Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Annual IEP Meeting

We had Morgan's annual IEP meeting today. It was a whirlwind of discussion and juggling teachers, therapists and two little girls as we sat at a "kid-sized" table in Morgan's classroom. Overall it went well. Morgan has met all of her goals (at least to the 80% requirement..) and now has completely new ones. We are so proud of her! She seems to have especially come a long way since she started the AIM program in September.

I won't go into details of her new goals quite yet. I am still working out clarification on one of them. It needs to be amended or possibly another goal added. She has some good challenges for the next year that currently seem daunting...but her goals last year felt that way at first and she did great.

I was impressed with two things at this meeting. The first was that the school principal participated. He was not involved last time, so I was surprised to see him when we walked in. He seems to genuinely care about all the kids and I like that he is so involved in the details. I guess I hope that this is the case with all school principals, but I'm not familiar with how involved they are day to in these sorts of meetings. The school psychologist was not there this time, but this made sense to me as I believe overall we have confidence in Morgan's placement for now and really we did not discuss anything that the other teachers and therapists couldn't handle.

The other thing was that the Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) attended as well. She did have to split her time between two IEP meetings, but the fact that she was there was amazing. If you remember Morgan does not technically qualify for speech therapy per the district's evaluations. During the AIM parent night I discovered that the SLP really does work closely with the kids in the intervention classroom, so Morgan is receiving these services in an way I was not aware of. At the home visit I brought up a point that concerns both the social and language areas... so I was thrilled to see they incorporated this into her IEP and involved the SLP in a greater way than I thought they might. She also agreed to meet with me at a separate time to discuss our RDI program. These therapists are certainly not required to do this, so I am excited that she agreed to it. Now I've got to follow up and get it scheduled!

We continue to be impressed with Morgan's school and the AIM program. I always hear horror stories about school districts and their refusal to provide services. Unless the wool's been pulled over our eyes, we think we've got a good deal so far. Let's hope this continues.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Home Visit

On Tuesday, Morgan's AIM teacher as well as her OT (Occupational Therapist) came to our home for her parent-teacher conference. There has been no school this week to allow the teachers to do these visits. At the beginning of the school year Morgan's teacher from the integrated class came to our house to introduce herself. I believe they do these home visits to also assist parents in issues at home. If they share about how they conduct the class this can be adapted in many ways to the home. Also, I think it also helps the teachers get to know the individual child better, so they can enhance their learning experience.

Well, overall Morgan is doing really well in school. They said she is happy and flexible in her routine and her peers really like her....huh?! What?! Is this the same kid we have screaming at us at bedtime that she doesn't want to give her sister hugs and kisses goodnight and then when we close the door of her room she screams to give Piper hugs and kisses? The same kid that MUST watch Tinker Bell RIGHT NOW and has a fit if we say no? Hmmm. Well, we know enough about kids her age that this is not uncommon. Even for typical kids, at home they push the boundaries and up the demands. Really, it was great to hear that her behavior is so good at school. We can deal with the home issues, we know she has it in her to behave well and we do see it at home...but we know developmentally there's a place for the challenges as well.

Morgan's teachers showed us where she is at with her IEP goals. These are up for review/revising next week, so it was nice to have this meeting to give input on next year's goals. She has surpassed some goals and gotten close on others. We are really happy with her progress, especially these first few months of the AIM program. Whatever they are doing, and we are doing, it is really helping her progress.

They shared that she does well academically. Morgan does not have any "cognitive" goals on her IEP. This means that she is keeping par with typical kids on her overall understanding many processes and knowing facts. She can sequence pictures, match like objects, of course her counting, number recognition and such things have always been good. This gives me a lot of peace of mind as I hear the better "outcomes" for kids with Autism tend to be for the ones with average and above average intelligence. We have been reassured many times in the last few weeks that Morgan falls in this area of at least average intelligence.

Her fine motor skills are improving. She struggles the most with her "grasp" of writing instruments. She automatically wants to put her fist around it instead of holding it with the tips of her fingers. This is something we can work on at home as well. She is getting better with scissors on cutting straight lines, but will soon graduate to working on cutting shapes. The OT gave us a list of activities we can work on at home. I always have a hard time coming up with these things at home, to having this tool with really help.

