My Kids: A Special Contribution From Ashlee Yokom

Friday afternoon. I start my car, and an annoying disc jockey comes blaring on the radio. As quick as can be, my hand jumps to the dial to turn off the volume. Right now, all I want is to soak in the silence. Just for a moment drink in that sweet nothing. I commute about forty minutes to and from work each day, and in the afternoons, it usually takes about half the drive until I want to hear anyone or anything. I spent today getting hit, kicked, spit on, screamed at…but at least today there wasn’t any blood or vomit. The quiet though, is something I want to savor.

Sometimes, I wonder how long I can do this job. Yes, this is my day to day, and I pay my bills in some of the most unusual ways. Burn out is real, and there are certainly days I feel it, but usually the twenty minutes of quiet is enough. Those twenty minutes give me time to reflect on the struggles that my students and families face twenty-four hours of each day and remind me that I go home to a quiet house with a glass of wine. And I get to wake up each morning and choose to be here, because these children and families that I love so dearly need support.

I teach in a self-contained classroom which primarily serves children impacted by ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). ASD is characterized by social skills deficits, communication deficits, stereotypic and repetitive behaviors, and unusual responses to sensory stimuli. My students fight each and every day to overcome greater struggles than you and I will never know. Because of these differences, the students in my classroom receive instruction in all areas, not just academics. They need guidance in social, behavioral, life, communication and even fine and gross motor skills. So on any given day, I teach about how to interpret a graph, how to blend phonemes, how to appropriately hold a pencil, how to share, how to zip a coat, how it is or is not appropriate to behave in a bathroom, how to protest using language, and countless other skills, depending on what “my” kids need.

Autism is still such a mystery, but helping people impacted by Autism–that is my passion. I have spent the majority of my life working with people that are impacted by this disorder, which has led me to insatiably consume materials on the subject–on research, on anecdotes, on strategies and pedagogies. Over the years, I have been part of teams that help children talk for the first time, use the toilet independently for the first time, read for the first time, make their first friend. This is the stuff that each day bolsters me to continue on in a very tough career.

In my program, we strive to incorporate a variety of strategies to engage our students and enrich their lives in a bigger, more holistic sense. One of the ways that we do this is by teaching thematic units, where we introduce a topic of study that we can address gradually. It keeps the kids excited and engaged, and allows them to experience things they might see in their day-to-day lives.

This February, we studied sports. We learned what the overarching purpose of sports is, we learned about exercise and competition, and we learned how to play some basic sports. We culminated this unit by taking public buses to a local gymnastics academy and having an hour lesson.

Overall, we considered this thematic unit a success. But during the month of February, we also talked about the winter Olympics, and read some stories about Olympians. The students began to get excited; a few asked if they could win a medal…Thus began the planning for our very own Olympics.

My teaching partner and I found some videos of athletes participating in luge, hockey, skating, and designed our own versions in which we could compete in our school gym. We got medals donated from a local charity and made our own decals for them. We created a banner, a podium, and even downloaded Olympic theme music.

When we got to our Olympics, my staff and I didn’t know what to expect. We had been pre-teaching the kids what was going to happen and how to participate, but anything could have happened.

What did happen was amazing. The students excitedly and proudly participated in all the events. They cheered for their peers. They high-fived one another. Our students recited the rules of the games and followed them. Seeing the look of pride on each of their faces as they stood on the podium with the medals around their necks—there is no better feeling than that. They won in every way that the Olympics represented.

This activity was born out of student interest, was planned by passionate educators, and I truly believe changed lives. These kids felt that they could do anything they worked for—which is something that every child deserves.

At times, holding onto these precious moments helping children grow is the only way we as teachers get through the rough times—the sixty-hour workweeks, sleepless nights, bureaucratic nightmares, the threat and fear of losing our resources, of losing our jobs, of being condemned in the media as being greedy and irresponsible. The moments that I hold onto are the ones where I see my children shine.

April is Autism Awareness month, and this month, as you see the world fill with blue lights and puzzle pieces, I hope that you will also hold onto the image of passion and pride that each of my kids had as they competed in their Olympic games. This moment was so special to me, because it highlighted how passionate they are in each and every moment of their lives–fighting to communicate, to interact, and to learn. These are the moments I will savor during my quiet drive home, to remind myself that I do, in fact, have the best job in the world.

