Thursday, December 3, 2009

In the paper

Well, Connor and I were in the local paper yesterday. I am not thrilled with the article since the majority of the text was either fluff about us moving to this town, or reiterating the authors past negative article. I wanted to talk about being an advocate for your child. I wanted to talk more about how far Connor has come. I especially wanted to talk about the positive things the school district is doing for my son. Apparently, the newspaper sells more with negative articles, surprise, surprise.

I want to say thank you to my son's teacher, Ms. Lloyd, his para, Ms. Monica, his resource teacher, Ms. Wendy, and his entire team. Thank you for your constant hard work and patience. I am under no delusion that Connor is an easy child or that your jobs are easy. I wish more people, even people with typical children, could understand the lengths you go through to help our children. You sacrifice money and time and heaven knows patience, to help our children daily. I am not good at saying thank you and I expect a lot from you, but I am appreciative. You are all good at your jobs and have wonderfully large hearts. You have helped my son and you have loved my son. Thank you. To all teachers and all supporting staff across the country, thank you.

In case you want to read the article:

Mom pleased with support of autistic student

December 01, 2009 10:21 PM

When Jill Mitchell first met with Yuma Elementary District 1 to inquire about services available for her autistic son, she was prepared to fight for them.

Mitchell, who moved to Yuma from Woodland Park, Colo., last summer, said services for her son Connor, 10, were not optional - she said she has read books and attended conferences and knows what works.

But despite some criticisms she had heard about special education programs at the district, Mitchell was pleased with what she found. "The fabulous thing about District 1 is that I didn't need to fight because they agreed on everything," she said.

The Arizona Department of Education audited Yuma Elementary School District 1 in October after a complaint was filed by a parent. The audit noted that 29 percent of special education teachers have not met the Highly Qualified standard in the subject area they are assigned to teach as mandated under the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. And there are four positions currently filled by long-term substitutes.

Mitchell said she knew that her son needed a paraprofessional "and without blinking an eye, they agreed."

A paraprofessional is a trained aide who spends all of their time with a disabled student while they are at school. After 8-1/2 years of therapy, diet and supplemental vitamins, Connor is now considered a "high functional autistic," Mitchell said.

"He walks and talks and does his homework, but he still has emotional and behavioral issues associated with autism. So he needs to have constant supervision to be successful."

Mitchell's husband, now a civil engineer at Yuma Proving Ground, had been self-employed. But because his business was keeping him from home, they moved to find a job opportunity in a sunnier climate with hopes of a better quality of life.

Initially, Mitchell noticed that parents had a negative view of how school districts handled autism. She found many parents who were criticizing their school's approach. This is because a diagnosis of autism is new and the rates are skyrocketing, she said.

Yet negative comments did not discourage her because she never was content to drop off her son at school and expect them to do all the work, Mitchell said.

Despite Connor's disability, he is participating in a regular fourth-grade classroom at Sunrise Elementary School. One of the initiatives the school takes that is especially helpful is the "lunch bunch" break period when Connor, his paraprofessional and two other classmates get together.

They not only enjoy sharing their meal, but it is an opportunity for Connor to work on his conversational and social skills in a small group setting while all 32 of his classmates take turns dining with him.

By having all the children rotate turns sharing quality time with Connor, none of them feels left out of the fun, and they have the chance to get better acquainted. Even before he arrived for the school year, District 1 had a counselor meet with Connor's class to explain how a child with autism is different but they can still be friends, Mitchell said.

"That made a difference in his being integrated into a regular classroom because now when he showed up, he was accepted by everyone."

Connor is now performing grade-level work, but that requires a lot of effort because he still has a lot of issues to overcome every day, Mitchell said. But, she noted, there is one type of therapy called applied behavioral analysis (ABA) that works better than others.

When Mitchell discovered Connor's paraprofessional lacked this background, she appealed to District 1, which had Connor's paraprofessional trained in ABA at Alice Byrne School. Mitchell's only complaint is that not enough teachers receive this specific professional development and the state needs to pass more bonds to fund this.

"I think parents ultimately got to take the responsibility for their own child and not blame the schools because District 1 has done an excellent job," she said.

In a previous Yuma Sun story, Darwin Stiffler, District 1 superintendent, said only 16 teachers out of nearly 60 special education instructors must meet additional requirements. He said ADE's report recognized that the teachers are certified in special education.

But ADE is adding new obligations that were not compulsory until now in order to meet the Highly Qualified standard. The 16 teachers must pass the Arizona Education Proficiency Assessment (AEPA), which evaluates general education knowledge, Stiffler said.

He said District 1 will comply with helping teachers prepare for the AEPA by providing professional development and reimbursing teachers for the exam expense.


Arizona Teacher Staff Development said...

Your article is very fine. You have focused on very basic needs or circumstances. I am totally agreed with your thoughts and views. Thanks for sharing this beautiful article with me.

Leesa said...

Hi Jill,

I just got to you blog via, "Canelle et Vanille." I was a special educator for 7 years in San Diego and have worked with and advocated for kids with special needs and have worked with students with Autism, as well. I had to be an advocate for my students (with the help and support of their parents) because my district's program office did NOT want to supply any extra services that myself and the parents thought in the best interest of my student/their child). I found this VERY challenging and frustrating, because I think it came down to money... rather than what was best fort the student... Yet, I believe that being an advocate is the only way to go, because you are up against a system that doesn't really care (in my experience).. My service providers were fantastic and so was my support staff... along with my students and their families... Going against a system that had no real first hand knowledge of my students and their specific needs was very hard to do.. but it was well worth the effort...
I no longer teach special ed. - I'm living in France and teaching English here.. but I often think about my students and their families with a lot of fondness and appreciation!!
Thanks for sharing your son and your experiences together...
All my best,