Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An unexpected call and a very long post

I got a call yesterday on my cell phone... a little after 2 in the afternoon. It was Anna's special ed teacher, Mrs. M, who has been working with Anna for the last three years. When I heard her voice, I steeled myself anticipating bad news... I expected to hear that Anna was having a meltdown or something and they had to report it due to the severity. Imagine my surprise when she said that Anna was actually having a good day.

I had gotten a notice in Anna's backpack the day before for a scheduled ARD for October 12th. I looked it over to see why we were having a meeting and it said something about her schedule of services so I signed it and returned it saying that I could attend. I figured they needed to tweak the minutes which happens sometimes and even though it's just a formality for a signature, they have to call the team together for an ARD to make it official.

"Well, you know Anna has been struggling this year."

Yes, I say.

"Even though her behavior is a little better this week, she is still so disengaged in inclusion. She just won't participate. We're concerned about if it's the best place for her. Have these thoughts occurred to you?"

Oh yes, I respond. Curtis and I have talked about it. Ideally, Anna would do best in a small classroom setting with a handful of typical students. But no such class exists.

"We've been thinking about why things are so different this year. There is a big difference between second grade and third grade... in third grade, the academics really take off."

I concur and told her how the psychiatrist was wondering if some of Anna's behavior issues were because she was becoming aware of those differences. We really don't know her level of self-awareness and are hoping the behavioral therapist will help us figure that out.

"Because she is so disengaged and because the material is getting harder in inclusion, we are wondering if we should look at her placement. The academic gap between Anna and her peers has just gotten too large. That is why we called the ARD for the 12th. We want to discuss placement in the FAC classroom."

I immediately feel tears prick my eyes. FAC? (What used to be termed FLS for Functional Life Skills, has now been changed to Functional Academic Class, FAC.) I murmur something and Mrs. M continues.

"Anna would be with Mrs. M_ in the FAC room for grades 3-5. I would still pull her out for Reading since that is one of her strengths and she would continue to join her inclusion class for lunch, recess, and specials. But we feel that Anna's needs are not being met in the inclusion setting and that she would get more support in FAC."

Having had a minute to absorb what she was saying, I felt a great amount of sadness that inclusion was dwindling as a viable option for my sweet girl. I expressed my greatest concern about this placement. Anna's biggest fear at school are some of the other children with special needs. (She has an inappropriate reaction to children in wheelchairs and who are nonverbal... anything from asking multiple questions about their abilities and wanting to baby them to covering her ears, having a meltdown, and shutting down.) She was in FAC part-time in kindergarten, and her fear of Caroline, in a wheelchair and nonverbal, was a daily presence in Anna's life all the way through first grade. Seeing Caroline again in second grade led to the great wheelchair obsession in the fall of 2009... which led to three weeks of interrupted sleep, constant perseveration, pestering her teachers, parents, friends, neighbors, and doctors to give her a wheelchair, finally culminating in an attempt to leave campus while at school and actually finding Daddy's car keys, leaving the house, and starting his car (!) in an attempt to drive to the doctor's office to get a wheelchair.

We are not talking about ordinary anxiety here.

Mrs. M agreed that this is a big issue. She has a student currently in FAC that she picks up after getting Anna in the morning. For the first few weeks, Anna would not even approach the FAC classroom door but now she is coming just inside the room to wait. I suppose we could propose a graduated program of 45 minutes in the room daily for a few days, then an hour and a half, and so on. But then my heart wrenches more. Are we giving up on her? Just writing that makes the tears flow. She was doing pretty well last year in inclusion. She had the material modified for her, she was making slow progress on her IEP goals... well, except in math.

All I can picture now is my little girl, a full year older than her peers since she repeated kindergarten, towering over her friends because of her dangerously rapid growth last year and subsequent hormonal imbalances due to the Risperdal, sitting at her desk completely disengaged from the class as they work on projects. She can't do what they can academically. I've read the reports day after day of her acting out in class, pulling hair, turning the lights off and on, hitting her teacher, announcing that she'd peed her pants so she could go to the nurse, crying. She is not feeling good about school at all. She is desperately crying out for help. I'm heartsick that we only have these two options at our campus because neither is good for her. District-wide I think there is only one additional option and that is an autism cluster class; I think that would provoke even more anxiety for her if there were any kids stimming or making guttural noises.

