Monday, June 30, 2003

Reel good ideas

Well now, here's an idea we can get behind: Movie theaters where noisy kids are welcomed -- specifically invited, even. Sadly for those of us with noisy kids beyond infant stage, the invitation in question is for babies and their moms: "Reel Mom" showings at certain Loew's theaters are designed for the nursing set, with stroller check-ins, lights dimmed but not dark, sound turned down low enough so it won't wake the babies but still loud enough to be heard over babies who are making their wakefulness known. The idea seems to be that no one will care if your kid's making a racket because all their kids will be making rackets, too, although I'll bet if the mom next to you gets her wee one asleep she won't be too wild about yours screaming away. Nonetheless, the thought of getting away to watch a hit film -- the latest "Charlie's Angels" is now showing, though I'm not sure a movie with that much TNT and T&A is appropriate for children of any age, mom-friendly auditorium or no -- amongst folks who will understand what you're dealing with is an awfully appealing concept. Just two suggestions I'd like to offer: 1) Do the same thing on weekends for a "Reel Dad" showing, with mom getting to slip off next door to a chick flick all by her blissful self; and 2) Expand the concept for "Reel Handful" showings at which parents are permitted to bring their hyperactive, impulsive, easily distracted older children. Better still, just lock the kids in the theater and have cots in the hallway so the parents can have a nap.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Getting over my hang-ups

I was feeling pretty excited about the new service offered by the federal government that forbids telemarketers to wake you up in the morning, interrupt your dinner, hang up before you answer, and otherwise act as the human form of spam. Like several hundred thousand other ticked-off Americans, I hurried over to the registration Web site,, and entered my home number, my cell-phone number, and the number of my mother-in-law, who is convinced all those telemarketer hang-ups are really crooks casing the joint to see when no one's home. In the process, I found a few things that dampened my enthusiasm, like the fact that the blocking doesn't apply to banks, surveys, charities or politicians, which right there account for about three-quarters of the calls I'd hoped would be blocked. It also doesn't start until October 1, which means that telemarketers are probably going to be blitzing us during the summer months in a last-ditch attempt to annoy the heck out of the American public. Then, too, the site (undoubtedly due to the unanticipated torrent of visitors) was slow and glitchy, and the verification e-mail that was supposed to arrive in minutes took hours, and then arrived in duplicate. But I went ahead and completed the registration anyway. If it prevents one call that hangs up before I answer it or one sales pitcher who won't hang up when I do, it will be worth it.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

What's news

A little newspaper reading for your Thursday morning: The New York Times has a story about Pete Wright of Wrightslaw and his work on behalf of learning disabled students. ... The Bergen Record has a feature on an autistic pianist who recently performed at Carnegie Hall. ... Yahoo News reports on a new "National ADHD Education Campaign." ... And if you're looking for something a little longer to read, here's the San Francisco Chronicle's review of what may be the only novel I go near this summer (so devoted to nonfiction have I become): The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a mystery narrated by a 15-year-old autistic detective. Slate has a round-up of the book's generally good reviews, if you're looking for more opinions.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Catfish and catfights

The other night my husband fell asleep in front of some sci-fi/adventure flick on the TV, and when I went to wake him up, a movie I found at least as scary was playing instead. It was Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, a film about a Vietnamese brother and sister adopted by an African-American couple who, as adults, find their birthmother and go through a painful period of floundering around their cultural and familial identities. I of course identified most with the adoptive parents, who coped with declining amounts of grace with the way their children at least temporarily abandoned them in favor of their long-lost Ma. I could have done without the hair-pulling catfight between the two mothers, but a lot of the other dynamics felt right, including the realization by the daughter who had most sought the reunion that finding one's birthparent doesn't make everything magically right. I was glad that the movie ended with at least a truce between all the extended family members, and that, after a period of disruption, the kids took up their lives more or less as they had been. And I wondered how my husband's outspoken Italian family will react if we ever expand to accommodate a Russian birthparent or two. "Spaghetti in Sour Cream"? Coming soon to a cable movie channel near you.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Inspiration, hold the gloss

