Posts

What do I have in common with a breakdancing gorilla?

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.

July 4, 2017 with the grandchildren and granddog! That’s Mr. Himself in his robe. Hee hee.

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!

Help for Indiana Schools: Autism Resources

It’s frustrating as a parent of children with autism to know there are excellent resources out there but that Indiana schools fail to access them.

In too many public schools, autism is an annoyance, especially at the secondary level. This is partly due to not addressing the needs of students with autism at the elementary level.

If students are reached very early with evidence-based interventions, many of the issues for students who respond to therapy, phase out by the time they are in secondary school. There are certain things a student must be able to do in order to be successful at the secondary level, and one of them is the  ability to handle anxiety. Others include being able to attend to a task, take directions that they may not want to comply with, and be able to respond to conflict in socially acceptable ways.

Notice that most of these issues aren’t academic. They are social and emotional. Still, if a child with autism is to be guaranteed access to a free and appropriate education, they aren’t able to access it if they can’t get past the social and emotional piece. Yet, during IEP meetings, schools argue that these  are non-academic issues and schools are not required to address them.

What I’ve experienced in Indiana is a lack of genuine compassion and interest in helping students with autism succeed. I’ve also experienced a shameful scarcity of school attention towards helping students struggling above the precarious precipice of diploma track vs. certificate of completion. (I heard a rumor that “no diploma for people with low I.Q.s, etc.,” could be changing for Indiana but I’m not holding my breath.) Too often I’ve been told or have overheard teachers and paraprofessionals say, “don’t bother wasting your time helping that one, they’re taking them off diploma track anyway.”

Special Education teachers burn out because of lack of administrative support. They are given over-sized case loads that result in students falling through academic cracks. They’re not provided with materials, resources, or training for meeting the students’ needs. The mantra is to do the bare minimum of intervention so that schools can legally pocket the rest of the special education monies. Students in dire need of 1:1 aides are not provided them. Instead, one “instructional assistant” or “para-professional” is given to classrooms, and only maybe 1 or 2 per grade if that. No one student is given enough attention and support. Sometimes, high school students still need 1:1 support. Need is the operative word, and is the word that schools interpret any way they wish.

And where is the accountability for special education dollars? Why is our local area program bankrupt? The money wasn’t spent on my twins with autism, I can tell you that. (They are 22 now.) Was the money (millions) spent on teacher training in my school system? No. Was the money spent on 1:1 paraprofessionals for students with autism in my school system? No. Was it spent on administrative conferences and trips? Yes. Why are we not allowed to see how the money is spent?

Special Education teachers are under strict orders not to offer any services outside of the bare minimum. And because teachers want to keep their jobs, they do what they’re told. If you want services, you, the parent, have to bring them to the table. Remember, the school is not obligated in any way to go above and beyond anything but minimum. This is how they interpret and practice “free and appropriate.” Period.

Not all schools are turning their backs on autism. I hope to find these schools and highlight what they’re doing right. (If you know of one, please let me know in the comments below.) But far too many are doing it wrong. Far too many simply don’t care. What’s more important to many schools is keeping ISTEP scores high so they can attract high-scoring students to their schools via the voucher program.

If your student doesn’t make the administration look good, you don’t matter. You’re an inconvenient annoyance. The school hopes parents will pull the student out of school by the end of the year. If the student has already attended X number of days, they get to count the student for the full year and get to pocket the special education monies without spending a dime on support.

Parents are ill-informed of their recourse options. Even though the state law requires that parents be given the “Procedural Safeguards” brochure at the IEP meetings, few parents have the energy to read and digest it. Most of their energy is poured into getting their student through one more day, working their own jobs, and dealing with their other children. This brochure usually isn’t explained by anyone in the IEP meeting. And parents with low-functioning abilities are too embarrassed to have anyone explain it to them.

