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Lifestyle HUMOR from The Rebel Housewife: Anecdotes, observations, experiences
On LIFE AT 30 & BEYOND: kids, family, men, BOOKS, cars, pets, tattoos...NASCAR, Aspergers/Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Virtual/Home Schooling, teenagers, Navy Mom...


The Rebel Housewife Goes To Washington DC

The Rebel Housewife Goes to Washington DC
by Sherri Caldwell, Parent Advocate

Several months ago, I was invited to Washington, D.C. in July for a “parent advocacy training boot camp”. As an active parent and freelance journalist often reporting on civic and education issues, I have long been involved in our traditional public schools (Atlanta Public Schools). I also know intimately the desperate search for public school options, including private and virtual schools, when our neighborhood public schools did not work for our youngest child.

I had no idea what to expect from this adventure, and 2015 has been such a crazy-busy summer, with our daughter’s high school graduation; Navy son visiting from Guam for three short weeks on leave; various college summer programs, school competitions and travel; two summer birthdays; Freshman Orientation & Registration--figuring out how to pay for the first year of college (much less the next three or four); and a big cross-town move... I never had a minute to think about it, worry about it, research or prepare. I just got on the plane--

As it turned out, PublicSchoolOptions.org BOOT CAMP 2015 National Parent Advocacy Conference was a life-changing, two-and-a-half-day, whirlwind event, jam-packed with meeting new people, learning new things, finding my voice, and advocating -- in Washington, D.C.! on Capitol Hill! In my Representatives’ and Senators’ offices! -- for my child and others, for education reform, and PublicSchoolOptions.org.

PublicSchoolOptions.org is an alliance of parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children. The Coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs. Additionally, we advocate for free and equal access without restrictions to these public schools for all children.

PSO BOOT CAMP was the adventure of a lifetime. After and alongside power networking with parents and teachers from all over the country, we enjoyed (survived?!) a full day of advocacy training Monday on lobbying and the issues, prior to spending Tuesday morning on The Hill. Capitol Hill. (I still can’t quite believe I was there!)

Tuesday began with a public rally on the Upper Senate Park, in the midst of Washington’s most iconic buildings. On Capitol Hill. School Choice champions and supporters spoke to the crowd and the cameras, while more than one hundred parents from thirty states rallied in bright red #ITrustParents tshirts, with signs, stickers, and other SWAG.

The Georgia Coalition (five of us) had to leave the rally early to make our first appointment in Representative John Lewis’s (D-GA) office, which was... AMAZING.

[Note: The politics of ESEA Re-Authorization (a.k.a. “No Child Left Behind”) is complicated, and there is a very helpful article here. I found myself a Blue Lady (Democrat) in a contingent of Red (Republicans), which was fine, after a minor crisis in ideology. Education is a child-centered issue, and that is primary, although there are some differences in approach and detail. Nevertheless, we were able to visit both Democrats and Republicans as a bi-partisan coalition, which was very effective.]

Although we were scheduled to meet with “Staffers” in the legislative offices, Representative Lewis walked in while we were meeting around a table in his small antechamber. For many reasons, I think John Lewis is a living national treasure, and I was in awe. He took a picture with us -- one of the most extraordinary events of my life:

From Congressman Lewis’s office (excellent meeting), we visited Representative David Scott’s (D-GA) office, and met with his Education Staffer. (The meeting was not as excellent, but we held our own.) We also visited Senator David Perdue’s (R-GA) office, but Senator Perdue already supports the Senate version of the School Choice Bill, so it was more of a check-in, not a formal meeting. (Sen. Perdue was not there.)

And that was it. A big luncheon, additional networking and good-byes, and we were done. My colleague and I went on a quick visit to Arlington National Cemetery, and Uber-ed our way back to the airport in time for our flight home to Atlanta, back to Real Life.

For more about The Adventure -- what I said & why I was there -- click on:
TRH Goes To DC - Part Two.

