I got two different emails in the same week, and it made me sad to read them together. One was a link to an article titled “Tips for Teachers: How To Deal with Upset Parents.” The other email was from a group I belong to, a parent support group. While it sometimes is a good place to exchange information, but sometimes…not so much.
Now, first off, let me say that I will not name any names, and the person who wrote this legitimately believes it, and, as such, I don’t want to mock her or make fun or her in any way. Instead, I want to sympathize with her, and I wonder what it took to make her believe this.
Here’s a quick quote from the post:
“They [the school districts] think we should be grateful they even allow SE kids in school and parents should just be happy for a ‘break.’
“Advocacy of SE kids can be draining. You win one battle and they will hate you. You think if you win one battle the school will change, but they never will until some powerful force forces them to do so. I’d put the Office of Civil rights on speed dial. Don’t look to the state education board to be in your corner. The first thing they do is ask you what district you are talking about, and then they give the district a heads up.
“Each year, they have teachers and several school personnel go to a seminar put on by district lawyers who teach them how to get around the law.”
Now, I can understand her feelings, to some extent. Many years ago, we had a problem with my son’s school district. And we found out, after the “fight,” that the whole reason it was even a fight at all was because of one person – one person who was probably too scared to admit that she had made a mistake. People below her were willing to work with us. She, however, seemed unable to let them because it would undermine her perceived authority. It was a bad experience, and if we had continued to have bad experiences like that, we probably would feel like the person who posted the above message.
But…I have to say, I don’t believe that school districts are bad and evil. I don’t believe that schools seriously send their teachers to a session to learn “how to get around the law.”
What I believe is that there are bad people everywhere. You can have a bad director of special education. You can have a bad teacher. You can have a bad lawyer. You can have a bad police officer. You can have a bad barista. (Sorry, coffee is an important part of almost every SE parent’s life, amIright?)
As someone who “won a battle” against a district, I have to say that I have not felt hated. I have not felt like the school refuses to change. I have not felt like I need to constantly be in touch with the Office of Civil Rights. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky. But I don’t think that’s it. I think there’s something else there.
I think most people who are in special education are there because they care. Because they want to make a difference. They share things like the article written by Dave Wilson where he advises teachers to reflect on what parents say and what they mean, be open to ideas, ask for help, and communicate the positives. Does that sound like something that would be out there if these teachers and other professionals didn’t care? If they really went to training to learn how to avoid the law, why would they care about connecting with parents?
If you, as a parent, honestly feel that the school, the teachers, the district, even the state education agency is out to get you, you may need to stop. You may need to read that article and see if you can apply it to yourself. Do you need to learn how to deal with the school and its reps? Are you actually the problem?
Simon had a bad morning. Which seems fair because I had a bad morning, too. I seem to have picked up the stomach flu that’s going around, and I woke up with a serious headache, severe nausea, a stuffed-up nose, and a sore throat. Fun!
But still more fun than Simon had.
Apparently, starting at about 8 a.m., he began throwing a fit at school, demanding that his teacher call us because we would “take him to the zoo.” He told her to “call mom and dad” and that “mom will take you to zoo” and “dad will take you to the zoo.”
Uh. No. Nope. There had been no zoo discussions. No mentions of the zoo. No idea where the zoo concept came from.
But the argument about the zoo lasted.
I was still asleep and trying to feel better when the teacher tried to call me, so I didn’t hear my phone, but she called Patrick next, and he answered. Then he had to get on the phone and explain to Simon that no, no, we were not going to pick him up from school, and he was not going to the zoo.
That phone call happened at 9:30.
An hour and a half after Simon started wanting to go to the zoo.
At 10:15, he finally calmed down.
Let that sink in. It was over two hours of Simon freaking out because he got it into his head that we were going to take him to the zoo.
His teacher sent home an ABC page. (For those not in the know, ABC = Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. In other words, what happened to cause the behavior, what behavior was it, and then what happened because of his behavior.) The page goes into great detail about everything she tried to calm him down. It includes instructions, prompts, redirection, social stories, counting, alternative behavior techniques, squeezing a ball, and breathing. That’s a lot to do, especially when you consider that he was screaming at her and then getting physically aggressive with her, including scratching and pinching her.
It spanned going from the cafeteria to the classroom to his independent work time to group work time to quiet time to independent computer work.
And this is why we all need to be appreciative to special education teachers. Because this is what they deal with. This is what their days are like. This is what they are trying to help with.
At the same time, I also wanted to point out that while the teacher wasn’t enjoying herself, neither was Simon. That had to be a truly stressful time for him. He spent over two hours completely wound up. He couldn’t calm himself down, and he couldn’t get anyone else to do it, either.
Imagine, if you can, what it would be like to spend two hours completely freaking out. You are trying to get a message to someone, but you can’t. You are trying to get something you need, but you can’t. You are stuck, unable to communicate, unable to calm down.
