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by Jess

Freedom, Safety and Parental Peace of Mind

November 30, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

When collegeman (DS1) was three years old and HSB (DS2) was 6 months I used to take them to the city playground by myself. I never really thought about it. I figured, the baby is stuck in the stroller and collegeman would do his thing with me keeping an eye on him. It was a really nice little playground near us. It was very kid friendly and for the city at least, very kid safe-there was only one entrance and exit. There was a jungle gym; slides, monkey bars, and a fountain in the middle were the children would go in the hot days of summer and sun under the sprinklers. There were benches around the fountain where the moms would sit, talk and get some adult time while they watched their children play.

It was not a big deal to stand with collegeman and watch him play. While we didn’t know at the time that he was autistic we knew that he didn’t talk and interact as other children did, but everyone told us there was nothing wrong but a slight speech delay. I didn’t think that I had to watch him extra careful. He always did seem to be underfoot and quite happy to do as he was told.

Well, it was a bright beautiful day in the neighborhood. The park was full of children and their moms running, playing and laughing. It really was a scene out of a1950s suburb but of course it was in the middle of the city and so there was no grass, but a lot of concrete. Collegeman was having a great time. He loved spinning the wheels of the jungle gym and was quite content to do that, after a few times on the slide. (Yep, a missed indicator I know). Well, I decided it was time to go home. It was getting late, the baby needed a nap and I needed to start dinner. I told collegeman that we needed to leave. I bent down to fix a strap on HSB’s stroller and when I looked back up collegeman was gone. Now he wasn’t gone in the sense that I could see that he had run over to the monkey bars. He was not anywhere in sight and would not answer when I called his name.

I can’t even begin to describe the terror. I know for a second I was in disbelief that he wasn’t in front of me and not answering. I ran from apparatus to apparatus. I ran out to the front gate, and asked the hotdog vendor if she had seen a little blond boy leave all by himself. No one had seen him. I ran back inside and kept calling his name. The mommy bunch on the benches, asked if I wanted them to watch the baby. I thanked them profusely and proceeded to run around, sans baby and stroller I had been pushing the stroller as I went running around the playground calling for and looking for collegeman. This time, I even went into the nooks and crannies calling collegeman’s name. Finally I wound back at the mommies and one of them asked me if he was the blond boy by the spinning wheel. (Of course, he had returned to his favorite spot after he had been who knows where inside the playground.)

I ran over to him, grabbed and kissed him and began to yell at him in the middle of the park. I continued to yell at him at home. I fed him his dinner and sent him to bed early so he would remember not to run away. I know you can probably understand the panic. Collegeman never did anything like that again. Neither one of the boys are runners. HSB however, would at times in his life decide that he didn’t want to be somewhere and decide to leave, but that’s not the same as just exiting or running. (You have to understand HSB, he gets something in his craw, ratchets up an attitude and decides he isn’t going to listen to anyone.)

Meanwhile over the years, we never truly faced an issue like the playground again, probably because I also never went back to the playground by myself again. We never went anywhere alone with the boys until they were both much older and even then, we would go in groups of threes everywhere including the ladies room if the need arose. I remember being in a major bulk market needing to go to the ladies and taking my ten and seven year old in with me. I don’t know if the other ladies cared. I don’t know if the other ladies thought something was amiss. (Of course if anyone knows me they also know I wouldn’t have given a damn either) I even took them into the stall (did have them turn around though). In this world you need to do what has to be done. My children, nor yours, need to become a statistics because someone has no idea about the real world and the problems in today’s society.

Anyway, fast forward to today. The boys are much older and we thought more cognizant of the world and people around them. We thought that they understand that when we tell them to call us they are supposed to call. We thought they knew that when they made an appointment to meet someone that that person will be waiting for them. We thought they knew that when people expect you to be someplace and you are not there, those people begin to worry. Not on your life. It was a really fun day yesterday. Collegeman is glad he’s too big to send to bed early.

Collegeman was supposed to meet his art class coach after his law class, have lunch with her and go see his art professor about some projects he was working on. He has done this for several weeks so I didn’t really think I had to remind him what to do. I did remind him to take his portfolio with him. That he would have forgotten. So off he went to school and all was right with the world. (Well, actually HSB was really sick with a viral infection, complete with headache, hacking cough and fever. He is fine now but think Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, complete with blanket over head, complaining how sick he feels and the refusal to bend over because his sinus’s hurt. At least HSB doesn’t like vic’s vaporub on his chest and didn’t ask to have me sing him “soft kitty.” Just set up the computer, humidifier, TV and recharge his phone to play his games.)

Shortly after 1pm the art coach called and asked if collegeman had come home by mistake, because she had been waiting for over an hour and he had not shown up.  I decided to try not to panic at this moment and tried to call him on his cell. He did not pick up. I tried again, again he did not pick up. I texted him. He did not respond. The coach called back and no she hadn’t been able to get him either. She decided to take another walk around the campus check out his favorite spots (the library and his advisor’s office) while I called hubby. I texted hubby and he did not respond either. So I called him on his cell.

