“Tell me how I can help you help my kid.” Leia Holley
I heard this quote at an autism conference. And it stayed with me. She ventured that before going into full battle mode at an IEP, she reminds herself that they have gathered to help her child.
If this acronym is unfamiliar, The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is required by United States law for students with disabilities. Each of my sons has an IEP documenting the services they will receive at school, and it’s updated as they progress. This is a broad definition and more information is available online. I describe Taj’s first grade IEP in this post.
On October 24, 2016, the usual suspects attended. The principal, Taj’s regular ed/math teacher, reading teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, Taj’s case manager, and myself. Also two newcomers, an autism specialist and Taj’s provider. The conference room, comfortable, with a shiny table on which to sign several documents. The atmosphere, calm, accompanied by the awkwardness of people discussing someone they all know, but have only met each other in passing.
How would we navigate today’s IEP?
Academically, Taj knew all of the sight words, consistently scored 8 out of 6 on spelling tests(challenge words)and flew through math. Given multiple choice questions during Accelerated Reading quizzes in the library, he received high marks.
But when asked a comprehensive story question with his partner, Taj said, “I don’t know” repeatedly. Same with reading homework. Then one day he whizzed through homework, no problem. Was saying “I don’t know” a game for him? Was it difficulty processing in the class because of distractions? Was he succeeding at home because of one on one supervision free of other students?
I called the autism specialist to observe Taj because of a behavior calendar that had more yellow days(warning)than purple or green(good)days. Spitting water out of the fountain, not lining up, running away at recess, cutting his shirt when his para(special education worker that assists students with disabilities) stepped away for a moment in art class.
Taj’s case manager and regular ed teacher brainstormed with the Autism Resource Class teacher. A reward system was proposed. When Taj was observed doing something well, he got a toy frog. When he earned a certain amount of frogs, he’d get playdoh at an allotted time. If he did something that caused a warning, he lost a frog. The system wasn’t always working.
The autism specialist noted, “consistency is key.” She observed directions getting fumbled. For example Taj is told “Go stand in the hall.” He does but on the wrong side. The next para says “Thanks for standing, here’s your frog.” Taj shouldn’t get a frog because he didn’t follow precise directions. It could be argued that the directions were not clear enough however. More communication was needed.
Then the occupational therapist suggested that Taj stop OT because his hand writing had progressed. Taj’s grade card was marked “approaching goal and needs frequent assistance.” Why take that support away? I didn’t want regression to occur.
At this point Taj’s case manager took out a copy of his work. Four questions to answer. The top 2 answers, large wobbly scrawl with unequal spacing. The bottom two answers, neatly formed small script with correct spacing.
“Did Taj do this?” The case manager pointed at the bottom answers, so neat they could have been written by an adult.
Taj’s provider answered, “The top two answers were completed at school, the bottom was completed at home. When he doesn’t write neatly at home, we erase and start over. ”
“We’ll have to expect more from Taj’s handwriting, we didn’t think he’d written the bottom 2 answers.” The case manager smiled.
“I have a question?” Taj’s teacher motioned to the autism specialist. “Taj will say words repeatedly. How do we change this behavior?”
The autism specialist replied, “I say, just once, and then ignore it. Mom and Dad are doing this at home, he then moves on to the next subject.”
I added to the autism specialist’s comment, “You might see an increase in challenging behaviors when you start ignoring this.”
Then the reading teacher talked about the challenge of partnering Taj.
“I put him with someone of his skill set, but Taj was speed reading and skipping words. Next, I paired him with a child that was sounding out words, then Taj reverted to sounding out words.”
The reading teacher said this because his regular ed/ math teacher wanted to partner Taj with someone below his level, to slow him down. The reading teacher cautioned that this tactic might backfire. I worried that he’d get frustrated and stop working. It was decided that Taj would continue to be given work after his classmates finished, stalling boredom, and be pulled out for AR testing during that time.
“I would like to see Taj interact more with his peers. Sometimes, they ask a question and he doesn’t speak at all,” remarked Mrs. V, his regular ed/math teacher.
I love that Mrs. V understands beyond the academics, social skills goals need to be listed in Taj’s IEP. We discussed finding a group of kids to help Taj with social skills after he gets off the bus, before school.
Sadly, not all parents are met with school personnel willing to allow outsiders to observe. Also, some parents experience a feeling of being rushed, and pressed to sign off on things they don’t agree. They don’t have to sign the IEP at the meeting, it can be taken at home and examined. But ours was a open meeting. Definitely not a battlefield, as all IEP’s should be.