He was better after that. He found a way to calm down, he had a good afternoon, and then he fell asleep on the school bus coming home. He got to go horseback riding at SIRE, and then, when he got home, he went to sleep.
But not before mentioning that he was going to “have fun” tomorrow “at the zoo.”
I told him that there would be no zoo tomorrow – he could go to the library, though, which he agreed would be a good replacement. I am thinking, though, that Sunday might be a day at the zoo now…
This was ARD Day!
An ARD is a (normally) yearly meeting that is meant to help determine the IEP for a child with special needs. For those not up on the alphabet soup, ARD is “Admission, Review, and Dismissal,” and it deals with creating, updating, changing, whatever goals and objectives for the year. They happen to bring a child into special programs, keep the child in them, or move the child out of them, whether because the services are no longer needed or because the child is graduating. The IEP is the Individualized Education Plan, which is needed because every child in special education will normally need their own plan in order to make sure they are meeting grade-level (or functional-level) education goals.
Makes sense so far?
Today was our meeting.
I had gotten the call from the speech therapist last week, which I had blogged about, and the meeting itself was this morning.
First – the speech therapist really, really thought that we were gonna agree to her idea of halving the services Simon received. She began all friendly like, touched me on the shoulder (don’t touch me!!!), and mentioned that she “and Mom” had “chatted.” Uh-huh. “But Mom wanted to think about it.” It felt like condescension center in the room. So Mom spoke up and pointed out, “Yeah, and I disagreed with it then, and I disagree with it now, too.”
The conversation (often one-sided: her side) went on for almost an hour. She kept arguing that he needed *less* pull-out speech therapy because “the goal of speech therapy was to get out of speech therapy.” Which is kind of funny because there we were, thinking that the goal of speech therapy was to increase his speech and help him with daily functioning! How silly of us! She argued that measurements were subjective (uh, no, they are objective when you make an objective and then measure it by 7/10 tests as a “mastery” of the objective), and she argued that the fact that he hadn’t progressed in some of his goals as proof that he needed less speech therapy and more “consultation,” i.e. she would talk to the teacher and observe him, but not actually work with him.
She couldn’t provide any evidence or proof that her method of change – giving him less one-on-one instruction and help – would actually helped, nor could she back up her choice except for her “professional opinion” (which she repeated about eighty times in that hour). She cited that Simon was answering questions about videos, and said they were different videos every time. I’d like proof of that. Because he sure doesn’t do that anywhere else. He still says “yes” when someone asks him how his day was. Her response was that it wasn’t a “wh” question. Umm, yeah, because people only ask “wh” questions. “How” should just be dropped from the English language!
Another thing she said that set my nerves on end was when we stated that he did not make requests – he simply will say what he wants “banana” or “crackers.” She said that what he was doing was acceptable “for his disability and his placement.” Woah. So we should just give up on getting him to use sentences because he has autism and is in a self-contained room? Really? Cause if it’s all about disability and placement, lady, then let me tell you what I think about your functional level when it comes to talking to parents…
In the end, we had a bit of a stalemate and agreement: Patrick had pointed out that if having the consults were so important, then why not add them to the already in-place speech therapy? I think, to shut us up, she agreed to provide both the consults and the in-place speech therapy through the first nine week period of the next school year. The best part? That’s more than she wanted to give him. She would have done better to just argue to keep it the same.
Now, we will be going down after those nine weeks. Unless, of course, we call another ARD and argue some more. We’ll see how it goes. She might be right, and going down might help. But I think that going down now is a bad idea, and as I’ve said (and heard) so often – parents are the experts on their child. A woman who sees my son once a week is not an expert on her, regardless of her training. She may be an expert on speech, but that doesn’t mean she knows Simon.
Second – the OT, after hearing the hour-long argument with the speech therapist, said, “You know, I was going to suggest going down to three sessions with him, but I think we’ll just keep it at four.” To be fair, if she had suggested three, we probably would not have argued, but I’m glad that she kept it at four because I do think that will be good for him, at least through the transition to junior high. Maybe when we have our ARD in the fall, we’ll drop that down.
Third – and final – argh! ARD! ARDs are always stressful. And this time, for some reason, we hadn’t been provided with any paperwork ahead of time, which made it worse because we weren’t sure what to expect. In the past, we normally get some paperwork to let us know what they’re going to go over. I really don’t like not getting it. The goals/objectives should be decided by the ARD committee, and when the school keeps the parents in the dark about the drafts, it can make things worse, cause more stress, and, honestly, make it feel like the parents are not a welcome part of the committee.
Now, we’ve been doing ARDs for nine years, and we’re pretty comfortable with the ideas of asking questions, asking for clarification, and disagreeing with what other people say. But for those who are new, here’s my advice: don’t be afraid. And remember that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Get data if you need it. Get information. Ask questions. Demand responses, if you have to. You’re the expert on your child. You’re the advocate for your child. You’re the one who has to be willing to do what it takes. So, to totally steal someone else’s motto: Just do it!