Big Meeting, the Second Time Around

Our rescheduled IEP meeting is today, and let me tell you, I feel so much more prepared this time around.  I am so glad that I was able to call them out on a technicality and give myself some more time to gather my wits and my resources.  Today, I’m bringing our regional rep from the Autism Society in our state.  I’ve talked with her a bunch over the last couple of weeks, and she will be there to advise me, and be an extra pair of ears.

They will still have a passel of personnel in attendance, but they don’t scare me anymore.  I have data from his previous school that supports everything that I say he needs and isn’t getting.  I have documentation in the form of emails from his current teachers that supports everything I say he needs and isn’t getting.  And I have a better understanding of their intentions, as well as the process, and my rights.

And my focus now is on the IEP, even though we will be discussing placement, as well.  He needs and aide, he needs autism-savvy teachers, and he needs help with organization.  Period.  I would like to see him go to a school that is better equipped for his needs, but I’m not as steadfast in that as I was, because I’m not sure I want him in a school where they so obviously are against him being there.  When it comes down to it, no matter where he is placed, we will continue to have a fight on our hands, and now that I know that, I am better prepared to roll with the punches (Inner Biker Chick is present and accounted for, thankyouverymuch).

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  Let’s ride!

Laura & Margie - biker chicks

Laura & Margie – biker chicks, mslaura

Big Meeting with Big Wigs = Big Deal

IEP documentationThis Thursday, I have a big meeting at The Boy’s school to first review and update his IEP (necessary only because when you move to a new state, they follow the previous IEP for 30 days, and then completely re-do it to fit their own needs), and second, to determine if he will be switching schools.

The county (district) has a pilot program that is housed at a different middle school across the county.  It is for kids with autism who do well academically, but need help with social skills and organization.  My friends here have suggested it for The Boy, the county specialist has suggested it for The Boy, and I thought, “Yes, this sounds perfect for The Boy, especially in light of the fact that no one at his current school even knows what autism is…”

So we got the ball rolling, and the county specialist asked the program teacher to come and observe The Boy… and that’s where we hit a snag.

The program teacher said she wouldn’t recommend him for the program, by and large because of the size of the pilot program’s school – it is much larger than his current school, although not much larger than the school he came from up north, I’d like to point out.  The specialist said we would meet to review his IEP, and then the team would make a decision about whether he could go, or whether he should stay where he is.

And now, I’ve been notified that “the team” now includes the usual characters, as well as the assistant director for special education in the county, and both the principal and assistant principal from the pilot program’s school…

Um… what?

Why has this blown up into something so huge?  We’re talking about admitting one little 6th grader into your pilot program…  I don’t get it.  I can’t begin to fathom their intentions, and to be honest, it’s intimidating.  I’d like to bring an advocate, but for several reasons, that isn’t an option right now.

I’m meeting with my “allies” after school today so that we can plan our “strategy”.  It disgusts me that this is how special education in the public schools works.  Our kids deserve better.  My kid deserves better.

Wish me luck…

3 Things I’ve Learned from The Boy’s Worst Teacher

If you are a regular reader, you know we’ve been struggling with The Boy’s new school since day one of this school year.  They seem to have precious little experience with autism, or even with IEPs, modifications, and accommodations, which cannot be remotely possible, but here we are.  I have felt all along that their hearts are basically in the right place, they are just ignorant…  with one exception.  The Boy’s social studies teacher has repeatedly demonstrated contempt, if not for The Boy himself, then for the extra effort he requires.  She is the type of teacher who follows the textbook as if it were a bible, and pushes those 6th graders as if social studies is their only class, and their one true avocation in life.  Her assessments have little to do with the content learned, and seem to have been added as an afterthought, possibly when an administrator asked her to expand her resources to other sources than the textbook.