For more stories from Portlanders and the like following their heart, check out the full magazine here. Ad-free, banner-free: Poppycock Magazine

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“My” Kids: One Educator Who is Listening

Ashlee Yokom is a passionate educator with a trying, difficult, and incredibly rewarding career choice. She was kind enough to share her personal emotions, feeling, and insights into her successes and stresses in her job as a special education teacher for the April issue of Poppycock Magazine in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month.

I teach in a self-contained classroom which primarily serves children impacted by ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). ASD is characterized by social skills deficits, communication deficits, stereotypic and repetitive behaviors, and unusual responses to sensory stimuli. My students fight each and every day to overcome greater struggles than you and I will never know. Because of these differences, the students in my classroom receive instruction in all areas, not just academics. They need guidance in social, behavioral, life, communication and even fine and gross motor skills. So on any given day, I teach about how to interpret a graph, how to blend phonemes, how to appropriately hold a pencil, how to share, how to zip a coat, how it is or is not appropriate to behave in a bathroom, how to protest using language, and countless other skills, depending on what “my” kids need.

Autism is still so much of mystery, but helping people impacted by Autism–that is my passion. I have spent the majority of my life working with people that are impacted by this disorder, which has led me to insatiably consume materials on the subject–on research, on anecdotes, on strategies and pedagogies. Over the years I have been part of teams that help children talk for the first time, use the toilet independently for the first time, read for the first time, make their first friend. This is the stuff that each day bolsters me to continue on in a very tough career.

For the full story you can find Ashlee Yokom’s piece in Poppycock Magazine, Portland’s new ad-free bi-monthly magazine available in print and digitally.

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What!? I Said, “With All Due Respect!”: Set for Release December Sixth

Hear ye! Hear ye! To all who can hear me! By royal decree, you are invited to partake in the unanticipated return via a complete lack of popular demand of author Wesley S. Bauman. On December sixth, in the year of our Lord, two-thousand and eleven, there will be the release of the second book in an as yet to be determined series of writs by the aforementioned author. The book, What!? I Said, “With All Due Respect!” will be released on the interwebs for purchase! All who can attend, should attend if they are able bodied and sound of mind!

Okay, I’ve been playing a little too much Skyrim. Nonetheless, this is the post counting down the one week you have until I release my second book. This second book is a great leap forward from my first. This is full of a lot of fun, new content while still pulling together the best articles I’ve written over the last year since I released my first book.

What!? I Said, “With All Due Respect!” is a feisty little piece of literature taking on a myriad of topics while still trying to keep my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. There are a lot of fun little nuggets starting at the very first page and ending with a sneak peek in to my next book, Server Manifesto.

The book will be released on Tuesday afternoon, December 6th. It will be available on Amazon.com. Yeah, I know, anyone can get on Amazon, and thank God for it, because I would be selling these out of the trunk of my car like mix tapes if it weren’t for the internet.

What is really exciting about the initial release of the second book will be what we’re doing with the money for it. During the month of December, all profits from the book will go to charity. I will be choosing a cause from DonorsChoose.org, to which I will give every dollar in profit I make on the book between December 6th through December 31st. So, for 25 days you will have the opportunity to donate to charity while getting an “interesting” book in return; think PBS business model without the Muppets.

I urge everyone to buy as many copies as you can so that Poppyc**k Cares, our little name for our philanthropic adventures, can make as much of an impact in the lives of children who need books, supplies, equipment, or anything else in the classrooms of today. Poppyc**k Cares picks a charitable endeavor and slaps our seal of approval on any charity or cause we can highlight that is working toward literacy in the classroom today. It may one day be its own charity, but for now we just hitch our wagon to any horse we think is worth attaching our name to; it doesn’t mean much, but it’s something.

Next Tuesday there will be another post here on the blog with a video further outlining what you can find in the book, what causes we have our eye on, and a plea for you to spread this thing around like Herpes Simplex II on a Caribbean Cruise for the elderly.

So let people know, stuff stocking with my book, and do it all for a good cause in this time of giving. What!? I Said, “With All Due Respect!” will be $14.95 per book and I ask you to buy more than one. Approximately $10 will be going to charity for every book you buy. Thanks so much for reading, and stay tuned next Tuesday for the not-so-big release of the little book the could. Laters.

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