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Posts Tagged "special education"

Put on Your Oxygen Mask First: 5 Self-Care Strategies for Autism Parents

October 20, 2021
By Jelisa Scott, BCBA, LBA

When it comes to parenting a special needs child, there are many things to consider: therapies, schools, medications, the list goes on. However, arguably one of the most essential therapeutic strategies to help your child is evaluating and caring for yourself. To have the physical and emotional energy to fulfill all the duties of a parent (especially an autism parent), you must make sure you are mentally healthy. How many times have we been on an airplane and heard the flight attendant advise, "in case of an emergency, secure YOUR OWN oxygen before helping others next to you." In the case of raising a child with autism, it is essential to "secure your own oxygen" before you can be expected to help your child. Parents who are stressed, feeling anxious about the future, or having depressed feelings about their child's current stage of development, are more likely to have trouble helping and supporting their child in the ways they need. If you really want to help your child, challenge yourself to make these parent coping strategies a habit:

1. Prioritize your self-care.

There's an old adage that says, "empty cups can't pour." Think about the things that fill your cup, and make time to prioritize them. Taking care of yourself is a selfless act because it sets you up to be in the best position possible to continue to advocate and care for your child's needs. 

2. Engage with other Autism parents in the community.

You are not alone. Other parents and caregivers of children on the autism spectrum are going through similar situations as you. Expand your social circle to include support from other parents who understand what you experience. Shared experiences help build connections and can decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. 

3. Minimize anxiety by staying present.

The past is already done, and the future is not promised. Remind yourself to focus on today. When you worry about the future, you miss an opportunity to be grateful for what you have in the now. Be intentional about identifying what you are thankful for right now to help minimize your anxieties about the future.

4. Focus on your child's strengths.

Try not to focus on the negative. It is much more beneficial to focus on your child's strengths. There is no advantage mentally or emotionally to only see your child for the things they can't do. Knowing where your child's strengths lie and keeping them at the forefront can help you use that knowledge to supplement the areas where they need more support. 

5. Plan time for fun.  

All work and no play does not equal success. Sometimes your child (and you) need a break from it all. Taking time out from the hard work to laugh and play can improve your overall quality of life. 

Remember, you are the most important person to your child, and they need you to be physically, emotionally, and mentally strong. Your child needs you to be strong enough to continuously advocate for their acceptance, accommodations, and inclusion within their community. Being strong doesn't mean that you won't have bad days. Improving your well-being doesn't mean that there won't be challenging times, but hopefully, these strategies will help you build healthy self-care habits and, in turn, will help you work better with your child at home.

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Jelisa Scott is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) in the state of Texas. She received her bachelor's in Psychology from Louisiana State University in 2010, her master’s degree in Behavior Analysis from the University of Houston Clear Lake in 2014 and is currently in school to earn her doctorate degree in School Psychology from the University of Houston. Jelisa has been working with children with and without special needs since 2008 and has gained experience providing in-home ABA services, parent training, classroom consultations, navigating ARD meetings, decreasing severe problem behavior, improving verbal behavior, social skills training, and early childhood intervention.

This blog post was adapted from the presentation given during WestviewEDU on Thursday, October 7, 2021. WestviewEDU is an education series presented by The Westview School for parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder. For a full list of WestviewEDU sessions for 2021/2022 academic calendar year, visit The Westview School online

Memories of Our Mother: A History of The Westview School

October 05, 2021
By Joey, Alan, and Steven Stewart

To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of The Westview School, the sons of founder, Jane Stewart shared a personal reflection of their early memories of The Westview School and what the legacy of 40 years of Westview means to their family. 

A little over forty years ago our mother, Jane Stewart, brought us (Joey, Alan and Steven) all together in the family room and told us she was starting a school for children with disabilities. She had been volunteering at The Briarwood School for a few years and a group of parents came to her and asked if she would consider teaching their children privately. These parents recognized our mother's compassion and love for all children.  

Overjoyed that Jane could now offer personal attention and schooling to a population in need of facilities, she turned our “game room” into a school during the day.  We have many wonderful memories of coming home from school and watching our mother teaching and caring for her students. Often, we would join our mother rather than playing video games. That time was always very special to us. The parents were ecstatic, and the children made remarkable progress during the time they were with our mother in our home. In fact, one of our mother's first students, whose doctor told her parents she couldn't be helped, years later not only graduated from high school but was also prom queen. Our mother knew that amazing things were in all of us.

After a long discussion, our mother and father, Joel Stewart, decided to purchase a small house on Westview Drive in the Spring Branch area of Houston to expand the school, its facilities, and number of students.  The Westview School was born as was the beginning of one of the most successful and ground-breaking schools for children on the autism spectrum in the country.  This was a defining moment for our mother, one which filled our family with pride and love.  The growth of the school meant so much to her. 

