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Archive for the ‘Ulrich Family’ Category

Functional Curriculum: use it or lose it

To celebrate the new school year here are some of my favorite posts:

Article 1: Why Do We Go to School?

Article 2: Back to School| A New Year of Learning

Article 3: Back to School| What is Inclusion?

Aaron learning money skills

Aaron learning money skills to use in store

Functional Curriculum

When my son Aaron was in school, shopping was part of his curriculum. From the time he was ten years old he went to the bank and grocery one day a week as part of his special education school program.

This was best practice and came from the work of Drs. Lou Brown, Alison Ford, Sharon Freagon and many others. The idea of a functional curriculum for people with autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities is:

* it takes longer to learn skills, so let’s make sure we teach important skills and not waste their time on dumb stuff

* it takes lots of practice, so let’s give the student lots of opportunities and trials

* use it or lose it, so let’s make sure the skill is something the student will need their whole life

* transition from school to adult life will be smoother

* we only teach skills that if the person didn’t do it, someone else would have to do it for them

* the ability to purchase items would give the person more dignity, self-esteem, self-determination skills and choices in their life

The way it worked was each week, Mom sent in a check for $10.00 and a shopping list. The class went to the same grocery store (because each store is different). Each student cashed their check at the bank and then bought items from the list to take home.

In addition, students also planned a lunch to be made in the classroom the following day. Each would purchase a couple items for that group lunch. These items were purchased with the classroom credit card.

This functional curriculum was based on the philosophy that Aaron would go to the grocery the rest of his life. Before the school year started the IEP team decided this was a high priority skill because he would need to buy food and other items when he was an adult. If he didn’t learn to purchase these items, someone else would have to buy them for him. If Aaron could purchase the items he would have more choices and say in his life and therefore a better quality of life. (Who wants someone else deciding you can only have Cheerios for breakfast all your life.)

Related Service Staff

The curriculum was designed by the IEP team including specialists and the parents. After all, who would be taking the student to the grocery on the weekends, summer, and after school. And who knew what the student liked better than their parents?

I was in the school a lot and went on many of the community training trips with Aaron and his class.

It takes a Village

The speech and language therapist helped Aaron build picture sequences of “shopping at Krogers,” check-off lists with pictures for grocery lists, and learn to interact with the cashier “Thank You” and give a High 5 to the bagger….

The occupational therapist helped Aaron figure out which coin purse/wallet worked best, learn to pay with the next highest bill, learn how to take the money out of his wallet (hold wallet in left hand and take out bills with right) and after many failures of getting the change back in the wallet–it was decided Aaron should just put the change in his pocket….

The physical therapist helped Aaron figure out how to climb up and down the steps on the bus (hold on the rail with his right hand and count the steps), how to maneuver the parking lot (and yes we had an IEP goal that said with 50% accuracy), how to enter the right door–even if there are two “in” doors,
how to reach the items on the bottom shelves (hold on to the grocery cart with his left hand and reach with his right)….

Depending on the therapists schedules, they might only be involved in periodic assessments, or they could go with the class every week. This was an excellent way for the therapist got to really see Aaron in this environment and practice REAL life skills.

The teacher and assistant teachers went every week with the 6-8 students in the multi-handicapped class. She/he helped Aaron match his pictures to the actual items in the store, find his favorite items and put them in the cart, learning appropriate social skills….

After High School

Unfortunately now that Aaron is out of school, he has lost most of those skills because adult service staff refuse to take him to the store or don’t have the knowledge or support they need. Here is a story about Aaron’s home (click here). It is not the fault of the staff. Some of them are very loving and do a great job.

So I take him every weekend when he is home with us. Here is a story of a recent shopping trip (click here).

Aaron and I are a team and we have worked out our own system. We only shop for about 10 items and Aaron puts the items in the cart. Sometimes Aaron will grab something off the shelf and if it is anywhere close to something he might want, I’ll let him buy it. ie. if it is a bag of cookies or cereal –he can keep it. If it is a box of denture tablets probably I’ll tell him what it is and put it back.

