Cutest Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Montessori for children with autism?

Why Montessori?

When ds1 was 3 years old, he developed an interest in letters. He wanted me to sit with him for several hours and day and do flash cards. I could only stand going through the stack of cards twice before I was bored to tears. I was at my wits end and decided that when the next school year started he needed a preschool or I would go insane so I started asking around. None of the schools that my friends put their children in felt right. I can’t explain it. I guess it was because the preschools were all faith based in religions that were not my own. Finally during a discussion one of my friends told me about a Montessori school. I asked her what Montessori was and she explained it to me. It sounded like the school taught the way I felt children learned. I visited the school and after discussing with my husband enrolled my son. I loved the concept and I loved what it did for him, ds2 and ds3. When we moved away I tried to find another Montessori school but in my new area the schools were way too expensive. I regret that ds3 could not continue and ds4 was never able to participate in a Montessori preschool. The preschool learning really helped my oldest 2 excel in school and gave them a self confidence that my second 2 do not seem to have.

After enrolling ds1 in the school, I got to know the teacher. We became friends and I began volunteering at the school. Soon, I wanted to learn the method myself and started a course but could not complete it because my family continued to grow and I found I did not have the time required. Because I have worked in a Montessori school, and because I studied the philosophy and some of the methods, I believe it is an excellent method of teaching children and have long since wondered why the schools keep experimenting with new methods when such and effective method was developed in 1900 and has been proven over the last century any hundreds if not thousands of schools across not only the US but the world. Why do we keep trying to reinvent the wheel?

I asked my niece, a high school history and Spanish teacher what she thought about the Montessori Method. I cannot quote her exactly because it has been too long. This is what I remember. She said that kids that came from Montessori schools had a hard time conforming to the schedule of the school and the teachers. She felt they were undisciplined. This is the same problem the school is having with ds5. He refuses to do his work and to move from place to place on their schedule. I wonder how necessary it is to teach are children to move from here to there at the same time and to do what a teacher says when they say it. People do need to respect authority and rules. Montessori teaches freedom within limits. The equipment most be used properly and children are taught how to show respect for others and their work. I am not sure that what my niece says is a detriment. I have to admit not knowing a lot about the Montessori Method after preschool but what I have read seems that the children are taught to work in groups on projects which is what most of the work world is doing. Or at least it is what my husband is doing and team building seems to extremely important.

But these are not the reasons why Montessori.

Before Maria Montessori opened her first Children’s House she worked with children in an “asylum.” This is where she developed her method. Building on equipment and theory available at the time she experimented with new methods of teaching “mentally deficient” children. Her equipment was originally designed to teach children who could not learn in a regular classroom. Several eight year old boys who were considered “deficient” passed standardized test after learning through her method.

Maria Montessori wondered what would happen if this same method were used with “Normal” children what would happen and since “deficient” children were considered behind in age she presented her method to preschool children. After some modifications, (She took out some of the steps) the children did extremely well and Montessori schools were started in many areas and many are open today.

Maria Montessori has already creative and effective way to teach both “normal” children and children with disabilities. Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

After learning about Autism and pondering on the Montessori Method I believe, though I have not proof, that many of the children Montessori worked with had autism. Why do I think this? First of all, because the type of children put in asylums in the early 1900’s were children with autism, down syndrome and other disabilities that know one knew how to handle at that time. Secondly, the method itself speaks volumes to me. Let me explain.

Children with autism almost always have sensory issues. This is addressed in the sensorial portion of the classroom. Equipment in the sensorial section is designed to education the senses. Much of this equipment can help desensitize autistic children to their special sensory difficulties.

Children with autism have difficulty with self-help skills. The practical life section of a Montessori classroom helps with this area giving the child many opportunities to practice self-help skills.

Children with autism have difficulty with abstract thought. Montessori teaches from the concrete to the abstract. The mathematical equipment shows the step by step process of moving from the concrete manipulative to the abstract of numbers.

Children with autism have difficulty with learning a whole concept. The Montessori equipment for writing has every stroke of writing broken down into shapes which the children trace until they perfect their ability to make the stroke. Then writing comes naturally. Montessori took larger things and broke them down into their step by step processes.

Children with autism often have trouble building vocabulary. Montessori equipment is designed to increase vocabulary. One little girl started at the Montessori school in which I volunteered at 5 years old. She could not speak. After working with the sound buckets (cylinders with a letter on the outside and objects that start with that sound on the inside) her vocabulary increased dramatically.

Families have difficulty exposing children with autism to many varied environments (this comes from experience. It is a nightmare to take my child anywhere.). Montessori curriculum is about different places, people, and environments. Montessori classrooms have animals of different species (bird, reptile, mammal, fish etc.). They have different environments (garden, indoor, outdoor, terrariums, etc.)

