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)  and at Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)

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.




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.

10 Tips for Confidence in ME


The school year is about one month along.  By now some students have found their pace and are back in the swing of things; others are still struggling and will always struggle.  For the child for whom learning is always a struggle, how can we help her gain confidence and learn to be self-assured?  And why is this so important to learning?

There is something called “learned helplessness.”  A person who struggles to do many things can come to believe it will be a struggle to do everything and there will only be failure.  Then that person refuses to try anything new or try different ways to do what they struggle with now.  This is learned helplessness.  It can be unlearned, too.  Here’s your checklist for learning confidence and becoming self-assured.

1.  Give your child experiences that will be successful, guaranteed.

2.  Point out to everyone, especially the child, that this is success.  How clever, how strong, how pretty…whatever it is, say it aloud so the success is shared as broadly as possible.  (One mom created a nightly “success report” via phone to Grandma.)

3.  Once the child has some success under his belt, give a small challenge and make sure he has all the tools or skills he needs to meet the challenge successfully.  DO NOT DO IT FOR HIM.  When he falters, say, “You just did XXX so well, and this is only a teensy bit more.  I KNOW you can do it.  There, see, you almost did it.  One more time, and……..YOU DID IT!”

4.  Create charts for success.  Like the daily chore charts and homework charts, chart these trials and accomplishments.  The child who is entrenched in learned helplessness seems not to perceive that he is about to succeed, and if he succeeds, he may be unable to give himself credit for his success.  The self-talk goes like this.  “I’m not really that good, that was just luck.”  “I’m not that smart.  Anybody could have done that if I could do it.”  “Sure I did it.  I had help.  I can’t do it by myself.”

Charts that give a visible, tangile evidence of success and show growth help this child perceive that yes, his ability to succeed IS growing.

5.  Find someone else who needs to learn something this child can do and teach or help another child to learn.  This emphasizes an area where your child is competent and has the added benefit of friendship.

6.  Make comments during the day about successes of yesterday.  “Yesterday you were on fire!  You wrote that note like a pro!” “Jack may throw a mean curveball, but you catch mean!”

7.  Help your child find activities (at least one) that is successful for him.  If he can excel or do at least average in only one activity, this helps make him immune to the feelings of helplessness when he can’t learn at school.  He now has his personal proof that yes, he CAN do something well, and with that success, failure in another area is not as big a deal.  These areas of success are called “islands of competence.”  Help your child collect these islands.

8.  When your child knows he can be successful, you can start working on how to use failure for good things.  Edison failed more than 10,000 times at finding a material that worked in the electric light bulb.  He said it this way.  “I didn’t fail.  I found 10,000 ways that don’t work!”  Every failure has its lesson–or more than one lesson.  Sit with your child or walk with your child and talk it over.  What is the lesson?  How can he build on it for success?  Being able to look at failure this way is a mark of maturity and many adults have never learned to do it.  Starting as a child makes it much easier to learn.

9.  Have your child start a piggy bank where deposits are made only for failure.  The point of doing this is that failure is a part of life and it is how we build experience.  Losing isn’t failure if you learn from it.  It becomes an experience that brought another piece of strength for the next effort.  Money in the bank.  Forgetting the homework wasn’t life-threatening if you figured out how to get it to the teacher after this.  Money in the bank.  Eventually your child will have enough money for a hamburger or a sundae or something she’d like to have, and when that reward is bought, remember and celebrate the lessons that converted failure into success.

10.  Instructions:  You or your child can do the writing.  Your child must do the thinking, but you can prompt & remind if necessary.

Day 1:  Write down 3 things he can do.

Day 2:  Write down 3 things he can do with one hand.

Day 3:  Write down 3 things he can do with one foot.  (it could be “wear a sock”)

Day 4:  Write down 3 things he can do with his left index finger.

Day 5:  Ask him what 3 things he’d like to write down about something he can do with (a spoon, a pencil, a superhero toy)

Day 6:  Ask him about 3 times he’s helped someone do something.

Day 7: Ask him about 3 things he does to help around the home.

Day 8:  Ask him to wear (or carry in a pocket or purse) a certificate you make for him that says “SUPERDUDE (Superdudette for girls)!”

Our children experience success every day but it’s often so mundane and unnoticed that it is taken for granted and passed over.  These exercises help point out how much our children actually are learning and doing successfully.  Go ahead–surprise your child–and yourself!

With all this success around, your child will learn to say, “I can do it.  I have confidence in ME.”