June 17, 2019

Thank You to Veterans Memorial Middle School

Posted in AMT's Faves, Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , at 11:25 am by autismmommytherapist

To Mrs. Stockhoff, Mrs. Caruso, Mrs. Reilly, Ms. Estelle, Ms. Bearse, Ms. Byrne, Ms. Clinton, and Ms. Berry at Veterans Memorial Middle School,

 

I’m writing this post to thank all of you for helping get Zach (and me) through his first year of middle school.

Honestly, I think the transition was harder for me than for him.

In general I’ve found middle school to be something that most students just hope to survive, but Zach actually loved sixth grade and can’t wait for next year.

He did beautifully this year, and this is in large part to your collective excellence and devotion to your craft. You guided him when he needed it; reined him in when he required it; and most importantly, made him feel valued, and that he had a voice.

When there were blips in the road you worked with him to conquer them, with professionalism and compassion. When he excelled, you were there to congratulate him.

You answered my sixty thousand questions promptly and respectfully. For that, I am truly appreciative.

I am so grateful he had all of you to instruct him this year. He came home every day enthusiastic about school, often quoting you when describing his day. He found your classes to be fun, informative, and challenging in a way that kept him engaged, not frustrated. Your instructions and deadlines were clear, your expectations fair. Your assignments were creative, and often thought-provoking. You encouraged him always to do his personal best, and fostered independence in his choices and actions whenever you could.

As a former educator of this age group, I can honestly say I was always impressed.

While all of these things were absolutely wonderful, what I appreciate the most about every teacher who crossed his path this year was how much you “got” my boy, and that you clearly liked him.

That means everything to him, and to me.

I’d just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who instructed him this year. I wish all of you could move up to seventh grade with him (fingers crossed!), but since that seems unlikely, my hope is that he finds the same creative, compassionate and excellent instructors in the years to come.

Thank you for all you do for our kids!

Kim McCafferty

 

 

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June 9, 2014

Gratitude

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , at 1:43 pm by autismmommytherapist

April, Play, Walk 2012 012

It seemed like an ordinary morning, Justin running excitedly to his bus, turning to give me his signature smile as he eagerly climbed aboard.  I walk around to the other side to blow him a kiss goodbye and I see his usual hint of a grin, and step back to let his personal chariot wend its way to school.  Usually I’m happy to send him on his way.  Today however my heart is heavy, as it’s the last day he will ever have his beloved teacher of four consecutive years.

My son will be deeply sad by this monumental change.  I am certain I will require therapy.

My eldest son Justin, who has severe autism, has had a private school placement since he was seven years old.  It was a difficult decision for me and his father to make as we knew this would preclude him from having interaction with neurotypical peers.  In the end however the small teacher/student ratio, the consummately trained professionals and intensely devoted staff helped tip the balance for us to pursue a private placement.

Jusitn has grown and thrived in this environment. He has begun to master simple math problems, reads beautifully, and he spells like a bee champion.  Most importantly however many of the behaviors he began with years ago have abated, predominantly the pinching, pushing and crying that signified his deep frustration with the world around him, or his dismay at not getting his way.  Justin is now a willing and eager student, and works hard to please all the staff who tend to him.  He is beloved at the school, always quick with a hug or kiss of gratitude.  He is happy, safe and successful, all the things I wished for him when he was in my womb and I had no idea how his life would unfurl.

And I owe so much of Justin’s joyful ebullient soul to one woman and the bevy of paras who have worked so diligently with him since he was seven years old.

I am confident that in two weeks when the new school term commences in July he’ll have an equally fabulous educator, one whose passion is helping autistic individuals reach their full potential.  I am certain I’ll be writing positive posts about his future accomplishments, his successes and great strides.

But right now I’d just like to give thanks for my son’s teacher and staff.

Thank you for seeing Justin’s potential, and for always pushing him to do a little bit more.

Thank you for always treating him with profound dignity and respect.

Thank you for appreciating how hard he works at everything.

Thank you for making his school a place he loves.

Thank you for recognizing his sense of humor and reveling in it.

Thank you for “getting” him.

Thank you for sharing his strengths, not just his weaknesses.

Thank you for your constant willingness to work with me.

Thank you for loving him.

To Justin’s teacher and all the paras who’ve worked with him:

There are not adequate words to express my gratitude for your caring and compassion over the past four years.  Collectively you have Justin’s heart and mine.

Thank you.

May 4, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Week

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:38 am by autismmommytherapist

Summer 2012 Part 1 002

Today’s post is in honor of Teacher Appreciation week, and is dedicated to the teachers, therapists, administrators, and support staff who work with all of our children.

 

Dear Educators,

 

It’s been almost nine years since my eldest son was diagnosed with autism, and it would be the understatement of the year to say it hasn’t always been easy. My family’s journey with autism has comprised two states, dozens of doctors, therapists, teachers, and Early Intervention practitioners, and by this point I feel as if we’ve seen it all.

