There are some things that happen in public education that I will never understand.
I realize I come from a background very different than most public school teachers. I was fortunate to start my teaching career in small, private schools, where imagination and creativity by the teacher was encouraged. Ironically, I started out teaching in a rigorous program in the 1980s. I was an all-day Kindergarten teacher in a private school that pushed academics in Kindergarten long before the trend became the norm in public schools. I didn’t have children of my own until I’d been teaching a few years.
I became a very different teacher after I had my own children. I perceived children differently. I empathized more with their developmental level and realized how truly young a 5-year-old is. I mourned for their loss of playtime and moments of being a free, imaginative kid. I changed my teaching methods to include many more hands-on projects and more interactive learning-play, and a lot less worksheets. (Frankly, I despise worksheets.)
As my family grew I became a mother of kids with disabilities – autism, ADHD, dyslexia, mental illness, and others. I got a crash course in the importance of differentiation. My scope as an educator improved and special education and differentiating became a passion. So much so, I gained another bachelor’s degree in special education. It meant that much to me to work with children and help them succeed. I was convinced that all students, regardless of their academic level and ability, could learn the same content if it was presented to them in an accessible way. And my students’ positive growth and response to my hands-on, interactive, student-centered lessons proved me right.
Before my special education degree, I ran my own cottage school after homeschooling my own children for several years. When I pulled my twins with autism out of public school (long story, but it’s in my book, A Pair of Miracles) I knew they needed much more than the public school was able to provide. I was fortunate to have that luxury. I invited other children with special learning needs, from giftedness to severe emotional disabilities to join us. For seven years I ran a one-room school with 15 students grades K-12. It was an amazing experience.
Every student in that school had an individualized plan for learning. I found out how much fun it was to differentiate content in a way that all the students could get it. They all learned the same things at their own level of ability. In history and science we all learned the same topic in a way each student could get the same content but in their own way on their own level.
I guess because differentiating is so second-nature to me, I struggle to understand why in public schools teachers insist giving tests that students couldn’t possibly pass no matter how hard they try. The academic language is way over their heads. It’s a waste of my time and the student’s time to wade through a test they don’t understand.
It’s like telling an English-Speaking person to take a test in French. It’s just noise and marks on a paper to that student. It’s discouraging.
It is, in a word, demoralizing.
“de·mor·al·ize: (verb) to cause (someone) to lose confidence or hope; dispirt.”Synonyms: dishearten, dispirit, deject, cast down, depress, dismay, daunt, discourage, unman, unnerve, crush, shake, cow, subdue.(Source: Dictionary.com)
I hope someday soon I’ll be able to build relationships with the general education teachers in a way that they will be willing to get input from me about appropriate forms of assessment. There’s so much more to learning and teaching than simply regurgitating information. There are many more ways to assess students other than using worksheet tests or online exams.
If my heart breaks when these kids go through the pain of testing, I can’t imagine how they must feel. A lot of my students just give up. They quit trying. Because, what’s the point? It’s obvious to them no one wants them to understand the content. They just want them to jump through the same hoops as everyone else. And I get that we only have so much time in a day. It’s not all the general education teachers’ fault. They have X amount of material to cover so kids pass the state exams. They don’t have time to slow down the content or take advantage of teachable moments. State assessments make teachers teach curriculum instead of students.
You wouldn’t ask a student to run a race without legs. You wouldn’t ask a blind person to read a test without braille. It’s the same with hidden disabilities. It’s wrong to expect students with learning disabilities, who read at a low grade level, to understand the same academic language as typical, grade-level students.
In my quest to be a highly effective special education teacher, I need to learn how to advocate for my students in a way that gets results. I’m not there yet. And it frustrates me. I want to earn the general education teacher’s trust. I want them to see through the eyes of their special needs’ students and understand how brave they are just to come to school each day.