I finished reading A Smile as Big as the Moon last week in a few big servings; it's a real page-turner for anybody who's ever been frustrated by the lack of specialness in special education. I can't quite imagine my son ever making it to Space Camp and succeeding in the way these teens do, but if he were going to, it would be the way author and teacher Mike Kersjes goes about it: tons and tons of preparation, and then some more preparation on top of that. I like the fact that it was the very things they needed because of their special needs that ultimately proved to be their greatest strength in competition. The other Space Camp cadets may have been brilliant and talented and self-confident, but nobody had studied harder. This is the sort of thing I'll be reminding myself of when I go over flashcards with my daughter next year, and read the textbook chapter to Her Cluelessness for the umpteenth time.

If the story of a classroom of troubled teens turned, sometimes in spite of themselves, into a winning team doesn't sound like a great beach read to you, hold on. The book is due to be turned into a Disney movie, and it doesn't need much meddling with to become a pretty fine triumph over adversity flick. Let's just hope they don't go for the cute-little-special-kids gloss that the illustrator of the paperback edition did. Those youngsters gazing at the moon sure do look sweet, but they're way too young, trim and well-groomed to be the bunch depicted in the book. Disney, don't smooth out those sharp corners too much; that's what makes these kids stars.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Potter passes us by again

Alright, tell me the truth: Is mine positively the only family that is not bound and determined to plow our way through a certain 800+-page door-stop-sized novel this summer? Are we the only ones not wild about Harry? Is ours the only household over which the wand of Potter-mania has not passed? Honestly, even if my kids were interested in the boy wizard, I'm not sure I would let them go all gaga the way so many families seem to be -- keeping the kids up late to go to midnight book sales, jamming the aisles of Barnes and Noble to be the first to get their mitts on the massive thing, having slumber parties during which young guests read chapters instead of whisper secrets. I mean, really -- I'm happy that kids are excited about a book. But is it wise to teach children to hop so enthusiastically on so hype-driven a bandwagon?

Oh, who am I kidding. If my kids were capable of being into a big bold large-word-packed story like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I would be out camping in front of bookstore doors like the most kid-lit-minded mom on the block. But the books are so far over the heads of my language- and reading-delayed kiddos that I've got to salvage a little superiority somewhere. My daugher was so traumatized by a fourth-grade assignment of the first Harry Potter tome that she doesn't want to see the book or see the movie or even hear that magical name. We're a regular broomstick no-fly zone. And ... um ... we meant to be that way.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Crawling out from under my rock

Pfffew! The last week of school is finally over, and it's taken me all weekend to recover. The last week was a whirl -- making 86 photo-frame mattes for the 5th-grade graduation photos, helping out in the school library to get the shelves straightened up for next year, making cupcakes for my son's class' next-to-last-day-of-school party, buying and wrapping teachers' gifts, serving the sodas at the 5th-grade last-day-of-school dance, trying not to notice that my daughter was drifting friendless between the cliques at said dance -- and man, I'm still exhausted. I used to be able to stay up to all hours for nights and nights in a row and still be able to run at top speed on a little coffee and sugar, but now ... somewhere before age 44, that steam runs out.

So now, as we shift into summer mode, here's where we stand on the end-of-year obsessions I've been ranting about of late: Although the very nice guidance counselor I spoke to at the middle school my daughter will be attending is out ill at least until September, the very harried guidance counselor who has had to take on his and another absent counselor's work still managed to get me the textbooks I was promised for the summer, and also look up her class schedule and assure me that she is in fact in the inclusion class as hoped for. A pretty impressive show of effectualness, really, especially compared to the ineffectualness I've been seeing from Child Study Teams over the past few years. On that front, the much promised behavior specialist for my son did indeed eventually show up, but too late to get a plan put together and a meeting scheduled before the end of the year. So the Child Study Team leader proposed that we table the behavior plan until September, and she'd just go ahead and put the IEP in without it. I expressed my extreme disappointment at the way this whole thing had been handled, and asked that the behavior plan I'd written myself months ago be put in the IEP as a "parent's contribution," so at least there'd be something on record for the new teacher. She agreed, although we'll see when I actually get this document sometime in August whether she actually followed through. Maybe I should ask that overworked middle school counselor if he wants to come over to the elementary school for a few hours and fix things for me there, too.