For us, however, there has been one shining thread of competence woven throughout all of our trials, and I feel compelled to speak of it today.

In essence, all hail to the teachers.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing of course. There were a few IEP meetings along the way where I cried (one was at the thought of my eldest son moving on to a new teacher in the coming school year, perhaps that one shouldn’t count). Frustrastion regarding my boy’s academics and behaviors has intruded on occasion, and a few times I felt I wasn’t truly being heard.

For the most part however, my family and the bevy of educators assigned to both our boys have been able to play nice with each other, and for this, among other things, I am eternally grateful.

I’ve felt that the dedicated men and women who’ve worked with my sons have respected them, pushed them when appropriate, and equally importantly, have liked them (and trust me, at times both of their behaviors have not been particularly likeable).

Truly, none of them are paid enough.

So today, I’d simply like to say thank-you. Thank-you to the speech therapist who stayed up all night to reinstall the programs my oldest son deleted from his iPad, just because he thought erasing them all would be fun.

Thank-you to the child study teams who tweaked, manipulated, and created the perfect IEPs for seven years for my kids, then made certain they were enacted. Thank you to the administrators who gave us time during that long, awful period when Justin resumed his aggressive state last year, waiting months while we figured out how to quell the terrible tide of his anger without having to remove him from his school.

Thank-you to the aides, the life-blood of any classroom (I know, because I’ve been one), who’ve not only tolerated my sons’ non-compliance at times, but have regarded it as a worthy challenge.

And last, but certainly not least, thank-you to the special education and regular education teachers in three different districts (it takes more than one village sometimes) who have challenged my children, believed in them, loved them, and put up with me to boot.

The latter statement should earn them all the medal AND the monument.

You have not only made a tremendous difference in the lives of my sons- you, through your kindness, your commitment, and most importantly perhaps, your competence, have given my family a life.

For once, all I have left to say is thank-you.

 

December 17, 2012

Thank- you to the Staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:15 pm by autismmommytherapist

candlelight vigil

It’s 5:15 on Saturday morning, and I know there’s not a chance in hell I’ll fall back asleep. I throw on my robe and make my way to my keyboard and wait for the blinking cursor to arrive, that pulsing strobe I know will mock me as I struggle for words.

For once, I don’t even know where to begin.

This won’t be a post about autism, although I will remind everyone reading this that whether or not Adam Lanza had Asperger’s or not, autism did not incite him to his murderous rampage. Mental illness did. The fact that he may have been on the spectrum is no more important than the color of his eyes, or the fact that he was male, or white. Autism, in all its many forms, is not a mental illness.

Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir.

Like many people I try to make some sense of this tragedy by comparing it to others in the past, and by seeing it through the lens of many different roles, specifically those of child, parent and teacher. As I weeded my way through various media commentary on Friday afternoon I couldn’t help but think of Columbine. I can remember my reactions to the event; disbelief, horror, and eventually just a deep sadness which remained for the children, parents, and school staff who endured such terror. When Columbine occurred I was not yet a mother, and could only imagine the devastation that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wreaked on that terrible day. Now I am a mother, one whose youngest child turns six in a few short weeks, just like many of those lost to us forever.

Trust me, like many of you, the “what- ifs” running around my head regarding my children are without doubt my early morning wake-up culprits, and I don’t imagine they’re going anywhere very soon.

As I sit here in the wee hours of the morn I find I can’t stop thinking about those kids, yet I can’t write about them either. Perhaps it’s too close, too soon, but I can see them through the lenses of both mother and teacher, and it’s just too much. I am so, so sorry for their parents, grandparents, and siblings. I am so sorry for that entire community, who will be permanently marked by this loss, who can never fully recover from such a tragedy. I am even deeply sorry for those children who survived, because they are not only old enough to remember the horrific events of this infamous day, they are also old enough to understand what happened. Their innocence has been robbed. Their childhoods have been stolen.

And yet, that’s nothing compared to all of those little lives lost.

No, as I sit here struggling with what to say that hasn’t already been said I know I’ll focus on the teachers, because although I’m no longer “practicing”, I’ll always be an educator. I hope I would have acquitted myself with the smarts and grace of the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, but I don’t think any of us can ever know how we’ll behave in a situation where the world has been turned upside down, where any semblance of sanity no longer exists. I do know that the teachers and administrators who perished on Friday were the absolute heart of education. Each one demonstrated undeniable heroism, from the teacher who shielded her students with her own body, to the teacher who told her students she loved them in case those were the last words they ever heard, to the no-nonsense principal and school psychologist who rushed a madman with a gun.

