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education

Autism: Through the Window

Emotions run high and often the question of “why?” enters the mind. The world of Autism is fascinating, it is frustrating, it is filled with promise!

autismBeing a parent of a child who seemed to be a typical child for the first 18-24 months, it was heart breaking when “little quirks” began to appear.  My child was content to do things or watch the same program for hours, he enjoyed being around adults, toe walked, was a VERY picky eater, black and white concrete thinker, easily overwhelmed and would melt down- crying, screaming and striking out. He was also extremely anxious. Amazingly even with all these struggles he still smiled, asked questions and woke each morning looking forward to the day.  I longed to hold my child, rock and enjoy his company instead of hold him for his own safety. I often told myself, “If I could just peek inside, see through the window”, maybe I would be able to understand and be a better parent.

I was a special education teacher and yet it wasn’t for many years that I understood what all was going on. Through the years we sought support: OT, PT, communication therapy, counseling and pharmaceutical interventions. I read a lot and observed. As the years progressed and with the help and support of amazing OT’s, PT’s, SLP’s and teachers we have made it to the final years of high school. I would have never imaged, but always hoped that we would get to this point. Truly today my child’s anxiety is manageable, eating habits improved, he has the ability to know his own needs and share them, think and function with less rigidity, and participate in “regular” activities with his peers and adults. I now cry for very different reasons. I am no longer scared for what the future holds- I am hopeful. I am not sad for what we have gone through- I have grown in understanding and compassion. I cry because my family and those around us have been blessed. It really is about deciding whether the cup is half full or half empty.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.08.33 AM
We’ll Get By (The Autism Song) Johnny Orr Band

Check out this amazing song and music video:                                                                       https://youtu.be/cBOSr7JK8OA?list=PL075BE3078E117E4C

As a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, I tell you keep the faith, be patient, do what is right for your child and family, and know that even when you feel there is no one else struggling like you are, that you truly are not alone! It is no a race to the end, but a journey. Love unconditionally and help them build and live THEIR dreams. The future is bright, the sunshine just may come from a little different direction than we expected!

Autism is not curable, it’s what I call curbable, moldable, shapable. A person will always have tendencies, it is part of who they are, but can learn to adapt their needs and understand the world around them.

“Everyone has a mountain to climb and autism has not been my mountain, it has been my opportunity for victory.” – Dani Bowman

What Does it All Mean?? Words, Sights & Experiences

Have you ever been reading along and felt like you totally understood and got the gist of what the words on the page were saying? Yep, I have too! But then you start talking with someone about what you read and they give you the look and probably a few comments expressing that you are out in left field and that what you thought you understood isn’t at all what they took away from the same piece. Yep, been there done that too!

So, how does one handle that situation and how does it come about? I am totally convinced that it is the  fault of three things either independent or comorbid with each other 1) lack of focus/ multi-tasking, 2) prior knowledge set, and perhaps what I blame the most 3) the miraculous brain that makes connections and assumptions without us even consciously knowing.

http-::mrslorber.weebly.com:
Source: Mrslorber.weebly,com
What exactly do I mean? Well, ….

  • Focus and multi-tasking: We, yes all of us, are always doing at least two things at once. We are focusing on one thing while trying to do another or trying to do two things while attempting to understand and/or listen, or we are really tuned in to one thing but the phone is ringing/ nose dripping/ radio buzzing/ or someone talking. There is always more than one thing happening! This also means that we often glance at words and assume what it says or means something.
  • Warning: This just kinda, sort of, well does connect to #3. We all have experiences. Not one of us processes each experience and set of information the same, nor have we been exposed to exactly the same experiences and information. We use these experiences to make meaning and create understanding of new situations, opportunities and information.
  • The Brain. What I can I say? It is awesome, miraculous and amazing. Sometimes it just does what it does. It can see words that “we think” are there but are really in all actuality different words. It assumes ( perhaps because of #1 or #2)  that something “says”, does or means one thing when it really is another. We skim over words and take in experiences superficially and thus the meaning we construct may not always be accurate.

So why do I write about all this? I write because as a mom, a consumer, teacher, and a farmer I need to be aware of these kind of scenarios. I need to make sure that I actually comprehend what is going on and know what I am doing, seeing, reading, experiencing etc. I figure if I need to, then a few others  probably do too.

Now, I bet you are thinking, “This is all fine and dandy, but what does she really mean?” Ok, ok. Here are some common examples….

Correlation vs. Causation. 

Correlation:  a tendency to vary together Causation:  a direct relation of cause and effect

Recommended vs. Restriction

Recommend: to advise or suggest Restriction: to stay within designated limits

Fact vs. Factoid

Fact: something that actually exists, reality, truth                                                          Factoid: Fun, false fact

Prohibit vs Outlaw

Prohibit: to forbid (by authority)       Outlaw: Exclude from the law

Guidelines vs. Directions

Guidelines: suggestion, framework, practice, indicator                              Directions: reference point, instruction, command

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Source: dreamstime.com
See, words can be confusing. We do, read, interpret within our constraints and biases. We all can do better at interpreting what is read, said, done, heard, and experienced.  It is easy to correlate something with another if given a direct and limited set of data. For example: Kids who play on the playground jungle gym get hurt.  It may be true, but how many? How often? What were the condition? Is it all kids? Are adults hurt to? Is it all jungle gyms? Can you really say that the jungle gym causes the children to get hurt or is there a simple correlation?  In another example, some would even venture to say that a certain food makes them sick. I ask, when do they get sick? How much do they eat? What are they eating with that food? Is it hot out? Has the stomach flu been going around? Are they on medications that interact with the food? Have they not eaten that food for a long time before they eat it and get sick? One may correlate the food item to a certain feeling or reaction, but without concrete evidence and eliminating all other possible influences causation cannot be made.