Now hubby was in a very very very important meeting, but he answered and I started to yell a little about not being able to find collegeman. Yes, he said, call campus security. So I did. They know collegeman because he gets picked up and dropped off every day in front of the building where their office is. They also know him because the disability director introduced collegeman to them. They should know who he was (one of them happens to be a special education teacher by trade and understand aspergers) plus they are all trained as EMTs incase collegeman has a bad seizure; he should know that they will be there to help him. I explained the situation how he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and he wasn’t answering his cell and I am concerned because of the seizures that he might be hurt somewhere. I also told him that when you find him and he is ok, yell at him for me. “We can’t do that ma’am he told me. I have to let you yell at him. But we will go look. Don’t worry.”

Meanwhile, after several more minutes of anxiety, trauma and thoughts of him being tricked into a situation where he was in mortal danger, collegeman called. He was actually annoyed that the art coach was not waiting for him in the place he was supposed to meet her even though he was one and a half hours late. You know I yelled at him when he was three and took off in the playground, this time I used every four letter word I could possibly think of.

Now was it the best parenting moment I had. No, not really, but then again I don’t think I had ever been so afraid in such a long time. He claimed that he didn’t hear the phone ring (He kept telling me that so I resolved that once he got home I would check his phone to see what was going on) and that he was doing work in the library and then just grabbed food in the café. He truly did not understand that anyone would be worried about him.

Meanwhile I told him that the coach would meet him at the art professor’s office and to get his ass there. I immediately called the security office and told them I finally heard from him. Apparently they were also worried about him, because he had sent half his force out looking for collegeman. He also insisted that even if he came by the security desk, he could still not yell at him.

Collegeman called on his way home and didn’t want to get yelled at. He had had enough and wanted everything put behind him and decided we should move on. Oh no, way in hell. When he got home we had another loud discussion. But it had more to do with the fact that he had was not grasping in any way shape or form the reason that anyone would be worried about him. I tried to explain it to him. Then of course he got angry at me that I called his father. Not because he would be embarrassed but that I had the nerve to bother hubby at work. He hates when I bother him when he is doing his work and I have no right to do the same to his father. More yelling and more who do you think you are. I called because no one could find you and I needed some advice on what to do next. I fixed the ringer on his phone.

Now the thing that he didn’t want to deal with in any way shape or form was having an additional talk about this with his father. He had had enough and truthfully I was not getting through to him. (Yes I know a combination of teenage stupidity and asperger mindblindness)Hubby called and spoke to collegeman and promised that they would not talk about it when he got home from work. This morning was another thing, as collegeman kept insisting that I had no right to bother his father at work. We tried to impress upon him how frightened we were. That when you tell people you are going to be somewhere and don’t show up that they will worry about you. I actually even told him, the thing he should have done was go to meet the coach, tell her what you wanted to do and then go do it. This seemed to mollify him a bit, but I think he still really doesn’t get it. Truthfully whether he gets it or not, is no big deal right now, what is important is that he understands what he has to do when he wants to change plans and others are depending on him to be at a certain place at a certain time.

Well true to his word, hubby came home as I said, and did not mention the incident to collegeman at all. We ate dinner. Watched TV and everyone went about their usual evening business. The boys went to bed and dreamt their usual dreams. Unbeknownst to them however, hubby had found a service through the wireless phone company that allows you to track the phone users’ whereabouts. He called the phone company and bought the service. He set it up for each boy, not trusting that HSB one day wouldn’t pull the same crap that collegeman just did. Luckily both boys obsessively take their phones with them. Collegeman takes his phone because it is what grown-ups do, along with taking with you when you leave the house your wallet (complete with id and money) and keys. HSB takes his phone so he can play the games he’s downloaded.

So the boys dreamt their sweet slumber of innocence and dreamed the dreams of teenage boys. They awoke the next day and off collegeman went to school. Secure in the knowledge that the issue won’t be discussed anymore, but innocent to the reality that we had just lo-jacked his ass.

Until next time,

With child locator in hand,

Elise

Elise is a parent of two youngmen with aspergers. She is all about advocacy and support for those with special needs. Elise has been a volunteer child advocate in her community for over ten years and is a certified college transition coach for those with aspergers. Additionally, Elise is also a moderator on the on-line support group The Coffee Klatch, aka tck. TCK is a twitter based interactive support group made of up parents of special needs children for parents of special needs children. You can follow Elise through her blog Raising Aspergers’s Kids, http://asd2mom.blogspot.com, on twitter @raisingASDkids, on Facebook as “Elise Aspergers-twomom”. You can follow The Coffee Klatch @thecoffeeklatch and on their FaceBook page of the same name.

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by Jess

Telepractice is becoming increasingly popular. Are you on board?

November 29, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

The public school dilemma

One of the largest obstacles in speech therapy services over the years has been achieving high levels of parent involvement. Without parent involvement, learning reinforcement wanes and it’s difficult to graduate these kids from speech-language therapy. There are other difficulties we face in schools, including personnel shortages which inhibit us from seeing kids at a proper treatment age. Public schools mitigate large caseloads by starting speech treatment later than they should, graduating kids even though they’re not ready, or even refusing to see kids despite their need for therapy. Many of the local school districts are forced to wait and treat speech problems until the child is eight, far into their developmental process, and at that point it’s much harder to retrain habits that are already engrained. Public schools face quite a daunting dilemma.

