In previous posts I have given some of our goals and objectives for Mickey and why we were doing the attempted reclassification meeting yesterday. Let me sum up my overall strategy for Mickey so that you can understand where we are coming from:
I want the absolute minimum amount of meds and accommodations required for him to be successful. The reason is that I want him to grow up to be as self sufficient as possible and unfortunately, the real world will not bend over backwards to accommodate his needs. It is not my objective to make him “normal” or make him conform, but he has to learn to function in polite society if he is going to be able to achieve the dreams he has for himself (college – Notre Dame – GO IRISH!, marriage, adopting children, having kids, becoming a professional Elvis impersonator and being the front man in his band are just a few of those dreams as they stand today). I absolutely think all those things are possible for him and then some, but it will be harder for him to achieve than it is for his sister or another NT child. It is my job to help him get there or as close to there as possible.
I set the bar high – for both behavior and grades. I expect him to do his best. I am 100% willing to move the bar as needed – I do want him to be and feel successful. But, I will not make life easy for him by setting the bar low and letting him skate through. What this means for me though, is that we have to address each issue as it comes up and get him whatever help is needed to reach the bar, not lower the bar every time there is a struggle.
I fully acknowledge that there are challenges to his behavior and that some days he can be a royal pain in the rear. I will openly admit that he is not the easiest child to teach (or parent). What I ask of his educators is that they push him, help him, and watch for the cues that he is giving that things are going off the rails – before they actually do. I ask for communication so that we can work in tandem to get through each situation, as it arises. I back them up, nearly without fail, and I expect the same. I will reinforce consequences and rules at school – we don’t allow treats or rewards or screen time on bad days, etc. Truly bad days get additional consequences at home. If I hear he said or did something inappropriate or disrespectful to another child or teacher, we will review a social story and have Mickey do an apology letter, that kind of thing. I am extremely actively involved in his education, because we have learned that he is only successful if we are 100% consistent across both platforms and he understands that the consequences are expected. This is how we got from a child four years ago that had never completed a full day of school because of behavior, to a kid that hasn’t been suspended in nearly 2 years. This is how we got from a kid that was never expected to work at grade level to a kid that normally exceeds grade level standards. This, a ton of therapy, a wonderful team at his school and most importantly the work that Mickey has done.
I don’t usually dread IEP meetings, though they do make me nervous. I am a very laid back person in most areas of my life, but I am rather relentless when it comes to doing what I think is best for Mickey. I am open to ideas and suggestions, but – see above. There does seem to be an inclination in special education to make the child’s life easy because of a “disability”. To bend the world to fit him, and to some degree this is needed. The hope for this meeting was that we could change Mickey’s classification to Autism, versus Emotional Behavior Disturbance or Other Health Impairment. The reason we wanted to reclassify is that our county’s Autism program would open up many additional educational settings, when we are ready to leave our current one. The other two classifications only leave us with one option (other than current placement) and it is a school that Mickey had a horrible experience at. A school that Mickey will never be successful at, because he is scared to go back there. He has sabotaged every attempt to move him from his current school because the thought of going back to his former school is a deal breaker for him. So, we hoped to reclassify him to open up other school options, since we all agree he doesn’t need the restrictive environment he is in now.
Well, we weren’t able to reclassify him. Our county requires 3 areas of significant deficits to qualify for the Autism classification and while he has an undisputed diagnosis – from the school psychologist and private practitioners, his communication skills are to high for him to qualify. So, he only has significant deficits in 2 of the 3 areas. My heart sunk – not because I wish that he had deficits in all three, but because it was a huge blow to our choices. But, I fought. And we, after phone calls all the way up to the director of special education of our county, found that he doesn’t actually have to be reclassified in the Autism category to qualify for the TRIAD Autism program – he just has to have an undisputed diagnosis.
