Hi. November was a crazy, hectic month between the holiday and trying to keep pace with NaNoWriMo. Prior to that, there were a couple of school meetings that I wanted to write about, because the result was getting some better support and extra accommodations for Connor.
The beginning of the school year was quite rough, and I called a meeting in September to talk about supports. One thing that came up was that after I dropped off Connor in the morning, he wasn’t showing up in class until 10 minutes after the bell. I asked the principal if she thought we should address the issue (The reason I called the meeting was mainly to discuss this very issue. But there’s a game of charades that goes along with parenting a special needs child. You can’t make demands and voice your disapproval and really gain anything. That’s because it’s all a game of ego-stroking. Much like real life. So one must smile like a half-witted court jester, and ask seemingly stupid questions, like “Do you think we should address the issue of my autistic child going missing for 20 minutes each morning?” When the answer is, OF COURSE WE SHOULD. But the staff at the table know full well that they are in a precarious position and the district could face a lawsuit, so you sit there and politely ask, “What should we do?”). The principal was very willing to work with me and decided to appoint a teacher to be on hallway duty and be responsible for being the point person for Connor, and ushering him to class.
With that issue resolved, we moved on to homework. The pressure of a 7-hour-day spent holding himself together as best he can builds up and releases when we get home. Having him sit and do homework that goes on for more than 20 minutes just causes more frustration and meltdowns. So I decided to ask the staff about homework accommodations (Hey. Kids with IEPs are supposed to be provided with accommodations. It’s like, the law. So basically I sat there and asked for something which I knew we were already entitled to, but in doing so I transferred the illusion of power across the table to the people that could make this the best year ever, or worst year ever, for my son.) We were able to negotiate limiting math homework to 15 minutes. In addition, since writing is such a challenge for Connor (And it will likely always be a challenge. I’ve had the school conduct two OT assessments in which he barely scored in the passing range and has not “needed” OT provided by the school. So that is an important point to absent mindedly bring up at convenient times like this. “Well you know he struggles to write, even though he hasn’t needed OT, according to the school eval, but maybe we can find a way to accommodate him so that I don’t go requesting an expensive independent eval?”) I asked if his nightly Reader’s Response question could be answered via my recording it, instead of him having to write it out. I stressed that the point of the Reader’s Response was to get them thinking critically about what they read, so removing the pressure of writing would make it easier to focus on that. The teacher agreed and now he reads nightly and I use the record feature on my phone to ask the question and get his answer. Then I just email it off to the teacher. So much less pressure and unnecessary time spent trying to reduce his answer to the fewest amount of words because he detests writing so much.
But then I got careless, and I asked about ESY. The principal felt it was far too early in the school year to consider it, and she mentioned the “regression” tool that they use to decide if a child needs ESY. I casually mentioned that my understanding was that it wasn’t the only criteria for ESY (I admit it, I was pretty assertive. A couple of summers ago Connor was kicked out of two summer camps, due to behavior. Last summer, having ESY half day and camp the other half, he did beautifully. If you comb through all the legal junk, you will find that if there is a serious disruption that causes hardship, that is also a qualifying factor. In short, I’d already done the homework, but I had to back pedal and stroke egos, like a girl in a massage parlor specializing in happy endings.) Since we were due to have the official IEP the following month, I acquiesced and told the principal that I was fine with revisiting it then, because I wasn’t sure if I was correct anyway, and wanted to read through the department of education policies to make sure I wasn’t speaking out of turn, (In other words, I let her know I was coming with a huge stack of paper, with all the legal parameters highlighted for her convenience.) and that I appreciated her willingness to table it until then.
At our official IEP meeting in October, the very first agenda item was the principal informing me that he did, indeed, qualify for ESY! I thanked her profusely, and encouraged her to have another cookie. (Yes, I brought cookies. I actually really like his teachers, very much. And I want them to know I appreciate their hard work. Also, it’s a strategy to give every impression that you are kind, thoughtful, and reasonable. Reasonable is the important adjective, because if you ever have to push things to mediation, you don’t ever want someone to offer an impression of you as being overly emotional or controlling. And you want them to know that you will scratch their back, if they scratch yours.)
So far, the school year is proceeding well. We have a nice routine going, and both the gen ed and special ed teachers are fabulous. His gen ed teacher even went the extra mile. Connor had been having an ongoing feud with another boy, that Connor would fixate on every day. The teacher pulled the other boy in and talked to both of them, asking them what things they like. She found some common ground, and got them to shake hands and call a truce. In the past, issues like this have been ignored, or just considered “normal kid squabbles.” But it was more than that to my kid, and she really got that. As a result of her taking the extra time to do that, we have avoided further issues.
These are the people that support our kids every day, and it’s important to try and have a good relationship with them. Teachers work hard, and the more we can support and encourage them, the more likely they will be to listen when we feel our child needs some extra help. It’s the administrators that are more complicated and require more sophistication to gain their support. (Let’s face it, they have a budget to follow, and they’re going to play hard ball to meet that bottom line. You’ve got to be prepared and have a solid case to get what your child needs. And if you can make them feel like it was their idea, all the better.)
Hope you find some of this helpful when you’re tackling challenges with your child. Make no mistake, this is HARD. But quitting is not an option. Failure is not an option. You need to read up on your state laws regarding special education, as well as knowing IDEA. And remember, even if you need to actually pull in an advocate or lawyer, a batch of chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt either.