Happily, the teacher my son will have next year is giving me every indication that she will handle him well, behavior plan or no. She's already told me she'd like to meet with me during the first week of school; that I should send in a list on the first day of the things that motivate him; and that we'll be in constant communication through the year. Music to my ears, it is. But I'm glad I'll have a couple of months to rest up first.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Good reads

New on Mothers with Attitude is Julie Donner Andersen's latest entry in her Therapeutic Laughing column, this one on the use of non-anatomically correct terminology to describe the differences between boys and girls, and other things a boy can learn from living in a house full of females. ... Meanwhile, I just started a book that appears to feature my wildest dream of a special ed teacher. Called A Smile as Big as the Moon, it follows the bureaucratic odyssey undertaken by a teacher who determines that his learning disabled and neurologically impaired students should darn well get to go to Space Camp just like all those gifted and talented kids do. The school principal, special education director, and various NASA suits think he's nuts, but he gets them there alright. I've been generally pleased with my son's teachers thus far, but I have to admit that they have been dedicated to giving their students the best they can wrangle from within the system; thinking in terms of really challenging the kids to go beyond what anybody's tried or dreamed or planned for -- thinking of what's best and making it happen, rather than making the best of what's happened already -- does not seem to be standard special-ed operating procedure. (Not to mention the fact that some of the children in special education, my own small son not excluded, can be as stubbornly unwilling to get with the program as any foot-dragging bureaucrat.) I'm thinking this book is about as much of a fantasy as the latest "Harry Potter," but maybe it will put me in the right spirit to joust with Child Study Team muggles next fall.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Is it dangerous to look forward to next year?

I had a short meeting yesterday with the teacher my son is scheduled to have next year -- the one that everybody tells me is so wonderful, wonderful, wonderful -- and she did indeed seem to be pretty darn neat. When I mentioned that he has a hard time sitting still at a desk, she even said the thing I often grumble when people complain about his activity level: "That's why he's in this kind of a classroom." She had a lot of good things to suggest about learning activities we could pursue with him over the summer, and gave every impression that she will make good use of his particular strengths in helping him to really learn next year.

So now, of course, I'm worried about what's going to happen to her over the summer. Because every time I think I have the perfect situation set up for my kids, something happens. The great teacher gets transferred or gets married and quits, the great aide gets reassigned. No one's ever died on me, but the great counselor I talked to at the middle school my daughter will be going to next year -- the one that everybody told me was so wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and who met with me and agreed with me on everything -- is now out of school with a brain tumor. They say he'll be back in the fall. I'm saying rosaries. Maybe I better include my son's teacher-to-be in those prayers. And tell her to make sure there are no buses coming before she crosses the street.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Bad news, good news

Feel-bad adoption story: Foreign adoptions fraught with unforeseen problems warns USA Today in a story about adoptions thwarted by the likes of SARS and governments who decide they don't want to export their kids after all. Heart-tugging quote: '''Foreign adoption is a much more complex issue than I knew when we went into it,' [says a father whose adoption from India is on hold]. 'Most families and social workers start off thinking about it in very simple terms: There's a child who needs a home out there and parents who have homes. Then you see there are financial considerations, religious considerations, political considerations. And you have these children trapped in the middle.'"

Feel-good adoption story: A girl adopted from Siberia at the age of two won a contest to name two Mars exploration rovers, according to a NASA press release. Heart-tugging quote: "Sofi read her essay: 'I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely. At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true.'" Good thing diseases and bureaucrats didn't stand in her way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

New on Mothers with Attitude

There are a few new entries in our "Parent's Portfolio" -- some accommodations for a high-schooler with learning disabilities, a retort to one of those "bring in a baby picture" assignments for an adopted child, and a teacher-sized summary of "The Nurtured Heart Approach," a terrific behavior management method described in the book "Transforming the Difficult Child" by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. This approach is still working pretty well for us at home with my son, and if I could just get the school to follow it, too, I think a lot of his behavior problems would go away. The long-promised behavioral specialist finally saw him today, and she e-mailed (before the visit) to say she thought my proposed behavior plan was on the right track, so at least for the moment I highly value her opinion. Wouldn't it be amazing if my son actually got the behavioral support he needs and my daughter got the kind of inclusion support she's been promised for four years, and I could go through a whole school year without being hysterical over something or other? Ah, the stuff of dreams.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Fun with computers

