Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 1

Hello, Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

It’s April 22, which means it’s almost May.  May means IEP reviews and 504 Plan reviews.  (For this series, IEP will also mean 504 Plan since 504 plans meet the same academic needs as IEP Plans.)  Whether you think your child’s IEP is fine as it is and can just take a rubber-stamp to keep things going well or you think your child’s current IEP stinks like yesterday’s fish wrappers, there are a few things to consider.

A.  Some students will be changing to bigger, more challenging schools – middle school, high school and may need help with the transition.  We will address this issue today.

B.  The sheer number of special education students in some districts can make it nearly impossible to review all IEPs in May.  However, many school districts will do it anyway and may use methods that violate your child’s and your family’s right to privacy under Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  That’s for tomorrow.

C.  What should be done to address academic failure?  Social promotion is NOT acceptable, and neither is retention.  So….what to do?

D.  Is your child one who needs success is something at school to prevent him or her from giving up altogether?  Is that something a non-academic activity such as sports or drama/theater which require grades better than your child can get with an inappropriate IEP?  Or just better grades?  There IS a way to use IEPs and 504 plans to make these activities available to special education students despite lower grades than required by The Almighty Rules.

The topic for today is that bumpy ride between two levels of academics–elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school.  At this point in life, the majority of students are making huge strides in personal development and learning school that make such large changes reasonable and necessary.  Is your child ready for such momentous changes?

1.  Is your child at the transition point between academic levels–moving from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school?  If so, arrange a conference with your child’s teachers before scheduling the IEP/504 Plan meeting.  Ask if teachers and/or staff see anything about your child, the effect your child’s disability has on his/her education, and your child’s maturity that should be taken into account on the IEP for the next academic level.  What should you be considering?

a.  Many children with disabilities lag behind their peers in social or personal development. Middle school students are beginning to socialize more away from home and the pressure to fit in somewhere becomes intense.  Students who can’t succeed socially are at risk for depression and ostracism – two main ingredients of Columbine and similar events.  Students who are not ready for the leap in greater academic demands are at risk for failure without prevention of failure or immediate remediation.

b.  Middle school brings a change of classroom along with change of subjects AND a change of teacher.  Some children may not really be quite ready for that many changes all at once in September.

c.  In high school, those changes are in place, but the academic intensity increases.  Homework demands soar.  The building is larger, and there will be lost children at first.

d.  Sports and clubs loom large in the social atmosphere and a teenager’s life can become a constant popularity contest if a teen doesn’t perceive his individual value outside that context.

There is an answer when we ask how we can help with this transition.  Summer school.  (Eyes rolling, sighs, OMG, someone says.)  Summer school is held with far fewer students, so hallways are not jammed, classes are small, almost intimate, and students have a chance to start school with new friends already in place.  They already know their way around the building, so they don’t get lost and panicked in crowds.  They already know some of the teachers.  They already know the cafeteria, its rules, its perks.  This is an item for the child’s IEP that will give a jumpstart to what could have been a rocky transition full of potential failure.

If your child does not handle change well,

If your child is somewhat or very socially immature,

If your child is directionally challenged even in a space the size of a lunch bag,

If your child has fears of the bigger, new environment that is coming,

If you think these aspects of your child may interfere with his or her ability to succeed academically during the Fall semester or the entire first year, then summer school is a very reasonable and needed accommodation to request for your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.

If your school denies summer school for reasons that have nothing to do with your child, such as

–we reserve it only for children who failed the academics this year;

–we aren’t babysitters for immature children, find a club for him/her;

–we don’t have the funding for it; or

–there’s a waiting list. . .

grab your local education advocates and make some school administrators realize your child truly NEEDS summer school as a foundation for academic success in the Fall.  You can find advocates at your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center/  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) http://www.copaa.net.

There are no excuses for denial of FAPE for a child with disabilities.  Legislators with pet projects in mind for campaign money donors have cut our education budgets to unreasonably low levels, but there is money to meet special education needs when the alternative is to fill out about a thousand pages of paperwork to respond to a legitimate formal complaint to OCR or to lose all special education funding in the district for refusal to serve.  Sometimes services are not provided just because parents don’t know how to insist or because administrators can deny them.  Summer school does cost money–plenty of it.  It’s a convenient item to cut from the budget if no one complains loud enough. None of these reasons to deny summer school is permissible.

Don’t feel guilty because your child’s education costs more and don’t let anyone make you or your child feel “inferior.”  Don’t let anyone dismiss your child’s needs by saying his/her costs take money away from others.  (Our legislators do that just fine, thank you.)  We don’t flip out OCR complaints every 90 days, only that one time that something absolutely critical was denied and there was no other path to peace.