Same goes for the terms recommendation and restriction. Being a farmer there are a lot of different items used in planting and caring for a crop. Each seed and care product has different guidelines and directions. Often we have training to help us understand them, to help ensure that we use the products with efficacy. Many times, the human side of a trainer comes out. They don’t want to lower the hammer too harshly and they choose words that are easier on the ears and the hearts of those in attendance. Two terms that are often interchanged are recommended and restriction. It is important to make sure that the correct word is used and it directly impacts the actions taken. Recommended says that one should or it is suggested that a certain product is used a particular way. Restricted means that a product is only allowed to be used a specific way. Many times the term recommended is used because it is easier to digest, but it can have detrimental consequences.  If the label on a product says that it is restricted to a certain use at a specified quantity, then that is what is meant. Ot is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. Our words and actions impact others and can impact the livelihoods of ourselves and neighbors.

Anyway, ultimately, I wanted to remind myself and the few others out there that often float on the surface and skim though experiences and materials they read, to think about what it is that is happening, what it is that they are reading, and to take time to question the information and opportunities that we are engrossed in.

Words are tricky and our experiences and brain create miraculous meaning… it’s time we become active and help our brain understand what is really being said, done, experienced!

It’s time to engage!

The Day I Cast My Vote

So I filled in some bubbles, folded it according to the pre-creased lines, placed it in two envelopes and signed the back of my absentee ballot. This was the day I cast my vote.

Was it easy? The bubble filling was, but my decisions came with a lot of thought. The toughest bubble to color- President. I had a few thoughts cross my mind….Do I pick a candidate that is not a “R” or “D”? Do I not fill in a bubble at all? Do I align myself based on the party I identify with primarily? Hmmmm. Lots to consider.

Media has taken both major candidates and highlighted all their social nuances and ill doings. Both Trump and Clinton have been nasty to each other. People have blasted social media with their favorite parodies and personal feelings. Candidates have avoided answering questions and when they do answer share just enough. So, how does a person decide who to vote for when both act like they are auditioning for a new or a revisited 2017 sitcom? Well, I had to step back and look at issues and topics important to me…

Taxes, immigration, abortion, trade, economy.

fullsizerender-15Ok, those are the big ticket items and yes, I did not mention agriculture. You may ask, “How can I do that being that we farm?”. The reason is that many of the issues I did tune in to are related to or have a direct impact on agriculture.

So here is what I did….

The first step I took before deciding which bubbles to fill in was to decide if I had a duty to vote or if it was simply a right granted to be. I had to decide if those thoughts were the same or different. I decided that they were different. I have a right granted to me by our constitution and I have a responsibility to place an informed vote. Should I have decided to not spend time to know what or whom I was voting for, I would be acting irresponsibly and should withhold my vote. BUT, I did take time to read and listen and think before I filled in my circle.

The second step I took, before I dove into each candidates position, was to write down what I felt was important and what my beliefs were on the topics listed above.Why you may ask. Well, simply because it is easy to sway one direction or another as a person dives into information. I knew that media’s drama of the candidates was inevitable and  as I was to embark on a bit of “research” wanted to keep true or as close to my core beliefs as possible. So, I sat down, did a bit of soul searching, and made some notes.

The third step was to dive in and read. I looked at some information shared by organizations I belonged to. I went to the candidates own websites, reviewed positions from my state’s elected officials, watched the debates, and tuned in to various news stations. I made notes and eventually knew that there were just some positions that I couldn’t compromise on. After taking time to “get to know” the candidates positions, I made my decision.

The last step was the easiest- I filled in bubbles, folded the ballot and placed it in the envelope sealing it with my signature.

My right to vote was acted on as a result of the responsibility I felt that right deemed necessary. Just voting for voting sake it scary. Not voting is just as scary. We have the duty to be informed and although finding the truth in matters such as discovering what the presidential candidates are all about may be difficult, we should take the time and energy to make an attempt, to ask questions and listen. In the long run, even if we choose the candidate that is not victorious, we will know that we made an informed choice that reflected what we felt was best. Ultimately THAT, the informed vote based on our beliefs, is the right choice!

Dots on a Map: Educational Standards

Have you ever had a list of places that you wanted to visit while on vacation?  Initially those places are dot on a map or items on a list.

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Source: http://www.123rf.com

There is no direction as to how to get to each place, what to do, when to go, or what to use when going or there. Your list is simply that, a list.