I loved it most when they said her peers like her and like to be around her. I'm pretty sure this is mostly the kids in her intervention class. I didn't think to ask about kids in her integrated class. I'll have to ask in her IEP meeting. I shared one area I wanted to see added to her goal and that is working on pretend/imaginative play. She just does not do this much at all, individually and with peers. There is so much socially that is learned from pretend play...making up games, problem solving, role playing. Really, it is real life stuff. If they can help her to develop this area, it will help her so much.

I'm sure there is more that was said, but memory is failing me now. We are just so glad that Morgan has this wonderful program and such support around her at school. I know families struggle so much with school districts and the services available. We may encounter issues in the future, but we are grateful for what we have right now.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tinker Hell... I mean, Bell

This little sprite-ly creature has managed to take over our house lately. This can be good and bad. I bought the first movie and costume for Piper for her birthday. The idea came from the fact that Piper loved to wear Morgan's Sleeping Beauty costume, but it was just too long for her and she'd trip all over herself. One day when shopping at Toys R Us I saw the Tinker Bell costumes and thought, hmmm, that just might be right for Piper since the skirt is so much shorter. Friends had told us the movie was cute, so we tried it out.

So, three more movie sequels since, we are now in Tinker....Hell. I love it because they love it. They ask to watch one or more of the movies (only about an hour and ten minutes long) each day and they are still totally entertained by them. They like to wear the costume and have Daddy "fly" them around the house. But...I don't like it because if Morgan doesn't get to watch it she throws an absolute fit and it keeps her from doing other, more social activities. So, it's a challenge to keep things balanced and make everyone happy.

A bit more info on the movies. We also love them be cause they are a nice length and the plots are not too scary or complicated. Sometimes Disney goes a little overboard in those areas, especially introducing the topic of death at an age where kids can't possibly understand what's happening. The Tinker Bell movies are fun and sweet with just the right amount of conflict, but always with a happy ending and wonderful music to enjoy.

That said, Morgan and Piper did get their first glace at the "Disney Fairy" toy section at Target this week. There may be a few more items appearing at our house soon, but hopefully ones that will encourage some imaginative play and not just fill the house with junk. So, family members, if you are reading this and think you may wish to include a Tinker Bell item in a holiday or birthday gift...please ask me which one would be most appropriate and I'll be glad to provide you with the information.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Morgan's First Movie

A few weeks ago David had the privilege of taking Morgan to her very first movie!

First, I will explain this picture. It was taken by another parent and it was pretty dark in the theater at the time, thus the blurry shot and the fact that David's head was cut off.

David called me right after and said he was almost crying...they had SO much fun! We have hesitated to take Morgan to the theater because we fear it would be too loud, crowded or just too long for her too stay seated.

Our local Autism Society informed us of the AMC Theatre's "Sensory-Friendly" movie screenings. They are offered the first Saturday of every month at our downtown Spokane location. They are wonderful!! I think any kid/family would benefit from this. The showing is at 10:00 am, so convenient that kids are hopefully not too hungry or tired. They keep the lights dimmed, but not totally dark and sound is only projected from the front of the theater, thus it is not as loud and the surround sound doesn't come from all sides. The kids are also free to get out of their seats and roam/move about as necessary.

David got Morgan a small bag of popcorn and he said she munched and watched happily for the first hour or so. Then they took a bathroom break and she roamed a bit, then watched the rest of the movie. When she got home she said she liked it and that she saw a movie with a "Cat and Humpty-Dumpty." It was Puss in Boots. Ha ha!!

We'll be attending the next movie The Muppets on Dec. 3rd with the whole family. Can't wait!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Project AIM Parent's Night

This week we were presented with the opportunity to attend a "Parents Night" for Morgan's school program. It is called Project AIM (Autism Intervention Model). It is also sometimes called Alternative Intervention Model because there is opportunity for kids with other developmental disabilities to benefit as well, though at this point I believe all the kids in Morgan's class do have an Autism diagnosis. This program is a part of the school district and I believe we are completely blessed that we live where we do and that this program is in place. I also received some confirmation of this from the professor we are working with on the research study. She is contracted to work with this program next year and thinks it is a great one. This means a lot coming from someone who's worked with hundreds of kids with Autism and many school districts.