I received a note home from her in the planner, mid-week, that explained that The Boy had been given a modified test, and even with extra time had completed very little of it.  OK, Problem Number One: I looked back in his planner, what is supposed to be our primary method of communication between school and home, and there was no mention of a test.  I went on this teacher’s website, and there was no mention of a test, I looked back in my emails, and there was NO MENTION OF A TEST.  So I emailed the teacher immediately, pointing out that I had no previous knowledge of a test to be given this week, and was there a review sheet?  She emailed back the next day, saying she had looked in The Boy’s planner and it had been written at least four times in the last week that there was a test Wednesday…  This was an outright lie!  I had made a copy of the current page of the planner, because I like to document these notes of hers (this was not the first) that seem to imply she’s doing everything she can and The Boy is being somehow disobedient by not complying.  I emailed back to say that her statement was incorrect, that I had made copies of his planner pages, and there was nothing written in the social studies slot in the planner during the last week.  She responded, apologized and blamed it on the 11 year-old girl who helps The Boy write things in his planner, saying she had either written it in the wrong spot or had not copied exactly what was on the board.

Can you feel the anger rising in my throat by now?

We’ll get back to the outright lie in a minute.

Problem Number Two: She explained that there had been no review sheet, that the students were supposed to study from their “chapter work,” and that due to personal issues and being out for a few days the previous week, she hadn’t updated her website.  Well, The Boy didn’t have any “Chapter 3 work” to study — it had all been turned in.  I had requested review sheets from her starting with the first test (this was their third already), so that I could help him prepare and focus for the test, and again she had disregarded The Boy’s needs.

Problem Number Three: “Extended Time” as an accommodation does not mean an extra ten minutes within the same class period, and I explained this to her.  I also explained that he is entitled to take his test in another location, have his test read to him, and all of the other testing accommodations that are in his IEP.  I asked her if he could bring it home to take it and she didn’t respond.  She just keeps giving it to him every class period and expecting him to complete it.

In my opinion, this has gone beyond a teacher “trying” to provide my son with modifications and accommodations.  This is now willful ignorance.  She has a history of not communicating with me about upcoming tests.  With the first, we had one day’s notice, and with the second and third there was no notice at all.  And for all three tests, I have seen one review sheet.  She has a history of not providing modifications to his assignments, and when I requested more time for him to study before the first test, she refused.  And now, not only did she lie to me about there being four notes about this week’s test in The Boy’s planner, she had The Boy and his helper go back and write in the notes after I told her there was nothing in the planner.  She got my email, waited until the next day in class, had them write things in the previous week in his planner, and then claimed they had been written there all along.

I have requested a meeting with the principal about this, even though I am hopeful that we won’t have to deal with this too much longer.

What have I learned?

  • Document everything.  I had a feeling I should copy those planner pages the night I wrote my email.  Unfortunately, I only copied one.  But at least I have that, and I have every email she has ever written which shows this pattern of a lack of communication and a lack of willingness to accommodate my son’s needs.
  • Don’t assume every teacher has your child’s best interest at heart.  It pains me to say this, and I don’t think this is true for 99% of the teachers out there, but I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • Don’t avoid confrontation about something like this.  I could take the easy way out and just bide my time until we can get out of the school, but I know there are other kids with autism in this teacher’s class, and I can only imagine how they and every other kid with an IEP who has ever been in her class have been treated.  It’s not right, and she needs to be called on it.

New Friends, New Opportunities

The Boy and I went over for a “playdate” of sorts with some new friends from our local chapter of the Autism Society.  The Boy had gone to summer camp with this boy, and I’ve leaned on his mom quite a bit through our schooling struggles.  The boys had a blast – it was very neat to see The Boy getting along so well with kids his own age (or thereabouts), and I was grateful just to have the chance to do it, and the chance for him to make some real friends, something he hasn’t yet done at school.

And I can’t overlook the chance for me to make friends.  It can be a bit lonely moving away from almost everyone you know.  I still love my friends from up north, but I can’t hang out with them by any means, and so I spend a lot of time by myself, especially being underemployed.  It doesn’t lend itself to maintaining your sanity, let’s just say, so it was nice to get out and just hang out with someone, especially someone who really gets what I’m going through right now.

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten...

