Although these efforts closely mirror the new-school-year routine that we've already been adhering to since First Grade, this year is very different. The 2016-2017 school year marks the first time that Hayden's learning environment has changed, since 2008.
He was three & now he's eleven.
|First Day of School Pictures, Pre-K & Grade 5|
We begin with the annually updated Positive Student Profile. I wouldn't mind taking credit for this idea but I can't-- it's one of the many incredible ideas that I learned from other parents within the fragile x community. This particular version was created (& then customized) off of an existing Word template.
Here is the front of Hayden's current Student Profile:
First, Paula Fasciano... because the Student Profile she created for her younger son, Benjamin, is still a very helpful resource. And a lot of the verbiage she used was exactly what I was thinking but wasn't quite sure how to say.
Next, Melissa Welin... because she too shared the Student Profile she created for her older son Caleb. It included information that happened to be very applicable to our guy, & was quite a useful reminder of some points for me to outline on Hayden's.
Also this year when I presented Hayden's Positive Student Profile to the faculty at the middle school-- (yes, I really do this during a teacher in-service day--) I held up a book written by a well-known household name in the fragile x community, & someone who I am grateful to call my friend: Cindi Rogers.
Anyway, that's Part One of our new school year preparation-- updating & presenting the Positive Student Profile. This year I unfortunately (to say the least) ended up having to present with a tear-streaked face, following receipt of some unsettling news right before I was scheduled to speak to the faculty. But despite feeling blindsided & upset, I looked at everyone through my watery, red eyes & I somehow got through it. I am sharing this to let other parents know that if you're nervous you can do it & you'll be better than fine, you'll be great.
Part Two is a different day with a different audience... it's the all-important Fragile X Talk with the students in Hayden's class. For this idea I owe a debt of gratitude to Holly Roos, a mom of two from Illinois. While both her son & her daughter have fragile x syndrome, her son is much more impacted by the condition than his younger sister. Holly has had years worth of successful fragile x talks with her son's classmates.
So during Hayden's earlier school years, I used to read a book called Special People Special Ways. It's an adorable rhyming story with colorful & whimsical illustrations. The last page sums up its message very well:
However now that the students are older, last year I switched to Fragile X Fred. The author is Jayne Dixon Weber, a mom of two, & her son has fragile x syndrome. So it's no coincidence that this wonderfully approachable story about two siblings is told from the perspective of a young girl, as she explains about her brother having fragile x.
When I speak with the students I also pull discussion points from one of the many valuable NFXF brochures:
Just to give a rough outline of what I said to the students when I presented this year, I actually opened with a little throwback...
I explained my fragile x talk from First Grade. At that time because the kids were so young I included a toy prop-- another idea from Holly-- which was a battery operated firetruck. I recalled how much the kids loved it with all the lights & sounds & so forth. And then I explained that I took the batteries out & asked who would still want to play with it... & how everyone in that First Grade classroom raised their hand. And I said I agree because you can still move the truck back & forth, you can still swivel the ladder or put it up & down, & the toy is still going to do a lot of stuff.
And I asked the fifth graders if they wanted to guess why I did that. Only two or three hands went up, but the first student to answer my question was a young girl who made a great point. She essentially said that I wanted to show them the truck wouldn't be boring. I like the way she put that because I think kids can easily relate to that perspective.
I nodded & added just because you might look at the truck & have certain expectations, & then realize it doesn't work the way you thought-- it's actually still a lot of fun. It works differently than you expected but it's still a firetruck.
This is an easy segue into Fragile X Fred, to further explain similarities & differences. So the next thing I did was read the book & since no one had any questions, I said, "Here's what I hope you remember: (1) Fragile X is just something Hayden was born with & you can't catch it... like hair color, eye color, & so forth. (2) You might hear speech or see behaviors that are different. This is especially true if a person with fragile x is overwhelmed, & you might act differently too if you're overwhelmed. But Hayden has to work MUCH harder than most people to get through that feeling. It is not bad manners & Hayden is never trying to be mean. It's just his reaction to feeling too many things at the same time." And then I told them I would get to the third point in a minute.
We paused for an activity which many of us in the fragile x community have come to know & love, thanks to Tracy Murnan Stackhouse, MA, OTR, and Sarah Scharfenaker, MA, CCC-SLP... the Founders of Developmental FX in Colorado.
Regardless how many fragile x conferences a person has been to, they will learn something new every time that "Mouse & Tracy" deliver a presentation.
Their approach to help others understand this "overwhelment" I'm referring to, more commonly known as hyperarousal, is unparalleled. So I asked for three volunteers & ended up with six, because these kids are awesome & enthusiastic & eager to help. I modified it a little bit from the original, but here's what we did.
Person 3 is the environment. They need to distract Person 1 with sort of getting in their face... standing too close for comfort & annoying them with light touch & so forth. I let the activity go on for just a minute or two & then I asked Person 1 how they felt. The boy to my left shrugged his shoulders but he had this look of "what the heck was that" on his face. The girl to my right was smiling, and she said with very big eyes, "Stressed!"
I explained to the class that this is how Hayden feels most of the time. So I said, "Now I want to tell you what the last point is that I want to make." And I handed everyone a little white card & a crayon. I told them to write down two things-- a favorite food & an activity they enjoy, either at home or at school. For example, "sandwich" & "walking the dog".
I collected the cards & out of 19 students I showed them that Hayden had at least one-- but in many case two things in common with 16 of the responses.
I closed the discussion by handing out goodies to thank them for their participation... & for attending so well in a classroom that was quite sweltering on that exceptionally humid day!
|emoji stickers & NFXF pencils|
|a peanut-free & gluten-free sweet treat|
I also printed letters to send home, so their parent or guardian would know that I visited the class & to share some information about Fragile X Fred. Including, "The students learned that there are many genes in our DNA-- & even in animals, too!" After I showed the parent letter to the students, one young lady raised her hand & asked if animals can have fragile x as well! Although I can not honestly say for sure whether or not any animals are naturally born with similar gene mutations, I simply said it just means that they have their own genes determining their fur color, or personality, & so forth. (That was one of my favorite questions!) Anyway, the letter is something I've been including every year since First Grade & I do believe it helps.
The peer participation goes over very well! In Sixth Grade I am thinking about having one of the students read the book to the class. Either way, I hope to keep this up for years to come.
To any parent who is on the fence about leading similar discussions, I hope you follow through with it because you will be amazed.
Awareness is knowledge. Knowledge leads to understanding. Understanding leads to acceptance.