was a good lesson learned about just how far she could go with humor around Cordy. Yep. The kid still can’t handle sarcasm or any humor about her.

On the not-so-funny side, we learned that Cordy is still struggling in math, and her fear of math is what has prompted the most anxiety attacks. It seems last year’s battle with math is still with her. It’s so frustrating that a kid who is gifted in math is having so much trouble with it. Had she only learned one way of doing problems, instead of needing to be taught and reinforcing several different models, she probably wouldn’t be so confused.

She’s still having trouble with executive functioning skills, too, often forgetting to bring everything she needs home or write down everything she needs to do. We discussed ways to help support this, with additional accommodations possible if it gets worse. On the upside, all kids in this class are learning to play chess this year, and Cordy not only loves to play chess, but seems to have a talent for it.

The hardest part for me, though, was when I asked if she has any friends in the class. There are kids who are friendly with her, we were told, but she doesn’t appear to have any friends. I knew this would likely be the answer, but it was still hard to accept. Cordy doesn’t have any good friends, at school or in our neighborhood. That could partially be our fault, for not trying to encourage more playdates, but Cordy also struggles with knowing how to be a friend. Her thinking can be so rigid at times that many kids don’t want to be friends with her.

She attends a social skills class once a week, which has helped her conversation skills, however I think she feels it’s too much effort to make friends and so would rather be by herself where she doesn’t have to work to be more neurotypical. Her teachers are aware that I want her to develop friendships, and her gifted teacher believes that she might find friendships through playing chess or other shared interest activities in the class. Many of the kids are nice to her – there’s just no visible desire to want to spend a lot of time with her.

We wrapped up the meeting by going over her goals for this period and making some adjustments. I’ll add it’s not a perfect IEP meeting. There are still many areas I feel aren’t covered well enough, but it’s not due to lack of interest from the teachers, but lack of school resources. Ideally, her class would have textbooks so she could read the material they’re learning instead of relying more on auditory teaching. (She is a poor auditory learner, but picks up anything she reads in a book.) But there are no textbooks or written materials for the kids to use for many subjects.

And ideally she’d have an aide with her more during the day to help support her when she hits the wall with anxiety, but that’s a battle waged by many parents before us with poor outcomes. I don’t have the energy to fight on all fronts – we must choose our battles and right now this isn’t one to put my energy into.

So, we make due with the limited resources and cherish and support the best resources we do have: her teachers, her aides (when she does occasionally see them), and her principal. Unfortunately, her principal will be retiring soon, so next year’s IEP meeting may be an entirely different situation depending on who the district chooses for the position. (And oh, I’ll be ready if they put up any resistance to the sunny collaboration we’ve got going on at the moment.)

For now, things are going well. Cordy is struggling a little in her class, but just like years before, I think she’ll rise to the challenge and grow from this experience. For a kid with such an uncertain future at the start of her school years, she’s making it clearer with each new year that she’s capable of so much.

4th grade school photoThis year’s school photo. (Ignore the flash screen reflected in her glasses.)

Back To School Time!

We’re now less than a week away from school starting, which has everyone in this house excited. Yes, even the kids. Summer camps are over, and this week they’ve been tortured with having to entertain themselves most days while I work. At this point, going back to school is a welcome alternative to the boredom of being at home and occasionally having to be super quiet while I’m on a call.

They really do like school, though. We went to the school last night for a “welcome back” ice cream social, and Cordy and Mira were so excited to see their teachers and some of their classmates again. We also found out which teacher Mira will have for second grade – he’s the same teacher that Cordy had for most of second grade. Cordy had promoted him so much to Mira that now Mira thinks she has the perfect second grade teacher.

We already knew which class Cordy would be in for this year. She was eligible for the gifted class this year, so in the spring we applied for her to have a spot in the class at our school. We found out in June that she was accepted into the class – not a big surprise, since she met all three of possible criteria for inclusion.

Because the district tried to drastically slash the number of gifted ed classrooms last year, applications for our gifted classroom were down this year, most likely due to a fear of sending a child to a school for only a year and then having to be re-assigned again the next year. There are only 14 kids in the class instead of the typical 20. (Not complaining, since that’s actually good for Cordy.) I’m going to stay on top of the issue to try to ensure our school keeps their gifted ed classroom, as it’s the perfect resource for a twice-exceptional kid like Cordy.

We also received the school supply lists for the year. Have you gone shopping for school supplies yet? I started shopping a couple of weeks ago when we received Cordy’s supply list in the mail, and then finished last night with Mira’s list. I’ve learned something very important in the process: compare prices between stores.