I admire my students’ courage and learn from them every single day. I only hope I can have the same influence on them. Until the general education teachers I work with see clearly through the eyes of my special needs students, I’ve not fully succeeded. So my prayer, every day, is to be that for them. A successful advocate. A lens through which educators can see in vivid focus what my students need: access to the same academic information their peers without disabilities have access to, in a way that they can understand.
There’s not a reputable writer out there that doesn’t want to be the best in their craft. One way we scribes measure our success is by how many awards or best-sellers we have under our belt. Others measure it by how many books they’ve published or sold. A top-ten Amazon ranking, a New York Times Best-Seller list: what writer hasn’t drooled over those prospects?
But as I’ve written before, being God’s writer involves much more. And today, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite writers. You probably don’t know her because you won’t find her writing at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. But you will find her words in hundreds of homes and hearts. Maybe even thousands.
Her name is Marcia Ousley. I want you to remember her name because when you are in the depths of despair during times of rejection and frustration in your writing career, remembering her will put your writing gift into perspective. This writing journey isn’t all about us. Never was. Never will be.
Marcia was my dear friend who passed away on June 6, 2017 at 12:32 a.m. I miss her much more than I imagined. Marcia was a cheerleader. I could always depend on her to ask me about my writing life, my teaching life, my life in general. I never heard her say a harsh word or criticize anyone. She was soft-spoken, gentle, and the absolute epitome of what Jesus is like in the flesh. Oh, I know she wasn’t perfect. But she was as close as any mortal could be.
Cancer struck Marcia fast and mercilessly. Within months of her diagnosis she became very ill and passed away. Sadly, hundreds of people in Indiana and elsewhere lost their strongest and best encourager. This is because Marcia had, and shared, the gift of writing through penning dozens of handwritten letters and notes each week. In this day of email and texting, Marcia still used her precious hands to hold a pen and write loving and very personalized messages to those she loved and cared about. She even wrote to those she didn’t know very well.
Marcia and her husband, Homer, didn’t have children. But she was a highly educated schoolteacher and taught in the public schools for nearly 30 years. Twice she received the coveted Distinguished Dekko Award for Teaching Excellence. Twice! She thought of each one of her students as her own, and never lost touch with them. She followed their lives all the way through adulthood, showed up to all their graduations and open houses, and attended their weddings and baby showers. She never stopped sending encouraging letters and cards to them even after they were grown with families of their own.
At our church she was in charge of the card ministry–a ministry that has yet to be filled. Writing encouraging notes with her own hand inside each card, she didn’t simply sign, “Love, Marcia,” but wrote a truly heart-felt paragraph or two to lift up the receiver. She never stopped writing. It was her gift, and she used it wisely. When she wrote for the church she didn’t sign her own name, she signed, “Love, The Congregation of Christian Fellowship Church.” Whew. That’s a long signature to write over and over again by hand.
When this earth lost Marcia, they lost one of the greatest writers that ever lived. I still can’t believe she’s gone, and it startles me how very much I miss her. Even though we never really “hung out,” I just knew that Marcia had my back. She never judged anyone. She was there for you through thick and thin. She was Jesus with skin on. If there’s anyone on this earth I wanted to imitate, it was Marcia. She was not only a writer but her outreach included volunteering at food pantries, visiting shut-ins and spreading God’s love everywhere she went.
As I sat in her funeral service, I found myself whispering in a repeated prayer, “When I grow up, I want to be like Marcia…” before it dawned on me, ahem, I’m more than grown-up now. And if there’s anyone I should want to be like, it should be Jesus.
But the thing is, Marcia was so much like Jesus, that it’s not a far reach to want to imitate her, too. Just as the early Christians imitated the apostle Paul:
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
As far as I know, Marcia never won an award for her writing or saw her name on the Best-Seller List. But her name made the most important list of all: the Lamb’s Book of Life.
That’s The List we all should strive for, whether we’re a writer, carpenter or toilet scrubber. That list matters most of all, along with the words from our Father, “Well done.”