If you're looking for educational Web sites to force your children onto over the summer in a dastardly attempt to keep their brains from turning to mush, here's a cute one to try: It offers math and language arts games for kids grades K-12, including printable worksheets and areas where kids can submit book reviews and answers to monthly questions. I nagged and whined at my son until he gave me responses to type in to this month's exercise, which was: List 10 things you'd show an alien to tell him about life on earth. In case none of his answers make it to the site's composite list, here for the record were his picks:
1. my school
2. the grocery store
3. the mall
4. the museum
5. where my friends live
6. the Statue of Liberty
7. a car place
8. a picture of me
9. my teacher, my pets and my dogs
10. my cars and how I play with them and I'll invite him to my room and to sleep over at my house in my bunk bed.
He kind of got going at the end there, just when there was no more space, which may be the problem with fill-in-the-blank sites like this. One of these days I'm just going to print out a long list of fun writing prompts and set the boy up with his own blog. It's on my list of things to do with the kids this summer. What I need is someone to whine and nag at me to make sure all that good stuff gets done.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Welcome, Wichita

According to the traffic statistics for Mothers with Attitude, we've been having a nice little influx of folks from the Wichita, Kansas, area since someone named Lauragail put our link under her favorites on the KSN News site. After poking around a bit I still haven't pinned down exactly who Lauragail is, but she obviously has great taste in Web sites. I've personally never been to Wichita, but I did live in Kansas City, Missouri, for a short time many years ago, back when I was young and thought I knew everything. I was working for Hallmark and would from time to time travel to Kansas City, Kansas, to visit friends; and may have driven across a corner of Kansas to get to the Nebraska State Fair; but never made it as far west as Wichita. At any rate, greetings to any Wichitans who made it far enough into the site to find this blog, and say thanks to Lauragail for us.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

And again we ask: Why does all of this need to be so hard?

Three or four months ago -- when it became apparent to me that my son’s teacher, although caring and generally good with him, was not doing any sort of behavior analysis to figure out why he acted up at times; when it became apparent that many of those working with him thought his aide was more of a problem than he was; when it became apparent that different personnel were dealing with his behavior in different ways with no particular comparison or coordination attempted; and when it became apparent that stress and disruption and negative discipline was causing him to engage in behaviors that might harm his classmates -- I suggested to my son’s child study team leader that what we needed was a behavior management plan, and that I would expect there to be one in his next IEP.

She agreed -- particularly feeling that the aide could use some guidance -- and said she’d ask for the district’s new behavior specialist to come and observe him. Fine and dandy, said I. And waited. And waited. And waited. Turned out the new behavior specialist is also a teacher, and couldn’t schedule observations without disrupting her own class, and finding a substitute, and yada, yada, yada. With the date for his IEP meeting fast approaching, I went ahead and submitted my own behavior management plan, but of course -- since I’m only a parent, after all, and paperwork had been submitted for this expert to come -- that was politely put aside in favor of the specialist’s eventual opinion. The IEP meeting came and went, with the promise of a second meeting just to discuss behavior. I signed nothing. And waited. And waited. And waited.

So yesterday, the child study team leader gave me the good news: The specialist is coming! The specialist is coming! Next Tuesday. Which is about a week-and-a-half before the end of school. Ever so helpful to give the aide tips at this point in the year. I mentioned that we would be having a meeting after the specialist had seen him, and the child study team leader said she wasn’t so sure about that, since the specialist probably can’t take another day away from her class. I expressed in the strongest possible terms that I and other members of the team would certainly want to have input on any behavior management plan for this boy, and she darn well better find a way to make that happen. She allowed as how maybe we could get together after school sometime. You better believe it.

