IEPs and Trust

It’s IEP season again, and we have our appointment set.  We’ve also had a curious email from The Boy’s program teacher.  She was excited to tell me that they were going to offer science and social studies in a special ed classroom next year, as well as math and language arts, which The Boy already has.  He would be with students who are “academically equivalent” to him, but in classes taught by resource teachers. He would still have access to her social skills class and his elective classes.

IEP documentationConsidering the goal of special education is to place students in the least restrictive environment, and considering he would lose virtually all access to his neurotypical peers, I politely pointed out that I did not think this would be an appropriate placement for The Boy.  His program teacher cautioned me not to make any decisions just yet, because she felt this would be a good placement for him “due to his academics”.  Curious, because The Boy has gotten all A’s and B’s this year. I told her I wouldn’t rule it out, but at this time, I didn’t think it would work for him.

I added a post-script, and asked if she thought the pilot program in which The Boy participates in the Middle School would extend to the high school, to which she replied that she didn’t think so.

Fast-forward to a few days ago, when I heard from a friend whose son is in the program, as well.  She said she heard they may not continue the program at all, as in not even for next year’s 8th graders… And the tumbler clicks into place.

Even though I trust this person with my child each day, I cannot take her suggestions to heart because I fear she has been directed to encourage me to accept this put-all-the-kids-in-resource-room plan so that they can both comply with IEPs and discontinue the program. Once we change the IEP to say he needs to be in resource, they no longer have to fund a paraprofessional to be with him in his general ed classes. It’s not what’s best for the kids, but what’s best for the school district.

Silly school district! They continue to underestimate me, because I know the law, and I know my son’s rights.  They are going to have to have data to back up that he is “academically lacking” in his general ed classes to show that he needs so much more support as to be placed in a self-contained classroom, and removed from the general ed curriculum.  And they don’t have it.

Let the games begin.

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…

Peace of Mind

peacefulOne of the things that I have been most nervous about the move, OK, more like THE ONE THING that has given me a good bit of anxiety is the program for The Boy in the state/county/school where we will be.  You just never know what you are walking into, even with a diagnosis and an IEP in hand.  You may remember that I had spoken with someone who worked in a county a good bit away from where we were who said they didn’t have a resource room to speak of, and didn’t have any aides in the rooms with the kids.  Considering that The Boy spends a good amount in his resource room, I got a bit panicky about what I was going to be subjecting him to.

I had put out some feelers through some contacts with the state Autism Society, and hadn’t really been able to connect with anyone, until this weekend.  I finally got in contact with some parents who run the local chapter, and was able to speak on the phone with one lady who was able to give me some insight, at least into her experience.  She had also moved into the area a year and a half ago, and has a son that is very close in age to The Boy.  She was able to allay my fears a bit, and let me know about how much their little chapter has been accomplishing.  Not only was I relieved, but I also began to get a little excited.  Here is a group that is actually making positive change in the community for kids on the spectrum, and providing opportunities, and even a summer day camp!  YES!  Exactly what I was hoping for.

Not to mention that this group is a way for us to meet people like us, which will be one of the most difficult parts of the transition for both The Boy and I, making new friends.  I often complain about talking to people on the phone, but this time, I am sooo glad I did.

Full Inclusion = Extreme School

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For the life of me, I cannot figure out why educators insist on sameness.

We spend most of a child’s formative years insisting to them that they are special, they are unique, they are individuals with a right to their own ways of being.  And then they go to school…

They go to school and learn to become like everyone else, learning the same things, at the same pace, regardless of where their interests, talents, and abilities lie.  Every student must take algebra, every student must take foreign language, every student will be proficient in x, y, and z.

I’m not sure when the trend toward standardization began in schools, although I have a feeling it’s been there since the beginning, because it’s easier and cheaper than individualizing instruction.  The inherent problem with this is that kids are people, and there are no two people who are exactly the same.  Therefore, everyone has special needs.  I need a map if you are giving me directions, otherwise I will get hopelessly lost.  The Man learns by doing – you can give him all the instructions you want, but he needs to play Euchre before he can actually learn all the rules.  The Boy needs breaks and incentives throughout his day to get his work done.  And he needs alone time with an electronic device to decompress.

So why the soapbox post today?

Recently, I have heard some teachers in full-inclusion situations say things like, “They do just fine, until they don’t,” or “He’s on those video games as soon as he gets into the car after school.  I wish his mom wouldn’t use them as a crutch, a babysitter.”  In the full-inclusion world, any kid that visits the resource room more than 45 minutes a week is “severe”.

Think about some part of your daily work that requires all of your concentration and effort.  Now think about doing that task for six hours a day.

My kid with autism works so hard at being like the other kids in the classroom, and he has made great strides.  There are still times where he escapes, lashes out, or just isn’t absorbing much, but he is working really hard.  His ASD classroom provides a space for him to just be without the trappings of societal expectations.  Does that mean the learning stops?  NO, in fact, more learning goes on in that room because he doesn’t have to try to be someone he isn’t.  In the ASD room (some may call it a resource room), they have the ability to slow down, speed up, back up, and stop if necessary, providing those little pit stops on the way to encourage the work being done.  My kid with autism has thrived with this IEP recipe.

And maybe that kid with autism who is on the video games in the car is seeking respite from working his butt off in your classroom all day long.  Maybe his mom lets him have that time to be himself because that’s what’s best for him.

Is full inclusion bad?  No.  Of course there are kids who will thrive in that set-up!  We want our kids to have full access to the curriculum and the right to full inclusion if that’s what’s best.  But I’m not sure why it has to be all or nothing for every kid — It’s pretty rare when “all or nothing” is a good idea in education.