I came across an article about New Mexico’s educational budget cuts, and they’re going to turn kids away who absolutely need speech therapy. While tax dollars are being used to build a new high school with little to no enrollment, officials are denying imperative speech-language development services. If education doesn’t help kids read, write, speak and develop confidence, then what is its purpose? We face so many difficulties in education, and it’s about time we rethink the way services are delivered and received.

Telepractice is a viable solution

Telepractice is a way of delivering speech-language therapy to students online via an HD webcam, high quality audio chat, and advanced interactive tools used for engagement and interaction with the student. And the best part is that ASHA has approved of this service delivery model since 2005. SLPs don’t have to travel, they can treat more kids during the day, and learning reinforcement is higher because we connect with students while they’re in their natural learning environment: the home. While the student and SLP connect for a session over the online platform, parents are present as the facilitator, and as you can already tell, this provides incredible learning advantages. Kent State University’s OMNIE (Ohio Master’s Network Initiatives in Education) research study on the effects of telepractice indicates the following benefits to student learning [1]:

  • Student reaction to the program was overwhelmingly positive
  • Administrators felt teletherapy was more consistent than face-to-face sessions and required more attention and engagement on the part of the student
  • Most parents rated the program as “above average” and praised their children’s progress
  • Students are not removed from precious class-room time
  • Students avoid awkward social situations
  • Students avoid the all-to-common stereotype of special education

Visual Speech Therapy is a great choice

Visual Speech Therapy is a telepractice that connects SLPs with students while at home, and the benefits outlined above abound in VST’s proven visual learning approach. Why else is “Visual” part of the name? VST is the first telepractice to implement Speech Buddies. Speech Buddies are a series of revolutionary speech therapy tools to help children learn correct and consistent tongue positioning for five of the most difficult-to-learn problem sounds – R, S, L, CH, and SH. Speech Buddies were designed by a team of speech-language pathologists and engineers who understand the challenges associated with speech therapy and treating speech disorders. Speech Buddies train correct tongue placement so children learn and feel how to produce the right sound. Having customized tools for articulation disorders is a breakthrough technology for the speech therapy industry.

Speech Buddies have been shown to help children learn to correct problem sounds twice as fast [2]. They help address mild or severe speech challenges by making it easy to pronounce the correct sound, every time. Research shows that kids with an R sound disorder can achieve 90% accuracy within just eight speech sessions [3], and kids with an S sound disorder can achieve 71% accuracy within just eight speech sessions [4].

Contact Visual Speech Therapy for a free demonstration of the online platform and Speech Buddies to see if this is right for you at this time. Find out more by visiting their website as well: www.visualspeechtherapy.com.

[1] http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Editorial/Content/Editorial.aspx?CC=164509

[2] Gordy Rogers & Jessica Galgano, Speech Buddies and Intra-Oral Tactile Biofeedback, 2010.

[3] http://visualspeechtherapy.com/_include/images/misc/Speech_Buddies_R_Case_Study.pdf

[4] http://visualspeechtherapy.com/_include/images/misc/White_Paper_SB_Clincal_Trial-8-20-2010.pdf

 

 

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Top Ten Special Education Supreme Court Cases

November 28, 2011 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

The list outlines the top ten Special Education Supreme Court Cases and a short description of each ruling.  To read the entire opinion click on the name of each case below:

1. Hendrick Hudson Board of Education. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982)

First Supreme Court case regarding special education set the standard for what is a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.   The ruling provided children with disabilities access to public schools that also provided a basic floor of opportunity.  Not the best education but one where the child has passing grades in classes and is advancing to higher grades. Read the rest of this entry →

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by Jess

40 Must See YouTube Videos To Learn About Effective Special Education Teaching Methods

November 27, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Those studying for a degree in special education know that there are many challenges to both studying and practicing these specialized teaching methods. With the education of so many needy children at stake, it is very important to know as much as you can about the subject. Everyone from parents of special needs children to teachers to those who want to see the most disadvantaged children taken care of can benefit from learning more.

To help accomplish this, we have gathered 40 must see YouTube videos to learn about effective special education teaching methods. In addition to teaching a few techniques that can help all sorts of students learn, they can help you learn everything from the basics of special education all the way up to policy practices in the area. Read the rest of this entry →

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by Jess

Getting an IEP is Never as Easy as it Looks

November 20, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

This is part II of an ongoing series of 3 blog posts by Lori Gertz about the process of becoming an advocate for her growing special needs child. Click here to read the first part of the series.

IEP As defined by the United States Dept of Education:

Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

Emily aged out of the Early Intervention Program which provides support from age 0-3 on January 5, 2006. At the time we were living in Cook County, Il so the Intervention social worker set me up to have her assessed for the ongoing support services that would be provided by the local school district. The natural flow of support for children in need of special services seemed seamless as we had her evaluated just weeks following the time she aged out of the current Occupational Therapy(OT), Developmental Therapy(DT), and Social Work(SW) she was receiving for what was labeled Sensory Integration/Processing Disorder at the time. This was never a formal diagnosis, but merely a collection of symptoms of her more physiological and psychological issues at that time, as yet undiagnosed.

