Wednesday, January 14, 2009

IEP: The Long, Medium, and Short of It

The really long: Is too long to get into. I started, and then I gave up. There's too much background needed. If you don't really know what N's deal is, feel free to browse through some of the N-related categories (cleverly titled things like "N" and "IEP" and "school" because creativity is my middle name). But, really, it can be summed up like this: He's this awesome little boy who is, by turns, incredibly smart and funny and flirty and wonderful and then cripplingly anxious and shy and unsure and incapable of showing anyone what he knows and can do. And it's hard to know which child you're going to be dealing with on a given day...or in a given hour.

The still pretty long: This may just be the first time that I ever went into a meeting about my son--and there have been many of them over the past four years--where I learned something new about him, heard things that surprised me. Some of them were good, awesome even, like that he's finally agreeing to read to his teacher, and on the occasions where she has his cooperation, she's been able to ascertain for herself (if not via testing), that he is at LEAST on grade level with his reading. I knew he could read just fine, but I had no idea he'd broken through his inability to show it in school. And while I knew he was not a troublemaker in school, I had no idea that he is one of the kids the teacher can count on to do what he is told. He needs an inordinate amount of hand-holding, which was the key to a lot of the accommodations and other discussions we had, but he isn't mouthy, or nasty, and he never ever ever gets in any of his peers' faces. (The flip side of this being, of course, that he pretty much never ever ever interacts with his peers. Which is a big problem. But that's not news.)

Of course, there were some less happy surprises. If the lack of peer interaction isn't news, the level of continued deficit wasn't clear to me. See, last year, he had basically ZERO in-class interaction with other kids, at pretty much any time of the day. This year, people had been making a huge point of telling me how much better things were with him during recess, and he was telling me about things kids said to him in class, etc. Which I took to mean it was OK to stand down on the social stuff, but which really meant that he'd gone from zero to five, not zero to 100. I also heard about how, when stressed out by some new task or something he can't handle in the classroom, he's started reverting in his speech...not to baby talk, per se, but to very basic language, which is worse, because I don't think he knows he's doing it. (The example the teacher gave was of him coming to her with a project he was simply lost on, and saying, "No do." And when she pushed him, he finally said, "I do one part, then not do rest, OK?" Which is...disturbing.)

Now, see? I start writing them medium, and it turns into the medium-long, and soon it'll be the ridiculously long, and none of this is relevant to the basic outcome here. So, let me put on the reigns for a second and get down to the nitty gritty.

The medium: At last year's IEP, N qualified for special ed due to speech delays. They gave him 60 minutes of speech a week--30 minutes of group to work on pragmatics and social skills and such, and 30 minutes individual to work on more of the specifics. For the IEP-savvy, he had three goals, all of which he did well on, but only one of which he's officially met.

They also gave him 60 minutes of Occupational Therapy PER MONTH, 30 minutes in the classroom every other week. In OT, he had one very broad goal. I wasn't happy with that, but we were lucky he was getting any OT at all, since without an autism-spectrum or some other 'qualifying' diagnosis, it's hard to get into special ed. And it's been OK, because his speech therapist has pretty much understood from the outset that the social stuff and the speech are connected, so that their individual time together has often included a walk around campus where she's worked on having him greet adults and other children, down to rehearsing appropriate responses with him, etc. (Her comment to me at some point today: "And lately, he sometimes even does what I've asked him to do, rather than crawl under the table when someone new approaches!" Oy.) So things were being addressed to some degree, if not directly, at least in some way.

And while the amount of OT he was getting was pretty minor, I wasn't all that impressed with what his then-therapist was doing with him anyway, know. My concern was that, over the year, the academics were becoming a bigger and bigger issue, and I didn't know how to get them to attack that, because nobody seemed to understand it.

Fast forward to this year. His teacher is simply wonderful. Last year's teacher was great, but this woman is superlative. He has a new OT, with whom I hadn't been happy...until I met her today and realized that, even if she's been too busy to touch base with me with any frequency, she has it going ON. She gets him. She has ideas about what's going on with him to the degree that, as I alluded to above, I actually learned something new about him. She was talking about issues that I had never really considered other words, I hadn't LED her to any conclusions; she'd come on them on her own. A true first. And even better, she thinks he would benefit from MORE: more help, more time, more focus on what's really wrong here, more effort to make sure that this is what's indeed wrong.

The kinda short: When I walked into the IEP today, I was prepared for them to try to argue me into agreeing to take him out of special ed entirely and just work with the classroom accommodations we have, and considering the week I've had so far (it simply CAN'T only be Wednesday!) I was going to hurt someone if they even tried. (More likely, I'd have just started crying. Which would have been worse, in my eyes.) So I was revved up, wound up, tense as tense can be.

And it was obvious. I ran into the speech therapist on the way in and asked about whether another therapist I'd hoped would attend would be there. She said no, and when she saw me take a deep breath, said, "TC, trust me on this. We have a plan here, and it's one I think you're going to be very happy with."

She's right. By the end, I was ready to kiss all of them. Maybe even on the mouth.

They *are* cutting his speech--but they're cutting it BACK, not OUT--from an hour to a half hour once a week to continue work on "social pragmatics" in a group setting only, which is fine by me. Because here's the good stuff: They are increasing his OT from 60 minutes a MONTH to what will turn out to be 75 minutes a WEEK, by placing him in a socials skills group at a child-development facility near where I work. FINALLY. A social skills group. That's what I and many others have been saying he needed--but which we couldn't afford--since he was 4.

Of course, there's always a downside. But if there has to be one, I think this one's pretty minor: The district special ed guy was apparently annoyed by the request for him to go into the clinic every week--since that will cost them more and hey, did you hear? There's a recession going on and money is tight. So he insisted that the off-campus OT service be revisited in six months (early July) rather than the usual year from now. Which is fine by me; or, at least, I'll take it. Because I know these people will make the case for him if they think he needs to keep on keeping on in the social skills group.

Oh, and did I say? The OT thinks there's a very strong case to be made that the issues that are behind the social stuff--which she says involve praxis/motor planning and ideation and lots of other jargon that even went over my head but which, when explained, made sense--will address the classroom and academic issues. If she's right, I WILL kiss her. On the mouth for sure.

The very short: Yay! Now all I need is to keep my job, so we can stay in this school district. Because otherwise it would just be too...too. I don't even want to think about it.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you posted this. We need IEP success stories. It gives the rest of us heart. Releases a tiny bit of hope out into the pre-IEP universe and maybe, just maybe, a bit of that magic stardust will fall on us by the time our meeting comes up in March.

I'm so happy for you, for N...good news indeed!!

PnP said...

Double YAY, bout time for some good news 'round here!

Green said...

What a freaking relief to know somebody with some power to help is actually going to use their powers to ... HELP.

Meg said...

Sounds great, mostly that N is making progress and the school is willing to continue to work with him. Sending good thoughts to you for continued employment with benefits. Sorry things are so up in the air again. By the way, your blog is great. It always makes my day to see an update.

Anonymous said...

Hurray! Such great news.
Chris in NY

Roni said...

I'm so glad you are getting somewhere. Yay for N for his progress!!