I will be so bold as to say perhaps they wouldn’t even see themselves that way, because to many of us, their actions were just part of the job, a sacred trust. It’s one in which these days we are constantly called upon to protect the hearts and minds of our charges, thankfully in a setting usually not rife with violence. On Friday, December 14th, that sacred trust was put into the extreme for six staff members who honored that covenant: Rachel Davino, Dawn Hocksprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russeau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto. They were selfless. They willingly made the ultimate sacrifice.

They were heroes.

From me and my family, to their families and those who loved them, we send our prayers, and our love.

And one last thought for those who have fallen.

Thank you.

September 20, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:17 am by autismmommytherapist

Today’s Gratitude Attitude is dedicated to my local SEPTA (Special Education PTA). I’ve been attending for years, and have never witnessed such a large crowd as at last night’s meeting. Our first get-together not only included parents, but also teachers, administrators, aides, and principals as well. It truly requires an entire continent to raise our kids, and I’d just like to say how appreciative I am that so many different factions were in the house last night. I’d also like to extend my gratitude for all the hard work the SEPTA board does for our families. Thank you for your time and contributions!

September 12, 2011

School, Glorious School

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:41 am by autismmommytherapist

Last week, for four consecutive days, for a brilliant three hours at a time, I “rediscovered” my life again. Gone was my youngest, who spent the last hundred or so hours of the summer complaining he was bored. This was despite having access to a pool, the beach, three amusement parks, and what amounted to approximately a gazillion playdates, whose scheduling alone made me question my sanity. Vacated was my eldest, who has yet to completely recover post-Irene, as evidenced by some seriously ramped-up OCD, and equally questionable sleeping habits. During that time I attacked piles of crap I’d ignored since Father’s Day, ran a ridiculous amount of errands sans child, and remembered to shave my legs. Even with my husband just down the hallway hard at work, the house was comparatively silent, devoid of the whirlwind of noise that signifies the presence of both of my sons.

School, glorious school.

Every year I send a silent message of thanks to the universe at large for the creation of IDEA, that fabulous law that enables my offspring to have an education, and gives me the opportunity to once again breathe. I can’t thank the parents who spearheaded its creation enough, and can’t imagine having to convince legislators that my children were indeed entitled to attend school despite the differences in their brains from the “typical” crowd. I am well aware that all school systems are still not created equal. I am also aware that many of my fellow parents with differently-abled children are yet engaged in a tug-of-war with their respective districts, desperately attempting to convince administrators and teachers how best to meet the needs of their children. We still have a long way to go until it’s perfect. In some cases, we still have a long way to go before it’s even adequate. But at least, thankfully, education is an option.

For my two boys, for which I am eternally grateful, it’s become a fabulous option indeed.

I have to admit the McCaffertys cheated the gods of first week of school jitters this year, as my eldest not only had the same teacher and classmates, but enjoyed the return of the same phenomenal bus drivers. My youngest just commenced his third year of school with his cherished teacher and dedicated aides, and although his class composition has been altered (a fact which kept him up three straight nights in June) to allow a few of his friends to move on to kindergarten, a sampling of the “oldies but goodies” remained behind. He’s already made a new best friend, a lovely young girl with whom he plans on being betrothed and producing his future five, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she’s amenable.

So much for that return trip to Paris someday. Time for an addition.

The truth is my semi-return to sanity would not be possible without the expertise of both the faculties involved, from assistants and teachers to principals, and occupational and speech therapists as well. From the frequent notes replete with great detail about their days to the exceedingly well-executed field trips and schoolwide programs, both my boys are cared for, challenged, and excited by the prospect of learning. My sons are constantly treated with dignity and respect, and valued for the unique qualities of their personalities that comprise the core of who they are.

Frankly, that last sentence is half the battle already won.

So today I’d just like to say thanks to the entire world (we’re so beyond a village) helping to inspire my sons, both for a great first week of school, and what I’m certain will be a fantastic year to come. This family quite literally couldn’t do it without you, and the glorious smiles beaming from the faces of my boys every day they return home to me are evidence of just how hard you work for them, trying to elicit their best. My sons are appreciative. I am grateful. The reduced piles in my house are ecstatic.

And once again, truly, thank you.

June 21, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 6:26 am by autismmommytherapist

This week’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to both of my sons’ teachers, their therapists, and their aides. Justin and Zach have made tremendous progress this year, and it is in large part due to the collective efforts of the men and women who worked so hard with them at their respective schools. I couldn’t be more thrilled that they will be with the same teachers next year. I wish everybody a wonderful and restful summer!

 

 

May 7, 2010

Hot for Teacher

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , at 9:29 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s teacher appreciation week. It should be teacher appreciation century.

Yes, I’m a bit biased toward my brethren. I hail from three generations of public school servants, beginning with my grandmother who instructed kindergarteners for the better part of thirty years, back in the day when a college education for a woman was still a bit unusual. My mother was a teacher as well, and since she labored in a different district than my own we were rarely able to share our winter breaks together. I spent most of mine (until I rebelled as a teen) working alongside my grandma in her brightly colored, meticulously organized classroom, debating with five-year-olds whether or not March would come in like a lion or a lamb. Every year was a cliff-hanger.