She was evaluated “clean” and clear of need for any services through the school system. I was shocked and disappointed, as was the Early Intervention team, so they worked with me to find continuing support resources that we would begin on a private pay basis.

I spent the majority of that year seeing doctor after doctor looking for some insight as to what might be the basis of the cause of Emily’s challenges and was told everything from she was fine and I had MSP (Munchausens by Proxy), to this being a clear cut case of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and that she hadn’t bonded to me because I wasn’t her biological parent.

I realized the whole matter of finding her support was now hinged on finding a true diagnosis for disability to attach to her need for a fair and appropriate education. Amidst this mess of looking for answers, we relocated to another county and prayed they would be more open to providing the support Emily needed when she was ready to go to school.

In the meanwhile, I was painted as someone who just didn’t understand the nature of this child not born of my womb, and told that perhaps I wasn’t the ideal adoptive mother for her. I had also been told that the child was obviously abused before the adoption, and when I replied telling them she had been placed with me as soon as she was out of the womb, I was then suspect FOR that abuse. I went from being the investigator to being the investigated, as our young child, covered with bruises from self mutilation, rashes from undiagnosed allergies, reflux, and the inability to be soothed developed new sensory related dysregulations on a daily basis.

While we paid for OT, DT and cognitive behavioral therapy we also paid to see neurologists, biomedical physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, dermatologists, and allergists, to the tune of 38 consultations. On the 39th appointment, I got my answer. It was right there on her face the whole time, Emily had 3 clearcut indicators for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. She had facial abnormalities, including smaller eye openings, flattened cheekbones, and indistinct philtrum (an underdeveloped groove between the nose and the upper lip). She also had a historically small head circumference dating back to her birth.

For 3 years I had internalized that I just couldn’t parent this child. I was being told by doctor after doctor that nothing was wrong with her and that I needed to look to myself for why I couldn’t soothe her. Why it took finding an expert in FASD to make such a physically obvious diagnosis, I will never know or understand. Why do physicians bother to measure the head circumference if they never evaluate it for abnormality? I went from trusting physicians to doubting all of them in one swift diagnosis. I also blamed myself for not knowing what I didn’t know to know.

Advocate on Training Wheels: Early Childhood Special Needs Programs

FASD is not a diagnosis anyone ever wants to hear. It is a grim sentence for those that are labeled with it and the parents of those raising those children aren’t given much hope for the milestones one usually hopes to reach in the adventure of raising a child.

Craig was devastated and very angry at the birthmother upon hearing our expert as he explained and showed us benchmarks of the levels of drugs and alcohol that potentially caused this child’s genetic misfortune. What he left out that day, probably to save us the further heartbreak, was his substantiated research that 90% + of kids born with FASD are locked and loaded for a multitude of other co-morbidities, as the birthparent who drugs and drinks while pregnant most certainly has other emotional/psychological burdens. We left that day with our diagnosis though, and most certainly there would be no school district in the country that could turn their back on giving services to this child now, or so I thought.

Having a real medical diagnosis in hand and having relocated created the opportunity to start again with our new county jurisdiction and have her reevaluated for special education and the IEP.

No later than 2 weeks after our diagnosis, I received a call from our birthmother’s brother as he reported that the police had just left his home and that she had been found dead of an apparent suicide by drug overdose after being released from jail that morning. No closure for us, no closure for Emily, just a damaged brain and a legacy of prospective co-morbidity to live out.

Emily was re-evaluated in our new county of residence for the Special Education program and her need for services on her IEP was identified based on her medical diagnosis code of “other physical impairments”.

She was matriculated into the summer and fall Early Childhood Special Education program in our district and provided OT and Social work services in the school setting. She was a real leader in her classroom setting and had an excellent year with a small classroom size, ideal teacher student ratio and support for her emotional dysregulation.

In larger classrooms and without the appropriate support children with FASD have a hard time making and keeping friends. They have difficulty reading and understanding social cues. In Emily’s case, she has boundary issues and often misreads people as hostile when they are not. She internalizes the hostility and either responds with hostile behavior towards them or herself. If she reads a cue that tells her the children don’t like her, she will self mutilate by itching until she bleeds, pounding her head on the floor, or biting herself.

If the classroom or setting is appropriate to her needs reflecting the environment that enables her to maintain her level of comfort and composure, she can maintain her balance. Her early childhood classroom did just this for her, so of course, throughout the year the administrators would see me and comment, “Emily’s doing great. We can’t see any reason for her to be in that classroom.” As a result of her surpassing her performance goals (which had minor educational implications and were more based on the social/emotional piece), the year ended with her IEP being emptied of any services outside a social work consult if needed and she was elevated to Kindergarten.

Early in the Kindergarten school year, the District “team” had told us that at any time we could call a meeting to regroup on any issues we felt needed addressing and we did…plenty of them, but to no positive outcome. Emily received no formal special education services all year.

In late October of that year, just 7 weeks after starting Kindergarten, she was hospitalized for two weeks as an inpatient in a children’s psych ward after failing to thrive on a new course of drugs that included Depakote and Lithium after which she called out for help by telling a teacher she wanted to kill herself.