Currently there are only two children in Morgan's class. Morgan and a little boy named Hayden. They offered childcare for the evening and as soon as I brought the girls in, Morgan spotted Hayden right away. Hayden looked up at her (from sitting on the floor) and asked "Is that you, Morgan?!" Too funny. That is just how Morgan talks sometimes, completely stating the obvious, but in a question form.

We gathered in the "music" room and were asked to fill out cards, one for recent "successes" and one for "challenges." All the parents introduced ourselves and shared which classes our kids were in. Morgan's program consists of 2 1/2 hours integrated with the ECAAP program (Early Childhood Associate Apprenticeship Program: low income, but typical kids) and 1 1/2 hours of "intervention." There is another group where those time-frames are flipped, more time in intervention, less integrated. The teachers and therapists introduced themselves and shared the list of "successes" that  we shared. They informed us that the challenge cards would be shared with the staff and taken into consideration for each child.

I also learned at that time that two more children would be joining Morgan's class. As much as I love how much attention she was receiving (one lead teacher and two assistant for two kids), it is much better for her socially to have more kids to interact with. The two new students, are not surprisingly boys, as Autism tends to appear in many more boys than girls. The new boys' parents were understandably apprehensive, but by the end of the evening were pleased with what they saw.

Then we broke up into groups by class and went to tour the classrooms. We started in the "Move to Learn" area that they use to work on gross and fine motor skills as well as sensory issues. The physical and occupational therapists create a sort of obstacle course that can be changed up every few weeks. The kids start in a particular spot and have to wait their turn to make their way through the course. It's amazing that just being told they have to sit in a spot and wait their turn can require so many different skills sets. It's so hard for these kids to sit still, listen, then follow direction. What can be so easy to some typical children, can be so difficult for kids on the Autism Spectrum. And some areas are difficult for some and not for others. This can be the same case for typical kids, but it tends to be the extreme for kids with ASD. The course itself looked like fun and gave me some ideas of things we can do at home with her as well. I could tell Morgan probably really enjoys this activity.

After the Move to Learn areas we visited the ECAAP class. This is such a fun classroom. It is so big and filled with so many activities. I've learned this can be overwhelming for kids like Morgan...but in this case they have a great routine established and all of Morgan's teachers from her intervention class are in this class to help her if she needs assistance and redirection. There are 18 spots for three-four year-olds in this class, this includes twelve "typical" kids and six from the AIM program.

Morgan's teachers shared that during breakfast time she is always in great anticipation of drinking her milk. All the children have to wait until everyone has their food until they can start eating and Morgan needs to be reminded a few times as she tries to sneak sips. They also shared that when in the kitchen play area one of the other little girls wanted Morgan to play with her. I believe this was prompted by a teacher, but the little girl took the suggestion seriously and would not take a "no" from Morgan. Slightly reluctantly Morgan went with her and followed the directions of what the girl wanted her to do. I was so glad to hear all of this. Imaginative play is something Morgan does not do much of and to hear that this is really encouraged is great. She also needs some other kids in her life that can pull her into play situations. So many times kids just leave her out since she does not readily engage them.

Gosh, this is getting long. From there we went to the "intervention" classroom. They really pack a lot into the hour and a half time period! They have lunch there and each child is required to have a little of everything offered that day on their plate and even if they don't eat it. They encourage the children to touch it, kiss it and even sometimes try a little bite. Autism often results in picky eating habits in many kids due to sensory issues or just not wanting to try anything new (inflexibility). I've also recently learned that some kids are "stuffers," as they don't know how to regulate how much they put in their mouth before chewing. Hmmm...Piper's not on the spectrum (at least that we know at this point), but I'd say she's definitely a "stuffer." I'm going to have to ask for tips on that. Ha!