Because we only get to live each day once and learning is the most important work anyone does for the first 18 years of life, it’s important to give each child appropriate support to achieve success.

 

 

Holiday Joy, Goodbye, Holiday Stress

Happy Holidays!  Sounds nice, but for those of us who have children who need routine and don’t handle change well, it’s a sentence to Whimper & Whine Purgatory.  STRESS!

When we think that our holidays will be like everyone else’s, we are inviting stress.  When we break a rigid child’s routine, we can’t expect joy–we can expect resistance and stress.  Parties are major non-routine items and if your family is a partying one, expect stress.  But don’t just cave in to expecting misery with stress.  Do something about it — get proactive for yourself and your family to predict where the problems will arise.  Prepare preventive measures or figure out a way to reduce the impact.  If stress is in the flow, you don’t have to go with it.

We are the families that live with different expectations.  We don’t expect great behavior from children unable to produce it spontaneously.  We still have to coach and remind and (sigh) timeout.  But we can’t overwhelm them with demands to be perfect when visitors are around and our visitors should have some coaching to know what to expect and what they could do to help things go smoothly.

Noise affects many neurologically-different children during these days of festivity.  So avoid the noise–stop briefly at a party, leave a gift, goodbye, and everyone is still in good humor.  I always knew the daily schedule of subjects at school, and we took time during our day to bring some “study” and reading from school into play.  We didn’t suffer as much in lost skills and we still had some of the school routine to balance the unease of several days of unscheduled time.  When a child is not yet overwhelmed but you’re seeing the signs, offer a choice of two ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed.  “It’s getting noisy in here.  Shall we go out in the yard for a while or shall we go for a little walk?”

The riotous moments of breaking a pinata can send the hyperactive child straight into “We can’t stop being excited.”  You know it’s going to happen, so don’t plan the punishment. Instead, let your child take a few swings at the beginning and then take him out of the room until the pinata has broken.  He will get excited again, but he won’t be skyrocketed out of control.

We know not to expect an autistic child to give instant hugs and kisses for grandparents who haven’t been here since last year.  We know the child in the wheelchair is used to the dimensions of the house, but it’s harder to navigate with several people around who don’t know how much space to give a turning wheelchair.  (Sorry Aunt Peggy’s shin, Sorry Uncle Frank’s toes…)  We know what the impulsive child who just learned about spitballs is going to do, and while we warn him, we also warn guests.

And we do NOT back down on consequences even if guests plead,”But it’s a holiday, Mom.”  We remind the guests, “With this child, consistency is critical.  No consequences today because of a Holiday will mean several days of Helliday afterward.  Impulsivity will demand he repeat the undesired behavior as many times as it takes to get us to give in–after all, we already gave in, so why shouldn’t he think it’s going to work out that way again?”  If there is further pleading for mercy for your child, you can mischievously ask, “If you want to support him, how about sharing in his consequences?”  Then deal with your child on the spot–no waiting for later.

Your children are special, more unique because of their disabilities.  There will be bright moments, happy times during holidays.  We just love our children as they are and try to smooth the way for them.  In defense of our parenting skills, if anyone disparages our child, just invite them to walk in your shoes or the child’s shoes for a while and then smile smugly.  “I will forgive that comment if you’ll forgive my child for not being what you think of as normal.  He didn’t choose it, you know.”

Now, what do you foresee as rough patches in the next few days?  How about sitting down with a couple of cookies and egg nog while you plan your potential escapes from stress?

By the way, cookies eaten while planning to avoid stress have NO CALORIES.

 

 

Freebie

i can cheerfully report that my broken shoulder has not prevented my computer use nor  my  blogging, though both are MUCH slower. Today
i want to direct parents of children with ADD/ADHD to Dr. Charles Parker’s website. He is giving away an article about how to get away from the inconsistent results of meds for ADD/ADHD. He’s a psychiatrist whose concerns extend from correct diagnosis to why we don’t give better evaluations of both patients and medications so the two can be more accurately matched and correct doses given on a correct schedule. Go to http://about.me/drcharlesparker and download Predictable Solutions For ADHD Meds. I hope it brings some good results to those of you who struggle with behavioral and attention issues.

