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.

 

 

3 Ways To Your Child’s Dream

Hello, everyone.

Today I want to talk about our children’s dreams for their future.  Whatever age a child is, he is aware that there is a future, and he assumes he will be in it.  Some children decide very early in life – age 8, 10, 12 – what their career will be, and that is what they achieve.  Some children have not decided later in life -28, 29, 30 – what career path to follow, and they are just taking whatever comes.  Life happens for both, but those who choose and contol their lives often feel they are more successful and have greater satisfaction.  We can nudge our children into a path of choosing a career by exposing them to  occupations, by helping them find hobbies, volunteer work doing things they love, and mentors whose careers pique their interest.

1.  I was a Girl Scout and earned over 100 badges.  Doing so introduced me to the basics of many occupations, various arts, sports, cultural aspects and affairs, study of what makes people and things “tick”, community involvement, and a variety of enjoyable things to do.  I can’t remember ever being bored, really, because my mind was always digging into something new or deeper into something intriguing.  Boy Scouts does the same for boys.  Many youth organizations achieve similar results.  All but one of the pastimes I love stem from those youth activities.  I frequently use something I learned back then.

Children with disabilities are often isolated from their peers by their differences at school, but parents who find these opportunities for them in the community help them develop a sense of belonging in their neighborhood, other people’s lives, and in their larger society.  It is this sense of belonging that will allow a child to reach out to build a supportive team at school and work so he can be successful at what he does.  This social participation sometimes creates the new advocates for our social needs–you know– the ones who keep reminding us that yes, we ARE our brother’s keeper.

2.  Volunteer work serves many purposes beyond helping other people or non-profit organizations.  Children who learn to enjoy volunteering also learn teamwork, selflessness, cooperation, empathy, social responsibility, improved social skills, and often, leadership.  Some find jobs this way.  It’s an excellent way to try a new work skill, expand a hobby, explore new ideas, make new friends. Some children who become fully engaged in a specific type of volunteer work they enjoy may use that experience as the springboard to their future career.

3.  Older children who have shown interest in specific vocations or careers can benefit from a mentor who is in the same field.  A child who is interested in accounting could be mentored by a bank employee, an accountant, a statistician, a software developer who specializes in the numbers of our lives and businesses.  A child who could sell you your own smelly socks would benefit from exposure to people in sales, retail, wholesale, and online, and if he’s good at writing, exposure to advertising and marketing people.  Is your child an animal lover?  Got a zoo?  Match!  Vet?  Match!  Animal breeder?  Match!  Biologist or biological industry?  Match!

You get the idea.  Our children’s job is to grown and learn.  Not all learning is done at school.  Parents’ job includes showing our children how to get out from under our wings.  Look around you.  It’s a big, wide world.  What does your child dream of doing in it?  What can you do to help him achieve it?

New Year, New Semester, Same Old Inappropriate IEP?

This is the post that wraps up 2013 and takes a look at 2014.  With children who have disabilities, we have to think about the future as something that MUST, I mean absolutely MUST bring progress toward future independence.  Here are a few questions to consider in the academic realm that require a community effort to solve.

1.  If your child was not invited to holiday parties by the neighbor children or classmates, why not?  Are her social skills so far behind those of her peers that they choose not to be around her?

Help:  Some children must be taught to interpret social cues coming from tones of speech, facial expressions, and body language.  If your child is actively being excluded from participation with peers, ask teachers to tell you what they think causes this to happen at school.  If you attend religious services and your child is in a classroom, ask what those teachers see.  Ask a school counselor to help you design ways to help your child become more socially “fluent” at school and if necessary, call for an IEP meeting to make it formal and mandatory.  Good students are usually socially adept and work well in teams.   This is not “learning to party.”  This is to learn how to function in the total academic setting–where being accepted as part of a group leads to the shared learning and study groups experience that is vital to academic success.

