Band Plan

I met last week with the high school band director who had attempted to tell me that he didn’t think marching band was a good idea for The Boy, based on the experiences of a boy on the spectrum that had been in it last year. By the way, that boy is a friend of ours and busted his behind for that group, and found it very difficult to make friends in this marching band, but I digress… The high school special education teacher was there too, and I’m so glad she facilitated. She looks like she will be a rockstar for The Boy, and unfortunately, he needs a strong advocate in his own school system.

Shockingly, the band director had changed his tune a bit, although he did point out that the middle school band director also thought marching band would not be a good idea for The Boy, either. “But I’m not closing the door…” he said. Kinda hard when my foot is wedged in it, huh?

IMG_5331I had come prepared with a list of applicable laws, just in case, and a list of modifications and alternatives. Turns out, I didn’t need the laws (since he wasn’t “closing the door”), and when I suggested the first alternative, they both seemed receptive. After hashing out some details, we devised a plan: The Boy will play at Friday night football games only, and will play his sousaphone in the “pit” section, which is where the semi-stationary percussion instruments like xylophones and timpani are. This will allow him to participate without having to learn the “drill” (complicated moves), and without having to rehearse after school every day. He will be in the marching band class, but if they are not rehearsing music, the band director may send The Boy to English with the special education teacher, where he can work on any homework he may have, or get a second “dose” of a subject in which he has deficits.

And he will be in concert band in the spring, regardless of whether or not there is a second, “lower” band.

So, we have successfully shoved that damned door wide open, and created a place for my kid in their program. See how much can be accomplished with open minds at the table?

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Ask Them to Put It In Writing

Our local chapter of the Autism Society has a regular monthly “Friends and Fun” party at the rec center of a local church where kiddos on the spectrum and their siblings can come and celebrate their birthdays with other kiddos in a non-judgmental setting. We set up some games like Twister, and there are ping pong tables, and then there are also some more structured games, but no one is forced to play, only encouraged. There are snacks, cupcakes, balloons, and even presents for the birthday kids. For kiddos who attend and are not celebrating a birthday, it’s a chance to get some social interaction on their own terms.

It’s also an opportunity for autism parents to meet and vent about issues their having, seek comfort from those who understand, and even advice. This past weekend, I struck up a conversation with a mom who I have come to respect because of her knowledge of special education law, and her commiseration with the state of our school district when it comes to autism awareness. Over the past couple of months, I have been sharing with her what I’ve found out about the transition to high school, and she is eager to hear because her son is about two years behind The Boy.

I told her that it seems like we have two choices, and that the IEP will not be the driving force behind The Boy’s education, as it should be. I told her that I’m not sure how far I would get fighting the system as it is without involving lawyers and spending money I don’t have.

She shared a tip that worked for her, and I thought I would share it with you, as well.

When her son transitioned from primary to elementary school, they attempted to put him in the resource room for the entire day, even though he had had success at the primary school with the proper supports. She knew he could handle general ed classes with continued support and that the school was making this decision based on staffing. She simply told them to put their rationale for their decision in writing. Quickly, the school changed their tune, and her son was placed in general ed classes with supports.

Why?

Because when they put something in writing, they have to be able to defend it legally and they couldn’t. This tip is brilliant. It may not work as well for big issues, but for the smaller ones, it most definitely will, especially when you are dealing with personnel who are not all that familiar with the law, but know enough that putting things in writing could potentially come back to bite them in the ass.

Add this tip to your bag of tricks and pass it on. It’s simple, but potentially powerful.

ed law 101

Presumption of Competence

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned since moving my son to another school, another school district, another state has been that one should never presume competence with anyone who deals with your child.

 Unfortunately, classroom teachers know very little about IEPs and special education law.  It just isn’t required of them in teacher prep programming, and if it is, there’s very little of substance that is taught. Many times, when a teacher is in your child’s IEP meeting, they are following the lead of the special education teacher and the administrators. If they do any modifying of assignments, or make any accommodations for your child, it’s usually under the direction of a special education teacher (and many don’t do it at all, and leave this entirely to the special education teachers and even the TAs). This is not the case with all general education classroom teachers by any means, but if you presume competence about special education matters, you will most likely be unhappily surprised.

The same can be said of administrators. Those that know about special education law are in a shocking minority. I worked for and received a degree in school administration, and only a portion of our one law class covered special education law. Administrators rely heavily on their special education teachers to know the law, as well.

Why is this important? When you head into that IEP room, you are relying on the expertise of one person, your child’s special education teacher, to ensure that what is happening that day is legal, and that you’re child’s rights are being met. And if that person isn’t quite up to snuff? Then what?

It is imperative that you learn about what should be happening in that IEP meeting, in your child’s classrooms, in that whole district. Get your hands on anything from Wrightslaw and read it until you know it. Otherwise, your IEP meeting could be “run” by and administrator who wants to reduce your child’s social skills time, and have the TA take him out into the school to practice unlearned skills because that’s what she thinks should happen. (true story…)

With the proper knowledge behind you, you can respond, “But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”