This was Lily's first parent/teacher conference ever, really, and although we're P/T conference veterans, having lived through grade four under Emma, I admit I was sort of dreading Lily's conference for no easily fathomable reason. When I let myself think about it, it was really no big deal. We've met with the teachers (both Lily's Special Ed teacher and her Kindergarten Homeroom teacher) several times already through IEP meetings, wrap fade meetins, etc. This conference was really not going to tell us much more than what we already knew, but it was not going to be your "traditional" conference, because Lily is not your "traditional" gal.
We had Emma's conference first, and we may as well have just copied and pasted past dialogues into the mouths of Emma's new teachers. Doing great scholastically, getting along really well with just about everyone in the class, adjusting to the new school magnificently. . . oh but um. . . sometimes we can't really get her to shut up. Emma chats. She's very social and very friendly. That said one high point did come out of the conference that's worthy of note. I'll return to it shortly. Lily's conference was the following day.
We really like Lily's teachers. Mr. R. comes across as a very soft spoken, low key, sensitive male teacher. He seems to be the consummate professional; diplomatic, accepting of suggestion, well spoken, and considered (I was trying to come up with the right word here. . . I was thinking "thoughtful" but that isn't what I mean, and I don't mean "considerate" though I'm sure he's that too; what I mean is, he considers. He speaks slowly, returning to the start of his thought if he feels he's not communicating what he means effectively, beginning again to make his point clear and then seeking assurance that his audience understands before proceeding). Mrs. I comes across just as professional and well-spoken but there's an edgy almost palpable passion for teaching kids with special needs and learning new ways to reach them that I am always stricken by when we talk to her. Like the whole process of learning to teach and then applying it is her own personal heroine. If we mention something we've "learned" (and it's in quotes because sometimes I spout off the apocryphal crap I glean from people in their blogs as if it's the gospel truth (and often it is)) she latches onto it with the hungry tenacity of a junkie in the throes of withdrawal (as learned from such films as "Trainspotting") immediately intense and interested and excited. She always seems not just passingly interested in what our wrap services people have to teach, but eager to learn it, to absorb it, and to apply it to the kids under her care.
Mr. R. indicated that she has integrated/adjusted in his classroom as well as any of the NT kids have. She's sitting still for instruction, sometimes as much as 20 minutes at a time, focusing on him when he speaks, and answer to the best of her ability. The good news is, the NT kids in her homeroom appear to like her and they meet her at the door when she comes from her special ed class and give her hugs and hold her hand and take her to her desk.
Academically, she sometimes responds appropriately to questions, sometimes she doesn't respond at all. The example that blew Mr. R. away in class one day was:
"Lily, what's the first sound you hear in the word mug".
"Mug," she answered.
"Okay, but what's the first sound you hear in the word mug."
"Muh," she answered.
Really? I would never have dreamed she'd have understood that concept, let alone given the right answer. And again, does she know it? Is she repeating it? Can she be consistent with it? We don't know, because if we try to duplicate the results at home, she's more likely to respond "I want Torious," (I want Victorious) than she is "muh".
She gets along well enough with her classmates that my wife and I have decided to let her have a couple of them over for her birthday party next month. Three of the little girls in her homeroom appear to have a particular fondness for Lily. One of them she knows from daycare, one of them is the daughter of one of the aides who works in Mrs. I's special ed classroom (and also was in daycare with Lily), and one is a girl we don't know, but Mr. R. said. . . "she is an exceptional human being." Really? At five she's an exceptional human being? That's pretty high praise for a five year old, but okay.
Doubtless this birthday party will be the subject of future post(s) since I already have something I'm grappling with inside my heart. Namely, all these kids are in her typical classroom. None of them are special needs? I reverse the tables and imagine the sadness associated with Lily's exclusion from a birthday invitation and it's making this hard for me to justify. And yeah, it's a girl party, and there are no other special needs girls, but. . . I haven't even articulated this to my wife yet, but since she'll be in one room reading this tonight while I'm in the other room doing something else. . maybe she'll text a response to me and we'll actually have a real life conversation in the same room. I KID!!
Okay. . so this post is getting long, and I don't want to forget the noteworthy thing that happened at Emma's conference the day before. I can't quote the scenario, and I may have one or two things not exactly on, but in talking to Emma's teachers, and then to Emma about it later, it appears to be this:
Emma, overheard a conversation of her peers mocking, questioning, exclaiming, SOMETHING about the behavior of one of the kids in the special ed classroom at HER school (which is 4 - 6, where Lily's is K-3). She didn't know the child, but offered this:
"Maybe he has autism." (She says Aut-ism, almost like it's two words, as if she had a Texas accent. It's one of those silly things that for some reason melts my heart) "My little sister, Lily, has autism, and sometimes she gets really frustrated because she doesn't know how to express herself like other kids. Maybe he's not a bad kid, maybe he just doesn't know how to explain, and it makes him frustrated."
The teachers were very impressed and surprised by this; at once giving some kid she'd never met the benefit of the doubt, showing great pride in her autistic little sister, and (to her ability) educating her friends about kids with differences. I got something in my eye at that point. . . dust or something, and it started to tear up a bit. Stupid contacts.
SO proud of her for that.
SO proud of Lily for how well she's adjusting to this new setting and new teachers.