A Parent’s Fight For Special Education Services

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There are many things in life that I take for granted and, before becoming a mom, I assumed that public education for my children would be one of them. I was wrong. My children go to public school but I no longer take their education for granted and that’s because I’ve had to go through numerous fights with the school districts to get it. This is a fight that many parents of children with special needs know too well.

Lucas is on the Autism Spectrum so he is protected by a Special Education law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which says it is his right to receive free appropriate education (FAPE) from the school district. Appropriate education should be uniquely designed to meet his needs. The problem develops when the parent and school differ on what “appropriate” means and sadly, as I’ve learned, this doesn’t mean they need to provide the best education for him, just an adequate one that’s enough to get him from one grade to the next.

My fight for my youngest son began before his first day of school even started. Having been in the state’s early intervention program, his first day of public school was the day he turned three years old which happened to be during the district’s extended school year (also known as ESY or summer school). The school insisted he be put in their general education preschool room even though I was adamantly against it for a number of reasons. They told me they’d see how it went then we’d meet once the new school year started and if he needed to be moved to their special education classroom they’d do that (after the school year had started). I repeatedly told them I didn’t agree with that decision but in the end had no choice but to let the school put him where they wanted to put him for ESY.

His first day of school went horrible, as I had expected. The environment in that classroom became unsafe for both him and the other children. He had numerous meltdowns and had escaped the room a couple times. The staff in there was not trained to handle children with special needs. And I’ll never forget the homework he came home with that first day. My child, who had just turned 3 that day and had a speech delay, was being asked to “describe a baseball game using your five senses”. This child who spoke only a handful of words, didn’t know what baseball was and didn’t know any of his five senses, was definitely in the wrong classroom.

The teachers in the room, and finally the Principal, also ended up realizing that the general education setting was not appropriate for him but I still had to fight for weeks to have the meeting scheduled for before the school year started. They kept insisting we’d just have another meeting once the school year started and then he was would be switched to the other program. To me, it didn’t make sense to start the school year in one program and move him a week in and I believed that would be detrimental to him, causing unneeded stress and problems. They finally agreed to have the meeting before the school year started and changed his placement to a Special Education classroom.

He was put into an appropriate classroom for the school year that was specifically designed for children who had Autism. It was a small class size with numerous aides and therapists in the room at a time and ran a couple hours longer than the typical preschool day. There were picture schedules, repetition, built in therapy and everything my son needed- including a room staffed with people that understood and had experience working with children on the Autism Spectrum.

Lucas had two great years of preschool. The last year he even started taking a daily trip to the general education classroom (accompanied by an aide) to spend 15-30 minutes at a time in there, testing a new environment. Having found success in those short periods of time in the general education class, Luke’s team decided to give him a split day when he went to Kindergarten. Since our neighborhood school didn’t have an Autism specific classroom they bussed him across town, to the school that did. Though our district only had half day kindergarten, Luke would spend the whole day at school because they felt that academically and socially just a couple hours was not enough for him. He would go to AM Kindergarten in their Autism classroom, eat lunch, and then spend the second half of his day (accompanied by an aide) in the PM general education Kindergarten classroom. It was the best situation that I could have dreamed of and it was designed to give him everything he needed to learn. He’d have one on one assistance and a smaller group for some of the day but still get some time to interact with children who were higher functioning and could model language and social skills which is what he had been missing in the Autism only classroom.

A few months into the Kindergarten school year we ended up moving to a new district and I found myself fighting for his educational needs again. This was a smaller district with a smaller Special Education staff and budget. The district didn’t offer full day kindergarten and wouldn’t allow him to go to both the AM and PM sessions. They also did not offer a special education classroom or would bus him somewhere that did like the other school was doing. So they cut his school day in half, took away his time in a special education classroom, took his bus services away and reduced the amount of time he worked with therapists. They still gave him an aide to help him as he navigated the school day but I felt completely defeated. Almost everything I had fought for was gone. To make matters worse, my son went from being in the middle of his class academically, to being in the bottom one percent by the end of his Kindergarten year.