Here are some resources every parent with a child with disabilities living in Indiana should use:

Indiana Resource Center for Autism. This organization provides incredible training for teachers working with students with autism. Why aren’t all the schools in Indiana accessing this? Is it time to ask our legislators to  mandate this training for our Special Education teachers? There are also great resources for parents, including a Lending Library and a few helpful videos:

 

Another excellent help for parents when working with public schools is In*Source.  If you’re not getting what you believe your child needs in school, and every IEP meeting is a war zone, this organization can help you. They provide trained support advocates to go with you into the IEP meeting and help you navigate the laws to get your child’s needs met. I am a trained In*Source advocate, but now that I’m a teacher, am unable to be part of this service. These advocates are volunteers, and are passionate about helping kids with disabilities get what they need in public school. Don’t hesitate to contact them for help.

Other (Sort of) Helpful Autism Resources in Indiana:

Autism Society of Indiana

Autism Speaks

The reason I call these “sort of” resources is that they do provide information and fund-raising types of things, but not much practical hands-on help for families living in the trenches. However, I’m not belittling what they do. My focus for this post is for helping parents get what they need for their child at public school.

I love helping parents find answers. What questions do you have about autism, disabilities or accessing public school services? Leave your questions and comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!  Do you know of a school that does autism intervention right? Please tell me so I can feature them on my blog!

My newest book is available now for pre-order at the following locations. I am so excited and the twins can’t wait to meet you! Our Book Talk will be August 3rd at Manchester Public Library. I will post more information as the date draws near!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indie Bound

Powell’s

“Help for Indiana Schools: Autism Resources” first appeared on Karla Akins’ blog at KarlaAkins.com

To make your dreams come true, it’s up to you…

dreams

“If it’s to be it’s up to me.”

I know that as a Christian this quote isn’t exactly right. But there’s a lot of truth in it. Other than the fact that indeed, we must line up our dreams and plans and goals with God’s purpose for our lives, no one is going to make sure we hit the mark but ourselves.

mark

Six years ago I decided to pursue two life-long dreams. To continue my college education and write books. Since then, neither of those dreams dissipated. And now I find myself in the middle of one of the hardest parts of the journey physically for me: student teaching and editing a book I’ve sold to ready it for publication.

images

During my journey to today, no one ever asked me if I had my homework done or if I had written anything each day. No one pushed me out of bed in the mornings after staying up until two or three in the morning. No one made my tea or asked me if I was making my deadlines.

I had to learn to say no in order to say yes to my dreams. Saying no is hard for me. As a pastor’s wife, I’ve been conditioned to worry about what other people think. I’ve still not mastered the concept of forging ahead without a thought to others’ opinions, but I’m getting better. I mean, sometimes it’s good to hear other opinions about things. I’m still figuring out when to listen and when to tune out.

op

The point is this. More than likely no one has a passion for your dream like you. No one wants it as bad as you do. And you’ve got to muster up all the courage you can to climb that mountain and reach the top. It’s called ambition. And its cohort is grit.

You can do this dream thing. But be prepared to encourage yourself a lot. Be prepared to forge ahead when others wish you’d just slow down and take a breather. When your friends look at you funny because you need to stay in and write or study instead of going to the game or out for a night on the town, you can have the backbone to know that you’re in a different season than they are. You’re in the season of mountain climbing, and you need to suck up all the oxygen you can.

climb

You can do this. Dreaming is a solitary thing. And sometimes, making dreams come true is solitary, too. But as Christians, we’re never alone. Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine having to do it alone. We don’t have to. We have the Great Teacher with us and in us. We have the mind of Christ. We have someone Who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Give Him your dreams and He’ll help you carry them. He’ll even carry you when you’re too tired to take another step. Ask me how I know.

twitter30small

Tweet this: Dreaming + Grit = Mountaintop views

Teaching kids to touch type

typewriterwriting

If there’s one thing I am grateful for from my public school education in the 70s, it’s that I was able to take classes to learn how to touch type. I can still type about 93-102 words per minute (WPM), and believe me, it’s come in handy when writing books, blogging, and writing research papers! (Thanks, Mr. Geesik!) (I can still hear and see him wiggling his fingers and sing-song saying, “Type, type, type!”)

l102

Since I have special needs children, and taught many special needs kids in my cottage school, I was always on the lookout for unique ways to teach life skills. One of the coolest tools I discovered  were these ingenious typing gloves from a company called Touchtypers.

touch_typing_glove_range

From the website: “Touchtypers is a system that uses specially developed lettered gloves and simple exercises to make it easy for students to learn to touch-type on computer keyboards, using any typing system or word processing software.”