TRH Goes To D.C. - Part Two

by Sherri Caldwell, Parent Advocate

Also see: The Rebel Housewife Goes To Washington DC (Part One)

My husband and I raised three children in Midtown Atlanta, in Atlanta Public Schools since 1999. We graduated two successfully, in 2013 and 2015, amidst funding crises, re-zoning battles, cheating and accreditation scandals.

Our older son graduated from Grady High School in 2013. He was the lead cadet of the Grady JROTC. He enlisted in the Navy from high school, and is now serving in Guam (8000 miles away from home).

Our daughter graduated in May (2015) from the Biomedical Science Academy at Grady High School. She is starting her Nursing Degree at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, in just a few weeks.

Although our older children made it through our neighborhood public schools just fine, through all the ups and downs with Atlanta Public Schools over the last decade, it has been a very different journey for our third child.

Our youngest son, Tiger, just turned 15. He is going into 10th grade with Georgia Connections Academy, a virtual public charter school. Tiger was diagnosed with Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder at the end of 3rd grade, after struggling in Atlanta Public Schools from Day One. Our neighborhood public schools were never a good fit for him. He is a brilliant kid, but autism is characterized by anxiety, sensory overload, social challenges and difficulties with communication; oftentimes, he was bored and frustrated, which could lead to crises and meltdowns. In my experience, Asperger’s/ASD can be more of a Superpower than a disability, but our public schools are not yet prepared to handle this exceptionality.

In the middle of an incredibly difficult 4th grade year, just before Winter Break, I received a postcard with the simple question, "Is your child happy in school?" I broke down and cried. No, he was miserable. Every single day. By the end of the break, we had transferred him to Georgia Cyber Academy, the only public virtual charter school option we had at the time in Georgia. I think that postcard was heaven-sent.

Tiger has been in and out of Atlanta Public Schools-- he wanted to try again, in 6th grade and 9th grade, with his older brother and sister, but he prefers to go back to the virtual option to finish high school and start on early college through Georgia's Dual Enrollment Program.

The virtual schools in Georgia -- Georgia Cyber Academy, Georgia Connections Academy, and Georgia Provost Academy -- are online public charter schools; not private schools, not home school. Students have the same curriculum, attendance, and testing requirements as their counterparts in the brick & mortar public schools. Textbooks and materials are provided, and Title I students are eligible for free computers and internet connection. Each student has a primary teacher or team of teachers (middle & high school), including Special Education and IEP services, and they attend live classes online. Parents (or other designated adults) serve as Learning Coaches, and work with the teachers and the school to support the student. Although they are primarily online at home, cyber students enjoy a wealth of opportunities for social interaction, both with school -- sports, field trips, study groups, in-person events and activities -- and extracurricular.

Virtual school has given Tiger the opportunity to come into his own -- to succeed, to develop his strengths, to explore his own interests, to build confidence and skills toward a bright future in technology/cybersecurity: toward INDEPENDENCE.

It is essential to have options and support when the local public school is not a good fit for your child -- public school options that are accessible to families who cannot afford private school.

I went to Washington D.C. with PublicSchoolOptions.org to protect and promote school choice and public school options for all students. As another issue in the mix, how grateful we would be if federal funding followed our child to the public school of choice-- the school that works for him, when the neighborhood school does not.

PublicSchoolOptions.org is an alliance of parents that supports and defends parents’ rights to access the best public school options for their children. The Coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs. Additionally, we advocate for free and equal access without restrictions to these public schools for all children.

Autism Awareness: 250 Words

This is Our Autism (in 150 words):

Our 14-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was nine years old. Our Autism is a Superpower, although it definitely has its (social, sensory and communication) challenges.

Our son is brilliant, but quirky; interesting and extraordinary. He has a great sense of humor, but he is very shy. He is a techie genius--loves computers, technology, programming and video games, and lights up about his strengths and interests. He is extremely helpful with anything computer-related.

We worry about our Autism future and independence. The world does not always appreciate quirky. We know, with the right encouragement, resources and support, with a pathway, our son will be completely self-sufficient. We know he fits in the tech world, that he will be happy and productive in a technical, creative environment.

We often worry about how to help him get there.