Choices: Quality of Life and “If Only”

If I had the opportunity to change things in Aaron’s life, it would be that adult services used a functional curriculum and adult residential services gave Aaron and others with autism and severe disabilities the opportunities to practice their skills. There is no question Aaron would not currently be LOSING these skills. There is no question these skills would enhance Aaron’s self-esteem and quality of life.

The reason I could insist on these skills being taught and used when Aaron was school age was because of the federal mandate in IDEA. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act said that parents were part of the IEP team and the parents had due process if they disagreed with the school personel. There is no such mandate for Adult Services, no due process for parents and/or guardians. Plus, in Adult Services the staff does not have to be trained or have any teaching license.

As my friend Deb used to say, “When I am made Queen of the Universe” I will declare it. Until then, I’ll take Aaron every weekend and give him as many functional experiences I can.

And of course, I’ll dream of the day I am Queen of the Universe. *smile*

What ifs? Comments?

Any stories about your child’s school experiences preparing them for the future? Any luck with using those skills in their adult life?
Anyone else want to be “Queen of the Universe”?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Related Posts

Building Community| One grocery trip at a time

It’s a Jungle out there| Inclusion in the grocery store

Kill the Turkeys! Life Lessons for People with disabilities

Better than Church

Playing for Change

What I loved about this video is that musicians from all over the world are playing the same song. Giving the same message. Gritty to sophisticated, washboards to violins–it’s the same song and message.

Kind of like all the people who believe in inclusion are playing the same song and giving the same message.

Kind of like all the people around the world who are working to make the world an inclusive place for ALL people, including people with disabilities.

The Inclusion Network

Check out The Inclusion Network (click here) hosted by Jack Pearpoint. There are many friends there from TASH, Arc, and advocacy days-gone-by who have stood by me and other parents of people with severe disabilities. Just a few are: John O’Brien, Connie Lyle O’Brien, Barb McKenzie, John McKnight… and Gail Jacobs, who shared the above video.

Standing with One Person–and Many

Our 35 year journey toward Inclusion has been long and hard. And when we look at Aaron’s current life, we don’t seem to have made much progress. We’ve done three MAPS and person-centered-plans but they just ended up in Aaron’s chart with a bureaucratic check-mark that they were completed.

We continue to do all the right planning, we take the right risks, we fight like the devil to get good programs, we attend countless meetings, join the right groups, and work with strong visionaries to build a better world for all people with severe disabilities. But it’s not enough.

The journey continues with every breath we have in this life but unless Aaron dies before we do, we need to plan for an extended journey that continues indefinitely after we are gone. We make our choices and face our battles: the big ones, the little ones… we accept the compromises we have to make to survive. We keep believing. There is no other choice.

We stand on the shoulders of the parents, self-advocates, caregivers, teachers and advocates who came before us and bought our opportunities with their sweat and blood. We continue their work. We attempt to build a inclusive community which has never existed in the history of the world…and then we will pass on this legacy to the next generation.

When all is said and done, we can hold our heads high and shout to the world, “We stood together for Inclusion.”

Our family stands for Aaron in our community. Across the world others, in their own way, in their own community, with their own child, or friend, are also standing for Inclusion.

And each day, we touch the life of one person–and many. We make things a little better than they would have been without our work for our one person–and many. And that gives us hope and is our life work.

So thank you dear friends. Thank you, also, to all the people who are reading this who I have never met but who are working for an inclusive world where everyone belongs.

Thank you for standing by me. Thank you for standing by Aaron. Thank you for standing by all of us. God Bless.

Add your voice in the comments:

Who are the people who stand by you?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my love and gratitude,

Mary

On the last day of Junior School| Inclusion

Aaron and Tommy on Cross Country Team

Aaron, Tommy and Cross Country Team

Tommy is in the second row. Of course, Aaron is the red head in the middle of the picture who refused to look at the camera.

My last post Teachers| Inclusion or Segregation started an interesting discussion. It reminded me of the letter I wrote to the Principal of Hopewell Junior School:

Letter to Principal on Last Day of Jr. High School

June 6, 1990

Principal, Hopewell Junior School
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio

Dear Dr. Taylor,

Recently my nephew, Robert, started laughing hysterically when I mentioned his cousin; Aaron was going to be on the school cross-country team. “What’s Aaron going to do? Bite and push all the kids at the starting line so he can win?”