As The Westview School evolved, so did our involvement as a family.  Alongside our mother was our father, who not only gave his generous support to the school but also brought with him his financial and regulatory acumen.  Additionally, throughout high school, we volunteered our summers working various jobs doing maintenance, painting, and building on the school grounds.  The most rewarding was when we volunteered as teachers' aids, running with the children on the playground, helping with art projects, singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, and even happily laughing and getting soaked with the students on the slip and slide.  These are the types of experiences that are so memorable and special to us.

The expansion of the school to its current location on Kersten Drive was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.  We were honored to have the late Barbara Bush preside over the opening ceremony.  She graciously spent time with the students and recognized the importance of the school.  This was an experience we will never forget. Most importantly, there would be a much larger school that could accommodate the growing population and could offer even more benefits to the students including a robust multidisciplinary team.  Our mother made sure there was a small student-teacher ratio so that the current students received the same personal attention as her first students received in our game room.

The school expanded once again and added another building offering even more opportunities to students. Throughout the forty years, there have been many talented and brilliant individuals who have worked at the school and served on the Board to turn the school into what it is today.   We are grateful that the school and staff have committed to the mission of our mom in providing a nurturing and positive environment. The teachers and the entire staff are dedicated and caring individuals. We continue to be impressed by the incredible work and enjoy watching the school and the students thrive.

Throughout our lives, we always felt that our mother was a miracle worker, and it really showed when she worked with children. Her caring, gentle and intelligent approach, based in love for each and every student, showed through at all times.

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Joey Stewart is a feature film producer and restaurateur that lives in Dallas with his wife Laura, an interior designer.

Alan Stewart is happy to coordinate marketing and VIP programs for music, wine and NFL clients including Duran Duran, Matt & Kim, Westport Rivers Winery, and the Indianapolis Colts. He lives on a farm on the coast of Maine with his wife Lisa who is in the legal field.

Steve Stewart is a physician and Chief Medical Officer of a hospital in New Mexico and lives in Albuquerque with his wife Amy, a lawyer, and their two sons, Wells and Flynn.

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3 No-Nonsense Answers to Common Questions on Special Education

April 29, 2021
By Sarah Chauvin

Did you know that tigers have striped skin and not just striped fur?
Did you know that reticulated pythons are longer than green anacondas?
Did you know the formula for the volume of spheres is four-thirds times Pi times radius cubed?
Did you know that honey is actually just bee vomit?

There is a common saying within the autism community, "If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism." Facts and insight collected from various students across various grade levels prove the point that we can always learn something from someone else. Like the students at The Westview School, these little nuggets of information are as different and varied as those who shared them.

With enrollment season upon us, the admissions department of The Westview School is busy fielding questions about the benefits of a private special needs education. Families are looking for the best fit for their children. The Westview School is proud to offer children on the autism spectrum a unique, specialized learning environment with outstanding educational and social opportunities. Some of the obvious benefits of a specialized special needs school include small classroom sizes and curriculum and instruction that is adapted based on each student's need. But there is much more that a school like Westview can provide a child that is not so easily quantified.  

We asked our in-house experts, Becky Mattis, M.Ed., Admissions Director for The Westview School, and Mimi Le, M.A., LMFT, LPC, one of Westview’s Student and Staff Support Specialists, to weigh in on commonly asked questions prospective families have when deciding on a program like The Westview School. Their no-nonsense answers to the top three prospective family concerns about a private specialized education are supported by frank, heartfelt, and honest feedback from Westview students in elementary and middle school.

QUESTION 1: Will my child develop self-confidence?

One thing a parent of a child with autism learns very early on is that brains can grow. Developmental pediatricians and neurologists will tell parents, early intervention is the key, that a child's potential cannot be determined until they have an opportunity to learn. Children on the autism spectrum who participate in early intervention therapies and specialized schooling from an early age develop a growth mindset. The concept of a growth mindset was originally taught by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck. She asserts that facing challenges, working hard, and learning from mistakes develops persistence and results in growth in intelligence and abilities. She further theorizes that people who develop a growth mindset at a young age are confident, resilient, and have a passion for learning. At The Westview School, you will frequently hear a teacher encouraging a student who is struggling with something say, "That's okay, you can try again." Instead of becoming frustrated when they make a mistake, we want our students to quickly regroup and try again.  

Becky Mattis: Parents worry about self-esteem for their special needs child. The self-esteem impact that kids have when they are in a place that is meeting their needs, and they are learning and being successful is vastly greater than the negative impact that being in a place where their needs are not met, and they are feeling different and singled out.

Mimi Le: There is a vulnerability [at Westview] that you do not get in a neurotypical school setting. The vulnerability is that I am not the best at this. How can I get better? Both peers and teachers work together to help and encourage you. This may still happen in a neurotypical setting, but at Westview, we are very aware of it, and we make it part of each day, and so do our students. 

When a student feels like they can excel at something new, they feel supported in their effort, and in turn, the other students in their class help that too. Students want to learn from the kid that is the expert on trains or the best at math. At Westview, there is never the social expectation to fit into the typical school social norms. There is no judgment. This builds confidence in a child when they are around others that support their expertise in something.