I followed in my family’s footsteps as well (although I SWORE I wouldn’t), and spent half-a-decade instructing pre-teens in the District of Columbia public schools, and another seven with the same age group in northern Virginia. People are always shocked when I inform them that the latter gig was often more difficult than the former. At times, nothing is more daunting than a stay-at-home mom from the suburbs. I should know, as I now am one.

Just recently this particular former educator watched incredulously as most of New Jersey’s school budgets got voted down, and trust me, the incredulous part was that I was actually surprised after years of watching history repeat itself. Our town in Ocean County is notorious for not passing the school budget, and I think I finally understand why. An elderly woman was recently quoted in our local daily as voting against it “because the governor told her to” and “because those raises the teachers receive have gotten out of hand.” On this issue, of course, she is completely correct. After taxes, that annual cost of living adjustment educators take home may actually enable them to afford an extra night out at our local movie theater PLUS the 3-D glasses and the jumbo popcorn, when, of course, they really should just be home toiling over lesson plans. Sounds like granny knows her stuff.

Despite what people think, we know what we’re getting into when we sign on for this gig, and we know the benefits aren’t glamorous. I’ve been fortunate to work with many extremely dedicated individuals over the tenure of my career, and most of them had no qualms about putting in ten to twenty hours weekly over contract (that means working for free) so that their students could get the education they deserved, not the education they were legally entitled to receive. We’re not out for the insane perks of movie stars (although a well-thought out end-of-year gift is deeply appreciated), but a little respect is in order.

I’ve read articles on the fall-out of the budget failures in the Garden State, and while I was relieved that most special education programs won’t financially be affected (it’s not worth the districts’ time in court), there is no guarantee the integrity of various programs won’t be compromised due to teacher RIF. There are going to be a great deal of pink slips handed out in the next two weeks, and most of those educators will be forced to wait weeks or months to find out if they have continued employment, or even what options are available in other districts.  Some of them will be rehired. Some will be scrambling. This uncertainty will, without question, cause great consternation for parents of children in special education classrooms. Believe me, nothing strikes fear into the hearts of parents of disabled kids like the threat of losing a seasoned and caring teacher. I am certain however, no matter what the outcome, the vast majority will do their utmost to diligently enact their students’ IEPs in the untenable interim.

It is in this anxious atmosphere, this climate of uncertainty, that I must take a few moments to praise my peers, at least the ones that have had a direct impact on my oldest child. I will go on record as saying if Justin hadn’t been eligible for the well-constructed pre-school program he attended several years ago, despite my fifteen months as his primary educator in Virginia, I am certain he would not even closely resemble the child he has matured into today. His ability to read, to spell, to attempt math problems despite the disability his mother passed down to him in the latter subject, are all directly attributable to the hard work and diligence of the women (it’s usually women) who toiled to tame my rather wild child four years ago this fall.

The last two years he’s been able to continue in this academic vein, and with the support of his elementary teacher and ancillary staff has also finally learned the concept that waiting for gratification is not necessarily evil, and being denied a coveted object will not result in his untimely demise. Collectively, the practitioners of the last four years have shaped him, and helped mold him into the bright, happy, and somewhat more compliant individual he is today. There is no doubt in my mind that I, and my family, would not be reaping the benefits of his far more peaceful soul if he had not been immersed in a cocoon of educational excellence. My husband and I are eternally grateful.

Our youngest as well has recently been drafted into a special education program for children who reside on the milder end of the spectrum, and I’ve seen almost miraculous results in just the few months he’s been attending school. After more than a year of attempts to rewire his brain to facilitate real and meaningful language we are finally having conversations, ones in which I don’t supply the answers for him after tortuous deathly pauses. He initiates his own queries now, discusses his day, has even tattled on a classmate on occasion (I know the names of a few tantrum-prone gentlemen to date). Zach loves school, practically runs over me to get to the bus in the morning, and would be perfectly content to eject his parents from his household and have his teacher move in permanently to care for him.

On certain days, Jeff and I have considered that option.

Things haven’t been perfect for either child. There have been bumps in the long and windy path of education, much as there are in life. Mistakes have been made (mostly on my part), errors rectified. They’ve all been a learning experience (again, mostly for me).

I just want to say this is one family who deeply appreciates the commitment, the care, and the dedication that has been bestowed upon our children in their educational realm. Happy children create happy families, and at least in our case, happier marriages as well. I am grateful for the effort, and I thank all those teachers who have directly influenced my children’s lives, and all those who work so diligently despite budget cuts, furloughs, and hiring freezes to improve other children’s lives as well.

Thank you, truly, and happy Teacher Appreciation Week!