The gloves come with an instruction booklet, but I also used old-fashioned typing books to help my students practice.

touchtypingbook

These gloves worked great! I like anything that helps children self-direct and teach themselves. The only thing you have to do is supervise a bit to make sure they’re actually using the correct fingers and not “cheating.”

I hope you like these gloves as much as I do/did. I don’t get any kind of kickback or anything from this company. But when I experience a great product, I want to tell everyone about it.

xxssi_ibeGetWCCImage__51603.1407510533.1280.1280

Oh, and when you order the gloves, err on the smaller side because they stretch. Let me know how you like them!

5

Please tweet: Teach your special needs kids to type!

Meet me in Iowa!

IowaConference

Hi, Friends!

Just a wee update to let you know that I’ll be speaking at the Homeschool Iowa Conference next week!

Here are the topics I’ll be covering:

technology

Technology and Your Homeschool

Is technology really all that important? How should you use it in your homeschool? When should you not use it? Learn some creative ways to integrate technology in your homeschool and have your eyes opened about dangerous technological advances you and your family needs to know about.

autism

Homeschooling Children with Autism

Has God called you to teach your child with autism at home? Do you wonder what the most important skills are to teach? Get practical tips on coping with tantrums, learning social skills, and leading your child to God. As children with autism grow up, what life skills are important to teach them? What can a parent do about aggressive, oppositional behavior? Learn how Karla taught her own sons with autism. What were the most valuable lessons of all? Handouts include practical tips for parents, therapists and teachers.

SpecialNeedsChildDowns

Homeschooling Typical Children and Children with Special Needs Using the Same Curriculum

Do you ever feel as if you’re in over your head? Worried that you aren’t qualified to teach your special needs child? Learn why you’re the expert on your child and their condition. Get practical tips on helping them succeed through finding the right resources, building a supportive network, and accessing the right therapies. Learn what therapies worked and didn’t when Karla taught her own children with autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, speech disabilities and dyslexia. Handouts include practical tips for parents, therapists and teachers.

typewriterwriting

Creative Writing in the Homeschool

Have a gifted writer in the family? Learn from published author, Karla Akins, how to foster that gift with practical tips and creative writing ideas. She will also share the climate of publishing today, and a brief introduction to self-publishing in today’s market.

I can’t wait to meet you!

By the way I’m giving away goodies in a drawing while there, too!

  • O Canada Her Story (print) — Autographed
  • Sacagawea (ebook) – Autographed coupon
  • Jacques Cartier (ebook) – Autographed coupon
  • What Really Happened in the Middle Ages (print) — Autographed
  • What Really Happened in Colonial Times (print)– Autographed
  • Scented wax warmer
  • The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots (print) — Autographed

And those are the just the goodies I’m giving away in the overall conference. My table will also have a beautiful gift package drawing you can enter, too.

See you in Iowa!

If I were coming to your state, what would you like me to speak on?  Check here for a list of topics! And let me know in the comments below!

twitter31smaller

Tweet this: Meet me at the Iowa #Homeschool Conference!

 

 

Sometimes Mama Bear needs to back off

The Bear Family Stand Up

I’m subbing at the high school this week in a special education classroom. That means that my twin sons who take life skills classes are in my department. This is great fun for them. But today my Mama Grizzly showed a bit when a staff member (not a teacher, a support staff) rudely snapped at one of them, first thing in the morning. No hello. Nothing. Just a bark.

grumpy-cat

The reason she snapped at my son was valid. It was how she handled it that wasn’t. He’d left his backpack in front of a locked classroom door, and while waiting for someone to unlock it, he slipped into my room to visit with me.

