Posts tagged ‘IEP’

Perspective is everything

     It’s been several years now, but I still vividly remember the last interaction I had with C’s principal at his Montessori Kindergarten. “It doesn’t matter where you go,” he said to me. “He won’t qualify for an IEP anywhere. He’s too smart.”

     That conversation took place the last day C attended his school, a mere three months into the year. I still fantasize about sending this principal the very full IEP C has had since then, coupled with his report cards (all of which show him at or above grade level in every subject). Being smart – or being on grade level – doesn’t automatically disqualify a child from having an IEP. How is it that I, the parent, knew it, but every single professional at that school didn’t? 

     As recently as last spring, I began to think about the day C would no longer need an IEP. Could he finally graduate from special education? I know he’ll always be his quirky self, but is it possible he will some day no longer need services? Then C started at his new school, in his small classroom, with his very observant teacher and a special education teacher who really gets it. And for the first time in years, we had an IEP meeting that was hard for me to sit through.

     It wasn’t all about how great C is doing. This school wants to increase C’s services, and increase them dramatically. While there were the usual wonderful comments about how bright and delightful C is, it was paired with comments that cut to the bone.

     “C is being unfair at recess. He’s cheating at tag, and the kids don’t like it.”

     “C got S in trouble when he told the teacher S had hit him when he hadn’t.”

     “We can’t let him get away with things anymore just because he’s cute.”    

     Ouch, ouch, and more ouch. It was a sleepless night for me. I was frustrated and angry, despite knowing what they said was absolutely true. I knew I was being completely defensive – I knew it, because none of this was a surprise to me. C does cheat because he hates to lose. He doesn’t seem to notice how much it irritates other kids when he does that. And S has said mean things to him since day one at his new school, and he’s a little obsessed with S now. Saying he’d been hit was probably C’s way of lashing out at S. And darn it all if C’s dimples can disarm me to the point of distraction when I am trying to redirect, give consequences, or otherwise discipline bad behavior. Let’s face it, the kid is beyond cute by any standards, and it has probably gotten him out of various situations over the years.

     But what was beneath it all was what disturbed me the most. Yes, C is doing well, he’s delightful, and he’s made astounding progress. That is always clear. What I realized, however, is that his particular struggles haven’t really disappeared as much as I thought they had. C’s challenges are simply more noticeable now because he’s in a smaller class. It’s probably not that C has been so steadily improving that his old school wanted to cut his services – it’s more likely that they just didn’t notice how much he needed them.

October 20, 2010 at 6:36 am 8 comments

It’s done

     After a mere two weeks and one day, we pulled C from his school. We had been contemplating it since he started at this school last year, but we were pleasantly surprised when he had a pretty good year in third grade. We knew things would change as he went along, and we expected that around sixth grade, his school situation would likely have to change. Sadly, we only made it to fourth.

     Even more sad is that we are pulling him mostly because of what goes on during a mere 35 minutes of his day. 35 minutes in which the public school system (yes the “system” –  I don’t for one minute think this problem is unique to C’s school) has completely and utterly failed this child.

     It all started with lunch. I walked in only to see him sitting all alone at a table for 20 while every other table was completely full. C’s sometimes utter aloneness in a sea of children is often too much for me to bear. Part of his IEP includes having an adult help facilitate conversations between C and other children during situations like these. He wasn’t alone because he wanted to be; he was alone because it didn’t occur to him to ask someone to join him. Then to hear C chastised by an adult for not inviting someone to sit with him, well, that was about the end of the rope for me. I figured if the people working with him don’t get it by now, perhaps they never will, and I’m not about to wait around to find out. 

     Then it got worse. Far worse. He went out for recess, and with 130 kids on the playground and two aides, what I didn’t expect to happen this soon almost did. I saw it all from afar as I sat in the parking lot watching, tears streaming down my face. I watched C crying and arguing because he got called “out” of a kickball game I don’t think he was even being included in to begin with. Before I knew it, he was surrounded by several very large kids who were yelling at him and threatening him. He was, in my opinion, within seconds of getting punched in the face by a kid so big I thought he was an adult. Thankfully the situation defused itself, but not before it all happened a second time.

     There was no adult within 100 yards of C, and certainly no one was watching him. I know this because I was watching them not watching him. Oh, I understand there are a lot of kids to watch out there, but he is one that they are supposed to be keeping a special eye on simply because he is so incredibly vulnerable, and his social skills – in an unfacilitated situation such as this one – are so undeveloped. 

     The near violence at recess was the push off the edge that convinced me his experience at this school was over. Upon later discussion with C, it became clear he didn’t even realize how dangerous the situation was – which shows me he’s even more vulnerable than I thought.