(First posted in July, 2012; 6 typos edited & corrected on 9/20/2013)

The Long Haul

Today I read an article by Kym Grosso about her son who was asking if she wanted to “erase” his Asperger’s. I remembered a similar conversation with my own son who has an undetermined disability that affects him globally. His head shakes in a constant “no” and he can’t pick up his feet anymore. He struggles to walk and frequently falls even though he uses a walker. We had found an article in the newspaper about a 5 year old boy whose disability was very much like his at that age. I called the doctor from Kentucky who was managing the case through a treating doctor near us. She was definite–it certainly could be the same thing, or something similar, that was a metabolic disorder. If she could to discover this, perhaps a change in diet and supplements would be all he needs.

To this point, my son had only been treated by neurologists who had never mentioned a word about the possibility of metabolism disorders. Toxins created by metabolism disorders can poison the brain and cause a myriad of neurological symptoms–so why didn’t they mention that if they couldn’t solve the problems? We’ll never know, but I’m fairly certain it may involve time, which they don’t want to give useless cases…and profit, which they don’t get if they refer away.

The conversation yielded this. “Mom, I’ve never been normal and I don’t know how to live that way. It’s too scary. I can’t do that.” SHOCK! Why would anyone want to remain in his position? Because the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of what is known. “I know how to be the way I am, and it’s okay.”

Children with disabilities don’t know what it is to be “normal” in our sense of normal. The way they are is their normal. As parents, we have to get used to that. When we want to teach them to do things, we want to teach then OUR way. When they can’t do it our way, we chafe and itch to guide them in our path. If they can’t do it our way, we label them disabled.

But think now. What if we let them know what needs to be done and leave them to discover how they will do it?  We will get a competent result. Each child will find out how HE must do something or he will discover he needs help to do it. Our job then is to help build the assistive teamwork around that child so he can discover how he does everything everyone else does, right up to when he has to ask for help to get it done. When is the last time you built the car you drive? Point. A child who can’t write his own homework can become a competent dictator. A child who can’t iron can trade what he can do for what he needs.

So here’s the point. Get out of the driver’s seat of your child’s “car.” Let your child suffer failure and discover it doesn’t kill, that in fact, a little failure creates greater pride when success comes, greater strength and resilience come in, and your child will find he is more willing and able to tackle new tasks because he knows he can find success. That is the attitude that will lead him to greater independence for the rest of his life.

The point for us as parents is this–we have accepted our child for what he is and who he is…without trying to force him into our mold of “normal.”

If you’re hoping your child will develop independence as an adult, he MUST fail sometimes as a child. Help your child fail with support so he knows failure is an acceptable part of growing and learning. He’ll thank you for it someday.

New Soft Skills Training Help From Dept. of Labor

Dear Parents and Guardians,

When our children graduate from high school with a lot of special education assistance, many of them have not had the good fortune to be able to hold part time jobs in addition to schoolwork. This means that when they have to compete with students who have had work experience, they are lacking in some work skills that many employers consider crucial. Soft skills. As opposed to “hard skills”, such as keyboarding speed, experience with the Office Suite, some carpentry or plumbing skills, or some car mechanic knowledge, which would open doors for many people, soft skills are what everyone must have–how to listen to instructions and apply them accurately, ability to understand how what you do fits with what others do, teamwork, cooperation, communication, proper manners for the situation or setting, workplace manners, etc. People skills are soft skills.

The majority of us pick most of it up just by being alive with tips from others here and there. When disabilities interfere with social skills or socialization, these skills are slow to develop or the student may require specific instruction to learn them.

At last, the Department of Labor has recognized this need and has put together a program of activities to address it. If your child will need to start working after graduation this Spring or is already bouncing from job to job due to lack of these skills, this program may be just what is needed.

Here is the announcement from the Department of Labor:

The U.S. Department of Labor has released “Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success,” a collection of career development exercises and activities to help sharpen the communication and other “soft skills” of young workers, including those with disabilities. The curriculum covers communication, networking, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and professionalism. It was based on a survey of businesses to figure out the most important skills for young workers.

For more resources on youth employment visit http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/Resources.pdf.

This announcement does not say where we can get this collection, so I will drag that out of them for you. Watch for it in my next posting–tomorrow.

I wish your child happy lEARNING!

Casualties

Disabilities come in all flavors and sizes, enter our lives at different times of life, and always leave a bitter taste in our mouths.  There is little good anyone can find in any disability, especially if the disability is severe.  As parents we have to find ways to cope with our new understandings of life.

1.  That we are not as much in control as we thought.  We don’t control the boy/girl gender of our offspring, and that’s not just at birth.  it includes when they tell us they have gender identity disorder and want to transgender.