So he started off first grade extremely behind and, though I think he made huge advances during his first grade year, he is still behind. Now he’s headed into second grade next year and I’m back to fighting the school district again. This time I’m trying to get him in our district’s extended school year program (or ESY) for academics. This program helps children who have shown academic regression in the past so that they don’t fall even farther behind than they already are. Though my son has in fact shown regression previously, and was in summer school last year, I was told that this year the Special Education director of the district said he doesn’t qualify because of his test scores. My son, who is going into second grade and can’t put letter sounds together to read words, does not qualify for academic summer school because his reading test score, at the bottom 27% of his class, is not “low” enough? That reading test score of 27% was with assistance, since my son requires help taking all tests, which only makes me wonder what his test scores really would be if he had taken it himself and not had help. In my eyes he is qualified because he has previously shown regression and is behind academically so I have to call the Special Education Director and try to get her to reverse her decision by asking her to actually look at his file, his IEP, his teacher’s notes and perhaps even talk to his teachers and therapists (who all felt he would benefit).

I just wish that parents of children with special needs didn’t have to fight for Special Education services that our children need. Our children are entitled to an education that is tailored to their special needs and a placement that will allow them to make educational progress. I’m not satisfied with my child just barely making it to the next grade. Scoring in the bottom 27% on a reading test (that he had help with) and being told the school district views that as “acceptable”, when reading is the basis of almost everything else he will do in school, is not okay. I want him to have a shot at success, like every other child does, and I’m going to fight until he has an even playing field.

Have you been through a similar struggle? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

10 Great Educational Products For Children On The Autism Spectrum

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Thanks to Lakeshore Learning for sponsoring this post.

 

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to share 10 great educational products for children on the Autism Spectrum. Most of these are products I’ve used with my own boys or in a classroom setting. They also have the added benefit of being great for all kids so even siblings or classmates not on the spectrum can enjoy them!

Magna-Tiles

These are fun to build with and were a favorite in my classroom when I taught Pre-K. I love these for children on the Spectrum because they are magnetized and stick together which helps minimize frustration for children as they are trying to build. Many children stick with simple designs but kids can really use their imaginations and build something fun with these.

Good For Me Reward Kit

Sticker charts work amazingly well for Lucas and many children on the spectrum. Being able to see his progress and how far he has to go is very motivating for him and encourages him to continue good behavior and other tasks we want to see him do. A clear goal and reward planned ahead of time are ideal for these types of charts.

Following Directions Building Sets

Have a little one who has a hard time following directions? This building sets bundle is perfect for them! I like this for Lucas because he has a hard time following directions that are more than just a step or two and this will help him practice the skills he needs to work on. It also allows children to start with easy creations and then build up to more complicated ones which gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Flip & Read Sight-Word Sentences

Learning sight words is all about one thing- repetition! Every child learns things in different ways and I love this set of books to help kids practice the sight words they need to master before they can start to read. I think this is great for Lucas because he hates plain flashcards and teacher or parent directed tasks. With these he creates the sentences he needs to read which gives him just enough control of the situation to actually be willing to sit down and do this.

What Should You Do? – A Game Of Consequences

In this fun-filled game of consequences, players face everyday dilemmas that deal with topics like honesty, bullying, manners and more. As children race around the game board, they take turns deciding what they should do in each situation—moving closer to the finish line with each correct answer! For children who are still learning social skills this game is perfect!

Understanding Addition & Subtraction Using Manipulatives

Kids learn best through hands-on-learning, especially when the concepts are as abstract as mathematics. This set of manipulatives help children connect an object to a number for learning addition and subtraction.

Sensory Ball Set 

This set can be used for a number of things, from playing catch and practicing hand-eye coordination to using the smaller ones as fidgets. These balls are also a great way for kids with tactile sensory issues to get used to touching different textures.