I was deeply hurt but tried to explain it wasn’t all about the winning but the trying that was important. Robert was shocked! “But why would you even try if you knew you couldn’t win?”

Different Kinds of Winners and Losers

I explained there were different kinds of “winning.” Aaron has autism but he also has the need for belonging to a group and regular exercise. Robert stared blank-faced, and after several more minutes I changed the subject. To this gifted 14 year old, who has above-average good looks, athletic ability and intelligence, this made no sense. Sigh.

Robert, Tommy (Aaron’s brother) and their peers are the people on whom Aaron will always be dependent. They are the next generation of parents, professionals, neighbors and…coaches.

The experiences and value systems they are developing in school, in the community, on the cross country teams–right this minute—will directly affecting Aaron’s future.

Robert has never gone to public school, run on an inclusive cross-country team or been friends with people with physical and intellectual challenges. Obviously, even his experiences with his cousin have made little impact. I think that is a deficit in his education. It will impact his future as a member of his family and community. It’s not a visible “D” on his report card, but it is an invisible “deficit” and loss in his life.

Who are the Winners and Losers?

How do you teach that the person who comes in first is not always the biggest winner? Can children learn it takes courage for not just children with challenges, but for all the boys and girls who finish near the end?

WINNERS are sometime those who RISK losing…being laughed at…coming in last.

Learning and Teaching Values

Each nation decides what is normal, average and gifted. They decide who are the winners and the losers.

Recently, we’ve been stunned by news accounts which demonstrate how the values in Iran, China, and Russia are different from our own. We have also witnessed incredible changes in philosophy, public opinion and policy. Values are fluid, changing and dependent on multiple factors.

Shaping those values and rights is something we do every day, consciously, or unconsciously. Sometimes value changes are dramatic like the Berlin Wall coming down–winners. Sometimes value changes are dramatic like Tiananmen Square-winners/losers depending on your point of reference.

The rights of citizens are gifts from a nation to their citizens. These rights and freedoms cannot be taken for granted.

The tragedy of having a child with a disability has nothing to do with the child, a syndrome, disease or label. The tragedy comes from the struggle with people in your family, community, country who decide if they will accept and support your family or rejected and isolate you.

Whether the differences are overlooked or emphasized. Whether the winners are only the ones who come in first.

“But Wait until Junior High”

When we went to court in 1979 (Cincinnati Public Schools) to allow Aaron to go to the public school, the doomsayers predicted, “MAYBE it would work in elementary school…But wait until Junior High!”

The teachers care only about academics, the sports are so competitive, the kids are so cruel–during lunch they will put drugs in your child’s milk”

They hatefully wanted to frighten us into accepting the segregated school and a segregated life.

Last Day of Junior School

Today is our last day at Hopewell Junior School and happily those predictions are laughable. Thanks to the vision and caring of the administration, staff, teachers–especially Miss Linda Lee–and the other students in the school Aaron and his classmates have had a great experience.

They are the first class of people with significant disabilities who have been able to attend a regular public school. It has been a new experience for everyone and it has been a success.

Aaron has had many opportunities for learning functional skills which will help him live, work and participate in the community. But more importantly, he has had opportunities to be “included as a regular student.”

There were some who wondered why a kid, who can hardly talk, much less sing, would practice and perform on stage with the school chorus?

Why someone who has severe balance and flexibility problems would try to participate on the cross-county and track team?

They wonder if it be would have been safer if Aaron rode the “handicapped bus” with an extra aide, instead of the regular bus with his brother?

They will never understand why we hate Special Olympics?

These parents, students and community members can’t figure out what could Aaron possibly get out of an assembly, or six minutes in regular homeroom?

The answer to most of these questions then and now is really WE Don’t KNOW!

The schools are changing the future

Aaron has gifts, strengths and talents and when given opportunities for learning–determination and pride. We do have observations.