We asked Westview students, “What is your favorite thing about The Westview School?”

Jaden, Middle School: The teachers will go completely out of their way, will do anything they can to see their students succeed. They are always so nice and supportive, and I could not have any better teachers. 

Thibault, Upper Elementary: I like this place because it provides a safe place. A safe place from bullies. [Westview] gives me a safe place to learn, and it achieves all its goals in doing so with all its students. 

Noah, Middle School: I think The Westview School is a great place to be. The teachers, the classrooms, the fun things we get to do. 

Cason, Middle School: My favorite things about The Westview School are the people, the academics. Look around [gesturing down the hallway]; this place looks pretty good.

Ruby, Lower Elementary: My teachers and everybody loves me and PE.

Theo, Lower Elementary: I have lots of friends to play with, and I learn things that I never knew before, and just like Ruby said, I like PE.

QUESTION 2: How will my child learn appropriate social skills without typical peer role models?

Becky Mattis: It is a common question for prospective parents, "Why not just put our child in a mainstream school to learn and observe social skills?" If our children could naturally pick up social and classroom skills from their neurotypical peers, they would easily fit into a mainstream setting. At The Westview School, we get excited when our kids pick up other behaviors because we can then use that as a building block for teaching and guiding our students toward a more appropriate social interaction. By virtue of the population, most of our students struggle with social skills, and because of that, we are intentional in working on the development of social skills throughout the day. The child is not being singled out by being pulled away to talk through those social situations. It is a learning experience for the whole class.

Mimi Le: When children on the autism spectrum are with others who are like them, they are more accepting of individuals with differences. When we put students together in a group or a class, we are looking at where are they are going to fit socially, behaviorally, and academically, so that they can learn something from another student. Where one student may be best at a particular thing, another student can learn from them. Everyone is learning from each other in those three different categories, which helps make them more well-rounded. All kids are different, autism or not. There is always something you can learn from someone else. The thought Westview puts in to placing our students helps to build a respect and appreciation for each other that they would not get in a normal neurotypical setting. 

We asked Westview students, “What is something that your friends like about you? What makes you a good friend?

Jaden, Middle School: I am very persistent, and I will do what I can even if it must sacrifice quite a lot to get done what I need to do. I think that me knowing a lot makes me special because I get to teach people what I know, and I find teaching very fun.

Thibault, Upper Elementary: I am passionate, and I strive to work hard almost every single day. I am determined.

Theo, Lower Elementary: I like to run around and exercise a lot and play games. I like to play games on the playground besides tag, because my best friend Sid doesn’t like tag. I like it, but I want to play with him.

QUESTION 3: What if my child knows they are different?

We are all different, and differences should be celebrated, and all children should be taught in a way that most benefits them. In October of 2020, a teacher’s online post on why her neurotypical classroom looks like a special education one went viral. Karen Blacher, who has two children on the autism spectrum herself, found that students benefit greatly when classroom strategies are more focused on encouraging students to openly communicate, and expectations are adapted specifically to that child. Students are taught to both self-advocate and self-regulate.

Becky Mattis: We recognize that all kids are different whether they are on the spectrum or not. Each of our Westview children will discover the ways they learn best and how to then advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy is not only a skill they need for school but in life as well. Being accepting of the things that challenge them.

Mimi Le: Our kids become comfortable with who they are. It is okay to be different. Our kids develop an appreciation for themselves and each other. They are learning that their differences can be something they are proud of, and we foster that in the classrooms and through our conversations with parents. Our students will continue to give the world a new perspective on every aspect of life, and this new lens will lead to breakthroughs in the future. 

With cultivating confidence in mind, we asked several Westview students, “What makes you special?”

Cason, Middle School: To be honest, I think I am pretty smart and good at gaming. I am probably the smartest in math. My brain works a little differently than everyone else. It can be good or bad in different ways. 

Satvik, Middle School: I am a very tall person, and I am a hardworking boy.

Thibault, Upper Elementary: What makes me special is that I am different from everyone else, and it is like a whole different experience. Without these differences, I wouldn't have gone to Westview in the first place, and my sisters love me literally for who I am.

The Westview School’s mission is to provide a unique, specialized learning environment offering outstanding educational and social opportunities for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that children with autism spectrum disorder can grow and learn through a nurturing, positive, and happy environment that enhances their self-esteem. Building confidence, learning social skills and celebrating our differences is something that The Westview School builds into our daily curriculum.

If you think The Westview School could be a fit for your child, join us for our next Informational Session. The event includes discussions with our Admissions Director, Becky Mattis, about the student experience and program deliverables. Current parents will also be present to offer perspective and answer questions.

Register Here

Recent Posts

11/9/21 - By The Westview School COVID-19 Medical Advisory Board
11/3/21 - By Adam Weiss
10/20/21 - By Jelisa Scott, BCBA, LBA
10/5/21 - By Joey, Alan, and Steven Stewart
9/23/21 - By Traci L. Jordan, Psy.D., L.S.S.P.

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