2.  If your child has not made progress in reading, reverses letters, and had difficulty with directions and sequencing, Try Harder is not the program for success.  Many children with dyslexia and various reading problems need therapy with speech pathologists and programs such as Lindamood-Bell, Fast ForWord, and other help to develop phonic awareness and sequencing ability.  These are expensive programs that many school districts have refused to purchase because they believe they can’t justify the expense to serve one child.  There probably are less than a dozen school districts in the nation that have only one child in need of one of these programs.
Help:
Step A:  Make your request for immediate evaluation for what your child needs for learning to read.
Step B: If the evalution recommendations include therapy, insist that therapy be provided.  The excuse that ‘This district doesn’t do that,” is a denial of FAPE.  If such denials occur, notify your state Department of Education’s department of Special Education and they should help you enforce your child’s right to FAPE.
3.  If your child is in special education classes but the class is still too large for your child to be successful, you may request and get smaller settings for him.
Help:  The school staff will protest that this “isolates your child,” or “makes him stand out as different”.  Don’t listen to that.  For certain things, we have to remember that this “isolation” is what he needs now and may not always be needed.  It may only be required for one or two subject areas.  Whatever his needs are, he is entitled to an education that includes successful learning in ALL subjects.  Write to the school principal to request an IEP or 504 Plan meeting to add the appropriate placement details to the plan.
Whatever your child requires to learn and access his education appropriately is the MAIN IDEA here.  What does he require?  Is he getting it?  A new year is beginning.  It’s a great time to start a new line of requests for your child’s FAPE.

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.

 

 

Coaching for College Prep – ACHIEVE COACH

On January 15, 2014, I will be starting ACHIEVE COACH, presenting online College Prep/College Readiness webinars for parents of  students with disabilities in grades 6-12. Currently 80% of these students are destined to start college but never get the degree no matter how high their grades or SAT/ACT scores.

I am a parent of 2 disabled children with a total of 11 different diagnoses. I have 25 years of education and disability consultation/advocacy experience. I KNOW children with disabilities can obtain college degrees from all kinds of schools. After working in the disability services center of Florida International University and finding out what made it possible for those students to succeed, I know it is far MORE THAN ACCOMMODATIONS or IEPs or 504 plans and it should begin in 6th grade.  Success for college students with disabilities began with informed and determined parents.

While writing a book on the subject, I found out why we parents have never had a place to go to learn what we need. We need to know 34 things other parents don’t and all that “stuff” comes out of 8 professional fields.

I will be coaching, offering professional speakers, resources, sample letters and advocacy skills and parent training. We will cover the rights and roles of parents in providing FAPE for a child.  I don’t care how many people are around a computer at school or at home while you do this. I will coach families and their professional support team (doctors, therapists, teachers, etc.) so children with the potential to become college students can also become college graduates.

If you want online coaching to help you become a stronger, positive and successful advocate and case manager for your child, if you want to know how to teach your child to be his own case manager — (successful, YES!),  leave your e-mail address in a comment for this post.  Your privacy will be respected.  No post with an e-mail address in it will be published unless the writer specifically requests it.  Space will be limited, so sign up now!

Shutting Down a Nation – What Chance Does a Child Have?

Dear Everyone,

Today our elected Republicans played Dirty. They wanted to eliminate funding for our new “Obamacare” healthcare program, so they refused to authorize funding for essential governmental functions because the two authorizations are together. It is an awesome show of power, a grand display of how ignorance can be used to hurt an entire nation, how personal self-aggrandizement and ego and raise itself up above an entire nation to seek fulfillment. It makes me sick at my stomach.

Our children are the most dependent of all. Their education depends upon funds from various governmental levels to be sufficient to pay for meeting their needs. For years IDEA has been clarifying what must be done to provide FAPE for our children with disabilities, and for all those same years, legislators with more ego than brains have been cutting funding until some school districts can offer only 4 days of school per week, students must share books and therefore can do only half the learning and homework. Parents do NOT agree with this level of funding or kind of educational services, but our legislators’ children usually attend private schools and they don’t have a clue what goes on in public schools. When parents vote, it is their prayer for appropriate education, but it is getting harder and harder to achieve that.

Today we see that there are elected representatives who represent only themselves and not their constituency. The reality is that they want what they want so badly they are willing to shoot an entire nation of people down the toilet rather than compromise. There probably is a word for that kind of person in the English language, but I am a Christian and I’ve never heard it. At least I’ve never heard a word that describes my shock and horror that anyone – or any group of people – would care so little about their fellow humans that they would treat us this way. I don’t have words to describe the depth of loathing, the despair for our future, the futility of belief their actions make me feel. It just doesn’t seem human to behave in such a manner.

Seeing that there are legislators who think nothing of actively working against what the nation needs, how do our children with disabilities stand a chance? How does an individual child stand a chance?

Nobody stands a chance unless we all SPEAK UP. We can’t afford to roll over and let it happen around us. It will take us down with it. Now we have to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND SPEAK UP.

