16 Jan

For a change of pace this year, The Princess’s new teacher, who we love, has decided to really focus on independence skills. She has taught high school and middle school students with autism some of whom came to her with little to no independent skills and at the ages they were when she got them, it was very difficult to try and teach them.

Part of this new independent skill “curricula” is increased social skills. Which, we love, The Princess is now not just going to her “specials” (art, music, computers, PE and media) with her typically developing peers but recess as well now. And she is working up to going to the cafeteria with them for lunch (the acoustics in the cafeteria provide some interesting sensory issues, not to mention we are working on eating off our own plate and not helping ourselves to someone else’s).

Part of her social skill learning is also being incorporated into her participation with Special Olympics. This year her teacher has decided that instead of one “sport” or activity she is going to try 4. The kids have already completed bowling and have done some horseback riding sessions. The Princess loved both of them. Although the first bowling outing she got a very pretty pink ball and was less than thrilled the first time she let it go down the lane. Once she got it back it was all good though. And she got the opportunity to ride both horses and ponies with a local therapeutic riding program. She had begun showing an unprecedented interest in horses after her father spontaneously put her on one at a local event. She even selected a horse book independently during her library time at school to check out. They will do swimming later in the spring (which The Princess loves) and are now currently doing drum therapy.

This morning her teacher assistant (who drives the bus) told me The Princess totally “dug” the therapeutic nature of the drumming and afterward all the children in the class were so mellow (and tired, it took a lot out of them). This assistant has been working with special needs children for fifteen years and had never experienced drum therapy before and thought, well, it might hype the kids up, but who cares! Now, she is a total believer.

And  I have heard there is a strong pull to get a therapy dog in the classroom on a regular basis. The one dog they are interested in getting to work with the kids in a St Bernard. There was some laughter when the teacher suggested The Princess may try to ride on him. (He is after all, not that much smaller than some of the ponies she rode.) And it would be good for her to see that not all dogs steal food off the table (like ours does).

Change is something many of us with family members with autism, fear. This year The Princess had a new teacher, new experiences, and new expectations. And somehow, she has managed to weather them all like a champ. I really credit her new teacher with a lot of that. She made very clear from the get-go that things would be new and different but she was going to give the kids some time to get used to  it. And whatever she’s done, obviously it’s working.

And we continue to see marked improvement in her joint attention, her receptive speech (understanding what we say) and responding appropriately, we’ve even gotten a single finger point a few times. Change doesn’t have to be catastrophic, it can, in fact, be wonderful.


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