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten…

One of the things we have been talking about has been a possible switch in schools for The Boy.  We’re hoping to get him into a pilot program at a middle school across the county which is aimed at high functioning kids on the spectrum.  It happens to be housed where our new friends go to school (across the county, requiring busing), and New Friend’s Mom can’t say enough good things about the special ed staff, who really seem to know autism, front and back.  So, we are pursuing it, because his current school is still not following his IEP, and seem to be taking their sweet time even implementing any of the county specialists recommendations.

It would be a tremendous transition, again, and we have weighed that into the decision, but at this point, I strongly feel he is not in the correct placement, and I’m ready to fight to get him into this program (even though I don’t think I will really need to).

So keep your fingers crossed for The Boy.  New opportunities may be on the horizon that would be much better in the long run, but may be a little painful at first.  Just another day on the spectrum.

The View from the Other Side Is Blurry

I had a post drafted for today, but I had to revise it.  I’ve mentioned the struggles we’re having with The Boy’s new school, and how little they seem to know about autism, and how to make modifications and accommodations that are necessary for him to thrive within the general education curriculum.  His teachers came to his IEP meeting with that deer-in-headlights look, as if they have never seen a creature like my son before, and had no clue about how to assist him in his learning.

As a teacher, I knew that ineffective teaching existed — I just didn’t really witness it.  I taught for over 17 years, and rarely did I work or come into contact with colleagues from whom I wouldn’t want my son to learn.  There were strict teachers and lax teachers, friendly teachers and more distant teachers, scattered teachers and organized teachers, but essentially they still knew what they were doing.  It was even more rare to come across a teacher who was not good with kids.  Even teachers who were not warm and fuzzy were still able to form relationships with kids and treat them fairly and professionally.

I guess that’s why I’m having such a hard time with one of The Boy’s teachers in particular.  They all seem a little lost in terms of autism, and a few seem a little scattered in terms of general teaching skills.  This one in particular has problems communicating, both with me and The Boy.  She assigns a crazy amount of work, even for a neurotypical student.  She uses rubrics, but they do not seem to assess knowledge of social studies content, rather the processes by which the content is expressed – for example, there is a public speaking rubric for sharing current events, and a writing rubric for a research project.  I don’t know for sure, but I can guess that she is not teaching about public speaking and/or writing in her class, so where are the assessments that give her information on what the students have learned from her?

More importantly in our own case is that she seems to dislike having a student in her room that isn’t “normal”.  She decided on the second day of school that The Boy should be placed in the resource room rather than go to her class because he wasn’t “doing the work”.  She wrote in his planner last week that he wouldn’t “answer” her.  She sent me an email today, saying that The Boy had printed off 43 pages from the internet in the computer lab yesterday and that there is a rule against printing without a teacher’s permission. She has made only one modification since the beginning of the year, giving The Boy a modified review sheet and quiz that she had printed off from a “special needs workbook” published by the textbook publisher, and refused to give him extra time to study as I requested, and which is also an accommodation spelled out in his IEP.

When I got the email about computer lab printing rules today, I could hear my pulse quicken, could feel the blood in my veins heat up, saw my hands clenching into fists involuntarily.  I took a breath, and reminded myself not to answer immediately (calm down, Mama Bear – Ha!).  After a few minutes, I responded that I would reinforce the printing rule with The Boy when he returned home, but also asked her to please remember that he has a hard time asking for help when he needs it.

And then I sat down to write this post.

And this seemed like even more proof that this woman was not nice, would continue to be a source of frustration and obstruction this school year, and was looking for any excuse to prove that my son can’t.

And then she responded to my last email, telling me she knew he didn’t do it on purpose, and that he shared his research project in front of the class by sharing his maps while she read his points of interest, and the children clapped for him.  She said it was a successful day for everyone.

And all of a sudden, my impressions of her became blurred, and a little bit of hope peeked through.

I can only hope that we will all learn a lot this year.

A ray of hope?...

A ray of hope?…

Reflections on an IEP Meeting

Our IEP meeting was Thursday, and I felt like we accomplished something, but I’m reserved in my enthusiasm…  More of a wait-and-see attitude about it all.