We were certain they would throw services at her when she was discharged, but, to our surprise and their neglect, they argued that nothing had changed educationally. They said the only way they would even acknowledge any change in her education was if the doctors who managed her care at the hospital would physically come to an IEP meeting to present their findings.

The doctors at the hospital were unable to attend any off-site meetings on Emily’s account, so I served as proxy, and presented 50 pages of documentation of her stay and her intolerance for educational overwhelm notwithstanding.

Despite my presentation of the findings, Emily remained in a classroom of more than 27 students with nary a special education service, despite her depression and hypomania. Needless to say, she spent a great deal of time in the nurses office complaining of bruises, stomach aches, headaches, colds, pains of mysterious origin, itching/rashes, etc.

If All Else Fails, Hire a Third Party Advocate

Feeling the failings of my own advocacy efforts for her, about ¾ of the way through the year I hired an outside professional Advocate on the suggestion of a friend. This Advocate spent hours explaining her credentials and her expertise in our specific school district. I was certain she would be able to advocate better for Emily than I could given my immature understanding of the whole “fair and appropriate education” verbiage.

This Advocate then set about to speak to Emily’s teacher and arranged a school visit to view her in the classroom setting. Emily’s kindergarten class had 1 teacher and 1 aide. It was an integrated classroom, so while there were others getting services such as OT, PT or Speech therapy, Emily wasn’t, though the teachers were pretty fluid throughout the day.

Her mid-winter report card had us quite concerned with her inability to “self start”, stay on task, complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time, have self confidence, and work and play independently (Things like erasing her work until there was a hole in the paper, destructive self talk and destroying artwork she wasn’t happy with didn’t seem to concern them) along with some abstract kindergarten level concepts she wasn’t grasping. Her reading and math skills were below the norm, as well, but not the point where it garnered any attention from the administrators.

The kindergarten teacher told the Advocate that Emily did struggle but that the aid in the classroom spent most if not all of her time supporting her. The Advocate found it pretty interesting that although Emily was polarizing the classroom aid, the administration would not admit that the aid was there specifically for Emily.

The typical ratio in Emily’s classroom was 1:12 children. On the day of the planned school visit, the Advocate arrived to a classroom of 24 children (a few were absent) and a teacher student ratio of 1:4. Yes, for the majority of the day that the teacher said would reflect a typical day in the classroom, there were 6 teachers in the room.

Even recognizing this was not at all a “typical day” the Advocate stayed and noted Emily’s morning. Of course, it went off without a hitch given that Emily was never left alone without a teacher’s direct support for even 5 minutes.

That whole year I had advocated that she needed a formal 1:1 resource to help her process what was being asked of her and provide support when she reached a level of frustration so she wouldn’t melt down, but they denied her this.

Aside from the $750 I wasted on the Advocate who could not, in good faith, say she saw any sign of Emily needing anything in addition to what she was already receiving in this “integrated” classroom, I had built up some serious anger.

The Advocate had one good point, as did our private behavioral therapist after this debacle, and it was that Emily did wonderfully with a 1:4 ratio. We played it for everything we could at our year-end meeting and thanked them for being so amenable to her needs and how excited we were that the ratio would be continued into 1st Grade. It would be carried over to first grade, right?

Unbeknownst to us at the time, the District’s elementary school had already suspected something was amiss and sent their own social worker and psych evaluator into the setting to watch Emily and on the day they sat in, there was a normal 1:12 ratio.

At year end and just prior to the final transition IEP meeting, I was riddled with anger. Craig and I began meeting with attorneys to assess our rights for a fair and appropriate education for our daughter in the school district.

Neither of the highly referred private attorneys thought too highly of our particular district’s handling of children like ours. They both prepared us for years of advocating and fighting for Emily’s rights. They looked at the IEP we had worked so hard to get for her with and told us it was the equivalent of starting from scratch in terms of building a case for a therapeutic outplacement of any kind.

I felt like such a failure. I had taken on a job I knew nothing about other than what my heart led me to fight for. I never realized that we didn’t just want an IEP, but we wanted ones with goals that were truly formidable. We wanted goals that would change with the evolution of a growing child with brain damage from alcohol and drug exposure. Most of the IEP was written for social and emotional support, and very little if none was written for measurable educational goals and objectives. I was polarized to getting her the emotional support because that had been what we had been slammed with at home. She was and remains a very smart little girl. To some degree we were working in the dark on what she would and wouldn’t be able to handle as it related to her educational skills and abilities.

What came of all this groping in the dark, was a weak IEP that wasn’t strong enough to earn us a formal 1:1 classroom support, never mind a state supported outplacement.

We were distraught and began looking at therapeutic schools in the area that we might be able to pay for privately. The two that were most in keeping with her social/emotional and educational needs were state refer only. In other words, they wouldn’t take our money if we gave it to them in golden nickels. They couldn’t. The only children who could attend these schools were those who had been outplaced or referred by local school districts.

Our next step was to assess private residential therapeutic schools across the country that might be able to provide Emily the structure and support she needed to be successful. They averaged 100-160K per year and as we began to evaluate our finances we realized they just weren’t financially feasible options.

