On the Road With Autism

My journey of discovery. I welcome your comments!



On The Road Again

The board of directors at Oak Hill School decided it was time to take the school in a direction of which didn’t align with my Autism Journey. so after nearly 6 years I was on the autism road.

I provided a 9 month notice, prepared myself to journey on & prepared  all the written systems for my successor.

I knew, like the Tin Man, in the wizard of OZ, that I had a great heart, as it was truly affected by this switch in the road but I also knew that what was ahead would not only help me grow but othes as well.

So, for the first time in my career, since graduating school, I decide to take some time to discover where my Autism Journey was truly supposed to head.

I traveled a bit & then joined the development committee for the Marin Autism Collaborative http://www.marinautism.org/ & helped them develop a platform for the collaborative. I helped facilitate the collaborative’s first “Town Hall Meeting” & then headed the Youth Committee on Autism for over 4 years for the collaborative.

As a group facilitator & committee chair I learned quickly the needs in the community & as a volunteer worked at creating & implementing projects for the ASD community

I started the 1st Autism Lecture Series in the North Bay Area, connecting my resources in the field to parents & professionals. On my own I raised funds to put on the series & 7 years later, I am still hosting the series under my non-profit Offerings http://www.globalofferings.org  

I am so grateful to my lecture sponsors through the years (Cypress School http://www.cypress-school.org/ ANOVA School http://www.anovaeducation.org/ Oak Hill School http://www.theoakhillschool.org/ Wells Fargo North Bay Area, Craven Foundation, The Oken Family, The Massocca Family, The Ryder Foundation http://www.ryderfoundation.org/beneficiaries.html, Marin County Office of Education & Psychology Learning & You http://www.playbc.biz/ ) all of which were connected to the Autism World in some way.

The Series (www.offerings.org) has brought researchers, specialists, educators, parents, authors & therapists to the North Bay Area to offer state of the art information on autism to the general community. I am so very proud of this accomplishment & look forward to 2015-2016 series “Hear Our Voices” which will bring youth & adults on the spectrum to offer their wisdoms.  The series starts in September, one time a month and goes until May. The lectures are held at Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael. Connect with  me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. & come learn how it feels to live on the spectrum each day of  your life.

Story 1

Let me tell you about one of the many memorable Oak Hill days. I had taken some time to go to In & Out Burger close by the school. I purchased two t-shirts & those very attractive hats the employee’s ware. I inspired my executive assistant to join me in, In & Out Burger day at Oak Hill. There were two large windows in my office that opened to the recess area. Perfect. We labeled the 1st one, Order Here & the 2nd one ,Pick Up Order Here.

We then ordered & picked up chocolate and vanilla milk shakes, fries & plan burgers for everyone at the school from In & Out.

I sent a memo to all teachers telling them I wanted to see them all & their students at the recess area. They had no idea what I wanted or what was about to happen.

They arrived & when they scanned the windows big grins & smiles appeared on their faces. The students were in heaven. They placed their orders & picked up their lunch.

I loved it.

Story 2

When I first arrived at Oak Hill School the faculty & staff were still feeling a lack of community due to some leadership challenges prior to my arrival.

The first process I instituted was a morning check in. We took 15 many 20 minutes to connect. I had a theme for each day (Music Monday, Tickles Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday & Film Friday). Staff shared their favorite music, jokes, crazy adventures, favorite drinks and films. This small activity helped begin to bring them together.

At the same meeting I would ask each of them to name one success they had the day before. I wanted to institute a half-full feeling at work rather than a half empty feeling. Things began to shift

TGIF meet ups at local restaurants, birthday celebrations and staff appreciation activities added to community building. Our yearly retreat in Napa Valley always brought the community together as well.

Story 3

Oak Hill School employed this amazing creative arts therapist. She appeared to have something just right for each & every student, hidden in her closet.

One day she asked if I would come up & be the audience for one of the students. I happily agreed. I watched Lizzy lower the art tables’ legs. It was now flat on the floor. She then pulled these frozen OJ can lids from that closet!!! And attached them to Reed’s shoe bottoms. It appeared that Reed wanted to tap dance to a favorite song of his

So Lizzy played the song on the piano & facilitated Reed stepping up on the table and tapping away.

Every Halloween the entire student body & staff dressed up in costumes & Lizzy put on an assembly to build trick or treat skills. She used puppets, musical instruments & a variety of songs to sing which had directions to follow.

She then played the old built in organ that lived in our hallway & filled the school with spooky music.

Finally the students paraded around the school grounds & knocked on administrators doors. “Knock, Knock, whose there, Trick or Treat”

At Thanksgiving time a thankful tree suddenly appeared in our hallway & it was Lizzy who worked with our students to create thankful leaves to hang on bear limbs until Thanksgiving arrived when each leaf was read, by our students at our Thanksgiving feast where students learned appropriate social skills for this type of holiday.

 

There are many stories I could tell you about as I remember the images on the Autism Quilt, but it is time to move forward & tell you how I headed back home after serving as the Director of the School for students with emotional challenges

Three years into my work at the school for emotionally challenged in Sacramento, I received a call came from a head hunter. Four families of children on the spectrum were looking for a Director to help them develop, implement & expand their current private center located in Marin County.

I was ready to start my journey back home to Autism. I had overcome my doubts of not being knowledgeable enough, not taking enough risks & I was ready to deal with the heart-break of leaving all I had created in Sacramento (family, friends & career)

The needs of these 4 families & their mission to establish the best school in the North Bay Area & my father’s encouragement gave me the courage to Start All Over.

I spent nearly 6 years as the Director of Oak Hill School http://www.theoakhillschool.org/ located in Marin City in Marin County. I was involved in getting this school certified as a non-public school with the California Department of Education http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/ds/npsacrtapp.asp & developing relationships with local school districts, the SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Agency) hiring, training, & supporting the team as well as heading all program expansion & being the liaison with the parents, state & districts were some of my roles.

I also unplugged toilets with the Plunger when needed!!!! My students actually liked observing that job responsibility most.

We grew from 11 students to 25, from two classrooms to four and went from 90% private placements to 90% public school placements in the years I directed

Wisdoms I Learned at Oak Hill

  • Therapists & Teachers are equal in importance & must work together to address the complex learning challenges of ASD
  • Faculty & staff need to connect personally to each other in order to support each other
  • It is the responsibility of the Head of School to help everyone see the positives of each day
  • It is important to find ways to support the strengths & challenges of your team & not to expect everyone to perform in the same manner as you
  • It is important to prepare your team to present professionally at all Individual Education Meetings & to make sure parents & the school team are on the same page
  • It is important to be honest with families about their student’s challenges
  • It is important, as a leader, to be able to say “NO” professional to faculty and families
  • Never compromise your values & beliefs for financial support
  • Never take NO without trying everything possible to reach an important goal
  • Say Thank You every way possible
  • Know when it is time to move on & leave to make sure everything is structured & organized for the program to continue to succeed for the students