     So he’s set to start a new school on Tuesday, one where we don’t expect perfection, but one that seems to not only celebrate kids in all their forms, but also seems to teach the kids to celebrate other kids in all their forms. It is with heavy heart that we leave a teacher we loved and the traditional public school system – which we have believed in so strongly for so long. It makes me sad that the public school system in general seems to have such a difficult time helping the very children who perhaps need it the most.

August 30, 2010 at 6:19 am 10 comments

It’s a love-hate thing

     Today is the first day of school. I’ve been waiting for it since school adjourned two months ago. Not only is there not much to do around here in the summer – it’s too hot for anything but swimming, which we do daily – but for an only child with few friends, summer is long for both him and me.

     Yet this morning, I woke early – as I always do on the first day of school – filled with low-grade anxiety about the upcoming year. Every year I think it will get easier, and every year I am wrong. There are so many things to worry about, and I can worry with the best. My concerns are admittedly sometimes unfounded, but most of the time there’s a ring of reality and truth to them.

     This year, for the first time, I am worried about academics. Hyperlexic children tend to start struggling academically around this fourth grade year, and I saw glimmers of that struggle at the end of third grade. Word problems become more complex, reading becomes more of a subjective experience as plots thicken and subtleties in text become lost to the child, and writing is expected to be far more sophisticated.

     But there’s more, there’s always more. The academic issues don’t create the knot in my stomach the way the other things do. Things like having 31 kids in C’s class, none of whom are, at first glance, part of C’s small support system. Then there’s the fact that he really doesn’t want to go to school any longer; the excitement of school in general seems to have worn off, and we have many years left to go. Finally, there’s this little thing about social skills.

     Oh, how I have grown to hate those two little words. Long fuming at the school district for putting my kid in a “friendship skills” class when the little tyrants who are so mean to him are not, I wonder what he’s really learning about social skills at school. Given that C’s two best friends are a frienemy – who is as mean to him as often as he is nice – and another child with Asperger’s, I hardly think he’s picking up much in the way of useful social skills. Neither boy is a particularly good role model for C, but friends they are, and friends he needs.

     Sometimes I think if I had a brain cell left in my head I’d yank him right out of the public system and homeschool him. However, his isolation would then become more problematic as opportunities to interact with other children would grow less and less. He craves social interaction like I crave chocolate, and I imagine by the end of a school day at home both he and I might run screaming into the woods.

     So off I go again, exploring alternatives: online schools, charter schools, and private schools, in the search for the place that best suits him. And my biggest worry on this day is that I will never, ever find that place for him.

August 9, 2010 at 11:45 am 12 comments

State of mind

     I always feel somewhat melancholy this time of year; the school year is drawing to a close, and it feels like something important is ending. This year, something important probably is ending as it looks like we may move over the summer. We’ve been here for three years – just about as long as we’ve been anywhere since C was born.

     There are many things I don’t like about this place we now call home. Class sizes are shooting up to 31 next year, the summers are beyond hot, and our state has just passed a new law that frustrates me to the core. Yet there’s also many things to love – grandparents that are 15 minutes away, an elementary school that has been nothing short of wonderful for C, and C’s friends. Yes, I did say “friends.”

     For the first time in his life, C actually has a few friends. Whether it’s due to changes in him or just the luck of the draw with kids in his class, I’m not sure. But he seems to have eased into himself this year, and to leave behind the place that brought it out in him seems somewhat counterintuitive. Part of me wonders if we just stuck it out here, he would settle into himself even more. The kids know him better, and while there are still issues with a few children that grow in severity with each passing year, for the most part, I think C has found his place with the other children. Will that happen quickly in a new town, or will it take another three years for him to figure out where he fits? It’s hard to say.

     Last year, when C was preparing to make the challenging move from lower elementary to upper elementary school, we discussed a myriad of options including having him repeat second grade. As we all sat around at C’s IEP meeting last Spring discussing the upcoming change that seemed so potentially traumatic, the lower el principal said something to me that I still remember. She said, “Have faith in your child.”

     This principal knew something the rest of us did not. She knew – despite all our concerns about a new school that required much independence of the children, a new school that did not seem as welcoming to parents’ constant presence on campus, and a new school that seemed far less nurturing than the one where C was – it was not about all of that. It was about C. Madame Principal felt that whatever it was, C was prepared to handle it. And sure enough, she was right.

May 25, 2010 at 2:07 pm 7 comments

The core of the matter

     There are always memorable comments made at C’s IEP meetings; comments that stick in my head for one reason or another. Usually, it’s because someone on his team has so beautifully captured something about him, and I hold the thought close to figure out what to do with it later. Long past the point of leaving an IEP meeting feeling as though my heart has been ripped from my chest and stomped on, I now feel as though the members of C’s team so closely grasp both his strengths and challenges that I find myself inspired to soldier on in shepherding this amazing child.  