It can't hurt to ask, so I'll see if there are any other options in the school setting. Maybe she can stay with Mrs. M for part of the day. Maybe she could only go to school part-time. Maybe we should look at other schools, at private schools, at charter schools. Maybe I should homeschool her. Academically homeschooling would be most beneficial. But how much can we expect that she would learn and retain and how much would that help her in the real world? Socially speaking she has potential to continue to grow... with repetition and scripts, she is beginning to expand her conversational skills with the neighborhood girls though she is still painfully delayed from where they are and what they discuss. Ughhhhh. More tears. (There was an interaction with the three girls up the street last week that was really poignant... but that story is for another time.)

When I told Curtis about this conversation with Mrs. M (who recommended we visit the FAC room and meet Mrs. M_ before the ARD), I suddenly flashed on Anna as an adult. Never before I have felt such a clear picture. She will need us. Even her academic and medical team have not been able to tell me what to expect in her future... maybe I've been living in denial or maybe you can call it hope, I don't know, but some part of me felt that she would be independent. Sure, she'd need help, but she would do it her own way.

Maybe she still will.

But somehow, starting with the Rispderal failing last fall, I've felt like we are losing her. The aggression over the summer gave me a pit of dread about this school year. As Curtis and I continue to discuss the ramifications of her academic placement, the bigger philosophical questions come up. What is best for Anna? Is this move somehow an admission that we are giving up on her, just a little bit? Are we overthinking? Perhaps she will thrive and flourish in this other environment, especially if we can manage her anxiety. I don't want to limit what she can do and accomplish. How do we best serve her needs now to ensure the brightest possible outcome for her as an adult? Is it more important that Anna know how to multiply numbers or that she knows how to respect personal space and have appropriate interactions? Academic and social skills are tough to balance and even harder to teach; we know she is capable of learning both given the right environment and circumstances. How do we find that?

Another thing that is crossing my mind is our future, all of us... my own health, and Curtis's too, and the role that Jenny and Dominic will play in Anna's life when we are gone. I feel so protective of her and so deeply connected to her too that it's been hard to make her understand why it's important for her to be separate from me. I want to always be by her side, I want to be the hand she reaches for when she's scared and overwhelmed. I don't want her out in the real world potentially getting taken advantage of. But I have to let go some. I've always felt that we should live an action-oriented life with the goal of an independent adult existence for her but also prepare for the possibility that she will need assistance. We really haven't been doing the latter so much. Reality checks are gut-wrenching.

And if you've made it this far, God bless you. Writing is my way of wrestling with the big issues and I so appreciate the support I've gotten by sharing myself here. I guess our next step is meeting with the FAC teacher and visiting her classroom, then we'll talk about options prior to the ARD. I am glad, in a manner of speaking, for the unexpected call yesterday... this would've been much harder to hear the first time in the ARD meeting. I don't even know what our rights are in questioning Anna's placement. There is much to be done and many questions that need answered. Having the behavioral specialist come on board now is good timing and I hope she can give us some insight on how to help my little girl. I'm a little lost.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New release today from By Becca and a *freebie*!

By Becca is releasing Walk in Splendor today at 9th & Bloom. The kit description, written by our wonderfully talented CT member, Jenn, is art in of itself:
“A gust of wind blows by, swirling copper, scarlet, russet and gold into a dizzying dance of blazing color. Nearby, a bonfire burns, leaves crackling, while the laughter of children rings out in the crisp afternoon air. Autumn is here in all of her glory – the crowning of the year, when pale spring yellows and summer greens give way to the rich jewel tones of fall. It is a time for hayrides, apple picking, bright days and cold nights. A time to gather with family and friends. A time to marvel at the beauty – and the bounty – of nature. Walk in Splendor will help you capture these treasured memories forever.“

This is a seriously beautiful kit! I scrapped two layouts with it and I know I'll be reaching for it again and again. In addition the elements, papers, and alpha, Becca is also offering an add-on set of clusters and word art. You can find the clusters in her shop or you can purchase the kit and clusters together as a bundle.

Walk in Splendor

Walk in Splendor Clusters and Wordart

Walk in Splendor Bundle

My Layouts

"Contemplating Autumn"
Dominic is my child of contrasts. One minute he is exuberant and wild… the next he is quiet and contemplative. I took this photo of him near the duck pond by our house last month and he really seemed lost in thought.

Journaling reads:

I wonder what you are
thinking when I see this
look cross your face...

I wonder if you realize
how much I love you.

As autumn approaches,
I count my blessings...
and you are at the
top of my list.

