This Battle’s Not for Us

I was thankful for one of The Boy’s former teachers last week. She’s the one they moved to a different school this year, and we’ve missed her sorely.It’s funny to think that when we wanted to move him to his current school, she was not in favor and didn’t think he was right for the program, and she is now one of his biggest advocates.

I voiced all of my concerns over this Occupational Course of Study (OCS) with her – that he wouldn’t be in the least restrictive environment (LRE), he wouldn’t have access to his general ed peers, and he may not be able to take band.

She talked me off the ledge. She made me see some things from a different perspective, and made me realize that if I have to choose, this program could work for The Boy. And that he has every right to be in band, although logistically, he may only be able to be in it for one semester.

And I can live with that, as long as they make the “occupational” part of it something in which The Boy has interest. He won’t be folding towels at the hospital if I can help it.

But that’s not what I’m telling the district. I had contacted the director of special ed, as she had been an ally in getting The Boy his current placement, and had earned my respect. I wanted a meeting, but she said she would call me instead due to expediency. Except that all she wanted to do was sell me the OCS program, and I wasn’t going to let her. I wanted her to explain how it was legal, without placing kids in their LRE. After she figured out I wasn’t going to be sold, she told me she would set up a meeting with the transition coordinator (with whom I already met and wasn’t all that impressed) and the occupational coordinator. She told me she would get back to me the following week. That was last week, and she didn’t.

When I emailed her again yesterday, she said that the transition coordinator had been waiting for my call to answer my questions… What?

I sent an email – you know the one. The one I crafted for an hour, making sure to sprinkle acronym bombs all over the place so she would remember that I wasn’t some ignorant parent who didn’t know anything about student rights or IDEA.

Lo and behold, she was able to set up a meeting after all. For tomorrow. Fancy that!

But, I’ll be honest. This meeting isn’t really for us. I don’t expect them to re-design the entire high school setup for us, because they won’t. I don’t expect them to wave a magic wand and put him in band all year, because they won’t. I don’t expect to hear much but placating platitudes. But I want them to know that I know. And I want them to know that I’m not going away, so that if something isn’t working, I’ll be back. And I want them to know that there is a whole host of kids coming up through their schools, and that if I know that what they’re doing is illegal, they better damn well know that those kids’ parents will know it too. And they better think about just what they are going to do about that.

high school

 

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Transition to High School: He Has No Idea

Last week, I wrote about the “attempt” by the district to get some input from The Boy regarding his future for our upcoming IEP meeting during which we will discuss the transition to high school. The amount of effort put into getting his input was exactly one worksheet, borrowed from another school district. At that time, I was too busy shaking my head to know exactly what to do next.

IMG_4678I took that worksheet and put it into a digestible format (PowerPoint), and added some possible answers for The Boy to choose. I didn’t send anything in on the “due date” which was Friday. Over the weekend, I sat down briefly with The Boy and the roughly 15 slides with questions about his future. “Hm,” he’d say. “Go to the next one,” and “I haven’t really thought about that before,” were common responses. To summarize, I got nothin’. Monday, I sent in my responses to the parent survey (it is now Tuesday morning, and they are still in his backpack, by the way), and emailed his special ed teacher to explain that he didn’t have much response to the student survey, and it was either because he really doesn’t have any idea, or he’s not comfortable sharing his ideas at this time. Her response was that she had a simpler survey format she could send home. No doubt copied from the same school district… I replied that I didn’t think it was the format, as I had modified that for him, but the content was the issue, and that he really has no response.

What do they expect? Mom asks 15 questions or hands him the worksheet and they’re magically going to get profound and thoughtful answers to just what is going on inside my son’s brain? For the umpteenth time in the past three years, I have to ask, “Are you NEW here? Do you not know ANYTHING about autism?”

A serious, thoughtful, student-centered approach would be to integrate some of this transition planning throughout the 8th grade year, directly within the “social skills class” curriculum… You know, that curriculum that the principal wants to change willy-nilly based on what she feels like is important for my son? But what do I know?