Children with autism need to repeat things over and over. Montessori curriculum allows for repeating activities. A wise and observant directress will slowly add steps to the repetitive behavior increasing the difficulty of the task until the equipment is being used to its fullest. Then, when all that can be learned has been, the directress will redirect to a new task expanding the child’s world.

Children with autism have difficulty with social skills. Montessori curriculum includes introducing people, being introduced, how to ask someone to do their work, and other social skills. As the children get older they are put into groups that work together. This builds social skills. My hope would be that “normal” children as well as disabled children would be in class together.

The Montessori Method automatically individualizes the education to the specific needs of each child.

When I tried to research what the Montessori high school was, it had something to do with a farm. Children with autism often identify with animals and vice versa.

Why Montessori? Because the Montessori Method was created to educate special needs children. Some modifications would be required. The Toronto School for Autism uses ABA’s backward chaining model and discrete trial. I believe this probably puts back the steps that were taken out when the method was revised for “normal” children. Because the method is so individualized, mainstreaming would be much easier in a Montessori school then in public schools. Using PECS communication and scheduling would also be helpful. Using the teach method for those who need that kind of structure can easily be included. Using floortime to get into the child’s world and bring him into ours would also be possible.

My opinion is that it fits much better then what I see in the public school system now.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How would the school work?

If I had the money I could just hire qualified people to run the school and hire teachers. This would of course work, but I have another idea, if I can find people interested. I believe that parents are the first, best teachers of their children. This comes from my experience with teachers and schools. Most public schools try to teach children with a generic curriculum forcing every child to conform to what the teacher or curriculum requires. The children are tested and either retaught or the teacher just goes on and the child is left behind. How do the schools deal with the child who doesn't get it? Tutoring, resource rooms, remedial class rooms, and other things that I don't know about. Problem is the child is removed from class for the fun stuff (including recess, art, PE or other non essential things) to re-taught whatever he or she didn't get. That takes all the fun out of school.

I once read or was told something that rang true to me. Everyone can learn. Some people need things repeated once to get it (my ds2). Some people need it repeated many times, (my ds3). Some people need it thousands of times (the little girl with Rhett's Syndrome and others like her.) You just have to repeat it enough times for that particular person. Parent's are the first ones to learn how often something needs to be repeated for their child to learn it. After all, parent's have taught the child just about everything he/she knows before a school, teacher or anyone else gets to try if the child's disability wasn't obvious at birth. Even then, I believe a parents are given intuition for that child. The parent is the only person that will be around from the time the child is born until the child leaves the home however that may occur. Parents have the long term interests of the child at heart. In my experience, schools try to get through this year. The school personnel have never discussed how the IEP goals for this year fit into a long term play. I have had a teacher or two say things like, "He will just have to learn to deal with that." Whatever "that" may be does not always need to be forced right now and could be done in a much gentler way.

That is one way to run a school. Hire qualified personnel. It is not bad, it just isn't what I really want. What I want would be a homeschool type co-op where at least one parent would participate in the school contributing their time, talents and/or money. Many homeschool parents love to be with children and would teach. The parents could teach whatever level they are comfortable with and still be at the school where their children attended, an invaluable resource to the immediate needs of teachers and that parent's child. Each level would need at least 1-2 trained parent-teachers, and 2-4 aids in every classroom (depending on the needs of the children) so that parent-teachers could leave as necessary. Parents that do not like to teach could participate by preparing meals, building/making equipment, fund raising, gardening, janitorial, secretarial, library, art, music, aids to one on one work, speech, occupational therapy, ABA, RDI, assessment, training others, what ever talents that parent has could be put to work. Creativity would be needed.

Would this work? I don't know if there are that many people willing to do something like this. It takes a lot of coordination and dedication. I hope that there are people like me, dedicated to their children enough to make it happen not only where I live but elsewhere. People seem to think is an okay idea, but don't want to commit to it. Not when public education is free and you get time away from the difficult life that is a part of having disabled children.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Frustrations

I want to open a Montessori School for children with autism and their families. Maybe not just for children with autism but children with all kinds of disabilities. My experiences with the school district have been frustrating. My experience with the local Montessori schools have been fruitless. No one wants to take my child. He is too hard to handle. Actually, he is too frightened, but that is not how they see. There are several new Montessori schools within about 15 miles from my home. None of them, once they met my terrified son would even try. Between the state regulations about children and diapers (he is no longer in diapers but still needs a lot of help using the restroom) and him running from the building they did not want to take a chance.