We did most of Cordy’s supply shopping at Staples, when they were advertising a sale on school supplies. This is what we bought:

School supplies from Staples

All of that cost about $60. I was a little shocked that school supplies cost so much.

And then last night, I went to Target to get Mira’s supplies and get the last few items we needed for Cordy. This is what I bought:

School supplies from TargetDog paw not included.

That includes a handful of extra items to donate to district schools as well. Total cost? $31.

That’s almost half the cost of the Staples items. Wow, what a difference! Yes, I did buy more Target brand for crayons and colored pencils, but the price difference between those and Crayola was less than thirty cents per item. And the glue sticks were store brand in either case.

Had I known that supplies were that much cheaper at Target, I would have gone there at the start. I’m considering returning the Staples items and getting them all at Target instead. (This post isn’t sponsored by Target, but I’m learning I need to shop there more often!)

At this point the kids are ready for school to start. Of course, now I need to work on my parent back-to-school supply list. This includes:

  • Coffee k-cups to get me moving for those earlier mornings
  • Pajamas I don’t mind my neighbors seeing when I take the kids out to the bus
  • Space on my memory card for first day of school photos
  • Double-check that the Transportation Dept. phone # is programmed into my phone
  • Afternoon snacks for hungry kids getting off the bus
  • Lots of patience for helping out with homework

I’m hoping this will be a good school year for all of us!

I Leave for a Week, and Everything Goes to Hell

Forgive me, Internet, for I have sinned. It’s been over a week since my last post, but in my defense, I have a really good excuse:

 Mira at the WDW Castle

We spent the week at Walt Disney World, partially for me to attend the Type-A WDW Workshop, and partially to have a vacation with my family. There were some amazing moments, and some amazingly good (and bad) timing to certain events, but we’re home again and settled back into real life.

I wanted to tell more about our trip to Disney, but then something else got in the way that demands attention first. The day after we returned from our trip, I was summoned to a community meeting regarding changes to the gifted education services offered by our school district. Cordy is identified as gifted and receives gifted services, so naturally this concerned me.

Her school offers an ECLIPSE class, which is a self-contained class for 4th and 5th grade gifted students. The class provides enrichment beyond the standard curriculum and encourages more out-of-the-box thinking – the perfect environment for our creative thinker who can’t always explain how she found her answer because it just appeared in her head. We (meaning her parents and the staff of the school) had been planning for her to join this ECLIPSE class for years, and at her IEP meeting earlier this year, we agreed that in April of this year we’d have her start spending a small amount of time in the class to help transition her into it.

That same day, I also received a letter in the mail from the district, telling me that the entire elementary gifted education program was being restructured, condensing all of the highly gifted children into five schools instead of the sixteen neighborhoods where the ECLIPSE classrooms are currently found. It also informed me that Cordy was being reassigned to an entirely different school in order to attend an ECLIPSE class.


The school district is, in fact, getting rid of ANY gifted education services at her current school, which has nearly a quarter of the student population identified as gifted. They intended to send her to a school where only 4% of the student population is identified as gifted. How is this equitable?

But wait… it gets worse. Beyond giving parents no choice at all as to where their children are to go in the Columbus City Schools district for gifted services, they also gave us only seven (7!) days to respond to the letter. Never in my life would I have considered the school they want to send Cordy to as an appropriate placement for her. I certainly wouldn’t have toured the school. Where she is now is where everyone believes she is best served. Everyone, that is, other than the district administration.

There’s even MORE bad news, though. Should a parent decide they don’t want their child to attend a failing school in order to get gifted services, there’s a line on the form we’re to return where we’re asked to sign to decline services. However, included in that is a statement that says we accept that our child will not receive gifted services if we decline the district’s placement option.

So parents, who had no advance knowledge of these changes and were not given any chance to provide input, are being told that our gifted children will either go to the failing school demanded by the district, or they will have their right to gifted services removed.

I don’t respond well to threats, especially where my children are concerned. I attended the meeting that night to learn more about the reasoning behind these decisions, only to find their reasoning was all based on lies. The Gifted Task Force recommendations that the district claims helped drive the changes have no recommendations for altering ECLIPSE. The state standards that they also referenced have no bearing on the current ECLIPSE classes, either.

Where does all of this leave Cordy? In a lose-lose situation. If she transferred to the failing school for gifted ed, she would suffer emotional trauma at being sent to a strange location, with kids she’s unfamiliar with and a staff she doesn’t know. Her anxiety would skyrocket and negative behaviors would likely increase, making it impossible for her to learn. If she remains at her current school, she’ll have the comforts of “home” but stagnate without gifted services to keep her mind active. Should her mind not be sufficiently challenged, her anxiety takes hold again, she becomes trouble in the classroom, and she shuts down and doesn’t have interest in school. Her team at school agrees with these assessments.