So, we got our options. We aren’t transitioning yet, because September was rough and he is just getting back to his norm. But, we want to involve him more in his process and get him to buy in to his plan. The reason is that he has a pretty great understanding of his issues and he knows that, because he does have the coping skills and ability to use them, that moving to what he calls a “regular” school really hinges on the choices he makes.
The school social worker has been working with the kids in his class on their IEP objectives. She started this by asking if everyone knew what an IEP was and she was shocked that only Mickey understood that he was in special education, only Mickey knew that he had an IEP, only Mickey was able to articulate why he was in special education and why he had an IEP. He was even able to list a couple of his objectives. Everyone in his class is fully verbal and at their age and functioning level, should have some understanding of their challenges, but the other 6 kids did not. Mickey sums up the reasons he is in a Special Needs school like this “I have Autism and ADHD, some of it may have been caused by the choices my birth mother made when she was pregnant. It makes it hard for me to always make good choices. I am impulsive and sometimes lose my cool and need help with those things and reminders to follow directions”. I think this comes from being honest when he asks me questions. He knows he is different than some of his peers. We worked hard in therapy to make him more aware of other people, and the fallout of that was that he is now aware he isn’t the same. He doesn’t feel “less than” because he isn’t. He knows he has to work harder to get through a day and keep control than his sister does. He also understands why. I don’t know that he knows what Autism or ADHD mean, but he knows what they mean for him and that is good enough.
So we made the decision to involve him further in the IEP process. We are going to give him a quantifiable plan that he can work to start the transition process. Example: You must be able to use proper coping skills to manage stress 80% of the time and then spell out what that means. For him it will probably be something like 8 out of 10 times that you get frustrated or angry, you were able to manage it without losing your cool and document that some way. 80% master on following directions with no more than 2 prompts, etc.
He asked his teacher to speak to her in private when she returned from the meeting. He asked her what the results were. His exact question was “were we able to reclassify me and open up other options?”. Her response was “we got you other options”. He smiled. He then asked “is XXXX (his old school) one of those options?” She said “No. We have completely ruled out XXXX as one of those options. There is no chance of you going back there – it is off the table”. Mickey’s whooped with glee and said “then lets gets started on what needs to happen to get to one of those other options”. That tells me that the concern that XXXX was still on the table was keeping him from working toward transition. He understands so much of this that he has to buy in to the decisions we make because he is the one that has to live with them.
We made some other decisions too. His low grades in Language Arts and Science were not because he didn’t understand the material – it is him rushing through the work and not using time wisely. So, all failing papers or tests will be sent home for him to redo, not necessarily for a grade, but to teach him that it would have taken less effort to do it right the first time. We are rewording his goals a little so that when we have his TRIAD placement meeting we are placed in the right location.
So, it was nearly 4.5 hours. It was stressful. I didn’t get everything I want, but I think we got everything he needs. We added a few objectives, but the only service we added was time in the sensory room during his breaks, rather than just breaks. We reduced his overall OT because his handwriting has improved, we dropped all speech therapy because of articulation improvements. He gets extended testing time, but has never used it. We keep it because we hope he will use it eventually. He gets preferred seating because of his hearing loss and inattention. He gets frequent breaks and he isn’t required to sit, as long as he stays in his area (a box taped on the floor around his desk). That is it. His objectives are to manage stress appropriately, follow directions in one prompt, improve peer relations, ask appropriately for teacher’s attention – those kind of basic behavior objectives. His only academic objectives involve math problem solving and he is at 78% mastery with a goal of 80%, so we are almost there with that one. He still has one for written expression and one for legibility – we are not as far on those two.
That was long and a lot of information. My record IEP meeting was 9+ hours spread over 2 days. This was half that and pretty average for us, but it was extremely collaborative as we tried to figure out the best solutions for Mickey. Mickey was pleased with the outcome, his team at school thinks we made good choices and so do I. I hear IEP horror stories all the time and I am immensely grateful that with the exception of 1 particularly nasty one at his old school, every single meeting we have had feels very much like a team of people who are highly invested in Mickey succeeding and is willing to think outside the box to make that happen.