And maybe there will be happy ending to this, if the specialist agrees with me and her opinion makes it enforceable. And maybe there will be a battle ahead, if she doesn’t agree with me and suggests techniques I’m sure won’t work. And maybe -- as is the time-honored strategy of our district -- things will just kinda drift along, and I will again be relying on the considerable kindness of individual teachers. But as I seem to ask again, and again, and again as my kids make their way through the system -- why does all of this need to be so hard? Behavior analysis is not a radical thing. Positive discipline is not a radical thing. There’s information out there about what works for kids with fetal alcohol exposure. Surely we can agree that treating a kid's behavior consistently across a school day is a good idea. I’m not asking them to do anything that all-fired controversial here. Why do I have to plow through layers and layers of bureaucracy to get it done?

Gotta protect the system from those pesky parents, I guess.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Camp counseling

Yahoo's health news features a KidsHealth item today on Finding a Camp for Your Child With Special Needs, and while it would have been useful if they'd actually included a listing, it's still nice to see the needs of special campers going so far as to be a health headline. My kids went to a very nice, very expensive special-needs day camp for a number of years, but we've switched to mainstream resources in our community with generally acceptable results. The special-needs camp turned out to be more restrictive than my daughter needed, and not sufficiently restrictive for my son. When I saw that they'd put my extremely sensory seeking boy in the same group as an extremely sensory defensive lad, I knew our Julys and Augusts there were numbered. It's no fun when special needs collide.

I'd always wondered whether putting him in a local summer program and paying for a staff member to be hired to monitor him one-on-one wouldn't be cheaper and just as successful. So last year we tried it, and it went okay. This year we're trying it again. The kids seem to like or at least tolerate him, and since the activities are pretty non-demanding he doesn't act out to the degree that he would in a mainstream class at school (which I don't think will ever be a good idea, no matter how many people they want to pay to monitor him). Next year he may be too old for this particular program, and we'll have to go searching again. But it's nice while it lasts.

Last year we put my daughter in "Camp Grandma" -- feeling she was old enough to make it through the day without a structured program, and Grannie could use some company. Toward the end of their time together, I found out that the entertainment at "Camp Grandma" included watching Maury Povich and soap operas, and so this year I've got her all camped up. There's a city-run day program at a local school, from which she'll be taking breaks to go to hour-a-day music camp at the middle school she'll be attending in the fall and a 90-minute-a-day math program. This on top of tutoring twice a week, speech therapy once a week, and what ever other things I can find to enrich her with. She'd say torture her with, since it interferes with her plan to play video games until her eyeballs come unglued. But eh, too bad, kid. Wait 'til September.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Everybody out of the pool

With summer just around the corner, here's another thing to add to your list of worries, along with sunburn, heat exhaustion and drowning: Belgian researchers suspect that the chlorine in swimming pools may cause asthma. A gas called trichloramine that's released when chlorinated water meets human byproducts like sweat and urine (reason enough right there to stay out of the pool) has been fingered as an irritant that triggers proteins that damage the lungs; according to the AFP report, "the children who swam most frequently had protein levels of the kind found in regular smokers."

Which only confirms to me the wisdom of my personal summer plan for my kids, which is to keep them in the air-conditioned house watching TV until I can safely deliver them to school again in September. Apparently we'll all be breathing easier.

Monday, June 02, 2003

A good look at learning difficulties

The site just keeps getting prettier and more content-packed. Every time I check back here, they seem to have rearranged and redesigned and reconceptualized their info to such an extent that I can no longer find the really good thing I found there before and have to surf endlessly through all the new good things to find it. Sure is a slick and appealing piece of work, though. A little corporate, maybe; it lacks the homespun, er, personality of a site actually put together by one hard-working and oft-procrastinating individual, but more than makes up for it with features up the wazoo. Articles, quizzes, surveys, message boards, audio excerpts, newsletters, downloadable booklets and flyers, an events calendar, advocacy advice, photos of smiling children whose learning problems disappeared when mom finally found, even "panic pages" for when you need a little help to focus. Personally, when I need to focus, the last thing that works is to go to a site as rich in features to poke around in as this one. If you don't already have an attention disorder, this site will probably give it to you. And also tell you what to do about it. In detail. With a quiz after.