99(+1) Words about LiveCode, Indiegogo and Empowering Autism Through Coding:

THIS. This is what we need, for our techies with Autism: LiveCode, with support from international autism organizations, will provide an extensive online training program to help young adults on the autism spectrum develop employment skills in programming.

I encourage anyone to consider this worthy project for donation to support Autism. Please share the message and encourage your friends, family and network to get involved. Contribute and participate, if you have or know a young person on/near the autism spectrum. $99 is a very small contribution toward independence.


Also see: CNNMoney: Teaching Autistic Kids to Code

Autism Awareness - For My Teenager

Autism Awareness - For My Teenager
by Sherri Caldwell - Asperger's Parent, Author and Learning Coach

I am Aware. As a teacher, as a writer and researcher, as Mom to a brilliant 14-year-old son diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome six years ago (now included as an Autism Spectrum Disorder/ASD), I am hyper-aware of the differences, challenges, and unique blessings of Autism. It is a vast spectrum of ability and disability, and there is enormous controversy and fierce debate within the Autism community, and those trying to help. I am Aware.

At first, I didn’t understand how closely we were aligned with the members of the Autism community. After the initial four-year struggle through public school, after a cursory diagnosis of ADHD and two years testing medications and behavioral strategies, none of which worked to resolve anxiety, frustration, regressive communication and social skills, and spectacular school-day-ending meltdowns... after all of that, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Boom.

“Is that a degenerative condition?”
We naively and fearfully asked, when it was first suggested by the school psychologist, after several years of exhaustive evaluation. I think she may have mentioned it was on the Autistic Spectrum, but at the time, the roaring of the ocean in my head drowned out everything else, along with any clear memory of the other details of that meeting. From there, I started researching. I read everything I could get my hands, library access or internets on about Asperger’s Syndrome, and how this fit my son, how it explained so much, and how it changed our lives, as we came to understand our brilliant, but quirky and extraordinary kid.

Six years later, our then-little third grader is a six-foot, fourteen-year-old ninth grader in high school. He has been in and out of public and private schools, both traditional brick and mortar and virtual public charter school online at home. He has done well-- he is an A/B student, but he does not like school. Our current educational system, even with Special Education and IEP/504 services, does not have the flexibility, understanding, training, resources or support to help these amazing kids succeed on their own terms, embracing their tremendous strengths and abilities.

In many ways, we celebrate Asperger's/ASD as a Superpower. This kid is scary smart: technical, logical, detail-oriented, he is amazing on the computer and with anything to do with technology. He is a gamer, of course. He has a great sense of humor, an insatiable curiosity, intense focus and fascination with a wide variety of topics, especially technology. He interacts online with friends and acquaintances all over the world. He likes structure and routine, he likes peace and quiet, and while he generally prefers to be safe at home, he will venture out for family adventures and activities. He likes going out for meals, and road trips, and he really, really likes vacations on big cruise ships. In his element, I tend to forget about the Asperger’s, what some people call High-Functioning Autism. But it only takes a few minutes in the confusion and chaos of the outside world, for his differences, his anxiety and communication challenges, to become painfully obvious. This is Autism, out in the real world.

This is his future. We know our child has the potential for independent living; he will be fine, on his own terms. But with structured support and training in an area in which he is truly gifted and highly interested—he could be the next Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, the Facebook guy or Elon Musk. He is a techie geek with some social deficits.

What my son -- and others like him -- needs to succeed, to find his passion, develop his career possibilities, and achieve happiness and independence, is an opportunity to learn valuable skills in a supportive environment, structured to embrace his strengths.

We have an amazing opportunity to provide job skills, career potential and future independence in a highly supportive environment, with the technology company Live Code and their April 2015 Indiegogo campaign, Empower Individuals With Autism Through Coding:
Together with LiveCode, the National Autistic Society, Specialisterne & Autism Initiatives, our goal is to train 3000 young adults on the autism spectrum, across the world, how to code. We will provide an extensive training program with specialist support to help these young adults develop employment skills or gain self-employment in the app business.

I hope you will join me in supporting Empowering Autism Through Coding in every way you can: by donating to support Autism; by sharing the message and encouraging your friends, family, and network to get involved; by participating, if you have or know a young person on/near the Autism Spectrum.