When your identical twin brother has a job and you don’t, it’s a tough row to hoe. Let’s rephrase that. When your identical twin brother with autism has a job and you have autism, and you don’t have a job yet, it’s super hard to process and understand.
Last week Isaac started his new job! This has been a long road for both boys. But thanks to Vocational Rehab in Indiana, the boys are now both in job placements and succeeding. At least for now.
Autism is unpredictable, and while we keep our fingers crossed and are hopeful they will be able to stay in their positions, things come up that could change all that.
But today, we don’t focus on that. Right now we celebrate. Isaac has a job! This was something I was told long ago that he’d never do. Just look at these miracles now!
Isaiah works at a convenience store/gas station about three mornings a week. And now Isaac is working at a locally owned restaurant. At the gas station, Isaiah cleans and stocks. At the restaurant Isaac does dishes several evenings a week.
Excuse me while I Snoopy dance!
We are thrilled that God has been gracious to us. And the boys are thrilled, too. Things are a lot less stressful around here now. Isaac is no longer upset and moping about not having a job. With identical twins with cognitive disabilities, who often see themselves as one entity instead of separate human beings, this has been a difficult season for us to handle.
I had no idea parenting adult children would be so challenging. Sometimes I really long for when they were all little. Things were much simpler! Am I the only one?
Oh, and Isaac’s not the only one who started a new job! Yesterday I attended my first training for my new teaching position as an 8th grade resource teacher at Indian Springs Middle School! I’ll send more details about that later.
In the meantime, check out the twins’ book. It’s about how God proved the doctors wrong. And how there is always hope and grace. Always.
Hello, beautiful people!
Today is LAUNCH DAY!
Yep, today is the day my new book, A Pair of Miracles, the story of my twins’ journey with autism, ventures out into the great big world.
Okay. Maybe a bit too much coffee this morning???
Since so many people think I lead a glamorous life as a writer, I thought I’d share the run-down of my day so far. (Okay, so most people know I don’t lead a glamorous life, but it makes good copy, so bear with me.)
6:30 AM — Hit snooze button
7:30 AM — Finally walking upright. Make coffee. Stumble through house looking for the house phone.
7:31 AM — Forget I’m looking for the house phone. Forget I made coffee. Do hygiene stuff.
7:35 AM — Take laptop to office, look for interview confirmation, get out notes for the radio interview, get distracted by email and forget I’m setting up for a radio interview.
8:00 AM — Look for house phone. Again. The radio stations always want you on a land line, not your cell phone.
Time out. Let me explain something.
Our house phone is cordless. There are two of them. I can’t find either one. I never, and I mean, never talk on the house phone. I think the last time I spoke on the house phone was 1999.
8:15 AM — Panic. Wake up the twins. “Where’s the phone???”
8:20 AM — Find the phone. Go to office with it. Set the red flashing light outside my office door so twins will know I’m on an interview/recording.
Yes, I actually use this outside my office door. No one in my house understands the words, “Do not disturb, or bang on my door, I’m recording/interviewing.” This visual signal works for everyone but the two cats.
8:31 AM — I suddenly realize the ringer is off on the phone. I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TURN THE RINGER ON! This is not a smart phone. This is a clunky land line phone that has no icons. HOW DO I TURN ON THE RINGER! I don’t know how to check to see if the station has already called me. HELP!
8:32 AM — Yell down at the twins for help. “I don’t know how to turn the ringer on, why is it off?? HELP!”
8:33 AM — Isaiah turns the ringer on. I run back to my office and shut the door, and try to slow down my breathing.
8:35 AM — The radio station calls. On the air. Do I sound ridiculous? Do I sound like a know-it-all? Do they like me? Huh, huh, huh, do they, do they, do they???? Man am I thirsty. I forgot to bring water into the office. My mouth is full of cotton. Breathe, Karla, breathe. But not into the phone. Do. Not. Heavy. Breathe. Into. The. Phone. People do not want to hear heavy breathing in their car on the way to work. Breathe sideways. Smile. Put a smile in your voice. They can hear the smile…Slow. Down…
Somehow I survived the first interview of the day. I hope the radio station did. And the listeners. Especially the listeners.
