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Special education

Historic Day

Friday June 26th was a historic day for the United States and for the Bissell family. Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. An easy call for most, but fun to watch the Republican presidential nominees trying to figure out how to best respond to this ruling. It is not about equality, it’s about votes for them. Enough politics.

Today also marks the last official day of school for the Bissell boys. Because all 3 boys have special needs, in Massachusetts they receive their services and therapies through the public school system until their 22nd birthday. On their 22nd birthday, they move from the school system into adult services; a huge and emotional transition.

We’ve spent several months visiting and researching adult programs for people with developmental disabilities. All three boys have very different needs, so no single program will work for all. We’ve finally made the best decisions we can for all three boys. They will take the month of July off and start this new chapter of their lives on August 3rd.

The hardest part of this transition is saying goodbye to all of the wonderful people in the Grafton Public School system. Hard partly because there are way too many people to thank! The boys have been in the school system for 19 years! Anyone with a child with special needs knows how many people are involved in caring for their children while in school; everyone from the teachers, to the classroom aides, to the therapists. But this is only part of the picture. The over-used saying “it takes a village” is definitely true for special needs kids. It’s not just the direct care workers that are needed to help a child with special needs be successful at school, it’s also the administration from the superintendent to the school committee to the office staff, van drivers and school nurses, custodians and cafeteria workers and even the regular education students who make inclusion work. Multiply all of this by 3 and you begin to see why it would be impossible to thank each individual who made the boys’ school years successful.

The boys have also spent all of these years with many of the same students. The students as well as their parents have become a close-knit community and dear friends. These parents are also working through this difficult transition and trying to find the best placement for their adult children. Sadly most of the young adults will be scattered among the many adult programs around Central Massachusetts. We will miss that comradery, but hope to keep in touch with as many of these amazing parents and kids as possible.

Anyone who is reading this and had anything to do with Eric, Aaron or Anthony’s school years, THANK YOU!

Here are a few photos from the twins’ last day of school:

Bon Voyage party for the twins.
Bon Voyage party for the twins.
Aaron receiving his diploma
Aaron receiving his diploma from Special Education Administrator Mr. Lundwall
Eric receiving his certificate
Eric receiving his certificate from Special Education Administrator Mr. Lundwall
School to Work students and staff
School-to-Work program students and staff

Project Smile:-)

Anthony is technically in 11th grade, but because of his significant disability, he is in a specialized program called “Project Smile”. Most of the kids in Project Smile are wheelchair dependent, non-verbal and have severe developmental disabilities. The classroom is at a typical high school, so there are some inclusion opportunities.

One neat program they have at this high school is that the regular education students can volunteer in the Project Smile classroom and actually get credit for volunteering. In addition to helping out in the class, the students have to write a paper about what they learned from Project Smile.

Here are some of the things the students wrote:

“I have learned so many different things, most of them are simple things that many people overlook in daily life.”

“I learned that having ‘support’ is a good thing and that everyone needs support.”

“Project Smile is an excellent program that gave me a positive outlook and made me realize how fortunate I am to be healthy.”

“Helping these kids gives you a great feeling of reward.”

“I gained much respect for all the people who make helping others their life.”

“When I first entered Smile, this was all new to me. I had never seen anything close like that before, but now it is all normal to me.”

“This program has made me see life differently through the kids eyes.”

“For every kid in the class a touch of them will stay in my heart forever. Because of them, I have become less judgmental and I will take that with me for the rest of my life.”

“The day I walked into the classroom, the screams I heard scared me enough to never want to come back. I never thought that those screams would mean just as much to me as words by the end of the year.”

“The students in Project Smile have changed my life in numerous ways and this has by far been the best experience of my life.”

“Going to Project Smile was a blast and I enjoyed every minute of it and would be sad when the bell rang for the next class.”

“The very important thing that I learned is that don’t judge a book by its cover, because you never know what is inside.”

“I will always remember the number 104 as a classroom that change my life; that changed my views of everything, that have truly made my senior year worthwhile”.

“The program taught me not to be selfish and to think of others.”

“From Anthony I learned that a smile really shows a lot and that it’s a pretty easy thing to give.”

IEP time

Springtime at the Bissell’s means annual IEP time. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program (or Plan). Children who receives special education services must have an IEP. At least once a year we meet with educators and therapists to review the IEPs for each of the boys. Every 3 years they have to have a complete evaluation. This is often a very stressful time for parents. However, I’m thankful to live in a state with a good public school system and a district that really cares about children with special needs. This is not usually the case and why we will not move out of our town.

This year will be a big transition for Anthony as he moves from Middle School to High School. It is also time for his 3 year evaluations, which works out well. Yes, time sure does fly! Anthony attends a special needs collaborative for kids with severe disabilities. A Collaborative is an educational program that combines resources from several different regional school districts in order to provide services for kids with exceptional needs more efficiently and economically. This is done through a “collaborative” effort. Many school districts don’t have enough students with significant needs to put together their own specialized program. While inclusion in the local school should always be considered, it’s not always the best fit for all children.

Anthony has made minimal gains in most developmental areas, and has had a few setbacks due to his big surgery last October. Most notably, he has less range of motion and less tolerance for his stander. But he has an excellent physical therapist who is working hard to get Anthony back to his base-line.

We were excited to hear that the Collaborative will be starting a new program for high school students that will be closer to home and also some of Anthony’s current therapists will be going to the new program, including his physical therapist. This will make the transition much easier for Anthony.