Asperger's Syndrome & A New Normal (2010)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Logging into my blog account today, I was shocked to discover...
it has been many weeks, months, in fact, since I have finished and published a blog article on RebelHousewife.com. Oh, I've started many thoughts, on paper, on post-its, in my head, in TextEdit and Word. There are several waiting patiently on the blog as "unpublished" -- wonderful starts about kids, Aspergers Syndrome, homeschooling (kind of), the teenager, the learner's permit (driving?!) and banishing the XBOX 360 from our home. There are others about books, events, recipes and cost-cutting strategies for family financial survival in tough times.

I seem to have a problem, of late, finishing what I start. I've never been a non-closer before and yet here I am...

It has been an eventful couple of months.

I actually logged on today to write a thought about Iceland and Vanity Fair and NPR, volcanoes and economic meltdowns and such, only to make this horrifying discovery. I am going to finish this, and fix the Twitter link on the website and then maybe I can get back to that thought about Iceland...

And maybe that's the answer. Why can't I finish anything I start lately? Maybe it's because, every time I start something, something else comes along to take my attention and focus. The constant distractions of life with a busy entrepreneurial husband, three children and Mocha-the-dog. I don't work outside the home. I can't imagine how I would. We no longer have the big house or yard to manage, having downsized to our midtown condo and our one-mile live-work-school-play radius (and loving it!). What excuse could I possibly have to be such a slacker?

We started this school year with three kids in three different schools: 15yo Puberty Angst Boy in 9th grade at the high school; 12yo Drama Queen in 7th grade at the middle school; and 9yo ADHD Phenom started the year in 4th grade at the brand-new elementary school.

Ah, there's another clue to what's happened: Turns out, our very bright, very ACTIVE 9yo ADHD Phenom is not ADHD at all (okay, well, that's a whole 'nother start that I do need to finish, kind of controversial). He has Asperger's Syndrome, which is high-functioning Autism, so he is our 9yo Aspy Phenom. Not a lot of people know what that is, or have any idea what Asperger's Syndrome is (we didn't), so I have some explaining and education to do on that point, I know.

But before I can explain, educate or crusade for a better understanding of Asperger's Syndrome, I needed to understand it better myself and live with it for a while.

* * An aside: If you are at all interested in Asperger's Syndrome, please read the wonderful letter Especially for Grandparents of Children With Asperger Syndrome by Nancy Mucklow. It is appropriate and highly relevant for anybody close to or in the life of a child diagnosed with Asperger's.

So what happened next: In January, we brought the 9yo Aspy Phenom home. The brand-new public school was on a shake-down cruise, getting all of their new-school processes, programs and procedures worked out. We were on our own shake-down cruise, trying to figure out and adjust to this new information and really-quite-remarkable aspect of our son -- finally, we had understandings and strategies that were actually working and helping him, whereas the ADD strategies -- including the medication he was on for more than two years -- never served him well. The school couldn't keep up, couldn't meet his needs academically or provide the structure and stability he needed.

He now attends school from home, although he is not technically a "home schooler." We enrolled him in 4th grade in the Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA), an online public charter school supported by the Georgia Department of Education. As a public school, the schedule and curriculum is established and GCA provided everything we need to attend school from home: books, workbooks, novels, math manipulatives, even all of the materials needed for science experiments! We have a teacher we work with, mostly online, who monitors progress and administers his IEP (yet another complicated issue for another time). We have an abundance of opportunities for social interaction, with field trips and meet-ups and activities all over, all the time.

And there it is: I haven't been able to finish a thought in months, or devote the time I used to have to lose myself in reading, researching, writing, reviewing or blogging, because I am teaching and experiencing the 4th grade all over again with my 9yo Aspy Phenom. It has been amazing -- not EASY, as this has been a HUGE adjustment for both of us and for the entire family. It has been a very challenging transition, but worth it to have the time and opportunity to work with and get to know this brilliant child.

Now then, that's not such a bad reason to be a slacker, after all.
I'm glad I was able to finish that thought.
I am hoping there will be more!