I have to be honest. Interviews are hard for me. I think they are for most people. Writers, especially, would rather write words than say them out loud. Okay, maybe not all writers, but this one is much more clever when writing.
What? Still too much coffee?
After the interview I sent the twins to McD’s on their golf cart. They love doing this. We celebrated with a launch day breakfast and (more) coffee. Okay, fine, frappes. We had caramel frappes. There. I said it.
And here we are. I have more interviews today. I have located the phone. My papers are all lined up in a row so I don’t miss a call.
Problem is, living with autism as I do, the phone could disappear in a heartbeat. And I could still be doing some heavy breathing.
Life isn’t glamorous. But it’s certainly never boring.
Did you hear that? That was me breathing a huge sigh of relief.
I finally finished four huge papers for my Master’s Degree. I’ll have a few weeks off and then I’ll be back to the grind of writing papers again.
In the meantime, I may or may not have celebrated like this exuberant gorilla. I’ll wait while you watch:
That looks like so much FUN. I want to get right in there with him. Don’t tell me animals don’t have emotions. Look at that joy!
Speaking of fun, I’ve been making myself indulge in some. My husband has figured out how to get the pool water the perfect temperature and I have had wonderful evening swims with the grandchildren and even by myself. Swimming is my favorite.
In other news, my next book launches next week! Stay tuned for some giveaways and spread the word! If you can come to the launch parties, I’d love to see you! Here’s the info:
Official launch day is July 25!
The twins are so excited. I am trying not to be nervous. But as Mr. Himself said, “You’ve worked hard your whole life for this moment. Enjoy it.”
Okay. Breathe. Breathe.
Until next time: dance like a gorilla! Splash in a pool! Get out there while you can, kick up your heels and have some FUN!
Please tweet: Get out there and dance like a gorilla!
I’ve been interviewing for a day job for months now. I want the day job for which I’ve sacrificed and gotten my degree. I know that job is out there. It just hasn’t found me yet.
I was asked recently in a job interview what two most important lessons I’d learned in the past year.
My answers: Humility and Perseverance.
I was a student teacher and a long-term substitute teacher last year. By humbling myself and submitting myself to learning from others, I reached my goal of obtaining my teaching license in special education and elementary education.
In the process, I was rejected from time to time — by other teachers, administrators, what have you. Anywhere you work, you’ll experience rejection. News flash: not everyone is going to like you.
Writers get rejected a lot, too. And as a writer, I’m a little thin-skinned. Writers must be emotionally vulnerable to have insight into the human condition.
Rejection is painful, but for highly sensitive people such as myself, it’s brutal.
Another reason rejection is difficult for me is because I struggle with not internalizing it and letting it label me. As a child who was rejected in the womb, left at the hospital by her mother (for whatever reasons, good or bad), rejection is the ugly thorn the enemy uses the most to torment me. He pokes at my insecurities and whispers:
“You’re never good enough.”
“You’ll never measure up.”
“You’ll never get a teaching job. You’re too old. Washed up. You have no future. Give up, already. Crawl in a hole and just die, why don’t you? No one gives a flip about you or what you have to say.”
“You’re not worthy.”
“Who do you think you are?”
I have two choices when these demons do a jig on my self-worth . I can listen to them, wallow in self-pity and consume copious amounts of chocolate, or I can stand up to their bullying.
Who do I think I am?
I am the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). If God is for me, who can be against me (Romans 8:31)? If God favors me, what does it matter what others think (Psalm 5:12)? I am not what others think I am. I am what God says I am.
God formed me with His hands and breathed in my nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). I am created in HIS image (Genesis 1:27). Before I was formed, He knew me and knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13 & 16). He knows the number of hairs on my head and before I say a word? He knows what I’m going to say (Matthew 10:30, Psalm 139:4).
I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)!
