Monthly Archives: April 2013

It’s Renfrew for Grade 1!

We recently found out that Bennett has been offered a spot at Renfrew for Grade  1 and we are over the moon! Our son has autism and has been attending Renfrew Educational Services — which has an integrated special needs preschool/kindergarten program in addition to a special needs grades (1 to 6) program — since he turned three. I knew there was a possibility he wouldn’t get a placement for the 2013-14 school year (there are only 12 spots in the Grade 1 class at the main centre), so we had been looking at other schools since December, including an autism school and a Calgary Board of Education designated special needs school. While these options both had much to recommend them, they didn’t give me the same warm-fuzzy feeling as Renfrew.

Bennett has spent three great years at Renfrew. Here's to more!

Bennett has spent three great years at Renfrew. Here’s to many more!

I love Renfrew’s bright, cheerful classrooms, play-based learning style and friendly staff. Everyone at the Janice McTighe Centre knows Bennett and greets him each day with a smile and lots of love. My wish for Bennett to continue at Renfrew also has a lot to do with the progress he’s made over the last three years; he clearly thrives there. And he loves going to school — the highlight of his day is when the bus pulls up in front of our house.

Bennett loves riding the bus by himself. What a big boy!

Bennett loves riding the bus by himself. What a big boy!

When Bennett started Renfrew preschool just after his third birthday he was basically non-verbal, with poor social, play and gross motor skills, and severely delayed fine motor skills. With help from his teachers and aides, and the therapists at Renfrew, Bennett is now talking, playing with school friends and making huge strides with both gross motor and fine motor tasks (he can now , for the most part, dress himself — hooray!).

In Grade 1 Bennett will still have an IPP (Individual Program Plan with specific goals) and continue to work with speech, occupational, physical and behavioural therapists at school to achieve those goals. His classroom will have centres (like in kindergarten), but the teacher and aides will break the children into skill-appropriate groups and work on letters, numbers and other Grade 1 concepts. For Bennett, it’s the best of both worlds (play and therapy meet elementary “academia”).

Bennett loves fun school activities like cookie decorating.

Bennett loves fun school activities like cookie decorating.

When I told one of the teachers at my daughter’s school that Bennett would be attending Renfrew for Grade 1 her comment surprised me. “Good for you for keeping him there.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Why wouldn’t I want to keep him there? It’s such a great school.” She went on to tell me that in her experience, many parents choose to “mainstream” their special needs children and that there’s a perceived stigma associated with a special needs school, and special education in general. This surprised me.

I get that inclusion has its advantages — in a regular classroom Bennett could model typical kids and they could learn about difference and acceptance. But I think inclusion only works if your kid is ready for that kind of transition and if the school can meet his needs (see below). However, I find the notion that there’s a stigma associated with a special needs school both disturbing and unfortunate.

I know Bennett, and while it would perhaps help me feel more “normal” to pretend everything’s hunky-dory by integrating him into our community school, it would be a grave disservice to him. My son thrives in a small classroom (1:4 ratio) with trained and dedicated staff , and I fear he would be utterly lost in a classroom with 19 other loud, typical kids, with no guarantee of an aide. As one paper argued, public schools often don’t have the resources, training or supports to teach kids with special needs. So why would I put my perceptions about what other people think (who cares, anyway?) ahead of Bennett’s best interests? That there might be parents out there making that choice for that reason makes me sad.

In making a decision like this I think you have to tune in to the needs of your child and let that guide your decision. If, in a couple of years, Bennett is ready to transition to the community school, then we will reassess. In the meantime, Bennett and I will both continue to do the happy dance every day when the Renfrew bus comes to get him.

Drink of the Week: Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

I sometimes have to remind myself I have a pretty good job. When other people are sitting in sterile office buildings creating Excel spreadsheets, I am mixing a drink at 2 p.m. all in the name of research.

Just this week I was writing about one of my favourite warm-weather cocktails, the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, for an upcoming issue of Avenue magazine. As I sat there trying to remember the taste of the drink, I kept thinking, “You know, I haven’t had one in awhile. Maybe I should make one.” I had all the ingredients on hand and, suddenly, it was Pimm’s o’clock!

Mmmm...liquid boozy fruit salad with ginger spice...

Mmmm…liquid boozy fruit salad with ginger spice…

I muddled a couple cucumber rounds with two strawberries, some mint and Pimm’s, topped it off with ginger ale and soon after I was drinking a medicinal, boozy fruit salad and coming up with clever things to write (spoiler alert), like “keep your striped tie knotted and blazer buttoned while cheering on your crew from the boathouse.” Huh? Trust me, it makes sense — you’ll just have to read my story (August issue).

They say many writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, gained their inspiration honestly — from looking down into the bottom of a bottle. After my afternoon Pimm’s Cup, I concur.

Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

  • 1 part Pimm’s No. 1
  • 2 cucumber rounds
  • 2 strawberries, diced
  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • Top 2-3 parts ginger ale

Muddle all ingredients except the ginger ale in the bottom of a rocks glass or tumbler. Add ice and then top with ginger ale. Stir to bring up the mint, cukes and strawberries from the bottom of the glass. Serve. Repeat.

Piper the puppy (and other dog names)

Last fall I blogged about how we’re getting a puppy. That day is about to come.

Our puppy was born on Feb. 23rd and the breeder has been e-mailing weekly updates and photos, so we can see how the pups grow from tiny, almost-hairless critters into pudgy, cute fur-balls. Our orange and white fur-ball arrives on Saturday and we’re going to call her Piper.

Naming a puppy is a lot easer than naming a baby!

Naming a puppy is a lot easer than naming a baby!

I have to say that naming a dog is much easier than naming a baby, probably because when the dog grows up, even if she hates her name, she’ll have no way of telling you. You could name her Helga or Mildred or Bonehead and the poor thing would still wag her tail happily every time you called her over.

But Blake and I didn’t want a dog name that was mean (see above) too human (like Maggie or Annie) or too childish (Princess, Lady). To us, Piper feels just right. It’s cute; a name that both conveys excitement, and is easy for Bennett to pronounce.

What I didn’t know is there’s a Top 50 list of the most popular dog names in the English-speaking world. As you can imagine, I immediately scoured it, expecting to find Piper right up there with other female dog names like Bella, Daisy and Ginger. Nope — Piper didn’t make the cut. You’ll find Zoe, Missy, Sheba and Bear (I have known dogs with all of these names), but no Piper. And I have to say, I feel pretty good about that!

When we named Avery we thought we were being so original, but now that name has crept into the Canadian top 20, at No. 15. (We did well with Bennett — it’s No. 159 on the Canadian list; less popular than Muhammed, Santiago and even Damian.) Our betta fish’s name is also original, if childish: Blue-blue (so named in honour of the blue soother given up at age four in exchange for the fish). So it feels like we’re on a roll, name-wise.

But really, what does name popularity matter? As long as you like the name it’s all good. Welcome to Calgary, Piper!