I read in one story somewhere that a parent had found a Montessori school that instead of saying, "Will your child fit our program?" said, "What can I do for your child?" I read about two schools that really impress me. The Toronto Montessori School for Autism, and another school somewhere in the Midwest that makes accommodations for handicapped children. Unfortunately they are nowhere near where I live. There are a lot of schools for Autism around here, but I cannot afford the $4,000 per month price tag. How do other people do it? My husband makes good money. We are not poor (which means we don't get government help) but I can't imagine being able to pay $4,000 per month for one child's schooling. I have six. The oldest in College. We have saved and sacrificed for years in order to send our children to college. Do I give up my older children's future for my younger children's now? Especially when they can go to public school for free? I want the school I set up to be free to the families that go there because I know how expensive all the therapies can be. You have to try everything until you find the one that works for your child. That means your constantly spending small fortunes just to find the one you think is best for your child. By that time, you have nothing left. I have seen the stories of people on TV going into huge debt to get what their children need. I do not want to go into that kind of debt and I do not want others to have to do that either.

How do I set up a free school with no money, incurring no debt, and not having a tuition? It sound crazy and impossible. I have been scratching my head for years. I have thought about a charter school. I have looked into the legal stuff a little. The suggestions on the web say to start a board for the school. I have asked around about that. People say there is a need, but I haven't found anyone to help yet. I also wonder how No Child Left Behind would affect a school with children who may never reach the stages their age mates have. I wonder how the teenage Rhett's syndrome girl who will never have a cognitive skill over the age of about 2 falls into the No Child Left Behind laws. I wonder how the 6th grade boy I know with a genetic disorder who will not grow beyond about 2 will take the standardized test. I have asked my local elementary special ed people about this. They just shake their heads and shrug their shoulders. No Child Left Behind seems impractical. What is even worse is the law of "adequate education" for special education. What is "adequate education" for a child I know is gifted compared to my other children, but is in special education because of his social skills and refusal to perform the tasks set before him 9 out of 10 days. Can a child be in GT and Special Ed? What do I do with this child of mine who taught himself to read and can add and subtract in first grade, but cannot tell a story in any way shape or form or write a sentence or stay on topic in a conversation? Does he not need an individualized curriculum? Is not this the plight of almost every child? We hold them back in the areas they excel and push, sometimes way to hard, in areas they are weak. Would it not be better to let each child shine where they can and help them along in the other area? It drives me crazy watching my children loose their love of learning as they grow older. It has been horrible watching my oldest who shined in one school, when we moved peter out because he was expected to take a test on his new states geography the week started school. He kept asking me where this was or that. I had no idea. Things went downhill from that. It took him nearly 3 years to recover. It is frustrating to watch my second who would read to the other children in his kindergarten class now use cliff notes to pass a test instead of reading a book. What are we doing to our children?

You should homeschool, I have been told. I suffer from depression. I am not consistent enough to homeschool. I need a co-op for support on the days I struggle to get out of bed but I have been unable to find what I want. Maybe it is out there somewhere, closer then I think. I just don't know where to look or advertise or what ever. I have studied homeschooling thoroughly. I have made plans but when it comes right down to it, I need my husbands support and he sees no reason to homeschool when we have free public schools that we pay taxes for. Our school district is great. They have a good, rigorous curriculum. It really wasn't until ds5 that I started getting frustrated. Repeating myself over and over each year is getting frustrating. Teachers trying the same old thing that didn't work last year is frustrating. People thinking they know better then me or the previous teacher because they are the specialist is frustrating. I don't mind trying something different by why keep trying the same thing that was counterproductive for the last 3 years is beginning to irritate me and he is only in first grade!

I admire all of you who have put up with this special education mess for last who knows how many years. There are so many who have paved the way for those of us just starting out. I know I am frustrated, but I am truly glad that I didn't have to do this with my first child. I would have been trampled underfoot.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Getting to know me

Hi. I am the 42 year old mother of six beautiful boys. My oldest is 18 and away at college. My youngest is 5 and in preschool. He missed the deadline for kindergarten by 4 days which for us is a great thing because his language skills are at around that of a slow 3 year old.



My 2 youngest boys have PDD-NOS (a higher functioning form of autism). My older boys prepared me for this by having 1 or 2 of the autistic characteristics.



I have learned a lot about parenting boys. My husband and I have been through a large gambit of things. We have been married twenty years and between my family, my childhood family, and my husband's family I have run into a whole lot of stuff. I am sure it will all come out over time.