"Fall Nostalgia"

My oldest daughter, Jenny, moved 4 hours away to attend college. I am really missing her. I took this photo of her earlier this summer.

Journaling reads:
You’ve been away at college for five weeks now.
As we settle into the school time routine and a hush
descends on the house, I miss you more and more each
day. This time of year makes me nostalgic for family
traditions and anticipate the upcoming holidays. I hope
you can feel my love for you across the miles and know that
I am always here for you. I love you, Angel.

And as a special taste to show you how gorgeous this kit is, I have made a cluster frame for you use *free*!!! This png file is sized 12x8 at 300 ppi, and is pre-shadowed so it is easy for you to add a photo and paper and you are ready to print! You can download the freebie here:


Thanks for looking!

New Release by AnnaBV Designs

Anna has a new kit out called Autumn Ladybugs available today at ScrapOrchard. There are so many adorable elements and the color palette is very inviting; you can use this kit for all kinds of photos and it's especially good for chocolate toned black and white photos. Anna's also made a coordinating alpha so head over to ScrapOrchard and pick them up!

Autumn Ladybugs

Autumn Ladybugs Alpha

My Layout

Love Bug
I took this photo of Dominic early in the summer for a contest My4Hens was having for a boy photo action set. Dominic was so amenable during this impromptu photo shoot and gave me many sweet pictures. Isn't he adorable?

Journaling reads:
Dominic, you truly are my love BUG. I feel so lucky that you want to play with me after school and want to cuddle with me in the mornings. I just adore you! Some day you will not want me to be by your side all the time. So for now I’m taking advantage of these special moments with you. It won’t be long before you are grown up but you will always be my little love bug.

I have a big toot to share for this layout... I got a Gallery Standout (GSO) at DST, ScrapOrchard, and ScrapMatters for this layout yesterday! I've never gotten 3 GSOs for the same layout before, what a rush!

Thanks for looking!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

School is not going so hot

You never want to have an emotionally disturbed child and you certainly never want your child to be unhappy for a prolonged period of time. This has been a hard post to write and I haven't even been sure I wanted to share it but if it helps someone else going through the same circumstances to know they are not alone, then I'll be glad to have hit the Publish Post button.

Anna's special ed teacher called me Friday morning requesting a meeting as soon as possible with the team at school. We met that afternoon.

(On a side note, my digi-friend, Serena, was in town visiting her sister and I got to meet her! She was kind enough to come with me to this meeting and I really appreciated her support. She has a 10-year old daughter on the spectrum so she really understands.)

Sigh. Big deep breath. I have a lot to share. And I'm not sure where to start. And I've been writing this for two three days.

The reports coming home in Anna's Apple Chart have not been good so far (the Apple Chart is our daily communication folder). So I knew that this meeting was going to be heavy going in. Anna's inclusion teacher went first. She said that Anna is not participating in class. At all. All she does is ask to go to the nurse, all day long. If the class is meeting for carpet time, Anna chooses to sit at her desk. She follows her teacher around all day and if she can't have the teacher's attention, she'll start acting out... turning the lights on and off, knocking stuff of her desk, then getting aggressive. She pulled another student's hair last week. Can you imagine if your child came home and said someone pulled her hair? Ugh. The mommy guilt is terrible. Anna has even pretended to wet her pants in order to leave class. The teacher and the classroom is quiet and orderly. It's not a sensory-overload environment. Anna has an aide with her at all times and everyone, including the kids, is supportive of her.

Then the special ed teacher shared that things are even worse when Anna is with her. This is a wonderful teacher, someone who has been working with Anna for three years. We suspect that she is getting the brunt of the behavioral problems because she is Anna's safe person, if that makes sense. Anna is doing everything she can to get negative attention. And none of us know why exactly. We know she is extremely unhappy and hates school. I'm not sure what her motivation is or what her payoff is in acting out but she is doing it very well. In addition to hitting and kicking her teacher and peers, Anna is also being destructive... throwing things, ripping up things, banging things... you get the idea. Tuesday and yesterday were particularly bad and when I read what has transpired I feel nauseated. I took Anna to the psychiatrist Tuesday morning and because she was well-behaved while in his office, he feels that this behavior is not related to a chemical imbalance or medication. Anna is desperately trying to get out of being in class and her ultimate goal is to escape and be home with me.