The good:

  • They agreed to implement his IEP as it came from our previous state, to the best of their ability
  • They agreed that training for the teachers in modifications and accommodations was necessary immediately
  • The teachers seemed to support his need for an aide
  • We finally fixed his schedule so that he would no longer have two math classes
  • They will be adding ASD-specific life skills to his schedule to replace the math
  • They will be looking for some sort of computer for him to use for assignment
  • They will begin to actually implement his IEP, and the ASD specialist commented several times that this was overdue

The not-so-good, of the “shake my head” variety:

  • The teachers kept bringing up common autistic traits, “He won’t talk to me,” or “He won’t do his work, even after being directed”
  • The principal asked me point-blank, “He won’t verbalize it if he needs something??”
  • They are going to do more testing, including a psychological and intelligence (IQ) test, even though he was thoroughly evaluated this spring in his old district, simply because the new state requires these other tests
  • My concerns about organization help and communication were not addressed as specifically as I’d like them to be
  • They included a note about following his IEP “to the best of their ability”

I think I was heard, I think they have a better idea of what needs to be done, I think I’m not “that woman” anymore.  I don’t know to what extent they will follow through on their promises, and they have a great deal to learn about autism in general, and my son, specifically.

I hope we accomplished something.  I hope…

IEP documentation

IEP Day

We’ve already had our IEP for the year (up north), but things have been going so poorly at The Boy’s new school that I called a meeting, and it’s today.  Luckily, I know the outcomes I want, and I know how to stand my ground.  I know enough about special education law, and I know a lot about my son.  I also know a lot about good teaching, regardless of the students in the chairs.  I’m not going to slander anyone, but I really hope for some changes to be made.  I’ll go as far as I can go, but I am prepared with contingency plans, as well.  I’ve spoken to an advocate, and I have documentation to support our cause.  We also have resources available to us, and I’m ready.

Let’s do this.

I Spoke Too Soon

The second day of school, I was working with The Man, helping him finish an interior painting project because I have not much else going on right now.  Mid-morning, I got a phone call from The Boy’s school.

It was The Boy’s special ed teacher, calling because he was refusing to do his work… a student interest inventory in math.   I told her he had done one for homework, and logically, may not want to do the same thing all over again.  After we hung up, I felt a ball of oh-no-did-she-really-just-call-me-about-something-she-should-totally-be-able-to-handle form in my stomach.  I felt like I may have been really wrong to feel relived last week.

She called later that evening sounding a bit panicked, listing her concerns:

  • There was an unplanned fire “drill” on the first day (something was smoking in the kitchen), and his teachers were concerned about his safety during the drill, because he was pacing.
  • He left the classroom at one point during the day, without permission.
  • His social studies teacher thinks it isn’t beneficial for him to be in her class because he is not doing the work, and should go to the resource room for that class.
  • He draws all the time and is not following instructions.

These were my thoughts that coalesced that evening at the conclusion of the phone call…

  • There was an unplanned fire drill and he didn’t freak out, have a meltdown, or run for the hills.  He paced.  That’s clearly a win.
  • He left the classroom without permission only onceAnother win.
  • He isn’t doing the work in social studies on the second day of schoolAnd?…  He didn’t have ESY this year, this is par for the course! 
  • He draws all the time in class, and isn’t following instructions…  Welcome to my world.

I know not all kids with autism are alike, but I would expect experienced educators to have a bit more of an understanding of the common obstacles to learning for students with autism.  I did provide multiple copies of his IEP/Testing packet that includes a rather extensive narrative from his previous teacher about how to get him to participate and do work.  The autism specialist, his special ed teacher and I did meet last week, when I talked at length about these things.

You have to have some competency, and if you don’t, you have to use the resources available to you, before you call me in the middle of class asking what you should do.

