Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Day Seventeen and a Finley catchup

Today's ornament - a cross
This one we got from Etsy.  It is hand carved.  I love it.  It is made of red oak.
"I lay down my life for the sheep" John 10:15
I have decided to get everyone caught up on what is going on with Finley.  Don't worry - she is healthy and happy.  Her vision is doing okay.  She is still stubborn and cute.
 Last week we had parent/teacher conferences for our school.  Arlington's and Cainan's conferences were amazing.  Finley's was a disaster.  At least that is what it seemed like to Mat and I.  You see, her teacher told us that she doesn't think she should go on to first grade next year.  Here, in our town, they do something called "transitional" - a year between Kindergarten and first grade that some kids need.  It is instead of repeating Kindergarten, and THEN they go on to first grade.
 We were floored.  The teacher's main point is that she thinks Finley is young.  And she is young.  She turned 5 in July.  The cut off for Kindergarten around here is the end of August.  Academcially - she is on track.  The teacher showed us her tests and she was average to above average in all areas except writing her numbers 11-20.  She can do it, but she struggles with it.  So academically, she is sound.
 She is not a trouble maker.  The teacher says she has a good attitude, and is independent in most areas.  She is cooperative.  She blends in well in the class.
But, the teacher feels that she does seem inattentive at times and doesn't always stay focused.  She has some trouble with kid writing - it can be inconsistent.  Some days are worse than others - like dark days, she has a harder time.
But to me - I am thinking that most of this is related to her vision.  Because Finley compensates so well, it is easy to forget, or let slide things sometimes because she doesn't complain she can't see it.  She needs a lot of vision breaks, and she takes them.  It may look like she isn't paying attention, but most of the time she is.  Writing in general is very hard for her.  She has 20/200 vision and no central vision.  You try writing with a big black spot in the middle of your eye and tell me how that goes.  She can do it, but she gets tired easily.
It takes a tremendous amount of mental energy to see.  But imagine trying to see something from across a football field with a black spot in the middle of your eyes for 6 hours a day.  Your eyes would be very tired after awhile and you would quit looking.  That is what it is like for Finley.
Mat and I spent the weekend hashing and re-hashing all of what the teacher said.  Some of it is true.  Finley is young.  She is the baby of our family.  She has a sister who is almost 4 years older than her who treats her like a glass doll and her own baby.  She has friends in school who do the same because they think Finley needs their help.  She is surrounded by mothers all day long and she LIKES IT.  She doesn't ask for it, but she doesn't stop it either.
But she doesn't act out.  She doesn't say she isn't going to do something.  She isn't a behavior problem.  And she can do the work (for the most part).  So......why the talk of holding her back?
Today, I met with her teacher and her vision teacher.  Mat went to her conference last week, but I needed to talk to the teacher and lay it on the line.  Over the weekend I got a lot of great advice from my friends, family and special education teacher friends I know.  Amazing advice.  All basically telling me the same thing.  IT IS TOO EARLY TO DECIDE THIS.  
Today I went in armed with questions.  And for the most part, I felt like after our very long meeting, we were more on the same page.  The teacher repeated 50 times that things she sees in Finley are signs of her being "young" and I said that most of those things are signs she is vision impaired as well.  It could be either. It could be both.  But I wanted some things in place to help her.  We are going to do our part at home, and I expect the school to do the same.
We came up with some new ideas.  It seems like large group settings are her downfall.  She has the hardest time then.  The vision teacher explained it as she is probably trying to take in a ton of sensory information while also trying to take in the information from the teacher.  This is hard for kids with vision issues and sometimes will come off as a behavior like inattention.  You and I can look around and take in a ton of information about our surroundings in a few seconds.  This is not true for kids who have vision issues.  So a kiddo who loses attention for a few seconds to see their friend picking at their shoe, may take Finley a whole minute or so to figure out.  In that time - she looks like the teacher has lost her, and she may have.  But she doesn't mean it - it just takes her longer to get the same information.
So - in large groups, her aide is going to sit right behind her and try to catch the cues of Finley needing a vision break, or just giving her a little tap to bring her back to the teacher's attention quicker.  She is also going to have her own materials (calendar, etc) that are used in circle time so that they are right in front of her.  Then she won't have to strain as much to see.  Her aide and teacher are going to collect some data about how many times she turns away from the teacher to see how many times she is "taking a break" visually.  Then breaks will be set in.
We came up with her being able to do an activity for a few minutes, get up and go and get a drink, and then coming back and refocusing.  That way she can take her eyes away for a few minutes and then maybe she will come back and be able to focus on the task without so much effort.
We will have a communication log between home and school.  That way we are all on the same page.  This came about because there was an incident a school a few weeks ago, and we were not made aware of it.  Finley does not like gym.  Mostly because the weirdo has to wear pants and she hates to wear pants.  But one day, they were playing a game and she couldn't see what was happening.  The game was fast paced and she just got lost.  The gym teacher was aware of her vision issues, but did not pick up on the fact that Finley was struggling.  So - the next week when they went to gym, Finley burst into tears.  She didn't want to participate and just melted.  They got her to settle down and tell them what the problem was.  But - I WAS NEVER NOTIFIED.  And by the time Finley gets home, she doesn't remember that kind of stuff (or doesn't want to share it).  It came up in conferences and I said again today that I was upset we weren't told.  I want Finley to know we are aware of what is going on at school and we are here to help her get through it.  And that all the adults on her team are on the same page.
Recess was discussed as well.  Her aide was taking Finley back to the classroom after lunch to get her sunglasses and then going out to recess.  I saw this as a problem because the kids have all been out there - even if it just for a few minutes - and have formed groups for games.  Finley is shy, and - now that is is winter - has a hard time identifying her friends on the playground.  She is perfectly comfortable playing by herself - doesn't mind it - but I would like her to use this down time to play with her friends.  So - they are going to either have her got back to her class and get her glasses with a friend, or the aide will take her sunglasses to lunch and they can leave right from there.
Anyway - that is the cliff notes of the whole ordeal.  In the end, I wanted to make sure that Finley is given the chance for success and go on to the first grade next year and that this transitional thing is not set in stone.  The teacher assured me that this will be our decision in the end.  So - we will just see how it goes.
 Thanks for listening. 

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