January 31, 2009
J: That was the best concert, ever!
L: It sure was great. Were you inspired by all the guitar players? *
L: Were there any new songs you particularly enjoyed?
J: Mostly all of them.
* Jeff has been taking guitar lessons for over a year.
January 29, 2009
January 24, 2009
The truth is that Hart isn't doing particularly well. The same behaviors that were impediments to him here are difficulties for him there. He is still socially inappropriate, easily frustrated and highly anxious. His skills are dismal.
Here is probably the most interesting outcome. Although Hart and Jeff are identical twins, with very similar impairments and disabilities, I have now seen the one extraordinary trait that has enabled Jeff to make a greater success. Jeff is able to "customize" his environment to his best advantage. For example, he is no doubt one of the lower-functioning students at Cove School, but is able to make Cove's program work for himself. He is not a stellar student, of course, but he is making slow and steady progress, both academically and behaviorally. Last summer, he was accepted conditionally to an overnight camp program for special needs kids. It was a reluctant trial on the part of the camp administrators, but I promised to trek up and collect him, if needed. I hoped and believed that he could handle himself and in fact, he did. He was invited to return this summer.I can't account for this significant difference in the two boys, nor can I change it or adjust it. For the moment, this is the best situation for our family. I have stopped second-guessing myself.
January 13, 2009
January 2, 2009
There are lots of resources to apprise parents of their rights, and information about what to expect at the conference. However, to my knowledge and in my experience, there is no resource to tell parents what to do and how to behave. Everyone hopes for an amicable meeting, but in truth, a friendly and convivial conference is not always the most productive and a big emotional showdown never is.
I offer six suggestions:
Readjust your expectations
Perhaps you imagine this conference to be much like the twice-annual trip to the dentist, not dreaded, not pleasantly anticipated, but a neutral obligation. This is the wrong model. You are there to talk about your child's impairments and deficiencies. Mentally prepare yourself for this. If your child were making good progress and there was only good news, he or she wouldn't need special education, right? Many parents complain that they only hear the worst about their child, never positive news. If you came to the dentist for a root canal, would it really matter if the hygienist praised your diligent flossing?
Accept staff expertise
"You know your child better than anyone else." We parents are told this over and over again. It is obviously true, but how is this platitude useful? Staff vary in classroom skills and "bedside manner." There will be varying competencies in the assembled group, just like in every other gathering. Even so, these people have had experience with many different disabled children, while you probably have had experience with only one. If you go into the meeting raring for a fight on your child's behalf, you may dismiss valuable information. You will be outnumbered at the meeting, but you need not be cowed.
Staff and parents have different agendas
Ostensibly, everyone is there to work out a feasible educational plan for your child. But you, the parent, want the very best education and all the services which your child needs. The teachers and administrators have another requirement: they must meet the obligations of the IEP in the most cost-effective way possible.
Special education is very expensive. Every service, even pull-out services from a regular classroom, comes at a cost. The money issue is not a secret agenda, but the way it plays out in every school district and every meeting is. For example, smaller school districts may find it more cost-effective to pay tuition to a specialized private school than to hire and train their own teachers. Most districts will fight tooth and nail to keep at student in its public school. Some school districts will keep a student in a regular classroom by providing an aide, some will do anything and everything but provide an aide. It's impossible to know what constraints are at issue during your meeting, but know that MONEY is a huge consideration.
It's no joy hearing a litany of your child's deficiencies, but steel yourself. That's why you are at the meeting. Once you lose emotional control, you are no longer your child's best advocate. Listen, take deep breaths, ask to step outside. Your child needs you to be wise and calm and in control.
Don't mistake anger for advocacy
Raising your voice, arguing, making threats. The people around the table have seen and heard it all. Maybe only an hour ago at the last IEP with another family. You may be tempted, but do not do it. Once you lose control, you sacrifice credibility. If confronted with information you know to be wrong, ask to correct it or to see the source. Don't quibble about irrelevant details. Keep your voice at a conversational level.
If offered services, accept
Many of us realized early on that our children needed special education, but frequently parents are blindsided when summoned to a meeting about their child. "I don't want my child to be stigmatized." "I hate those labels." "There is nothing wrong. She is just creative." Re-read the paragraph about staff expertise. Re-read the paragraph about funding. If school administrators offer expensive services, you can bet your child sorely needs them. Accept the bad news gracefully, accept the services gratefully.
*Individualized Education Plan