The fact that as a dual income, white collar family, we could not afford to pay for an appropriate educational and residential setting for our child with social, emotional and educational challenges is a sign of a very broken system of support. If we were in a lower income setting, there would be services and funding, but for us, there was nothing.

Driven by the prospect of another school year fueling her unwieldy emotional outbursts, violent tantrums and inconsistent moodiness at home, I even went so far as to travel to a specialized school for kids with FASD in Washington.

This small, unaccredited school in a church basement has made huge inroads with FASD diagnosed kids by incorporating a strong Neuroreorganization “program” every 20 minutes during classtime. Faced with the reality of sending my 6 year old adopted daughter across the country to live with another family while she attended the school, I was left emotionally wracked so I tried to renew my hope and faith in our school district.

Next up, Emily’s transition meeting. Our district had its own team and school for Kindergarten/Early Childhood and Elementary School, so this was indeed a transition. Transition in schools, transition in teachers, transition of teams, everything and everyone except the Special Education representative would be different.

Having met with lawyers, we now knew that our previous IEP was poorly written because we never knew what to ask for, and as such we didn’t have high expectations.

To our surprise, the team from the Elementary School had seen warning lights with our Emily on the day they assessed her (we were not aware that they had even gone into the classroom to assess her). They acknowledged their concerns along with ours and dedicated themselves to being a team that would do more for her than any team before them, and to date, any team after them. We left surprisingly satisfied which was at the very least an opportunity to reduce the anxiety about the coming school year during the summer.

Look for the final part of this 3 part series in two weeks. To read the first part of this series, click here:

Author Bio: Lori Gertz makes her living as a strategic marketing consultant, writer, and reiki master and is currently studying to be a homeopath. She faced the ultimate Sophie’s choice—to give up the daughter she had adopted as a newborn or to keep her, even though she and her husband, Craig, could not ensure that their other
children would be emotionally and physically safe if their troubled sister remained in the family home. She is writing her book, Mama Can’t Kiss It Better: An Idealized Motherhood Lost.

She has created a resource for parents struggling with many of the same issues on

Facebook.com/lorigertzauthor

Twitter @lorigertzauthor

www.whenmamacantkissitbetter.blogspot.com

 

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Enjoying your Child with Special Needs during the Thanksgiving Holiday

November 17, 2011 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

Thanksgiving is upon us and it’s usually filled with parties with family and friends.  For the child with special needs, this might be a difficult time for them because it usually means a change in their daily routine.  Meal times and allowing the child to have down time can really be effected by the holiday.  By the same token, parents need to have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday as well.  In order to do this, we as parents need to do a good job of balancing the change in routine with fun time with family and friends.  How do we accomplish both successfully? Read the rest of this entry →

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I’ve decided to pay for a private evaluation for my child – what should I expect?

November 16, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

The decision about whether or not to have your child evaluated by the school or by a private practitioner can be a difficult one, as discussed in my prior post My Child Needs a Psychological Assessment: Should I Have This Done Through the School or Privately. Once you have made the decision to invest in a comprehensive independent evaluation outside the school, you may wonder what you can expect from the psychologist. Private evaluations are not inexpensive – you are paying for many benefits that are not necessarily part of the testing process within the school. Parents should expect to receive the following services as part of the evaluation when seeing a psychologist in private practice.

1) AN INITIAL MEETING PRIOR TO THE START OF TESTING: This meeting gives the psychologist a chance to gather relevant information about your child’s medical, psychological and neurological history, past and present school performance, and overall functioning. In addition, this is when the “referral questions” should be clarified. The referral questions are the specific questions that the parents and other professionals treating the child have been unable to answer. The initial meeting is an important tool in helping the testing psychologist develop an individualized assessment that will best answer those questions. Evaluation should not be “one size fits all” but rather tailored to the particular needs of each child. Depending on the age and circumstances of your child, they may be invited to join this meeting as well.

2) HOMEWORK: Yes, parents and teachers get homework too! It is very helpful for the psychologist to understand how your child has been functioning in both their home and school settings. Thus, it is common for psychologists to provide questionnaires for parents and teachers to fill out. Depending on your child’s age, they may also be given self-report measures to complete. Parents will also be asked to bring copies of any prior testing that has been done for the examiner to review.

3) A COMPREHENSIVE SET OF TESTS AND SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THE EVALUATION: While the actual amount of time needed to complete the testing depends on your child’s age and the referral questions that are being addressed, a comprehensive evaluation typically requires approximately 7-12 hours of testing. While that may seem like a lot of time, it is necessary in order to properly and thoroughly assess IQ, achievement, underlying cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, executive functions, memory, and language functions, as well as personality structure and current symptomotology. The testing is typically broken down into 2-4 sessions, often with breaks for lunch and/or snacks. The number of sessions generally depends on the age and temperament of your child, although certain tests must be administered in a single sitting and this should be considered when scheduling the assessment sessions. It is generally preferable to start testing in the morning, rather than after a full day of school.

