Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tools for the Journey Conference

I attended an AMAZING conference today...Tools for the Journey...that was put on by Club 21, who is a wonderful non-profit organization that's focus is on inclusion...both education based and societal.  I attended this conference in 2010 and while I learned a lot, it was WAY too overwhelming hearing so much about inclusion in education and the trials and tribulations associated with it.  Sweet Pea was less than 1 years old and I was not ready to handle the education phase of this journey.

Today was NOTHING like that day in 2010.  I learned, I laughed, I teared up a couple of times but never real tears, I loved and ultimately, I embraced this next phase.  I have attended a lot of IEP trainings and have prepared for that part of the process, but the inclusion part has still eluded me to a large extent.  I learned so much today that I feel much more equipped to help setup a productive inclusive environment for Sweet Pea when she transitions to the school district in 2 months and this little girl definitely deserves that!

For those that don't know, we have been receiving early intervention services through the state run agencies called Regional Centers and on the 3rd birthday most of Sweet Pea's services transfer from the Regional Centers to our local school district.  The Regional Center will still be involved with Sweet Pea, but not to the extent that they have been since she was born.  It means that there is a new system to learn.  It also means that she will lose all of her existing therapists and center based therapy program.  However, if our IEP meeting goes as we hope it does, she will gain a spot in a preschool that is highly regarded by parents of typical children and that fills up very quickly.  She will be in a class that has a good number of typical peers in addition to a few classmates that also have IEPs.  I don't know the ratio, but there are definitely more typical peers than special needs peers in each class.  She will receive services such as speech and occupational therapy through this school as well.  All of the details of what kind and how much therapy and what days/times she attends the class will be decided at the IEP meeting that we are having on March 19th.

Anyway...back to the point of this blog post...

The conference hosted Patti McVay who is the Director of Education at the Linda Crnic Institute.  For those of you in Colorado...I am SO jealous that you have such an amazing resource in your toolkit!  I feel very fortunate and thankful that Club 21 was able to bring her out for this conference so that we could get a tiny fraction of the information and knowledge that she has to share.  Her presentation was titled "Best Practices for Student Success" and here are a few of the top things that I learned:
  • Teacher ownership is important: If your child has a para educator, DON'T ask the para educator about your child's day.  Ask the teacher!  This forces the teacher to take ownership of your child.  Say hi to the para educator, but focus on the teacher.  
  • Make friends with the teacher:  For too many reasons to name.  Offer to volunteer during class, after class, work on stuff at home...anything to help her and to let her know that you care.
  • Related to this is that she prefers para educators to be called classroom assistants...and to act as such!  She doesn't want them to be a single or two children's shadow.
  • Ask General Education teacher to share what is working during the IEP: This gets the general education teacher involved in the IEP and shifts the focus to what your child can do.
  • Brainstorm with classmates to have them come up with your child's strengths so that they can be read at the IEP.  This also helps change the dynamic of the IEP.
  • Always bring a friend to the IEP:  Spouse is good, but also bring a friend.  It's another set of ears and eyes that can help with note taking and can be less emotionally attached.  An idea suggested by the audience was to have that person sit across from you instead of next to you so that between the two/three of you, you can see everyone's faces and body language.
  • Create a communication starter:  Could be a couple of pictures of what your child did over the weekend.  Example: Photo of child at zoo with "We went to the zoo" written under it.  This allows peers and others to start conversations with your child when they can't do it is often a concern for our kids.
  • Use visual supports:  I don't know why I fight this one so hard.  Patti had a great point...we as adults use visuals too.  My calendar!  It may not be pictures, but visuals don't have to be either.  Yes, they start as pictures, but as your child learns you can transition to writing and other types, but keep visuals as a part of their life.  It helps them focus on what is important.
  • Two goals that she recommends are on most IEPs:
    • Ask a peer for help before an adult
    • Complete a project with a typical peer once a week
  • We have to setup situations where our children can be the helpers and not always the helpees.  Example: Our children can help with a class that is a couple of years younger at times.
  • She recommended this article: "Be Careful What You Wish For..."  Five Reasons to be Concerned About the Assignment of Indivdual Paraprofessionals by Michael F. Giangreco, et el.   I was already nervous about paraprofessionals being assigned to Sweet Pea and I'm happy that our preschool doesn't do that...supposedly.  We will see what reality is as we move through the process.  Para educators should be used as FACILITATORS for students.  A para educators should ask:
    • What would I do with any other student?
    • Can a peer do what I am doing?
  • People first language: I'm horrible at asking people to use people first language (child with Down syndrome instead of Down syndrome child), but she said it in a way that I think I will even be able to use in the future.  She asked us all to think of one trait that we dislike about ourselves.  Then she asked us how we would like us if we were introduced by that.  She is a little overweight (by her own admission) and she asked how we thinks she would feel if she was introduced as "fat Patti".  That was a great way of explaining it.  We don't want our kids to be introduced and spoken about with Down syndrome being who they are.  Sweet Pea is MANY things...having Down syndrome is just one of them.
As you can see...I learned a lot!  What I wrote above is just a piece of it.  I hope that this information is useful to someone else out there.  I am so happy that I was able to attend today and I can't wait for next years conference!


  1. These are great thanks for sharing, I am thinking of starting Owen after Easter at preschool, crazy to think our children are nearly 3!

  2. What an amazing summary!!! Thanks and I definitely cried in small and big ways, just processing and empathizing for us all, especially new families.

    Excellent excellent presenter and an amazing resource to have on our side. I was thrilled to hear her rave about how impressed she is with Club 21's endeavors. We adore Club 21 but she has the long range experience to confirm our instincts!!

  3. Angel is one?? How did that happen? Gorgeous picture by the way.

    Wealth of information you posted and I am certain that was just the top of the iceberg.

    Zoey just had her huge IEP ... kindergarten here we come.

    And, another beautiful picture of Sweet Pea. Loving the Krispy Kreme hat! Also love those donuts!

  4. All I can say is that Sweet Pea is so lucky to have such a wonderful mommy! You are inspiring!

  5. Thanks for checking in on us...I've been a bit behind on my blog reading myself!

    I'm loving the info you shared from your conference, Miss B's IEP meeting is March 9th and I'm trying to figure out what I want to have happen. Here's hoping we get the best for our little ladies. :)