Thursday, February 10, 2005


"I found MR/dd therapeutic schools by accident from asking around about alternative classroom settings beyond what my district school at the time offered. I was about to sign on the dotted line when one the Cincinnati Public School school teachers after noticing my frustration, apprehension, skepticism, and disappointment -- blurted something like "we're not suppose to say this" ... "but" ... when I asked what purpose the "continuum of alternative services" if there were no alternatives available in Cincinnati?"

Recently, Elisabeth and her classmates studied the series "Chronicles of Narnia" at her school, Frederick A. Breyer, an MR/dd operated therapeutic facility designed to meet the developing need of children who function at a very young age or have medical conditions that require a nurse's care or have some other serious delay in communication or mobility. (As a family we were thrilled about this selection of books because we have read this series to all our children when they were younger.)

Her classroom looks different from a typical district school classroom in that the focus is at the center of the room with plenty of room to move around independently. She shares it with 8 other classmates whom switch classes with other groups like their middle-school peers. "Center" stage I call it. The critical part of creating an environment for students like my daughter is that it is spacious, uncluttered, and promotes concentration and focus; key ingredients driving her successes and goals of her IEP.One day while visiting the school "unannounced" I found her teachers using a circular garment rack found in most retail stores and had hung "fur jackets" (made of paper and scraps of fake fur) to recreate the beginning of one of the books where the kids go through the "Wardrobe." The students were being wheeled in and out for tactile stimulation while the therapists assisted and charted each student experiences. The room was filled with laughter and smiles on every student's face. I saw "switch-operated" communications aids on every student's tray or within reach of toes, heads, shoulders (whatever part of the body used to activate the switches. ) Also on their tray, I found other objects associated with the story to help re-create the experience making it more personal. After leaving, I realized something like this could never happen in a classroom of their biological peers; classrooms dictated by cognitive driven exercises and filled with desks, coat racks, lunch bucket, etc.

Each night, we received a sheet with all the "reactions" listed since she is unable to tell us how her day went or what she did all day. Also sent home each night was a box with smaller props that were used throughout the school day so as a family, we could share with Elisabeth at home her experiences from "reading" the book. In most cases, the props serve as a guessing game we played after dinner trying to figure out the object Elisabeth made on her own.Everyday, the teachers, therapists, and volunteers offer very creative and clever adaptations to age-related books and school curricula so that the experiences can be meaningful and purposeful. (Another favorite of mine was "Road to Tarabithia" and "Holes" and it was my 16 year old who guessed why a bright red lipstick was in Elisabeth's box this particular night)Students are kept busy and focused without interruptions. The adaptations are made specifically for their individual needs and guided by an experienced-licensed therapeutic staff based on the special ed. teacher's classroom observations and suggestions. It is collaboration with a capital "T" for teamwork.

Another example when they were studying "earth science" the teachers and therapy staff re-created a beach scene with the sound of waves crashing and had buckets filled with sand, water, and tactile objects of "sea life" and other related props to promote stimulation and response. One of the class projects was making an "aquarium" window box and a mobile with elements of "sea life" for visual stimulation. Again, we used these objects to "communicate" with Elisabeth about what she did all day at school. The space that allows this to happen has room for kids in wheelchairs to move around freely to access their "gear" and stuff. It has room to move and to hang things from the ceiling or walls that wouldn't have a place in a typical classroom.

For art class, another time I came in "unannounced" - I almost cried all the way home after experiencing and participating in a "light show" parade" in the Art Room where wheelchairs, adaptive walkers and standers were being rolled over bubble wrap taped to the floor (among other things) then wheeled through a "shower of tinsel" and next through "beams of spectum colored lights"creating beautiful shadows on the wall. The expression of wonderment and curiosity on my daughter's face and others will stay with me for life. It was something I never experienced with her. At best, it was a "eureka" moment for mother and daughter. And this couldn't happen in a typical art classroom with typical developing children because they need huge tables that take up pretty much room. Most public schools just don't have the space to create multi-sensory experiences.

For gym class Breyer provides "adaptive wheelchair dancing" and have athletic competitions called "Sit Ins" where students compete to see who can sit up the longest without falling over and experiences cheers of encouragement and support from their like-peers, teachers, and families whom are always invited to participate. I remember, too, the "adaptation" of the musical "Cats" for half time entertainment in which many of the students participated.

The reason why it is so easy to provide these adaptations is due to the generous areas of space and rooms that allow a flow of true experiential education opportunities to occur and through the expertise of special education teachers who collaborate daily with the therapists on hand to make last minute adjustments on behalf of the student's individual need. Special pathways open for children who need sensory-stimulation- driven therapies in these special THERAPY SCHOOLS.

I chose this environment for her because it is what she needed to fulfill her IEP goals and her dreams to succeed in a way that her biological peers are able to fulfill their dreams to be teacher, doctors or astronauts in a classroom designed to fit their own specific needs fueled by cognitive stimulation.

At eleven, my daughter's needs are very different from her biological peers and she needs sensory stimulation much like an early preschooler but without the "baby-stuff." It was a long journey finding this gem of a therapeutic school especially after researching and visiting dozens of classroom throughout the southeastern corner of Ohio who claimed to be meeting guidelines of "least restrictive environment" criteria established by law.

I found MR/dd therapeutic schools by accident from asking around about alternatives classroom settings beyond what my district school at the time offered. I was about to sign on the dotted line when one the Cincinnati Public School school teachers noticed my apprehension, skepticism, and disappointment blurted something like "we're not suppose to say this" ... "but" ... when I asked what purpose "continuum of alternative services" had if there were no alternatives available?It is a terrific school and certainly not for every child but it provides an alternative- individualized education for my child that was very badly needed in order for her to receive an individualized education plan guarenteed by law.

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