I am worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31) and have been crowned with glory (Psalm 8:5; Genesis 1:26).
Cool! I love tiaras! Crowns = princesses. I’m a princess in training. Take that, ugly demon of rejection. You’re messing with royalty here.
God loves me so much that nothing can snatch me out of His hand (John 10:29) and He will never leave nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).
Yes, it’s been a humbling twelve months. But I’ve also learned how strong I am. I’m stronger than anyone ever imagined, including myself. Not because I’m spectacular, but because I know where my help comes from.
I don’t live by my own power or understanding. I’ve learned this past year that I have tons of plans, but it’s God’s purpose that prevails (Zechariah 4:6; Proverbs 3:5). It’s not my might, but His Spirit that gets me through the day and guides and empowers me (John 16:7, 13; Acts 1:8, Galatians 5:16).
Rejection is painful but it won’t kill me because I won’t let it. I know I’m strong because I keep getting back up and trying again. I have always believed it isn’t the most talented that persevere and succeed but the most determined.
My crown might be a little crooked. There are a few gems missing, and there are a few scratches that need rubbing out. Even when I fall, it manages to stay on my head. It gets bumped and bent but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a king’s kid.
I’m not what negative thoughts and spirits say I am.
I am what God says I am.
A child of the king.
You are, too, if you follow King Jesus. Never, ever forget it.
What are the two most important lessons you’ve learned so far in 2017? Weigh in!
Princess in Training first appeared on KarlaAkins.com.
Autism looks different in every family because autism is different in every person. My experience with autism is unique and different from my friend’s experience with her son with autism. There are similarities, yes. The frustration, and the damage to our sons’ brains is the same. But her son exhibits behaviors my sons don’t and vice versa.
Raising identical twins with autism definitely had (and has) challenges. They are almost 22-years-old now, and many of these challenges have integrated so much into our daily lives, that I forget other families don’t live like we do. (Yes, the twins still live at home with us.)
Because of autism, I have numeric key pad doorknobs on my bedroom and office doors. This is because autism in this house loves to rifle through closests and drawers. Most of the time it results in something being broken or ruined. It only took us 21 years to finally install locks. I don’t know why we waited so long. It has solved so many problems. Why a keyless entry? They can pick locks or twist the doorknob hard enough to get in. Also, keyless keeps me from having to carry a key with me all the time.
Because of autism, my expensive watch (a gift from my husband) was broken the other day because I left it in the kitchen after removing it for doing dishes. Autism tried to wear it. A 22-year-old man’s wrist is a lot larger than mine. And I have exceptionally small wrists. I don’t know when I’ll ever have the time or money to get that watch fixed.
Because of autism, I can’t leave my laundry basket in the laundry room when washing clothes. I have to lock my clothes up in my bedroom and take them load by load to the laundry room. Then, I have to guard the dryer very carefully so that nothing gets stolen. Autism loves the sensory input Mom’s soft, warm clothes provide.
Because of autism, my husband and I can’t go anywhere alone because the twins can’t be left unsupervised. If they are, they could rifle through every drawer, eat every morsel of food in the fridge, or worse, burn the house down (they are fascinated with candles and, well, fire). Plus, if you’ve ever had twins, you know the nuclear fallout sibling rivalry can cause. They don’t know their strength. They are the best of buds when things are going well. But you never know when a fight over the remote can erupt into a firestorm. (There’s that fire thing again…)
And yes. Sometimes? Autism sucks. But beause of autism, I get to laugh every single day at the funny things that happen. Like the times we ask the twins to drive their golf cart to the store (close to home) to get something and they come back with a very literal load of something. If you send them for five bananas, they’ll come home with five bunches of bananas. If you send them for a large can of something, they’ll return with a gallon can.
Because of autism watching comedy is a lot more fun. Watching them laugh is the best part. They’re the best chortlers. Taking them to the movies is the best. Even people in the theater get a kick out of how tickled they get. It’s awesome.