Real-Working Cash Register

Once children start learning about money this cash register is perfect for helping them practice money skills. We love setting up a little store with empty boxes and then “shopping” and paying for our items.

Kids Can! Resolve-A-Conflict

With siblings, conflicts are bound to arise so having this can of tools on hand is wonderful. Whether children decide to pick and number, draw straws or roll a dice, they learn to solve their own problems. We are really enjoying using this set and I feel that our house is much more peaceful now.

Engineer-A-Coaster Activity Kit

This fun kit lets children create a “roller coaster”. It provides hours of play as children learn to follow directions and learn from trial and error. I like that it’s large enough for two children to play at the same time so children can work together to build it (or at least side by side).

Find more toys and educational products here. What products do your children love to use to learn and practice important skills?

My Son’s School Is Going To Break The Law Everyday Unless I Stop Them

Jacob starts Kindergarten tomorrow. Yesterday I stopped by the school because I still didn’t know if my son was in AM or PM Kindergarten even after calling the school last week (they claimed they didn’t know) and emailing the Principal over a week ago (she later claimed my email went to spam). So the secretary looked it up and told me his classroom and teacher and I said, “okay so that’s a Special Education classroom?”. She told me it was not so when I told her my son was supposed to be in a Special Ed class she went in to consult with the Principal.

So the Principal comes out with her and says that that classroom is his homeroom and he also is in the Special Education classroom. I told her he wasn’t supposed to be in anything but a Special Ed contained classroom and she told me that his classroom was “unable to take attendance” (which makes no sense but whatever) so he would arrive at school, go into the General Education classroom (during the most unstructured time of day), stay for a few minutes and then go to his Special Ed classroom.

To some of you, being in a different room for a few minutes may seem like not that big of a deal. I know I would have thought the same years ago but here’s my problem…. My son has difficulty transitioning and difficulty in unstructured environments with little teacher direction. Putting him in a classroom with no teacher directed activity and kids coming in and wandering around is bound to cause issues. This is the worst time of the day he could be put into this classroom. His day would start off on the wrong foot for him because he has to transition off the bus, transition into the chaotic classroom, transition out of that classroom, and transition into his Special Ed classroom which is a lot of transitions in a 5-10 minute period of time for any kid, but especially one who has difficulties transitioning.

Then there is the fact that they are totally ignoring his IEP which is the biggest problem here. I checked it over again (it was written in the Spring) and like I remembered it says he is only supposed to be in the General Ed setting for PE (with an Aide) and Speech (with his therapist). The IEP is a legally binding agreement so what they are telling me they are going to do every single day is against the law. (Which makes me wonder what else they would do during the course of the day that would violate his IEP…)

So at this point I’m frustrated and ready for a fight today. I plan to reach out to the School District but that is not something I should have to do. The school should put my children’s needs first but they don’t. What is sad is that for every parent fighting the schools, I imagine there are so many others that don’t stand up and say anything because they don’t realize the school is trying to pull a fast one on them.

Have you ever had difficulties with your child’s school following the IEP? How did you handle it?

 

Free Disability Awareness Activities for Kids

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As a parent of a child with Autism I am anxious for the start of the school year. As much as I worry about how well my son will do, I worry even more about how others will treat him and accept him. I was really excited to get an email from Easter Seals about their free FRIENDS WHO CARE® disability awareness program that helps parents and educators teach kids about children and adults with disabilities. My hope is that every parent will teach their child compassion and acceptance for others.

Sponsored by long-time Easter Seals partner, Friendly’s Restaurants, LLC, FRIENDS WHO CARE is an interactive program that helps students learn how kids with disabilities go to school, make friends and play. It encourages kids to accept their peers with disabilities as people first, and to find ways to include everyone in school and after-school activities.

FRIENDS WHO CARE® is also fun! The curriculum explores a range of disabilities and includes specially crafted learning activities, hands-on exercises, guided discussions and guest speakers. It starts with an introduction to disability, and looks at vision, hearing, and physical disabilities and then at learning disabilities including ADHD, autism and intellectual disabilities.