4) A COMPREHENSIVE, INTEGRATED, INTERPRATIVE REPORT WITHIN A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME: A good report will not merely list the test scores, as a list of data is not overly helpful. Rather, the psychologist should discuss and explain the findings, and then interpret them within the context of answering the referral questions. Discrepancies within the data and with prior testing should be addressed and explained, not glossed over. The report should include specific and detailed recommendations for intervention and treatment – this is essential in order to make use of the findings and utilize them in a concrete manner to help your child. A full list of tests administered, as well as an Appendix with all of the test scores, should be included so that parents will have the ability to let other professionals review and interpret the scores if they wish. Good reports cannot be written quickly, but three to six weeks after the testing is completed would be a reasonable expectation for parents.

5) AN OPPORTUNITY TO REVIEW THE FINDINGS WITH THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A comprehensive psychological report is long and often complex. Parents should be given the opportunity to meet with the psychologist to review the findings, and to ask any questions that they may have about the report. While this in-person feedback session with the psychologist to discuss the report is essential, many parents have questions that arise after the feedback session, and the psychologist should be available and willing to answer them by phone.

6) COLLABORATION WHILE MAINTAINING CONFIDENTIALITY: Parents have the right to determine who views their child’s psychological evaluation. While it can be very helpful for the school and other professionals treating their child to view the results, parents are not required to share them with anyone. Once completed, the report is the property of the parents, and they may copy and distribute their child’s report however they see fit, without needing any approval from the psychologists. However, given that other clinicians working with the child (e.g. therapists, psychiatrists, tutors etc.) would likely be able to utilize the information in the report to enhance their work with the child, it is often recommended to the parents to share this information. If shared, reports should not be transmitted through email or fax, as confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in those mediums. If parents do choose to share the report and give consent, the psychologist should be available to discuss their findings with the other treating professionals. The psychologist should not release any information regarding the report without written consent from the parents.

Psychological evaluation can be extremely helpful, as long as both the parents and child fully understand all parts of the process. Parents have the right to speak up and ask questions. Ultimately, the hope and expectation in commissioning a comprehensive psychological evaluation is that the private psychologist will address and answer the referral questions provided by the parents in a manner which provides a clear plan for effective interventions and treatment that will improve the quality of life for your child, and your family, going forward.

Melissa B. Singer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Westchester County, New York. She specializes in comprehensive psychological, cognitive, educational and neuropsychological assessment for children and adolescents. You can learn more about her practice at these websites:

www.melissabsingerphd.com

http://www.facebook.com/DrMelissaSinger

http://twitter.com/#!/DrMelissaSinger

 

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Fear Factor: Getting over the biggest obstacle to inclusion

November 15, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Even under the best of circumstances, there is always a bit of trepidation when starting something new. Think about the first time you rode a bike, drove a car, your first kiss, or really anytime you have ever taken a risk. The thrill and terror of it all can be overwhelming. I liken this feeling to the first time I took one of my students (a boy with severe autism and challenging behaviors) and put him in a 4th grade general education classroom. It was my first teaching job, in a self-contained classroom for students with autism in California and I was challenged by one of my professors at Cal State University Fullerton to begin the process of including my students in general education. At this time, there was little support for inclusion at my school (not even for Art, Music or PE – mainly because we did not have those programs due to budget constraints). Even so, I believed it was the right thing to do and began trying to change the hearts and minds of my colleagues. It was not easy at first, but after explaining that I was not simply going to “dump” my students off in their class, they were definitely more receptive.

This tends to be the biggest fear of people who are opposed to a “full inclusion” model. There are different definitions of “full inclusion” but one I prefer is apparent when we talk about the idea of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). What is the environment that will least hinder the student from being educated with their typically-developing peers while still accessing the general curriculum (what everyone is being taught) in a meaningful way? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to inclusion just like there is no one-size-fits-all approach to general education (no matter how hard we want there to be). But…I am getting ahead of myself. In regards to my 4th grader who was now going to be included into a Math block in general education, I began to feel the anxiety creep up in me as the day approached. Would he keep his challenging behaviors in check? Would the class accept him when he started to script movie lines? Would the general education teacher think I was crazy for putting her up to this?

Diffusing and answering the inevitable questions was the big key into alleviating everyone’s fear. I spoke to the class before we started and explained my student, while having some differences in the way he experienced the world, was still a 4th grade boy who liked movies, music and playing on the computer. He liked Math, which is why we decided this was the best time for him to join his peers. It was also important to take the uncomfortable questions of “why does he do this,” or “why does he do that,” and answer them with the utmost respect and dignity to their new classmate. Perhaps honest communication is the best way to gain his peers’ trust…kids are too smart and usually know when you are trying to put one over on them. Once we got that out of the way, acceptance was the easy part.

Next, was giving him adequate support. I had already promised the teacher he would not be flying solo, so we used one of my paraprofessionals for the time he was in the class. We also collaborated on adapting any materials we thought he would benefit from (larger number cards, color coding, etc). He sat in front of the class and by the door in case the classroom was over-stimulating and needed to make a quick escape for relief. Knowing what the class was working on beforehand helped us to pre-teach or prepare him for accessing the general curriculum when he went into the classroom.