Each time a schoolmate says, “Hi” and forces Aaron to give eye contact, each time a teammate said, “Go Aaron, you can make it!” or gives him a high 5–it is a victory.

Each time they see Aaron make it over a creek or down a hill we celebrate.

Every time they see him complete his vocational job stacking juice cartons in the lunchroom, sorting the silverware, filling the pop machines–it is a value enhancing experience. Aaron can learn to do jobs, that if he didn’t do them, someone else would.

This year Aaron’s picture is in the yearbook next to his brother’s. He and Tommy’s picture is in also with the athletes for Cross Country and Track. A First!

A general education high school student cared enough to help Aaron participate in a bowling league. And then, he took him to the Eighth Grade Dance whose theme was “That’s What Friends are For.” A First!

Aaron’ name (granted it was a name stamp) was on the class t-shirt. A First!

Aaron got a school letter in cross country and track, including being in the team picture. A First!

Aaron got his first paycheck from his vocational training site, Grote bakery, allowing him to become a taxpayer. A jump-up-and-down first!

A whole lot of Learning

To me, these shifts in school philosophy, values and focus on inclusion are every bit as dramatic as the Berlin wall coming down.

In the current evolution to merge special and general education, to change special separate classes into a system of inclusive classes with support services for ALL children–the new ideas, opportunities, choices, risks and freedoms are truly exciting.

Hopewell Junior School has given Aaron and Tommy the chance to be winners. The chance to show that sometimes the biggest lessons are not just in the classroom.

Their success has been a victory.

Hopefully, in this human race, our world will become a better place because of the mix of people who grow up more fully with the experiences of community inclusion.

Thanks for your continued support. Thanks for making Hopewell—a Well of Hope.

Sincerely,

The Ulrich Family

Epilogue: 20 years later

Junior High turned out to be one of the best times in Aaron and Tommy’s lives. They both had caring teachers who looked at each of their individual needs. I wish we could find out what memories the other students had of their time with Aaron and Tommy in cross-county, track, bowling, choir, gym… I bet they would have some funny stories. I wish them all well.

ps. We often think of how the students are going to grow up and be the next voters, taxpayers, citizens… but we often forget the school staff also evolves. Aaron’s teacher, Miss Lee went on to become a district supervisor and Dr. Taylor, the prinicpal, is the current Superintendent of Lakota. I like to think their experiences with Aaron and Tommy influence who they are today.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,

Mary

Comments:

Were kids with autism and severe disabilities included in your school? Do you have any thoughts to share? What do you think the future looks like?

A related story is What is Inclusion? plus, pictures of Aaron and Tommy at graduation.

Aaron’s Olympic Moment

Aaron watching Tommy play Nintendo

Aaron watching Tommy play video games

Is summer different for kids with and without disabilities?

As parents of children with disabilities, it is difficult to know “What is realistic?” “What goals do I want?”. I have always found it helpful to measure “normalization” by comparing the life of my son Tommy with his brother Aaron. Below are my thoughts about summer activities when the boys were young teens. The lessons I learned helped me cherish the final “inclusive” story below. Hope you’ll share your thoughts and success stories.

Tommy, my 13 year old son, with the label of “normal”:

Went to 2 weeks of Boy Scout camp, an experience which included a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Had to choose between participating in baseball or soccer which included 2 practices a week and a game. In August he began daily training for the school cross-country team.

Was active in a neighborhood network of five boys who decided to start a Gaming Exchange Club. His friends called him the minute he arrived home from activities, played games until supper.

Was invited to stay overnight with a friend or cousin 3 times and his friends 5 times.

Had a season’s pass to a nearby amusement park and spent at least one day there each week with friends.

The days of summer flew by for Tommy. He had individual activities with friends, but also family activities which included a camping vacation and travel to a National Park. His major frustrations were either the lack of time for pursuing all of his interests, or his Mom’s suggesting he do something “dumb” like reading a book or practicing his clarinet.

Our family on a camping trip

Our Family Camping Trip

Aaron, age 14, with the label of autism, intellectual and developmental disability:

Aaron went to two weeks of “special” camp: Easter Seals and Stepping Stones.

