Our "Beau"tiful Blessing

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We call it "Beau Time"

If you have spent any time around me or have read about any of our experiences with Hansen Elementary on my Facebook page, you'll know that we just might be in the best school around for Beau.  Their philosophy and attitude on inclusion are second to none. I have heard horror stories about IEP meetings and lack of inclusion from other special needs parents.  I hate to sound like I'm bragging but we've never had that issue and the way Hansen Elementary has gone out of their way to include Beau has been incredible. 

It seems that it's not just families like ours that are noticing how amazing Hansen Elementary School is.  Just this winter, Hansen was honored as a Blue Ribbon School for academic excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.  On top of that the Iowa Department of Education just did a story on Hansen Elementary and how they lead the state in education delivery for students on individualized education plans (IEP's).  I can attest to the fact that the special education department is wonderful and does amazing things.

To further demonstrate their "thinking outside of the box" approach and focus on inclusion, I have to share what Beau's 3rd grade classroom refers to as "Beau Time".  Because of Beau's intellectual disability he spends a majority of his day in his self contained special education room with Mrs. Reed. Beau attends all of the specials with his classmates in Mrs. Foss' 3rd grade classroom; music, art, PE, recess, etc. and also gets to share some time with his classmates first thing in the morning right before going to specials. 

This is where once again, Hansen's team, including his wonderful 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Foss, stepped up and came up with an idea to make Beau's time in her room be more meaningful.  As Mrs. Foss explained, this morning time was a work time for students, however she wanted it to mean something for Beau.  Mrs. Foss met with Beau's speech pathologist to see how or what they could do to use Beau's peers to help him work on his communication goals.  Because Beau is mostly non-verbal they wanted to find a way to use his Nova Chat 7 communication device to interact more with his peers. 

The result of the meeting with Mrs. Foss and Beau's speech pathologist.....

"Beau Time".

Here is an excerpt from an email from Mrs. Foss:  Beau Time is approximately a 15 minute block of time each morning where Beau and his para (Ms. Erin) work with a small group of kids in Beau's class to help Beau learn to use his communication device more independently as well as model some of the learning that Mrs. Reed is working on with Beau.  The students are given a specific day (Monday - Friday) to work with Beau.  They do not like when their day of the week is a day off school!  Beau works on asking and answering questions, colors and numbers with his peers during this time.  The students have been playing a few different games with Beau to help accomplish these goals.  We also try to do a morning meeting game at least once a week where Beau needs to use his device to identify the number on the dice that he rolls.  He has been sitting with his peers during this time and they are assisting him with his device rather than Ms. Erin.

The 3rd grade classroom also has a Breakout EDU session in the afternoon.  Beau doesn't always make it to the classroom in the afternoon because he is often napping at that time (3 strong anti-seizure drugs will make you sleepy!).  One of the afternoons Beau was in Mrs. Foss' room during the breakout EDU session.  These sessions are team building and problem solving sessions for the students and they have a 45 minute time limit to solve the questions.  His classmates were pretty excited to have him in the room that afternoon as a part of their team.  Apparently Beau seemed to realize there was a timer on the board that was counting down and that it must be important.  He quickly decided to become the time keeper.  As Mrs. Foss pointed out, every team member is important in a breakout session. 

The more Beau gets to interact with typically developing children of his own age the more he gets to see them model how to do things, act in a social setting etc. and it's a great benefit to him.  I witness it all the time when he is with his 4 year old sister.  He may be afraid to try something new and doesn't respond well if Andy or I try to help him but if Delaney does it, it's a whole different story.  He puts the fear aside and responds well to her and what she does.  The same is true for him at school.  Having peers who care enough to work with him and help him grow and having a school and team that incorporate that into their daily routine is something every special needs parent dreams of.
Hansen 3rd graders are rock stars when it comes to how they protect and take care of our son - their peer, their classmate, their friend. 
Hansen educators (we love Mrs. Reed), paras (thank goodness for our Ms. Erin) and Principal Estep are rock stars when it comes to the team they have put together for their special education students and their focus on inclusion.
Hansen has (non-special education teachers) like Page Foss (Beau's 3rd grade teacher) and Jill Schulte (Beau's 2nd grade teacher) that have inclusion on the brain and make sure it is an important part of their classroom. Beau's classmates are gaining so much more in terms of life and the real world, about empathy, compassion, patience and working with someone who may be different than them. I have been stopped by some of these students, their parents etc. in public and these kids are 100% impacted by Beau. For somebody who can't talk, that's pretty amazing.
If a school could have a Mayor, Beau Weichers would be the Mayor of Hansen Elementary. 
He is loved by so many, of all grade levels, by staff and by those that pass through and happen to meet him.  It's not uncommon to be out in public and get stopped by people saying hi to Beau - people that neither Andy or I know.  Just last week we were stopped in Menards (Beau's second home) by an employee that said, "Hi Beau".  He didn't recognize Beau from coming in to watch forklifts rather he is a substitute teacher in the district and recognized Beau right away. 
If Beau can have an impact on Hansen Elementary, on his teachers, his peers, etc. than he is doing to them what he has done to me.  We become his vehicle to educate others, to create awareness, to do positive things in your community to give back to those who can't do it themselves.  I see his classmates and other Hansen students participating in ways to raise money for the inclusive playground we are trying to build.  Parents of students are working to raise funds.  Parents of his peers and classmates showed up without hesitation as we were preparing a fundraising video for the park. 
I don't know what the magic is but Hansen Elementary has been magical for our family.  The staff, the students and the parents make our family feel so loved. 
Thank you for your focus on inclusion. Other schools need to take notice and come and learn from the best.
As I say quite often, raising a special needs child takes a village. 
Thank you Hansen (which includes students, staff and families) for being our village.
And for loving (Mayor) Beau.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Birthday Party Success

