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?

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Executive Functioning Skills Don’t Grow on Trees

Yesterday, the band director’s text alert system let me know that the permission slip for the upcoming band competition was coming home today, as well as something about a spring trip to Washington DC (…yikes…). When The Boy came home, I searched his backpack. Nothing. I replied to the band director’s text – “Could you email it to me?” he said he could.

Last week, the science teacher, from the same text alert system, let me know that progress reports were coming home. Looked in the backpack. Nothing.

And you know that there is still math work floating around in that thing, but I have been told that it is not homework, and that it will be worked on in school, so I don’t touch it.

And there goes last week’s reading log floating by…

_Oh, look, Honey, there's an executive functioning skill tree! Let's pick up some organization, working memory, and focus on the way home!This type of lack of organization has to do with executive functioning skills, often a deficit for kiddos on the spectrum, and many with ADHD. Without assistance and support, and regular lessons and routines to help them get their stuff together, they continue to not bring things home-bring the wrong things home-not turn stuff in.

Considering that The Boy is not verbal about school either, this becomes a real issue. Like when I find out about a band concert two nights before (do his pants even fit??). So, I kinda need to know about any kind of trip that is leaving the state.

Before his program was annihilated, he had an opportunity at the beginning and end of the day to check in with his ASD teacher to make sure he had what he needed, and turn in anything. It is evident that that support has not been replaced.

And I kinda need the staff to do something about this. Yesterday.

I Can’t Fix This

“He must have neglected to turn it in.”

This is what The Boy’s language arts special education teacher told me when I let her know I had sent in the reading log for last week. She also said she doesn’t like to go into his backpack because it would be invading his privacy.

While I understand the sentiment, it smacks of ineptitude. That would be like a physical therapist ignoring your issue with your elbow because they didn’t want to ask you to expose it.

She went on to say that he is not completing work in class, which is an IEP goal, because he is spending too much time drawing. His TA (yes, his TA) came up with an incentive program for this, but the teacher claims that because the TA isn’t in her room for her classes, The Boy does not want to participate. And it’s hard because she’s got all the other kids in there.

Well, I’m sorry. Darn it, life is hard, and sometimes you just have to do your job. You can hope and wish and pray that your student with autism will suddenly find his missing executive functioning skills under a desk in the corner, but most people work on them instead. Because that’s what they get paid to do, and that’s what they’re in it for.

Could I call another IEP meeting? Sure. Would it do any good? I think you can cure this as much as you can cure autism itself. I think this is a response email, possibly cc’d to the TA who is the only freaking one at the school with a clue, and maybe we can muddle through the rest of 8th grade.

I hate that my son’s education has come to this. But there are only so many times you can bang your head against a wall. This particular issue is the teacher’s and not The Boy’s. And it’s not my job to fix it.

BANG HEAD HERE

My Valentine to Those Who Get It

I’m so grateful for staff who get it.

Let’s face it. People don’t go into special education for the money. Whether a teacher, a TA, even a special education administrator… they all go into it for the right reasons. At least I hope so, and intuition and experience tell me this must be true. But just like any profession, there are those who are just naturally meant to do it, and there are those who lack some skills and somehow never pick them up.

As a parent of someone with an IEP, I’ve encountered all kinds of educators, and luckily almost all of them had their hearts in the right place. That I can work with. And I’ve learned to work with those who call in a panic because they don’t know what to do, or those who call because my son has a temperature… of 99 degrees. Or those who send me multiple emails, giving me the play-by-play of the meltdown they are trying to handle at school, all with the undertone of please-come-pick-him-up…

My Valentine to Those Who Get ItBut I am especially grateful for those that just do it, as if they were put on this planet for that express purpose. They do it with compassion and insight, with fortitude and humor. The one who, in the midst of a less than stellar day, emails me to let me know that even then, she notices improvement. The one who, after a string of days of heartbreaking behavior, simply says, “Tomorrow will be a better day,” and I know she believes it. The one who always texts me after the meltdown to let me know it’s all ok.