We were consistently surprised at what our 4th grader could do, in terms of keeping his behaviors under control and accessing the content. By giving him the opportunity to interact with his peers we opened up another door for communication and camaraderie. Even now, years removed from that first grand adventure of inclusion, fear is present in the back of my mind as we move to include more students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in general education. Though this time, it reminds me that it is not something to be terrified of…but revered. Inclusion, at its very heart is a noble cause because it brings dignity to human beings when it otherwise would separate those who need love the most. Fear may be an obstacle but it certainly is not an excuse.

Timothy Villegas lives with his fetching wife and adorable children in Marietta, GA by way of Pasadena, CA. He has been a special educator for eight years and enjoys every bit of the drama of inclusive education (and is an obsessive user of parenthetical expression). Follow him on Twitter: @think_inclusive or to peek inside his brain…peruse his Tumblr: http://thinkinclusive.tumblr.com/ He promises to be nice.

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The Federal Register is a Goldmine of Information Regarding IDEA

November 14, 2011 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Doug Goldberg

Ever wonder:

1) If Parents can add a written report to their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); or

2) Whether placement decisions in an IEP can be made based on the category of disability; or

3) How do you protect the rights of a child who is a ward of the State in an IEP; or

4) Does the School need to have highly qualified staff to teach Extended School Year (ESY); or

5) Whether Children with a Disability should be included in State Assessments.

All of the above questions and many, many more can be answered by reviewing the Federal Register. Section 607 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the Secretary of Education, on a quarterly basis, publish in the Federal Register a list of correspondence. This is correspondence from the Department of Education received by individuals that describes the interpretations of IDEA or the regulations that implement IDEA. You can find a list by topic or date of these letters on the US Department of Education’s website.

I review these letters regularly as it gives me guidance on how to communicate with School Districts. Especially, when I need answers to questions like the one’s presented above. For instance:

1) Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 156 Page 46678 states that, “Parents are free to provide input into their child’s IEP through a written report if they so choose.” This is important information to know when the School District’s IEP notes are skewed or missing information the Parent’s feel is important to get on the record; or

2) In a Letter to Tom Trigg dated November 30, 2007, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) answered a question regarding Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) where they stated, “The public agency should exercise caution in making such a determination [location of services] so that the placement of the child with a disability is not based on factors such as the category of disability, configuration of the service delivery system and the availability of staff and instead is based on the factors stated in §300.552;” or

3) In a letter to Dr. Mary J. Ford dated July 10, 2003, OSEP answered a question regarding protecting the rights of a child who is a ward of the State where they stated, “The first part of your question, regarding the appointment of a surrogate parent for a child who is a ward of the State, involves 34 CFR §300.515(a). This regulation requires the public agency to ensure that the rights of a child are protected if 1) no parents (as defined in §300.20) can be identified, 2) the public agency, after reasonable efforts, cannot discover the whereabouts of a parent; or 3) the child is a ward of the State under the laws of the State. The duty of the public agency under §300.515(a) includes the assignment of an individual to act as a surrogate for the parents. The public agency must have a method for determining whether the child needs a surrogate parent and for assigning a surrogate parent for the child. (34 CFR §300.515(b));” or

4) In a letter to Dr. John Copenhaver dated November 7, 2007, OSEP answered a question about the qualifications of school staff during ESY where they stated, “Under Part B regulations, no distinction is made between the personnel qualifications for special education and related services provided pursuant to a child’s IEP as part of the regular school program and those provided pursuant to an IEP as ESY services. Personnel providing ESY services should meet the same requirements that apply to personnel providing the same types of services as a part of a regular school program;” or

5) In a letter to Congressman Weldon dated October 10, 2001, OSEP answered a question about state assessments where they stated, “The requirements for including children with disabilities in assessments are based on a number of federal laws, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and most notably the IDEA and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These laws recognize that an assessment is often connected to student benefits such as moving to the next grade or graduating. Assessment is also an important factor in school accountability as well as individual benefits provided to children. Excluding children with disabilities from assessments may violate these Federal laws.”

Knowledge and information are two of the most important tools that Parents have to ensure their child receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Answers to these and other questions like them can be the difference between a child with a disability receiving FAPE or that child receiving a failing education. Stay informed by reviewing new letters as they become available quarterly on the Department of Education website.

 

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Bridging Home-School Communications: Helping Parents Begin Conversations with Teachers

November 13, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

A meaningful education for children begins and ends with open and honest communication between home and school. Without a positive and comfortable relationship, solid and meaningful plans for a child’s education cannot move forward. This is particularly true when the child in question is one with ‘special’, or as I like to call them, ‘extra’ needs.

Establishing this open and honest relationship, however, can be challenging for parents. There are moments when parents want to be able to approach their child’s teacher with a question, concern or wondering. Then, they get to the door and it suddenly seems difficult. The teacher may seem busy, unapproachable or impatient. They then perhaps begin to question how important the question or concern might be. Or, they imagine in their minds that the question or concern is not important enough to warrant the teacher’s time. Or, they attempt to approach and the teacher makes them feel like they are not welcome. In this case, they might find themselves feeling angry and over time, this anger builds. When they finally *do* get to meet with the teacher, the interaction blows up and as a result, relationships are damaged rather than strengthened. As a concerned parent, you don’t want this to happen! Read the rest of this entry →

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