Getting Started With Autism

My ten-year-old son was recently diagnosed with autism. This is not something I saw coming. He’s bright, creative, and funny–and while he’s had issues with anger, frustration, and social skills over the years, autism wasn’t in the realm of possibility in my mind. I’ve met kids with autism. I knew what autism is like, and my son just didn’t fit.

Then I read the report and saw how all the pieces fit together, and I realized I had a lot to learn. So I set out to find some resources to learn how to help him and get support for myself. And that’s where I kept hitting dead ends.

No support groups in my area. No social groups. Nothing within a practical distance that would work within our schedules. My son has a lot of support and resources at school, but I can’t find anything for me as a parent. If he had more severe challenges, I’m sure there would be other resources available to us, but I can’t even find a parents group in my county.

And so I subscribed to a magazine and ordered some books, hoping to glean some insight into the way his brain works and some tools for dealing with his meltdowns. I’m tired and I’m in new territory, and I just want to get through a day without my son losing it over his piano practice, or homework, or a video game not going his way.

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I Voted Today: Open Letter to Woodland School District

To: Woodland School District 50; Dil Dybas, Community Engagement Liaison, Prairie Crossing Charter School; Illinois State Board of Education

Today I voted an empty ballot for the Woodland School Board members up for election/reelection. I’m not sure it will make a difference, but I want to make it clear why.

Woodland has been contesting the existence of Prairie Crossing Charter School  since its opening in 1999. Regardless of the fact that PCCS is a wonderful school, under Charter School law in Illinois, it is required that Charter Schools renew their charter agreements every five years. PCCS has successfully renewed its contract three times since its inception, and each time, Woodland has been at the forefront of contesting PCCS’s right to exist. Woodland seems to feel that closing PCCS will cure years of mismanaged budgets by their administration and their school board.

What this boils down to is: Woodland school board wants Prairie Crossing’s money.

PCCS has been educating the children of the Woodland and Fremont school districts for 15 years and has been doing it well. It is an innovative, high‐quality educational program focused on the environment, and has received multiple national recognitions. It is open to all students in the two districts, tuition‐free, with no admission criteria.

My child has been attending PCCS for two and a half years. I can’t say how he would do at Woodland; I certainly am not commenting on the quality of education at Woodland. What I am saying is that, by Illinois law, I have a choice of where to send my child to school, and I choose Prairie Crossing. My son has received a quality education with an individual focus, and he has been thriving at Prairie Crossing Charter School.

According to Greg Richmond, Chairman of the State Charter School Commission, “Prairie Crossing underwent a lengthy and rigorous evaluation when it came up for review before the State Charter School Commission last year. The Commission fully vetted every aspect of Prairie Crossing, and a majority of Commissioners voted to renew its charter in conformance with the provisions of state law. During that review process, lawyers for the Woodland school board asked the Commission cut the charter school’s funding 25% and give that money – about $775,000 – to Woodland. When the Commission declined, the Woodland school board sued, not just to take $775,000, but to close the school and take it all. Ironically, closing the school doesn’t even help Woodland. Yes, it would get all of Prairie Crossing’s money, but it would also get their kids and the cost of educating them. There would be no windfall. Attorneys from the Commission, State Board of Education, and Attorney General’s office believe the law is on the side of Prairie Crossing. Yet the judge’s hand‐written, one‐page decision provides no insight into his reasoning. The Woodland school board will likely end up paying hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to its lawyers as proceedings drag on. If the Woodland school board were spending that money to improve the educational opportunities available to families in their district, they would be doing what the voters expect. Instead, they are spending that money to try to close Prairie Crossing and reduce the school options available to their families.”

Let me restate: By Illinois law, Prairie Crossing Charter School has a right to exist, and I have the right to choose where my son attends school. I choose Prairie Crossing. And I choose to cast an empty ballot rather than reinstate school board members who would rather spend the school district’s–and taxpayers’–money frivolously than spend it on improving the quality of education in its district.

Sincerely,

Koka Kliora
Proud PCCS parent

Alex the Superlative

Note: This post was originally a speech delivered at Toastmasters in October 2013.

If you have a child, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say that my son Alex is the greatest, best looking, smartest, most creative kid.

Alex is 6. When I asked him what I should talk about at my first Toastmasters speech, he said I should say I have a son, so that makes me a mom….But I should probably add a few things to make it more interesting. I’ll try to take his advice.

This kid has always made me worry.

When Alex was two, the director of his daycare called. She explained that Alex might be having seizures. He was really good at pretending to be a dinosaur. So good that he could maintain his focus for 15 minutes. You couldn’t get his attention, even if you pinched him. This could be a sign of petit mal seizures.

So we took him to a pediatric neurologist, who took one look at him and said, No, he’s just a good actor. At two.

Perhaps I just worry too much.

I like to think of myself as a pretty creative parent when the need arises. One night Alex asked me to tell him a bedtime story. So I made one up on the spot:

“Once upon a time there was a little boy named Malexander.”

“That’s me!”

“Malexander’s mommy loved him very much, but she couldn’t be with him all the time. She missed him when she wasn’t with him, and he missed her. But he always had a part of her with him in his heart.”

“That’s not a very good story.”

“Okay, Alex, you tell me a story.”

“Once upon a time there was a little boy named Malexander. Malexander’s mommy took him to McDonald’s, where he got to play and have fun. The end.”

I guess I still have a lot to learn about storytelling.

Recently Alex asked me to sing him a song. “You Are My Sunshine” has always been one of his favorites. I started singing, and as I sang the second verse…

The other night dear
As I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms.
When I awoke dear
I found you’d left me
And I hung my head and cried

…I heard Alex sniffling. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “Mommy, I would never leave you!”

I told you I have the greatest kid in the world.