     At C’s most recent IEP meeting it was the statement that C “has no core group of close friends” that stuck with me afterward. Friendly with most everyone, C seems to remain the friendliest kid in the world without any real friends. He’s definitely doing better – he has settled down and the kids seem to accept him more. Yet he continues to be, at his very center, alone. It struck me that this really is the crux of the issue for C. We can work around his handwriting challenges, and we’ll continue to address reading comprehension as the work becomes more difficult. It remains, however, that what none of us can seem to help him grasp is the very thing he needs the most.

May 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm 10 comments

A light at the end of the tunnel

     In the midst of preparing for C’s upcoming IEP meeting, I’ve quite suddenly realized that the end may be in sight. Since his first IEPs, which were all about his challenges, to his later ones, which seem to be mostly about his strengths, I’ve hoped for C’s graduation from special education. When we first started down this IEP/IFSP road at 9 months, we anticipated C would enter kindergarten without his IEP tagging along. That was back in the day when we hadn’t really quite figured out he had a real diagnosis other than prematurity. Yet kindergarten came and went, with many struggles along the way to indicate the necessity of future special education interventions. 

     Now I’m having conversations with his team about ways we can keep his IEP for the next couple of years while we wait to see what happens in C’s progression. We’re talking as if it’s a given that he will be IEP-less by 5th or 6th grade. It’s the first time we’ve had a potentially realistic end to his involvement with special education. Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, it’s an indicator for how well C is doing. The child is astounding. It’s a time for kudos for all of us on C’s team, past and present, who have helped him become the amazing little dude he is.

     At the same time, I know hyperlexia generally includes some academic downfall at some point during the school years, and while we’re seeing bits and pieces of that in terms of reading comprehension, I’m not sure how big or how bad it will get. My sense is that he will struggle as schoolwork becomes more complicated and they move on to more subjective work. As evidenced by the writing section on his most recent standardized testing, where they were asked to write about why the early people didn’t know much about what was in the sky (which was the subject of the previous questions on the test), C summed it all up in just two, brief sentences at the very top of the entire blank page. “The early people didn’t know much. They didn’t have books then.”

     As is usual in C fashion, he hit the nail on the head. it’s hard to argue with his logic. Unfortunately, it was the right nail, wrong head – for standardized testing, at least. We’ve been down this road before with C’s grouping of an apple and a banana together not because they are fruit, but rather because “red and yellow make orange.” Now who can argue with that?

     So as we come to this “Y” in the road, I’m cautiously encouraged. And I’m hoping that someone out there in C’s future academic experience will look at him as a delicious challenge of interesting proportions – someone who can appreciate and capitalize on the inherent truth that red and yellow do in fact make orange.

May 13, 2009 at 10:05 am 4 comments

A word on IEPs

     It is that dastardly time of year that so many of us dread. No, not Halloween, but IEP time. The “Individualized Education Plan,” code for “special education action plan,” is enough to bring trembling to any parent’s steady hands. It has all kinds of categories, goals, percentages, test scores, etc. It’s a picture on paper of what your child supposedly is. And people spend hours and hours writing them. I know our special education teacher did; she is enthusiastic and capable, and really wants to do a good job. I love that about her.

     But it’s not important. It doesn’t matter what is written in the IEP. Well, it does when there is a problem. When something is not happening, you need to have the IEP so you can say, “Look, here is what’s supposed to be happening and it is NOT.” It is important when you find yourself in a disaster situation with a school that does not get or does not know how to deal with your child. But even then I do not find an IEP all that helpful. We have been in that disaster situation (I keep calling it the “Great Montessori Experiment,” although “great” means “NOT great, but really, really terrible”), and the IEP did nothing for us. It does not matter what is written in that document if the people on the team are not capable of carrying out those goals. Ultimately we questioned if, IEP or no IEP, we really wanted those people being responsible for our child. The answer was no, which is how we ended up here, at our new school home.

     So here we are, in our second year in this new school, and we had our yearly IEP meeting this morning. A group of people, including the principal, sitting around talking about C for an hour. It is a great thing, really; ideas flying around, suggestions made, handwriting studied. And somehow, I walked out of there and found myself the newest Cub Scout Den Leader, but I’m still not sure exactly how that happened. These are highly skilled people.

     What I have found, over the years, is that it is about the people around the table, not the document on the table. It is about a group of people who are not only excited about my child, but take ownership of what he does in school. It is about caring how he does, wanting to do right by him, and cutting or adding services based on what he needs, not on what the budget needs. Perhaps I am seeing things through rose-colored glasses, but I always walk into the room at this new school feeling like these people are on C’s side. Not my side, not their side, but C’s side. And that’s where we all should be.

September 9, 2008 at 5:50 am 7 comments

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