Educational standards are no different. They are a list of items that students need to learn to the best of their ability. They are NOT supposed to be prescriptive- dictating what to use, exactly how to teach, or who is supposed to be responsible for providing instruction. They are simply a list. Often they are organized into a progression of skill sets, but that structure does not prescribe how to teach, what resources to use or who should teach it. It simply identifies the level at which students are developmentally ready and in need of learning a skill so that they can build on it as they continue to learn.

With my background in education and strong belief in local control, I try to keep an eye on what is changing and who pushing what political agenda on our kids. ( Ok, I’ll be honest. I care about the education of my own kids and want what is best for them and their friends!) Anyway, that is why when the Common Core Standards were adopted by our state a few years ago, I tuned in and tried to make sense of the commotion and complaining surrounding them. My conclusion: most had not even looked at them and were up in arms because there was some prescription as to what materials were to specifically to be used and suggestions as to how they needed to be taught identified at times. There was a government dictation and imposition into what should be the local control of curricula. In other wards, the lines between curriculum and standard was significantly blurred. It also became a great marketing tool for educational material companies.

fullsizerender-13So, when the state of North Dakota announced that they were going to be revising/drafting and ultimately going to have their own set of state standards, I quickly filled out the application to be a member of the business and community member committee. This committee would be tasks with reviewing, assessing and addressing the revisions that math and english teachers made in order to reflect North Dakota education, our students, and what we, North Dakota professionals and parents, feel is needed for students to be flexible thinkers, problem solvers, and have a well balanced group of skills in order to be successful once they leave the walls of the school.

This week was my first experience working with this group of individuals. I was deeply impressed by the work that had been done by the teachers. They had really taken time to listen and think about students, the reality of differences in our schools, and the desire for the state standards to truly be one from the people of North Dakota for those in North Dakota.

Prescription was taken out of a lot of places. Definitions re-written to provide clarity, and incremental stages of learning and demonstrating knowledge outlined. Visuals for the English Language Arts standards had also been developed which increased understanding that it is a shared responsibility of all to continually be working on english and language skills. In the math area it was made clear that specifically at the high school level that the standards were laid out according to topic areas, not classes. This directly implies and puts control of the who, when, where and what is used to teach the skills into the control of local school districts and out of the hands of the state. This excited me! Does it mean a bit of work will need to be done? Yes! Will schools need to know the skills students need to learn and not guess or assume that if they teach algebra all skills are covered? Yes! It means conversations, it means collaboration, it means innovation and some rethinking….. it means possibility and opportunity for great things!

I am excited to continue through the next phases of this standards revision/ draft process!

More info on ND State Content Standards is available at:

https://www.nd.gov/dpi/SchoolStaff/Standards/

If you are so inclined, you can also comment and share your thoughts at the link above by clicking on the survey option.

Here’s to great things in North Dakota education!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homecoming Hullaballoo

Growing up in Minneapolis, Homecoming was fun. It was a school thing. In actuality I don’t remember if we dressed up. I don’t remember if there was tailgating. I don’t remember if we had a parade. I do remember a pep rally in the gym and often deciding to skip the football game. It wasn’t a big event or one that bad an impression on me. Well, let me tell you, in small town rural America Homecoming is not like that which I remember from my upbringing. It is almost a national holiday!  Schools have dress up days for an entire week. Parade float planning is in progress for a few weeks. Discussion of whether or not “so and so” or “she and she” would or should be King and Queen is the center of discussion for more than a week. And the football game- no brainer- it’s a must!

So what happens when the excitement of Homecoming in one community gets combined with that of another through a sports coop? Let alone another community in which you compete against each other in other sports and activities? Hmmm. It can or could go two ways…1) the support and opportunity can grow or 2) people can crab and chatter as if the world is coming to an end. The real question is what do the students think. Isn’t homecoming about the students? How much focus should be placed on what was instead of what can be? Supporting our students through opportunity, collaboration, and experiences is what high school, and quite frankly what I think all of education, is all about. Homecoming is part of that and should be no different.

This year we had the privilege of combining the homecoming festivities for the two coop school communities. Students were excited! There was a bonfire midweek for everyone in all communities and schools, and then one parade, one pep rally, one tailgate on Homecoming Friday! Each school still elected their own king and queen and held noon activities Monday – Thursday. Students and teachers were able to video chat with the other schools’ students  and teachers in order to plan and design their float. They also worked to plan the pep rally and administration from the schools worked hard to create environments, collaboration, instruction on new skills, social interactions, and fun for all.

When visiting with students, most enjoyed getting to build new relationships with their peers. They liked finding out more about the other school and planning over a longer period of time in short segments. They felt it was fun to do something new and have more people together. One student even shared that it made it feel like a team instead of people standing independently on the sidelines.

Team, comradery, support, spirit, bonding and a sense of community for our students; that’s what homecoming is about. We make the choice to be excited for opportunity or complain and expect things to be as they were twenty plus years ago. We need to work today and plan for the future. Change is inevitable. Adapting, working together, compromise and vision is what the future is about!

So let’s celebrate and support what we have while respecting what was for what it is worth- past experience and something that was a certain way previously. Remember it, don’t live in it, and provide for today!

 

 

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