WRITE AND CALL your representatives and senators and let them know you support them if they fought this shutdown and let the others know they can’t be so smug about getting your vote in the next election. I’m going to ask my Republican naysayers to give me the procedures for their impeachment. (They have to do it–or they won’t get my vote.) What are you going to ask your elected representatives and senators?

Call. Write. Join the efforts of your local groups that are protesting. Make some noise. What would happen if we all drew a bullseye on our foreheads to represent how they’ve shot us all down? What if we wore that bullseye until that funding is given?

Our public officials have publicly shown us they don’t care much about their public supporters, and it’s time we publicly show them we don’t care much for their public failure to do the job. It wouldn’t hurt to say it once for yourself and repeat it in your child’s name.

New School Year and Still No Reading Success?

Many school districts open for classes in August, and by mid-September, many teachers have started the new year’s instruction. For students with good memory, times have been good because much of the day was spent in review with only a little new material added. By the end of September, all the material will be new. Is your child’s IEP ready? Today’s example deals with reading and phonological awareness.

If your child is not reading properly but is not reversing letters or words in a dyslexic way, you might have heard the phrase “phonological deficits” during an IEP meeting or evaluation discussion. This phrase means a child is struggling to understand the meanings and patterns of spoken words and may find it too difficult to link poorly- understood sound to written symbols.

Trying harder is 100% an ineffective disaster strategy for these children. They are trying their best every time they look at print. If trying were the key, they’d be reading encyclopedias. These children need a kind of language therapy that has been incorporated into the Lindamood-Bell program and Fast ForWord program. These programs present sound information in ways that allow these students to develop the neurological pathways for interpreting sounds and learning to read. Children can sometimes gain years’ worth of skills in a matter of months. Some are able to exit special education when finished if reading was their only learning disability.

Lindamood-Bell and Fast ForWord are both expensive and school districts don’t provide them easily or upon request. When my child needed such therapy, it took an entire semester of meetings, letters, and finally an offer to write to Office for Civil Rights to get their opinion on the matter before our school district consented to try just 12 weeks. In that time, he gained 2 years of skills; today my son’s favorite activity is reading law and case histories–for fun.

Today, 10 years later, I attended an IEP as advocate for a child whose psychological evaluation report contained recommendations for Lindamood-Bell or Fast ForWord. Neither is in the IEP. Why? The school offers neither, and while there are discussions and/or negotiations underway to buy/use a similar program, the issue is not settled yet. Instead of a fully appropriate IEP, there is a request for the parent to allow the school time to see if the student can make progress with only being identified and placed as an SLD student. Staff asked the parent to wait until January “to see if”. That is half the school year! Is this adequate? It is not FAPE, surely.

It is “enough” because the parent is willing to wait and see. But not half the year. One month. That is time enough to see if behaviors are beginning to improve, if academics are starting to advance. If not, what is the remedy?

In cases like this, the school district has no choice. Its own evaluation report recommends one of these two programs or one like them. All are costly. A school district will only buy one of these if it is determined that there are enough students to benefit from it AND justify the expense. If there are no parents insisting that their child’s education requires this, a district can put off buying a program every year for years. Here is another fact: If a student must have one of these programs in order to learn, one of them must be provided. If FAPE cannot be provided without using some program to develop phonological awareness and skills, then such a program must be provided. Period.  The expense is justified by the child’s need.

There are at least 4 ways to provide for this need:

1. School district must buy a an appropriate program that remedies phonological deficits and provide it to students who need it. This takes time, especially if school speech pathologists and/or other staff must then be trained to teach the program.**

2. Transfer the student to a public school that has the program.

3. Transfer the student to a private school that has the program (and at district expense).

4. District arranges and pays for after-school services. (And pays for or provides transportation to and from if parents can’t.)

There will be a trial period before seeking to enforce this for today’s case because we truly don’t know if the change to special education will be enough to provide sufficient advancement and progress. We don’t really think it will take half a school year to know if progress is being made, but close monitoring will tell us what we need to know.

Parents, if a school evaluation makes a recommendation and then the district does nothing to address it, you should insist the appropriate service be provided by whatever means the school district can arrange. Your child’s access to an appropriate education is at stake. Go for it!

** If a decision has NOT been made to purchase and the district is just “shopping”, do not accept a recommendation to wait until there is a purchase because it may never happen. Also, if you are told it will be a semester or more before your child’s services could begin, don’t agree to wait that long, especially if your child is in a year of school in which a standardized test will mandate retention if your child’s scores are too low. A lifetime of being behind is too high a price for your child to pay just because the district doesn’t want to pay for individual services.