So we are consulting with a behavioral therapist. Curtis and I meet with her on Monday, then she'll meet with Anna, then she'll come up with a game plan. She'll observe Anna at home and at school and she will also help us with Dominic since he is also having behavioral problems at school. She specializes in children ages 3-11 with severe emotional disturbances including oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorders, autism, and ADD/ADHD behavior problems. She's the one to call when you've reached the end of your rope as a parent, when you've talked with all the doctors and read all the books, and don't know what else to try. I'm handing her the hope that is in my heart tied up in a little box with a pretty bow. Please.

We've been in constant contact with Anna's team this week. It's been 4 full weeks of school and they have not covered one single academic area on her IEP... it's all been behavior management. Of course, I've thought about home-schooling her but everyone agrees that this will not help Anna learn to integrate into the real world as she grows up. She is very dependent on me and I'm not good with my boundaries, I do too much for her and enable some of these behaviors, though not intentionally.

All any parent wants is for their child to be happy. Really, you can deal with illness, academic gaps, social issues... but in the end if your child is happy, you can deal. This... this is unbearable. I ache for her.

I'll keep you posted after we meet with the behavioral specialist. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The ortho visit

Early in spring, Anna had a checkup with the pediatric geneticist. At that time, she noted some kyphoscoliosis in Anna that she wanted checked out by an orthopedic doctor. It was a six-month wait to get into the Specialty Care Center at Dell Children's Medical Center and today was our appointment. They said to expect the appointment to last 2-4 hours! Wow. So we packed up a ton of stuff to keep us entertained. Anna was just excited to leave school early. :)

The clinic is located inside of the children's hospital. We had to park way out and then find our way through the maze of the hospital corridors only to discover that the clinic's entrance is only from the outside of the hospital on the rear side. Oy! What an ordeal just to find the place! Then we had to sign in just to get registered and the place was packed. There were many very involved kiddos waiting to be seen and Anna is both fascinated and scared by kids who are nonverbal and in wheelchairs. She doesn't realize how to interact appropriately and definitely made a few moms uncomfortable with all of her questions. Ten minutes later, we were called to check-in then we had to wait again to be called back. By the time they came for us, Anna was starting to withdraw and had her hands on her ears.

They first wanted x-rays. That surprised me and I didn't have a chance to prepare her. But she handled it very well and the quiet of the x-ray room was a welcome respite from the chaos of the lobby area. Unfortunately, we had to go back to the waiting room to be called into an exam room. That whole process took another 30 minutes.

Then it was blood pressure, weight, height, exam room... where I then had to fill out yet another info sheet on Anna's history. A nurse practitioner came in and began asking the same questions that I was writing (so frustrating, don't you think? Why isn't there a central repository database with each individual's patient's history, medications, and allergies?). Then we waited for the doctor. And waited. And waited. Thank goodness I brought my laptop with a Max and Ruby DVD for Anna. We also brought snacks, Audrey (Anna's favorite baby doll) with her assorted accessories, and some other activities. We even ended up turning on the TV at one point. We waited almost 2 hours for the ortho to come in.

When he shows up, he doesn't introduce himself, he doesn't apologize about the wait, he just starts asking me questions. Anna pipes up, "What took you so long?" I could've kissed her! That's my girl! Ha! He dodged the question and reviewed her history. He said the x-rays showed a slight scoliosis, 6-7 degrees, and a mild kyphosis (hunchback). Between her hunching and her lordosis (swayback), her hyperextended knees are worse. But none of these issues are worrisome yet and the ortho recommended that her pediatrician follow her and if they get worse, to come back in. He also noted some mild (+2?) clonus in her ankle and foot. I'm not sure exactly what that is... I think tightening? So we arrived at 12:30 and left at 3:30 to spend 10 minutes with a dismissive ortho... typical.

Anna was so stressed by the time we hit the highway, she was asleep. Bless her heart.

Monday, September 13, 2010

i heart faces ~ vroom, vroom!

This week's photo challenge at i heart faces is vroom, vroom!... incorporating a face and any kind of vehicle. I didn't have many photos from which to choose, but this one of Jenny taken in front of the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi fits the bill.

Image is clickable to see it larger.


Thanks for looking! And go check out all of the other fabulous entries at i heart faces this week!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fix-it Friday #70 at i heart faces

This Fix-it Friday photo was submitted by Amy Locurto, an IHF contributor. What a beautiful little girl! Here is the original photo:


And here is my edit (image is clickable to see it larger):


I'm working on a cleaner editing style at the moment, so hopefully I achieved that. I thought this image was really strong to begin with but had too much contrast. I'm noticing on the blog, however, that my edit looks a bit soft in the contrast department, but looking at it full-size, it seems okay? So first I opened the photo in ACR, fiddled with the white balance just a bit, upped recovery just a bit to tone down the highlights, and added a tiny bit of center fill light. I then reduced the contrast a lot. Then I opened the image in CS4.