When the staff member arrived, she flew into my classroom and barked, “Whose stuff is that in the hall in front of Mrs. —‘s door?”

angryandbitter

Isaiah, who is almost always cheerful and sweet, and wouldn’t do anything wrong on purpose to inconvenience someone, jumped up from his chair and headed toward the hall door, “Oh, that’s mine.”

To which she responded with a great scowl and angry voice, “Well then move it, it’s in the way.” (Or some such phrase of which I don’t remember the exact words.) All I know, is that I never talk to students that way, and especially not special needs students.

th

It’s all in how you say it. And I realize that teachers and staff have bad mornings. But bad mornings should be left at the schoolhouse door. Being a grouch doesn’t model appropriate behavior to students who need it more than anyone. I dare say that teens with autism need it more than elementary-aged children (although they all do desperately need it).

7946861948_7733a5b848 - Copy

I did complain to their teacher about her, but as I was doing so, I felt petty. It’s impossible for me to protect them from all the rude people on earth. Especially now that they are adults. (They are 19 but still in school until they are 21.) Still, as an educator myself, I feel that all students should be treated with respect. Tone of voice speaks volumes.

quotes-april-sims-my-kindness

As I shared in my post on my philosophy of education, school may be one of the only places some kids have that’s a safe place to fall. If they are to feel valued, school personnel must treat them with respect. It doesn’t matter what a child’s label is, they are still deserving of politeness.

929

Maybe the snarky  staff member works with hard behavior cases. I don’t know. But I do know that children will act the way you expect them to most of the time. I know this because I’ve worked with some very, very difficult students. No one should ever be valued less because of their limitations or emotional struggles.

i-believe-in-youThis Mama Grizzly is learning which battles to fight. It’s not easy. There will be many more instances, I’m sure, when I won’t know whether to bite my tongue or take up the torch on behalf of my sons. It’s because of their vulnerability and inability to know if an offense is truly something they should be reprimanded for, or an honest, un-meant mistake. A student with autism isn’t always going to process that a book bag in front of the door might be in someone’s way.

badbehavior - Copy

This frustration at the world for not understanding autism is part of what parenting these kids is so difficult. We want people to understand them, and frankly, most people aren’t even going to care. It’s something I’m learning to accept. Even 19 years later.

autismbI think as long as I live, the Mama Grizzly side of me, will always wrestle with the teacher in me, to teach the world how to get it about autism, kindness, and respect. Thankfully, the kind side of me won today, and I didn’t go toe to toe with the staff member. A part of me wishes I hadn’t complained to the teacher.

aaaaamama

Sometimes I feel I should wear a sign that says, “If you think I’m opinionated, you should know how much I want to say and don’t!” There’s so much inside of me that feels like it’s going to blow at times when people are rude to my children or other people with disabilities.

1044 - Copy

Only with God’s help am I able to model appropriate behavior when I’m feeling protective. Since my gift is words, it’s also my weakness, and I know I need to temper my opinions with grace.

mother-bear

Have you ever felt the need to stand up for your children? How did you handle it? What do you think I should have done? Should I have said something or not?

twitter38smaller

 Tweet this: No one should ever be valued less because of their limitations.

 

My philosophy of education

I’m at that point in my degree program where I have to submit a philosophy of education to my portfolio. I thought I’d share it with you here and I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

Karla Akins
Western Governors University
Bachelor of Arts Special Education K-12 and Elementary K-6 Licensure Track

NATL_PR-SocialMedia-ecards600x900b_17Jun2014
I come from a long line of educators. My father was a high school teacher and my ancestors built one of the first school houses in Pennsylvania, where it still stands in Halifax. My formal experience in teaching began when I was a twelve-year-old teacher’s aide in a preschool classroom. “Busy Bees” had a loving, nurturing teacher named Mrs. Reed. By watching her I learned kindness, and what it felt like to see a child go from “not knowing” to “knowing.”