On Tuesday September 6th I received a text message from a number I didn't know.  The message was from Megan, a parent of one of Beau's classmates.  The message included a picture of an invitation to a birthday party which was happening that Saturday and it was letting me know that Jasey was wondering if Beau would like to attend her party.  He was the only boy from the class invited and Megan wondered if that would bother him.  Ha!  The part of Beau's brain that loves the ladies is fully functioning.  Now this isn't the first party that Mr. Beau has been invited to.  Often times he has received an invite when the entire class is invited to attend the party.  Timing has never been right, I didn't know the children or their parents for that matter and you never can be certain with Beau if he will have fun at something like that or break down and shut down. 

I recognized the little girl in the picture and remembered reading a letter Jasey had written us last year when classmates wrote letters to Andy and I for school conferences.  I sent a quick message to Beau's para to confirm that this little girl was in fact one of Beau's friends.  She confirmed that Jasey was one of "Beau's girls". 

I decided to step out of the comfort zone and see what would happen if I took Beau to the party.  We bought a gift, discussed the party for the couple days leading up to the event and talked with him about what kids would be doing at the indoor inflatables park. 

Saturday morning came and Beau was ready to go and jump!  We got to the party location and as I tried to get Beau out of the vehicle, he signed "all done" and shook his head "no".  I told him that it would be fun and I walked (pushed) him into the building. 

I was excited to see that the family had rented out the entire location so no other kids would be in there.  This is just one of the many things you think of when you know that certain things can stress your child or become a safety issue for him when his balance and knowledge of what is safe/not safe are not the same as a typical child. 

He quickly spotted a basketball game so any anxiety he was having disappeared.  He started shooting hoops and was having fun just shooting baskets with me.  Not everyone had arrived yet but I was worried that maybe this is how the party would go; Beau would play by himself.  It wouldn't bother him because he was in his own little basketball world, but it would sadden me to see him playing by himself. 

I should have known it wouldn't take long for the scene to change. 

It didn't take long before 2 of "Beau's girls" really stepped up and made Beau have one of the best mornings imaginable.  This is what I witnessed.


I watched from a distance as these sweet 8 year old girls, Marie and Adrie, sacrificed their own play time with other girl friends to play 100% with Beau.  Keep in mind that because of Beau's developmental level, he likes toys that are typically played with by younger children.  These young ladies went right along with it and played with those toys and entertained Beau.  I was there, but they didn't act like I was there.  They weren't doing this to help me or to "do the right thing", they were playing with Beau because they genuinely wanted to play with him and they genuinely cared about him as a friend.

The group even got a surprise visit from their teacher from 2nd grade; Mrs. Schulte.  When the old crew is back together you have to take a picture!!

From there Beau convinced the girls they should ride bikes (bikes that, once again were meant for smaller kids but they still rode because Beau could ride them) and he even made them park in a "garage" area. 

And then there were the trampolines......If you know Beau, you know his balance isn't the greatest.  Watching him play on the trampoline with his friends and watching him manage to stay upright (most of the time) was pretty entertaining.  He looked a bit like a little drunk man but I tell you what, he LOVED every minute of it!!!
Basketball and Jumping - what a perfect combination!

Jasey showing she can tackle with the best of them :)

One falls down, we all fall down!

One of my favorite parts of the day would have to be when they were playing in the small bouncy house.  One section of the house had soft pegs as well as hand straps to assist you in pulling yourself up to the slide that was connected to it.  It quickly became evident that Beau lacked the coordination to pull himself up onto the top of the slide.  In the picture below, you can see Marie pulling Beau's arms as Adrie is below pushing Beau's legs up.  Despite their strength and excellent effort, they couldn't get him up.  Adults weren't supposed to get into the houses, but I went in and helped lift him up so he could go down the slide. 

It was a little later on in the morning when Marie came running over to Adrie after spotting a step type cushion she had found.  She quickly found a second one and told us what her plan was.  She said they would take the steps and put them in the small bouncy house so that Beau could climb up to get to the top of the slide.  As my 4 year old would say, "Teamwork makes the dream work".  At this point my heart was melting.   The pictures speak for themselves....

Ecclesiastes 4:10 - If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 

The fun continued with more basketball and running around!

Next up it was time for cupcakes.  I had to laugh because if you've never eaten with Beau, it's an experience - a very messy experience.  I was wiping off his hands and I said something about how messy he was with the frosting and Marie didn't miss a beat and said, "You should see him when he eats at school!".  I started laughing so hard because it's so true.  He just looked at her and smiled (with blue frosting on his teeth). 

I ran downstairs while the kids were preparing to watch Jasey open presents and when I came back up I found that they had helped Beau get on to the picnic table to sit and watch the presents being opened. 

This picture and his expression sum up a lot about his morning.

Here he is saying "truck" to Marie.  He thought every present would naturally be a truck. 

I was never really certain how school would be for Beau.  Every year I just become more and more amazed.  God blessed us with Hansen Elementary and his team, and He certainly blessed us with some wonderful classmates for Beau.  There is nothing wrong with having lots of female friends.  These young ladies will be fierce in protecting our son and no doubt will make him feel loved throughout his school days.  I cried (happy tears) on the way home from the party and looked at these pictures over and over again and just smiled.  Thank you sweet girls - for loving my sweet boy, being his friend and making him feel like a king.