Workflow in PS CS4:
~adjusted levels
~Noiseware at low opacity
~I thought the girl's right eye looked a little off in the lower section, so I duplicated the left eye, masked it to only cover the bright section, and lowered the opacity to 80%
~created a curves layer set to screen, masked and inverted, then gently painted in with a 20% opacity brush under the eyes to lighten the shadows there
~added a color fill layer with an off-white and set to luminosity, lowered opacity to 20% to brighten skin tones
~added a vignette
~ran TRA's web-ready sharpening action

Thanks for looking and come check out the other edits at i heart faces!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The back to school blues

So the kids are in their third week of school and both Anna and Dominic have had their ups and downs. Anna is adjusting to her inclusion class better than I hoped but she's already had several incidents with throwing things, yelling "idiot girl" (her favorite angry phrase), pinching another student, and hitting the teacher. They take her to "room 300" to cool off, have a sensory break, and try to regroup. I think she spends all afternoon in the special ed environment. She hasn't brought any homework home yet and I don't have a good sense of where things stand academically at the moment. I'm sure the teachers are still getting a handle on where each student's strengths and weaknesses are so I'll give it more time. Anna regularly asks to go home and go to the nurse and has had a few days of crying jags.

Dominic claims to hate school already. He is a tough kid to teach, I really feel for his teacher. I was hoping that being in the TAG class this year would challenge him enough to help with his impulsive behaviors but so far he is really sticking out. I got a note from his teacher this morning:

"Dominic is struggling both in and outside the classroom. He knows my expectations and I can really see him trying hard. He has good intentions every day! He is a little more immature than the some of the other students in first grade and his choices toward other students are setting him aside and causing him to have acceptance issues. He screams at other students when he does not get his way. He grabs objects from others and has a hard time working in a group. When redirected by a teacher he will physically and verbally throw a fit, stopping class instruction. Yesterday he was very disrespectful to the PE staff. He often times calls me "Hey" instead of Mrs. M___ and absolutely must get the last word in. Now, with all that said, I adore Dominic! I do not think at this time he needs behavior intervention. Some children take longer to adjust as there is a huge difference between first and kinder. Dominic and I are talking things through and discussing alternate choices. He is a delightful boy, he has great ideas and is a great addition to our class family. For now, let's just keep in touch about his behavior. I'm usually pretty detailed in the daily folder. It may not seem like it but we are making progress. If you have any questions just let me know. I really think Dominic will adjust and be just fine."

I really like her tone and how she handled my concerns. I also like her optimism! But Dominic has been exhibiting these behaviors since he started preschool at age 2.5 and was actually asked to leave two preschools before we found one that would work with him. He was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago but the psychological testing we had done also showed that his attention and focus is fabulous when engaged with stimulating subject matter. He is much better than he was at this point last year but it is breaking my heart to hear him talking about not having friends. I worry about so much with him... how smart he is, how he has to have everyone follow the rules, how impulsive he is (and loud!), and how Anna's challenges affect him emotionally and socially. Her needs take up so much of my attention that I worry I'm not doing enough for him.

After we get Anna's anxiety under control, we're going to start visiting with a behavioral therapist again. Both of them need help and I'm overwhelmed. I'm using the Incredible 5-Point Scale to help Anna with her anxiety and Dominic with his volume and anger. I have a very clear reward system in place with stickers for chores and good choices. They earn time for the fun things they like and that gets taken away when poor choices are made. I try to be consistent and follow-through... yet these notes home come nearly every day and they are both so unhappy. Some days I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job, yknow?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fix-it Friday #69 at i heart faces

This Fix-it Friday photo was submitted by Rachel Durik, an IHF contributor. Here is the original photo:


And here is my edit (image is clickable to see it larger):


Doing such an intense crop on a low-res photo made it quite grainy, but you get the gist of what I was wanting to accomplish... focusing more on the couple and their faces.

Workflow in PS CS4:
~fixed shadows/highlights
~adjusted levels
~Noiseware at low opacity
~warmed up tones by adding a color fill layer with a golden tone and set to soft light, lowered opacity
~added a vignette

Thanks for looking and come check out the other edits at i heart faces!
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