I didn’t make any friends when I emailed all and sundry in the special ed department and administration stating that he needs an aide, and only has one in one of his general ed classes.  Because of that email, though, the county autism specialist spent a day with The Boy and his special ed teacher, and gave her plenty of strategies to use.  Since then, I’ve been trying to smooth things over, but this is not going to be easy.  And they are going to get quite used to my face, voice, and the “ping!” of my emails…

Gearing up for Middle School

A new Landaff teacher in the 1940s watches as ...I met with The Boy’s special education teacher yesterday, who had just been handed his “file” a few hours previous to the meeting, and the county autism specialist who has 16 schools-worth of students on her caseload.  There are two special ed teachers at his school, and I had been told that The Boy would probably be assigned to the other, and he indeed had until a few hours before the meeting.  I can’t say exactly why, but after looking at their info on the school website, I was secretly pleased about the last minute switch.  Needless to say she hadn’t had any time to review his file, and come to find out, it didn’t have the copy of the IEP and testing that I had sent to the county autism specialist in it anyway…

So we talked about The Boy, about his strengths and areas of struggle, about what motivates him and what sets him off.  We talked about the similarities between the programs in our new state and our previous state, and the types of accommodations that could be made for him within his school day.  We talked about for which subjects inclusion was going to work, and for which he would need to be pulled out to the resource room.  We talked about computers, band, and lunch…

The autism consultant seemed overconfident, and the special ed teacher seemed overwhelmed (she was missing a portion of her own teachers’ meeting to meet with me), but both seemed receptive and open.

And I am, too.

I know that our new state’s education system ranks perilously near the bottom.  I knew that walking in. And when I pulled out the work samples I had brought with me, they asked, “Are there rubrics on all of these?  We don’t use those here.  Do they help him?”  I almost stumbled over my bottom lip, and I hope my incredulity didn’t show on my face as much as I felt it inside.  You see, I was taught from about day one in ED101 how to develop rubrics for every assignment, a way to clearly communicate your expectations for students.  And that was 20 years ago.  This county (and I’m assuming state) doesn’t even use them, probably hasn’t ever been trained in them, and it was a sucker-punch reminder that we are in one of those states, the ones with piss-poor funding and even crappier respect for its teachers, those teachers who haven’t gotten a raise in six years and are prit-near the bottom of the list when it comes to teacher pay, too…

But I also know that all the research says that the teacher has the most influence on how well a student does in school.  And in my son’s case, that will be his special ed teacher, making sure his accommodations are in place, remediating when necessary, building that long-term relationship and trust.  In this meeting, I witnessed how far behind this state is, but I also witnessed how willing his teacher is to be his everything while still pushing him as far as he can go.  I know that, between the two of us, he’s going to be OK, and that’s a relief.

IEPs, and Moving Trucks, and Appointments, Oh My!

Tomorrow, The Boy’s IEP team meets.  I am extremely lucky to have teachers that get him, and fight for what he truly needs, and a school system that allows us to make the best decisions for him that are not based on the almighty dollar.  I know many districts are not like that (ahemsome rather intimately…), and I know this isn’t the typical IEP experience.  I’m a little nervous about this being the last IEP meeting where I do not have to fight tooth and nail for my son.

kid to do list, list, Be happy and go home

kid to do list, Carissa GoodNCrazy

I also have to make arrangements and get things done — no rest for the wicked on this day.  Securing a rental truck for our big move, speaking to our wedding officiant, doing paperwork for The Boy’s summer day camp… The list goes on and on.

And finally, thanks to our super-accomodating pediatric office (*sarcasm*), I have to pull The Boy out of school at the end of the day, causing him to have to miss Kids Club for his physical appointment.  We’ve prepped him (both at home and at school – I LOVE his teacher!), and he should be OK, but you just never know.  I’ve built in a few treats after the appointment (a trip to Target, and dinner at his favorite restaurant) so that he has “good stuff” to look forward to and get him through.

And so… When I am busy like this, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but I’m actually doing OK.  I enjoy having a list of things to do, and especially relish the crossing-off of the things on the to-do list.  I feel like every “check!” is bringing us closer to family, summer, and the beginning of something beautiful.