To know me, you need to know my boys. I will not use our real names to protect the innocent and the guilty so here are the ways I will refer to them.

dh - my husband, 45 about to turn 46 an engineer who works on computer projects for a large oil company.

ds1-18 going on 19 and away at college. He is shy, plays the cello and would have probably come under the autism umbrella if they had tested him in preschool. He has overcome a lot of his challenges. He taught me how to deal with a child who had to take in preschool for two months before actually doing anything and how to teach a child to answer "What did you do at school?"

ds2-just turned 17, a Junior in a difficult school district. He is gifted in everything but he is a terrible procrastinator. His words, "I just can't do the work until the last minute. I just can't concentrate." He plays french horn and the mellophone in the band. It is marching season so he is gone a lot of the time right now but since football season is almost over that will change. He has always had a large circle of friends and still does. He taught me how to deal with an extremely persistent child. When he wants something he will keep begging till he drives you crazy. He will work his head off to find a way not to do an assignment. I think he has learned that for an assignment that only takes a couple of minutes, you don't need to try and get out of it by bargaining for an hour.

ds3-is 14 and in Junior High. He play the trombone in the Honors band. He has joined Destination Imagination this year. He is also a huge procrastinator. He will play all afternoon and then stay up late at night doing homework. He has a hard time concentrating on the stuff he doesn't like. I constantly have to send him to a quiet place so he can do his work. When he was little he had a horrible temper and would throw all day temper tantrums. If I said no to something at 10 in the morning he would scream until about 1 when he fell asleep and then wake up at 3 and continue the tantrum until evening. I tried everything I could think of to calm him down. I would eventually put him in the crib where he wouldn't hurt himself or me and check on him every 15 minutes and try calming him down all day long. I have always been taught not to give in to temper tantrums but with this one I even tried that to avoid the screaming. It didn't work. He taught me patients for a child who cannot calm himself down and how to stay calm through long temper tantrums.

ds4-is 11 going on12. He is very sensitive and shy. He has texture issues. I have a horrible time trying to get him to take a shower/bath or change his clothes. He can't take the change like going somewhere on Saturday. I have to warn him for a couple of days if I want him to go somewhere like the store to get shoes. I wonder if he has a high functioning form of autism. He gets upset really easily. I asked his elementary teachers about it ever since I learned about his younger brother. They all have said he is fine. He is in Junior High and is learning to play the flute. He tells me he has no friends. I am hoping this will change as he adjusts to Junior High. When he was little he had to have a certain spoon with a certain cup with just the right amount of everything or he would go off. He taught me how to deal with the texture issues and the OCD that comes with autism.

ds5-is 6 going on 7 and in 1st grade. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. He also has selective mutism which means he has a high social anxiety. Not a usual combination for a child with autism. He has texture issues, temper issues, and sound issues. The school has trouble with him refusing anything they ask of him. I just have to get real firm. He knows I will wait him out if it takes days. Even with all of these problems he is the sweetest little guy and everyone loves him dearly. His smile lights up a room. You will read plenty about him as he gives me the most trouble both by himself and because of the school. He is afraid of everything! He has a very strong approach/avoid tendency. I have found hand over hand works well to get him over the hurdle.

ds6-is 5. He is in the Preschool Program fro Children with Disabilities. He has struggled to learn the names of family members but over the last six months we finally have names. That is everyone except ds1 who left right around the time he started giving us names. He won't talk about ds1 at all, even when his picture is on the computer. As ds6 learns more and more phrases and has started using 3-7 word sentences he has started relating to the other children in his class. His teacher decided to keep him full days to make sure he gets more speech practice. At home he just plays by himself so for me this is the first year without any children at home since my oldest was born. I did have a half day last year, but I just slept. My husbands sleep apnea kept me up at nights. I hadn't slept well in 20 years. I spent last year catching up on sleep. ds6 is afraid of nothing. He runs pell mell through life. His pain tolerance is very high so when he starts acting sick I get really scared. When he broke his arm by falling off the back of the couch it took me 5 hours to figure out somethings was wrong. He just fell asleep. Even when I thought something might be wrong, I wasn't sure it was anything much. Even the ER doctor thought he hadn't broken it. He called the next day after the radiologist looked at the x-rays to tell us he actually broke it.

This is my immediate family. Some of the things besides the above I have dealt with is:

I have a brother who is a child molester (yeah I know, but he is my brother. The state keeps an eye on him.)
My husband and one of my sons have been addicted to porn. Both tell me they are doing okay.
My husband's, sister's ex committed police suicide.
My father and my father-in-law have both had nervous break downs.
My niece died in a fire about 10 years ago.

This is the bad stuff of course. There are a lot of wonderful things as well.

Now, on to my dream. Some how amongst my crazy life, I want to load myself up with a Montessori school. I am not trained. I only have about 20 hours of college credit. I want it to be for children with disabilities. Will I be able to do this? I guess I will find out over the next few years.