After lunch they have circle time and one-on-one time with the teachers to work on academics, language and other individual skills as outlined in their IEPs (Individualized Education Plan). In Morgan's case they are really working on her fine motor and social skills as she struggles in these areas. The lead teacher had such a sweet story about circle time. As it's just Morgan and Hayden right now they both sit in little cube chairs in front of the teacher as they do a little music, talk about the day and the weather, etc. I was surprised to see they both have weighted lap pads that they use when they sit. These pads help them to sit still and focus better. The teacher said one day they sat down and Morgan noticed Hayden didn't have his lap pad on. She went and got it and essentially "tucked him in" to his chair, saying "There you go, Hayden." I about cried! This is so sweet and caring. Morgan cares about her friend and wants to help him. I love it!

Overall it was a great, informative evening. I came away with a much better understanding of how the program works and the amazing teachers and therapists that work with our little girl. They just seem to care so much about these kids and want to give them the very best start in their eduction. You can really tell this because Morgan loves to go to school. Sometimes we get a little resistance in the morning as she's waking up and having breakfast, but I think that's just the fact that, like both her parents, we are not morning people! There's not much we can do that. I do know that when Morgan gets to school she is happy and ready to participate.

I also was surprised to learn that Morgan is the youngest child in her class. The other parents also seemed surprised about this when the teacher mentioned it. The majority of the time these kids only have one year in the AIM program before they start Kindergarten. Because we got Morgan in Early Intervention before she was two, we were able to transition her to the school district program at three, she will have two full years in the AIM program before Kindie. That will give her such a great opportunity to learn and mature. We can give ourselves a pat on the back for that!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The School Bus - Update

No news is good news, we think. We got a message from the school district that they received David's appeal letter. They are actually considering it! Until then, the mornings get colder and I dread how we are going to deal with trekking a few blocks to the bus when there is snow on the ground and unshoveled sidewalks. I imagine I may need to put both girls in the car and drive, keeping them inside until the bus pulls up. Ugh! It's hard enough getting those two in their car seats now, but every morning to drive two blocks?!

We're hoping they make an exception for us and can use the "generous" turnaround so they can pull up in front of our house. I'll let you know when we hear more!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gram and Grandpa B Visit

Gram and Grandpa B came for a visit the weekend of Halloween and we had a great time at lots of fun events and Morgan and Piper got lots of grandparent time. My Dad takes nice pictures, so it's always great to get some of his shots on my blog instead of my iPhone versions. Here's a few from the weekend:

They like to squirt each other as well as anyone else in the room with their plethora of bath toys.

Look at that smile!

A fun project with Mama at Piper's school

Our sweet cupcake

If you look very closely, there is a pea at the end of that chopstick. Piper was fascinated with them as I like to use them when we get take-out. She was so proud of herself!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Two Girls in a Box

Smile pretty!

Morgan had her six month check-up at the dentist yesterday. I don't know what I was thinking bringing her in the day after Halloween! They actually did not eat as much candy as I thought they might. The trick or treating was the most fun.

Morgan did so well at her appointment. I am thrilled!! Well, actually, she didn't do everything they wanted her to do, but there was MAJOR progress. I give that staff major props for working with her and being patient.

The big success was that she allowed them to take x-rays of her teeth!  I tried to prepare her a few days before that they were going to take "pictures" of her teeth. I think that helped, but the assistants did really well reading her cues and knowing when to back off and when to push her a little. She sat so well and bit on the "lollipop stick" and let that machine go around her head. I was just amazed!

Now, when it came down to trying to clean her teeth she wanted nothing to do with it. I could tell she was at her limit. The dentist was thrilled that they got the x-rays and thus, no cavities! She withstood the dentist checking around her mouth and putting on fluoride, but that was enough.

One step at a time, I always say. I'm so proud of my girl!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Though I've post-dated this post, obviously I'm behind on so many topics I've wanted to blog about. So much going on, yet so little time to write about it.

The girls had a FABULOUS Halloween this year! We had Gram and Grandpa B visiting and we made our way over to Couer d'Alene Place for a little Trick or Treating. I think CdA Place is Halloween "Mecca." Our friends just moved into their new home their...they had 450 kids show up and their door that night! Wow! We literally felt the crunch too. There were a few homes that had narrow entrances to their porches, and the number of kids coming in and and out caused a bottleneck several times. Morgan got the hang of it quickly and as she finished at one house she said, "More houses!" every time. Piper was so cute running with those little legs to keep up with the bigger kids.

As you can see, we had the most adorable pumpkin and cupcake!