I sometimes wish I didn’t know how half-assed they are approaching my kid’s education. Maybe ignorance would be bliss. But I do know, and I’m powerless to change the culture of the school and the district. That change has to come from within. I can scream and shout and threaten legal action all I want, but change is terrifyingly slow in education, and even those on the inside are mostly powerless to change it, as well.

My only course of action is to muddle through and shake my head.

 

 

Up and Running

If you’ve followed the blog, you know that we are building a house primarily so that The Boy can attend high school with the friends he’s made in middle school. Since his program was dissolved, he would have to attend a high school with strangers if we did nothing. Coincidentally, building a house basically on his own has been a dream of The Man’s forever. He has done enough reno to understand how houses are put together, and he has enough contacts in the industry to get licensed professionals who are also friends to do the things he can’t do (like wire and plumb the house).

Well, it’s been a tough fall, dealing with a less-than-scrupulous contractor who cleared a quarter of our acre-sized lot and charged us almost $15,000. If you have no previous experience, this is quite an exorbitant sum for that amount of work, and the guy used to be a friend! We have agreed upon a settlement  (in other words, we won that argument), and have been able to move forward with the help of some fantastic weather. We may even have roof trusses up by the end of the day tomorrow.

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The Boy and I visited the lot yesterday evening to check it out, and he was delighted to see where his room and bathroom would be, even if he wishes it were upstairs like his friend’s room is at his house (ours will be a ranch).

The Man is working hard, sleeping hard, and probably overdoing it right now, but he is single-minded when there is a goal within reach. He hopes to have us in by the 4th of July. The Boy and I are excited, even though I see the bills on the other side. It really will be a dream come true for us.

And to top it off, when we visited the lot this weekend to make The Man take a break from installing 75 floor joists by himself, we suggested The Boy take a walk around the corner down to the end of the cul-de-sac. When he returned, he said that he saw one of his friends-who-are-girls. I thought he wasn’t quite telling the truth, but not two minutes later, a red minivan came around the corner, with a young teenaged girl pulling herself up to sit on the windowsill of the passenger side to say, “Hey!” and wave to The Boy. We suspect she may live a few doors down.

All kinds of reasons to be excited. 😉

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

We’ve had much discussion over the past few weeks, the school and I, about executive functioning skills and the need for a homework folder so that I know that what comes home needs to be completed/signed/looked at and returned, and the teachers and TA know the same about things that come from home. His teacher offered up a cat folder two weeks ago… via email, and I haven’t seen a single cat folder since.

Last night, while retrieving The Boy’s band music from his backpack, I found a random envelope that said “return by 3/18,” which contained a “Student Dream Sheet” and a “Parent Transition Survey,” which I have filled out multiple times before. The “Student Dream Sheet” is new, however. I took one look at it and immediately thought, “Yeah, right.”

IMG_4678It is a front and back sheet with 15 open-ended questions on it. I get that they can’t supply multiple choice answers because they are trying to understand just what it is The Boy wants to do in his future, but really? Is this the best way? They really think that this is even a possibility for someone who is fairly nonverbal? And it’s “due” in three days?

I don’t even have words at the moment, and I’m not really sure what I’m going to do about it. Yes, he needs to be involved, and ideally answers to “What kind of job do you want when you graduate?” and “Where do you want to live after graduation?” are important for us to have when considering his high school plan. But to expect that I can just sit down with him in an evening and get these answers (no doubt, preferably in full sentences – ha!) belies how little thought, effort, and expertise is behind this whole thing anyway. Shouldn’t an “assessment” for an IEP meeting follow the dictates of the IEP? Shouldn’t educators modify an information-gathering tool to the child with specific special needs?

“Do you have any significant medical problems that need to be considered when determining post school goals?”

Really?

Preparing for High School: Update

high schoolI had heard a lot of things about special ed in our high school, the different tracks, what they can take, where they can go with the different diplomas… I wanted to meet with people who could tell me definitively. And I got some answers.

In essence, we will have to choose a track by this spring, which will determine whether or not The Boy ever goes to a four-year college. That’s a tough decision for any parent of a fourteen year old, I think. And I think if they made general ed parents do this, there might be a bit of “education reform” down here.