2.  Still no control when we find the strategies that work for others don’t work for us.  Every case is unique, so what works for others may bring us hope but it may not bring the success we hoped for.  Enter the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

3.  No control exists when our children discover they are not us and they start deciding things for themselves–and not the way we would have decided at all.  In fact, they’re self-destructing and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Sometimes all we can do is step back and let consequences teach what we could not.

4.  And less control when society steps in and offers its critique of our parenting skills, the quality of our work (the success or non-success of our child), and the perceived social value of the individual who has the disability.  Social critique is often worth the paper its written on, and don’t forget that.  No paper?  That’s exactly what I mean.  You do the work and something must result.  Society can praise or critique all it wants, but until it steps in and helps us, it doesn’t get the right to shred us if the results aren’t stellar.

It probably isn’t possible to measure the full impact of one individual’s disability.  It affects the individual and everyone who knows him.  When Office for Civil Rights says that bullying studies show 50% of the targets of bullying are people with disabilities, that’s a damning statement.  It’s not saying we eat our young, but it’s uncomfortably close to that.  We’re raising a generation that contains far too many members who feel it’s okay to demean and hurt others, and too many adults sit around and watch saying “Boys will be boys.”  Sorry folks, the last time I checked, being boys did not automatically include being bullies.  The best boys will not be bullies, and guess what–girls bully too.  Their bullying is more likely to be the mentally and emotionally abusive behavior.  If it’s your child people say is the bully, you are your child’s best hope for a better future if you don’t allow the child to dominate you, too.

What did that paragraph just say?  That disabilities present too tempting a target for bullies to ignore and that no bullying behavior is “normal” enough to ignore.  The remedy is control.  Our schools and our families must find ways to teach discipline to both the bullies and the victims, disabled or not.  If we engage that challenge, we may someday have control over something that today is raging out of control.

So there is your challenge.  If your child’s disability involves impulsivity and your child is aggressive enough to be considered a bully, your challenge is to teach your child different perceptions and strength of character so he or she doesn’t feel a need to behave in bullying ways.  If your child is being bullied, you need to find ways to boost self-esteem and social skills so bullies don’t think at first glance that here is a handy target, let’s go play with it.  Just in the way one walks, others can tell if we feel confident or not, and confidence radiates strength unattractive to bullies.

Our own future lies in how we teach our children to be themselves and how to be with others successfully.  Schools are developing anti-bullying measures, programs, etc.  But until we recognize bullying in all its forms, we can’t get rid of it.  I have an idea that the definition of bullying should include “any behavior that makes another feel intimidated, smaller, less valuable, or less capable.”  That would include both physical and verbal interactions.  Find what works, whether your child is the bully or the bullied, and at least two futures will be better due to your intervention.

Here are two resources for dealing with bullying.

PACER National Bullying Center  http://www.pacer.org/bullying

Anti-Bullying information collection  http://www.eyesonbullying.org/websites.html

Understanding and Using Cum Files – Attendance and Medication Administration

Hello, Parents!

When parents get their copy of the cumulative file for a child with disabilities, it is a pile of paper filled with words and phrases we don’t understand, forms that seem to mean nothing but we know they are important or they wouldn’t be there, etc.  And there are things we do understand–immunization records, attendance records, things we sent in ourselves.  But with a file that can grow to 4” or 5” thick by 3rd grade for some children, there’s a lot that needs explanations.  Or just some determined examination.  So what is all this?  This post will stick strictly to issues involving special education papers in your child’s cum.

Attendance:  If your child’s attendance is at issue, use your own calendar at home to double-check the school’s records.  At the end of the school year, districts count the days of absence and may tell parents the student has missed too many days of school and will not be promoted to the next grade.  

I’ve seen times where the student was an honor roll student and the form letter goes out anyway.  It’s a big mess, lots of yelling and howling, finger-pointing and all that.  In the end, a good student gets a common-sense over-ride and advances.

But what if your child is a borderline case, one day makes a difference, and you can prove your case that the school is wrong because your calendar says so?  Your calendar can win the day.

What about behavior problems in a district where principals or school staff are allowed to call parents and say, “Joey isn’t behaving appropriately today so we need you to come pick him up and take him home for the rest of the day.”  And it’s still morning.  It’s wrong, but it’s done all the time.

What’s wrong about this strategy?

School staff are not teaching Joey when they send him home. He’s being denied access to his education.  Not just equal access, but any access, is denied.

Joey isn’t learning skills and strategies for learning or appropriate behaviors that permit learning, so his Free, Appropriate Public Education is denied.