Visit their Web site to download the free FRIENDS WHO CARE materials!

Dear Social Worker At My Son’s Preschool

Dear Social Worker at my son’s school,

Jacob is my first-born child. I loved and cherished him as a little one in my womb while mourning the loss of his twin. I walked around for months with cankles and spent half my pregnancy with my head in a toilet. I gave birth and attempted breastfeeding. I joined mommy and me groups so I could make friends with other moms and he’d have playmates. I listened to everything I could about how to be a “good mom” and tried to do it all. I read book after book at my child’s request, cleaned up mess after mess, and changed diaper after diaper.

A few years into his young life, after I swallowed my pride, I took him to the Doctor and shared some concerns I had. When my son’s Doctor dismissed me, I pushed because I knew, I knew, something was not right. I had him tested and, with delays found in multiple areas, he was put in Early Intervention. After learning he had some difficulty processing his senses I researched everything I could on Sensory Processing Disorder. I sat through endless hours of therapies to help him catch up to his peers and then he was tested for preschool and he qualified for services in the public school district. Fast forward to the end of his second year of Preschool and today’s IEP meeting where I sat, outnumbered, in a room  listening to how worried the school staff was about my son.

This wasn’t the first meeting that I’ve endured but somehow this seemed to be the most important that I’d ever have since this was the meeting where we’d start discussing placement for Kindergarten. This is a heavy decision for any parent, including myself, because it’s the one that would probably determine the rest of his school career. I knew once he was in a track at school, be it special education or children labeled with “behavior problems” or regular education, he would most likely be in that category for years to come and I’d have to fight to change it if I ever felt like the placement needed to change. I’ve heard horror stories of parents trying to change services or add things in and I knew my journey would be a long one. I wanted to make the right choices now and it was a lot of stress knowing that I was making such a big decision in the coming months.

All the school personnel on Jacob’s team shared about their experiences with Jacob, both what he was doing well and what their concerns were. Then it was your turn. Seeing that a mother was hurting, worried, and anxious it would have been best to assure me that we would figure this out as a team and that, in the end, everything would be okay. Instead you decided to use many of your words to bring me down and attack my child.

You told me how your team couldn’t be expected to change my child’s behavior that he’d spent the past four and a half years learning {assuming, I guess, that I had not spent the past four years trying to raise him correctly}. You told me how the school personnel was ultimately the one who’d decide placement for my child and basically told me that in the end it wasn’t up to me and I could make suggestions but they wouldn’t really make much of a difference. Then, and this really, really hurt, you implied that I would do anything other than what was in my child’s best interest when all I was doing was trying to understand the different options that were available.

What hurt most of all though, and what made me meltdown once I was safely in the hallway away from you, was that you spent the majority of your time criticizing my child. You used the results of a survey his current teacher and his old teacher had taken and pointed out everything that was “wrong” with my son. Not once did you point out one of the great things about him. Not once.

But that’s probably because you don’t know him. You’ve spent, what? 15 minutes with him?

He isn’t perfect by any means and when you brought up attention problems and ADHD I believe you probably aren’t too far off. All those other things you listed? Yep, those are issues I’m aware of and we are working on.

You seemed to have missed a few things though. His smile. His belief in right vs. wrong. His willingness to help. His laugh. His ability to remember the smallest detail. His inquisitive nature. His joy for life. His love for others. His excitement. His concern for friends who aren’t on the bus or at school.

Any of these qualities you could have pointed out among the other things but you didn’t. Instead, you chose to look at a chart full of dots that represented all his “problems” and completely missed the child behind the chart.

I’m begging you, next time you are in an IEP meeting, think about the parent sitting on the other side of the table and at least one positive thing you can say about their child. Of course, to do that you may actually have to get to know the child you are talking about. They are more than just a list of behaviors, dots on a chart or a diagnosis. They are special regardless of what problems brought their parents into that meeting with you.

Signed,

Jacob’s mom