There is an “occupational” track, designed for kids who are cognitively impaired, and have IQs in the 50s-70s. They are taught in special ed classrooms (segregated from the rest of the gen ed population), and the coursework focuses on work experience, heavily. If we choose this path, he cannot use his diploma to ever go to a four-year college. He may also not be able to take band, depending on when the core classes are scheduled.

Then there is the “future ready” track which is the general ed curriculum. They have a special ed teacher available to be in some of the 9th and 10th grade core classrooms. There is an elective study hall that special ed kids can take to get homework help. And that’s it.

We could start him in the “future ready” and move him to the “occupational,” but we couldn’t do the opposite. It almost feels like they set them up for failure in the gen ed track with little support, and then when they fail, funnel all of the special ed kids into the “occupational” track.

Everyday, special ed kids are denied taking electives in schools across this country, simply because of their disability. But because most parents don’t care about electives, and don’t fight for their kid’s right to equal access to the curriculum, nothing is done. But this is a smaller issue.

This setup, this all-or-nothing choice we have to make… this is something else entirely. I have a friend whose son is more academically age-appropriate than mine, and he is in the “future ready” track at this high school. His teachers don’t know how to modify his assignments, and he has to stay after everyday to get help from his teachers, on top of the “study hall” he gives up an elective for, so that he can have a special ed teacher help him do his homework. Is this really all they can do? Is this really all there is?

Yep, this southern state sure has opened my eyes to the reasons people homeschool.

UPDATE: I just shared an email exchange with The Boy’s former program teacher who said that the part about never, ever being able to go to a four-year college was absolutely untrue. Good news. But makes me wonder what other information the “transition coordinator” screwed up…

Big Stuff Coming This Year

2016 is going to be a big year for us. I’ve already set up a meeting with our autism specialist and the transition coordinator for next week to talk about The Boy’s transition to high school. Yes, high school.

yikes.

high school

In our state, there are different programs in which a special education student can enroll for high school, and you kinda have to pick which track you’re going to pursue before you even start. The Boy could try to do the full curriculum, but with deficits in math and language arts, I’m leaning toward the track that is labeled “occupational,” which emphasizes work skills and experience. If he wanted to, he could attend a community college with this type of diploma, but couldn’t directly enroll in a university. That’s where I’m leaning, knowing what I know now, but that’s why I want to meet. I want to know the details and make an informed decision. I also want to include The Boy in some of our decision making.

We are also looking forward to building our house which will allow The Boy to go to the high school he is planning on. We’re several months behind due to some unscrupulous contractors (I think they are rather requisite for any home-building project), but are excited to be filling our building permit applications this week. And I can finally start visualizing our new home.

Big changes coming our way. And this little mama is doing what she does best – planning, and planning, and planning…

That’s My Boy!

Tonight was The Boy’s first full-blown band concert.  He is in 5th grade and was able to start playing an instrument in band this year.  He wanted to play tuba, but settled for the baritone (euphonium) when they wouldn’t let him start on his first choice.  At first, I couldn’t get him to practice, but lately, it hasn’t been so difficult, especially when I play with him.

If you didn’t know, this is what I do all day long.  I teach band in middle school, and to have my own son finally have his chance to play an instrument has been an experienceMy kid has been that kid that doesn’t practice, and doesn’t turn in practice time, and forgets to bring his book home.  My kid. *sigh*

But tonight, he got to see the middle school and high school bands play, and he stayed in his seat, paying attention for the whole concert.

It’s huge.  I’m not just being that mom when I say he’s got a great ear, and I really should have started him on piano ages ago.  He plays stuff by ear from time to time, did really well with recorder last year, and in general loves music.

Tonight, the high school pep band played Seven Nation Army, which is a tune by the White Stripes.  The Boy knows this song because it’s on my iPod, but it starts with the tubas playing the melody, and he turned and caught my eye as soon as he heard it with this big, open-mouthed grin, and…  I turned into my mom (no offense, Mom!) — we always joked that she cried at parades (she really did), and there I was, tearing up because The Boy had a look of such pure joy at the sound of a tuba…

Anyway, this is him – the one in the center of the picture with the (fake) glasses and the green shirt, my budding musician, the star of my show:

Bandorama

Congrats, Little Man, on what I hope is the first of many concerts!