This is my valentine to you folks. The ones who make me a better parent, and make my child a better human being for having been cared for by you. Words cannot express how much I love you all. Keep on rockin’ your natural talents and making the Earth a better place to live. ❤

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.”

No News Isn’t Necessarily Good News

Communication from the school regarding The Boy has dwindled down to virtually nothing.  And I learned the hard way when The Boy was first in preschool that assuming that no news is good news is never a good idea.

He started preschool at his home school in January after being kicked out of his speech-based preschool run by the hospital. In March, his dad and I went to teacher conferences and asked about kindergarten. The teacher laughed and said, “Oh he won’t be ready for kindergarten next year! We’re going to recommend he do another year of preschool.” She waited 3 months to tell us she didn’t think he’d be ready. We went home and started looking for a house in a district with better schools and a better reputation for kids with autism.

Question Mark Graffiti by Bilal KamoonAnd now, everyone from his school has gone dark… Maybe I’m gaining a reputation for being “that mom” and they don’t want to poke the bear. I don’t know. I do know that the district is depending on a TA with three other children on her load to act as my son’s primary special education teacher. The teacher who teaches his special education math and language arts classes was out for a week last week, but tends to freak out about things that aren’t very freak-out worthy. I’m supposed to get an IEP progress report with his report card, and haven’t yet received one although I’ve had the report card for over a week.  His classroom teachers don’t often communicate directly with home, and expect parents to “look online” for assignments, tests, grades, everything. That makes their job easier, and mine infinitely harder (which assignments have been modified, are the due dates and number of questions the same for my kid, or not?). Two of his teachers have started a texting thing, where they will send out mass texts about upcoming quizzes and tests – great! Except the last text I got was on a Sunday, saying there was a test the next day… I was signing his agenda every night, and that is also supposed to be where assignments are written, but it’s pretty blank now, so I haven’t been checking or signing it.

They’ve taken him out of a social skills class (that’s in his IEP), and put him with his TA for an hour at the end of the day. They still call it “Social Skills” but the teacher is listed as his TA (is that even legal? I asked the principal in my last email and she didn’t respond to that question), and from what I can tell there are no other kids in it. They work on getting homework done. I don’t know if the class he left remains, or if they reassigned that teacher. She also used to teach him math, but they took him out of her class for that, as well (and she was a good one).

I’d love to sit down with The Boy’s TA over coffee and just have a heart to heart with her. Let her know that I believe she is the only thing keeping my kid afloat over there. Let her know that it’s not fair for the district to use her like they are. And let her know that she doesn’t have to try to solve everything herself. I think she’s trying to keep me from worrying.

But the lack of communication is making me nervous. Time to investigate, I guess.

I Must Have Jinxed It

Everyone knows that when things are going well, you jinx it by actually stating how well things are going, right? Remember when I posted about how hopeful I was for 8th grade?

Now I’m nervous.

Went to back to school night last week and found out the teacher I left work to meet with the previous week, who would kind of replace his ASD teacher who was leaving the school would in fact NOT be teaching him anything.  He also didn’t have art on his schedule, and no one knew who his homeroom teacher would be.

You think kids with autism have a hard time with change, we autism moms have a hard time, too.

Yuck.

Monday, The Boy started the school year, and for the first time since he started school in kindergarten, I felt like I didn’t have a teacher to contact who would know what was going on with him.  No one who really had a good idea of the whole package – his IEP requirements, what classes he should have, triggers, calming techniques, how his overall day went… everything.  He seems to have a couple of teachers who have a partial picture, and that doesn’t sit well with me.

When he came home, I asked him if he had art, which was supposed to have been added back to his schedule.  He said no. And now I’m asking myself, “Is the second day of school too soon to go into That Mom mode?”

There’s so much going on right now, I’ll probably just wait and see before I panic. I sure hope I’m wrong.