Because of autism I know the theme songs to almost every cop show on TV. I not only know the theme songs, I have the scripts memorized.
Because of autism, I never have to wonder about the weather. I get hour by hour updates by my very own weather men.
Because of autism I see things differently. I’m more patient, kind and tolerant. Little things don’t get to me. I have very few pet peeves. There’s a different level of normal for me. I can study and read in a hurricane. I can tune out a train coming through the living room. I’ve learned how to go with the flow. I’m more flexible than Gumby and have amazing reflexes for a grandma. I can catch anything coming at me or falling off a table. And messes? What mess?
Because of autism I’m a good shot when throwing things across the room into the trash bin. Because the twins didn’t potty train until they were almost nine means I’ve changed diapers for 21 years straight. (I had other children and foster children before we adopted the twins.) I’ve thrown my share of dirty diapers into a bin while holding down a child having a melt down. Right-handed, even. (I’m left-handed.)
There are drawbacks to this autism thing. There are. But there are far more blessings when I stop to look for them. I pray I continue to focus on the blessings. I’m no saint. I dislike the meltdowns and the inconveniences and embarrassments autism brings us at times. But if I can focus on the blessings, I can face it with joy each day.
In this house, we see autism as a type of gift. Its wrapping isn’t very pretty. It’s downright ugly at times. But I guarantee these young men have given me much more than I’ve given them. Much, much more.
Because of autism in this family there is love. So much love. And I think that’s the greatest gift autism brings. I’ve learned to love unconditionally and outrageously. And the twins’ love for everyone around them is boundless and pure. I’m grateful I get to experience it. So, so grateful.
Tweet this: Because of autism in this house…
I gave up on New Year’s resolutions several years ago. But I didn’t give up on choosing a theme or slogan for the year. For 2017 I’ve chosen “Progress not Perfection” as my mantra.
This is because I tend toward perfectionism, which is a sin of pride, and also an excuse to procrastinate. Example:”I can’t get all the laundry done in an hour, so I’ll wait until tomorrow when I have more time. ” Well, no, but I could do one load, right? Am I the only one who puts stuff off this way? Well, if I am, then I’m happy to write to myself because I have room for improvement here.
Do you have something you’re putting off because you can’t do it perfectly? There are piles of things I avoid because I’m afraid of not getting them done “just right.” So silly.
You’d think I’d approach life the same way I do writing a book. Bite by bite. Little by little. But I’m still learning to eat my elephants one bite at a time.
One calorie choice at a time.
One workout choice at a time.
One household chore at a time.
It bugs me when I can’t finish something or can’t see an immediate, lasting result, so I don’t start at all. But that only punishes me and makes me feel down. So, I’m learning to break huge jobs into small steps, just as I do when I write my books. I’m determined to focus on progress instead of perfection.
For example, when I’m going to dig into a room to purge and clean it, I divide it into sectors. Then, I set the timer and tell myself, “You can do anything for 15 minutes. Just do it in this one small area.” Usually, I get to 15 minutes and find myself wanting to keep going.
Getting started is the hardest part.
Are you having trouble getting started on something God is telling you to do? Are you afraid to try because you fear imperfection? Why not join me in 2017 and embrace progress instead?
Let me know in the comments below if you’re willing to make this your theme for 2017, too! I’d love to have a progress posse!
When I read Gloria Doty’s book about her daughter with autism, I felt a great kinship with her. As you know, my twin adult sons also have a diagnosis of autism. As we venture into adulthood with them, I found this book an absolute comfort. It helped me realize that I’m not the only one experiencing all these new adventures in many of the same ways.
If you know someone with a child with autism, I hope you’ll share this interview with them. It’s such an important one, and helps parents understand the importance of getting guardianship for their adult child with autism.
This is a beautiful book, and I enjoyed reading it. It reads fast, and it feels like you’re sitting with Gloria and having a chat. I loved it so much I had to do an interview. What follows is the delightful time I had with Gloria discussing this gem of a book.