Aaron’s major activity was watching Tommy play baseball, video games…and riding in the carpool to drop off Tommy and his friends.

Aaron also has a pass to the amusement park, but can only go with an adult (his mother).

Aaron spends every morning saying, “bus, bus … ready, set, go.” When the school bus doesn’t come, he sometimes licks on the front window, bites his hands and puts on his coat and backpack. He can’t figure out why his routine is different from the other 9 months of the year.

Aaron also can’t figure out why we spend all winter telling him to keep the front door shut, and all summer telling him to keep the front door open (but that’s another story). *smile*

He was not invited to overnights with cousins or friends.

What’s the Difference?

As I contrast the lives of my two boys, I can’t help thinking…

• …perhaps I wouldn’t feel Aaron’s isolation and lack of contact with any friends or same-age peers if Tommy had fewer friends.

• …perhaps I wouldn’t worry about Aaron’s behaviors, physical condition, weight and stamina if he were occasionally an active participant, rather than always an observer.

• …perhaps our family will adjust eventually to the sadness (and stress) we feel knowing Aaron’s only opportunities come from mom, dad or brother…and realizing it may always be that way.

* …perhaps we wouldn’t feel so trapped if we could get respite regularly.

* …perhaps we’ll become accustomed to wearing a key around our necks so that the door can be locked with a deadbolt every time someone goes out or comes in (otherwise Aaron will run into the street or enter neighbors’ homes).

* …perhaps we’ll resign ourselves to our community’s “special” camps and “special” recreation programs, which effectively exclude Aaron from almost everything that is typical, regular, easily available and low cost.

* …perhaps hope will sustain us that someday a “community support” agency professional from somewhere, anywhere, could adapt, modify and begin to open community activities for Aaron and others.

* …perhaps/…oh perhaps…some wonderful person will believe that a community is more that a group of houses, businesses and people.

Summary: “Separate is Inherently Unequal.”

The tragedy of having a child with a disability has nothing to do with a syndrome, impairment or disease. Words such as autism, CP, and intellectual disabilities are just descriptors the same way hair color, height, race, sex and personality are descriptors. Children don’t start out life knowing they are different. The tragedy is the reaction of families, neighbors and society, which emphasize differences.

The conflict for people with disabilities and for their families comes when the community limits opportunities, segregates and restricts individuals’ choices (e.g. Handicap swim is Tuesday; 1:30-2:30 p.m. and General swim is Monday to Friday 8:00–5:00). If Aaron had an inclusive swim buddy, Aaron wouldn’t have to go to “handicap swim” but rather the general swim with the other kids.

It doesn’t matter that the limiting of opportunities appears, to have a good rationale or charitable intentions. Segregation limits freedom, limits choices, and limits development.

“Special” means segregated.

Our Olympic Moment of Inclusion

One hot July day, Tommy and his friends stopped by our house to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for an impromptu picnic.

Unexpectedly, one of the boys asked if Aaron wanted to come along.

Five minutes later, all the kids were laughing, talking and riding their bikes to the park. One red-haired kid named Aaron was riding on his bike in tandem with his brother.

In about one hour the picnic ended and they brought Aaron back.

That was the highlight of Aaron’s whole summer.

Our Olympic Moment–not, Special Olympic Moment

That moment for Aaron was sort of like the experience of an Olympic ice skater, gymnast, American Idol singer who practices day after day hoping to “bring it all together” for one magic performance or “big break.”

It was a “victory” –a spontaneous, normalized recreation experience, without his mom! Ahhh (smile-sigh).

And now…back to work. But, perhaps, just perhaps…those wonderful, typical neighborhood kids will grow up more fully with the vision for and the experience of community integration and freedom. They are the next generation of soccer coaches, swim instructors, church and scout learners.

The change of inclusion has begun.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Related Stories:

On the last day of Junior High School.

Dream Plan for Aaron–14 yrs old (Part 2).

America the Beautiful: A Family Vacation, Plus.

Share YOUR Thoughts:

Are summers different for kids with and without disabilities where you live? Can you think of anything you could do to help? Any way to include a child in the activities of your children? Any tips to share? Any stories from the 90s? 2012?