Joey is being removed from very setting he most needs to be in so he can learn how to behave properly in it!

If parents don’t know that IDEA requires schools to develop behavior modification plans and class management plans that give teachers ways to help Joey learn better school behavior and participate in learning, Joey will eventually miss so much school he can’t progress.  He is a future dropout at best.

Parent Advocacy Skill:

“I’m sorry, Ms. Principal, but Joey won’t be coming home with us today.  He needs to be at school to learn, and we need to hold an IEP meeting to develop an appropriate behavior modification plan so he can learn good learning behaviors.  I’m available Thursday at 10 a.m. and Friday at 3 p.m.  next week.”

Ms. Principal will find your written IEP meeting request on her desk tomorrow morning.  “The school continues to request that we bring Joey home before the end of the school day because he is unable to perform good learning behaviors.  I am requesting an IEP meeting to plan appropriate behavior management strategies for his IEP so he can begin to learn appropriate school behavior.  Please let me know within three working days when this IEP meeting will be held.”

If your principal responds that there must be some observations and/or evaluations done before an IEP meeting, this is good news.  IF these are done and done in a timely manner, it is good news.  It should mean that a school counselor or psychologist is checking what triggers inappropriate behaviors from your child and how to avoid them or teach your child how to manage himself.  This evaluation period should not take more than a week or two, but in larger districts, staff time allocation may take up to 30 days.  Check in periodically (not more than weekly) to see how things are going and to say thank you.

Make a list of behaviors and triggers that happen at home that school staff can discuss in this meeting with you that will help them further understand your child’s needs.

Medication Logs (Individual and school):  If your child’s grades are not what you believe she is capable of, look at medication logs, especially if medications are to help with behavior, focus and concentration, or compulsion.

Medications must be given to children at the proper time for them to be effective.  Watch out for these errors:

A.  given too early — may create an overdosing effect that temporarily impairs your child’s ability to stay awake, focus, concentrate, or participate fully in class

B.  given too late — creates a gap where lack of medication is when behavior deteriorates and learning is no longer possible; and

–worse, creates the possibility that the late dosing causes an overlap with the next dose that then becomes the overdose situation

C.  not given at all

Is it just once or is it a recurring pattern of sloppy administration?  If it’s a pattern of lax management, document it in a list of times and dates or on a calendar.   Write directly to the principal.  “Jenny’s medications were administered inappropriately as follows:  (list the times, dates and medications not done correctly).   Jenny’s medications must be given according to the following schedule:   (then give that schedule).”

Your child’s file doesn’t have any medication administration records in it?  Then you need to see the school’s medication administration log.  By law they must record every medication administered to a student, when (by date and time), and by whom.

If staff tell you they can’t let you see it for confidentiality reasons, tell them you know they can redact a copy of the log so you can see what you need to see for your child’s case.  School staff will have to black out other student’s names, but they must allow you to see that record.

If you find medication administration is sloppy, look for evidence of how your child might be affected by it, talk to teachers for their impressions, etc.  If it’s clear or even possible that your child’s education is being impaired by sloppy medication management, it’s time for another letter and phone call to your principal.

“I’ve noticed Jenny’s medications are not being administered according to the schedule the doctor has requested and it is impairing Jenny’s ability to learn and participate fully in class.  Jenny’s medications must be given according to the following schedule:   (then give that schedule).”   Don’t forget to close with a thank you for helping Jenny succeed at school.

After two weeks, ask for copies of the last two weeks of medication logs.  (No excuses about confidentiality allowed.)  Once they understand you are looking over their shoulder frequently to monitor your child’s medication administration, it should improve.  If it doesn’t improve within two weeks, call and write to the supervisor of your school’s principal.  After two weeks, if there is no improvement, go up another level.  Give each level two weeks to improve.

Consider also that if the schedule for your child’s medications is not in the IEP, it might help to put it in there–so call for an IEP meeting to do that.

However, if lax medication administration is health- or life-threatening, don’t wait–just start with a call to the principal.  If the principal is not immediately supportive, call the next level above and write if they ask you to do so.  If you can’t get better medication management, call your state’s special education monitors in your Department of Education and ask for assistance.  You WILL get help.  Nobody gets to fool around with meds.

If your child has a 504 plan, all of this post applies to your child’s case.  Just substitute 504 for IEP, and there you have it.

This is all for now.  In the next post we’ll be looking at how to use minutes of meetings about your child, behavioral records, teacher referrals, teacher/staff notes, observation records and/or anecdotes to help your child.