It breaks my heart to know she’s being placed in this situation by a careless administration who are likely pleased with the outcome, considering that her mom fought them and won during the school levy battle. But they’re placing hundreds of other children in a bad situation, too, ripping them away from friends and schools they know so they can be placed in failing schools to boost the building’s test scores.

I’m not sad, though. I’m angry. We’ve put enormous amounts of work into getting Cordy to where she is now, and we’re not about to let a tone-deaf, pigheaded administration undo those efforts. Other parents are angry, too, and we’re organizing to resist these changes. Should the district refuse to postpone these changes until parent input can be given to better shape any update to the gifted education program, we will choose to refuse to allow our children to take the OAAs or any other state standardized tests. Our kids are more than a test score, but if Columbus City Schools will only value them as test scores, we’ll take that away from them.

We have no plans to change Cordy’s school. She will remain at her school, and she will continue to receive gifted education services, despite the district’s claims otherwise. If it involves legal action, we’ll do it. She’s a twice exceptional child, and her special needs restrict her from changing schools for gifted services. She was placed in this school by district staff because of the gifted services and the special needs services available, and the district will honor that commitment to her until she is finished with fifth grade, at which time we may choose to leave this train wreck of a school system.

Sigh…it would be so much easier on the school district if they’d stop picking fights.

Parents of CCS children – find out more on how you can make your voice heard at this site. Parents of CCS gifted students are also encouraged to join this Facebook group.

Disney post coming soon, promise!

An Unexpected Typical Development

Cordy is a hugger. Well, she likes to hug those she knows and trusts, and has always been fairly affectionate with those in her family. When she was younger, we had to spend a lot of time teaching her about personal space, as she likes to get right up next to people when talking them.

While she’s a sensory avoider in many areas (like anyone messing with her hair, or loud noises), when it comes to hugs she’s a sensory seeker.  I’ve always considered us lucky that in the world of autism, where so many kids don’t like to be touched, Cordy is a child who likes hugs.

Snoopy at Castaway BaySnoopy always gets hugs from her, too.

Over the weekend, we attended a memorial service, with a lot of family and friends present. This was more of a party than a somber memorial service, and it was occasionally loud and crowded. I worried that Cordy would not do well with the noise and crowd. At first, she kept herself away from the crowd, choosing to spin in a chair instead, but then she started wandering around through the people.

At one point, she walked past Aaron and I as we were telling someone about our upcoming trip to Disney. I reached out to Cordy, wrapping one arm around her and pulling her closer to me. I gave her a big hug with a very quick kiss on her head. Usually, she’d wrap her arms around me and attempt to squeeze the life out of me, or hold tight while she lifted her feet and hung on me. But not this time.

This time, she squirmed and broke free of the hug. And then as she turned away and walked off, she uttered those words that most parents dread hearing, the words that signify a move to another phase of childhood: “Mom, you’re embarrassing me!”


I was embarrassing her? How is that even possible?

The first “you’re embarrassing me” is, I’m told, usually a sad moment for many parents. It’s the moment when your child is fully realizing their individuality as they mature, seeing themselves as separate from their parents and demanding to be treated in a way that protects that new identity they’re trying to create in the world among their peers.

But this…this wasn’t a sad moment at all. I felt the momentary sting of having my oldest child push away from my affections, but then as I considered her actions and words, I wanted to celebrate. Why? Cordy’s social and emotional development has been far from typical for much of her life, but in that moment, she had a very typical and age-appropriate response.

In other words: it’s progress towards understanding and developing typical social behavior. We know she’s on the verge of puberty, and several experts have told us that the hormones of the teenage years make everyone act different, but for kids with autism it can sometimes be dramatically better or dramatically worse. So far, we’re leaning towards the “better” category, as she starts noticing the behaviors of others around her and makes her own attempts at social behavior.

It’s encouraging. So very, very encouraging. In the last year she’s worked harder than ever to understand what’s accepted and what isn’t when she’s out in public. She’s been attending a social skills class for girls with social/emotional disabilities, and that class has been nothing but positive for her. She’s one of the group members that looks forward to her weekly class, enjoys stumbling through social missteps with the other girls in her group, and will now point out the frowned on social behaviors of others.

I may still feel sad at later attempts to push away from me when I try to hug her. But for this instance, I could only smile and be proud of her.

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