busy_bee-399x411I also formed my philosophy from the good and bad teachers I had as a child. My bad teachers taught me the importance of compassion. My good teachers taught me to look for the reasons behind a child’s behavior. I was fidgety in school, and until my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Strecker, discovered that boredom was the reason for my disruptiveness, I was often in trouble. Instead of punishing or embarrassing me, she kept me meaningfully engaged.

dunce1

Because I’m the parent of three children on the autism spectrum who struggled with academics, I’m a firm believer in searching for an open window into a child’s understanding. I enjoy the challenge of discovering the key that unlocks concepts for students. I’m also drawn to children with difficult behavior. I believe that behavior is communication, and I relish in decoding what challenging students are trying to say.

deoderrring

I believe that lessons in the classroom should be meaningful and engaging for all students. If they aren’t, it’s a recipe for undesirable conduct. I have a tongue-in-cheek motto: “You can’t teach a moving target.” Most young people have a fascination with something that will keep them engaged. Using that fascination, I believe, is the key to keeping their attention and motivating them to participate with success.

Fascination Logo5

Regardless of ability, all students have gifts inside them that I, as a teacher, am responsible for unwrapping. A good teacher will focus on abilities and gifts of a student to enhance and strengthen weak areas. This goes hand in hand with using a child’s fascinations and obsessions to motivate them to learn. When children experience success, they gain the courage and esteem to try new things and practice skills they are weak in.

thegiftedMy passion as a teacher is to be an enthusiastic encourager. By focusing on strengths, cheering students on through positive reinforcement, I’m able to build trusting relationships with my students, who then develop the confidence to navigate their academic careers. In this way students reach their full potential.

i-believe-in-you

While firmness is important, I also realize that a teacher’s patient attention and presence in a student’s life may be the only soft place in the world for that child to fall. Teachers now, more than ever, need to realize they are a hero in the life of their students, and may be the only hope some kids have for feeling as if they matter.

For a child who lives with hazards in their neighborhood, or perhaps, poverty, teaching a child what they can do to change their world is a powerful way for the student to accept responsibility and appreciate the power they possess as an individual. Every community has its own challenges and culture. Therefore, I believe, teaching methods should change based upon the needs of the child, their families and their culture.

unity-in-diversity.bmp

I’m a teacher who believes in teaching to the individual needs of the child. I respect my students as fellow learners and hope to motivate them to find answers for themselves. By teaching in a way that piques a child’s interest to the point they beg for answers, I have accomplished the main goal of my philosophy, which is, to guide students toward success not only in school, but in life.

twitter26sepiamsallerTweet this: All students have gifts inside them that I, as a teacher, am responsible for unwrapping.

Let’s hear it for special education teachers!

snapple

Breakfast!

I’m subbing for a special education teacher this week. She’s a first year teacher and do you know what my first clue was?

The only break she has all day is 30 minutes for lunch.

So the next time someone tells me that teachers only work 6 hours a day and that they are overpaid, I want you to walk in this woman’s shoes. She is on the run from the time that first bell rings. If she’s not teaching she’s running from one class to another all over this building.

time-running-away1

Special education teachers are often overworked. Their hearts are big and they put the needs of kids first. Today several children have arrived hungry. One of my students is eating crackers and milk in my room right now. It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.

graham-cracker

A few of the children aren’t bathed. Their hair isn’t combed. It’s heartbreaking. There has been no nurturing for these sweet kids. They live hard lives.

I love filling in for this teacher for three days but I’m worried that she’s not getting enough time to recharge. Special Ed teachers want to fix things. But we can only do so much. That frustration alone is weighty.

Battery Recharger 1Do you think public school teachers have it too easy? Have you thanked your child’s teacher today?

If you’re a homeschool mom reading this, give yourself some encouragement and take some time to be refreshed. When I was homeschooling my kids, I took one hour each day to myself. I relished that hour. I trained my children to sit on their beds and read if they didn’t want to nap. They were not to disturb me unless it was blood or fire. I’d love to have that hour today!

Even Jesus took time to himself. And last time I checked, none of us are perfect like He is. If He needed it, we do, too.

twitter07small

Tweet this: Do you think public school teachers have it too easy?