"Organizing is what you do before you do before you do something,
So that when you do it, it's not all mixed up."
I started writing this story last spring in an attempt to share our IEP experience. I never finished it and forgot about it.
Haydn is in his second month of third grade, in his first year as a fully mainstreamed student.
He is very happy and doing very well.
I don't know how well this one reads, but I just wanted to show a little sample from his IEP and describe our experience with the process of creating it.
Excerpts from Haydn's IEP (Background and future placement):
Haydn was first brought to the attention of the NM Child Study Team by his parents at age four, who reported that Haydn had received a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and pragmatic language disorder with hyperactive and impulsive behaviors from Dr. Hugh Bases. They reported that Haydn had poor social language, characterized by echolalia, poor use of pronouns, and rote, scripted speech. They also reported that Haydn experienced anxiety, particularly in instances of loud noise, and exhibited sensitivity to loud noises, light, and new varying food textures, and that he often dealt with that anxiety by biting his fingers.
He was subsequently evaluated and found eligible for the Pre-school Disabled Class in BF Gibbs Elementary School, which he began attending in October of 2009. Haydn graduated to the Inner Bridge Crossings Program in Berkley School for Kindergarten in 2010, where he received ABA instruction in his classroom. Reportedly, he made great strides and was moved into the self-contained special education class room in the first grade. Haydn was transitioned to resource room for math. Haydn continues to attend the resource room for math as well as mainstream class for science and social studies. By January of 2013, he was spending even more time in the mainstream second grade classroom. Haydn will remain in this placement for the 2012-2013 school year. Haydn will be fully mainstreamed for all subjects except math and language arts, which will take place in the resource room setting.
His mainstream teacher, Ms. G., reports that Haydn is always positive and motivated and that he has been flourishing.
Creating your child's IEP is the most important step in the education process - it sets the template for the following year, and assures that he will receive the necessary assistance and services to succeed. I am not going to even attempt to give anyone any advice on how to go through the IEP process. Every school district, like every child, is different, and unfortunately some districts do not offer or do not understand the services that a child on the autism spectrum needs. I am not an expert... not even close.
I can only tell you about my experiences.
My only advice is this: Know your rights, and put EVERYTHING in writing. Even if you think it may not be a necessary term. Even if there is a one in one million chance that your child needs it... put it in the IEP. IN WRITING!
Fortunately for Haydn, the process of building his IEP has never been a battle. Our district has been very supportive of Haydn from the very beginning and has accommodated our family every step of the way. We have always had constant contact with all members of the child study team, as well as his teachers and various therapists (his people, as I like to call them), and issues and incidents, both positive and negative are addressed in a timely fashion. We try to synch up the work we do with Haydn at home with the work they do in school, and the faculty remains in constant contact with us and on many occasions has used some of our home techniques to help with school issues. We all work together. No egos. Whatever it takes to help Haydn, gets done. So, when IEP time comes around, we are usually very well informed of Haydn's status and so far, there have been no surprises.
When we put together Haydn's IEP we have to take EVERYTHING into consideration. We have to view him through a different lens than we normally do. We always acknowledge his successes and strengths, but we have to focus on the problems and challenges. We need to identify the areas of weakness so we can prepare for next year. It can be a sobering experience. For example, there are so many things that Haydn accomplished this past year that exceeded all of our expectations that I feel a parade and party are in order, but that just means that there is more work to be done. The more Haydn succeeds, the more work he must do to maintain that level and move forward. So every year, Mommy and I sit around the big table with Haydn's people: His teacher and classroom aide, his counselor, his case worker and his therapists and review, evaluate and plan.
The first part is the celebration. Each and every one of them tells us how much they love him, and how pleasant he is in the class. His work ethic and personality are lauded by all. They run through the goals for the past year, and how well he met them (very well, thank you very much).
It's the annual meeting of the Haydn Fan-club.
Thanks for the kind words, but to be honest, that's not why we're here...
Once the love-in is over, it's time to get down to the real reason why we get together every year:
Haydn's EVALUATION and RECOMMENDATIONS for NEXT YEAR.
We have to look at Haydn's deficiencies and weaknesses, and we have to look at them objectively. It's not always an easy thing to do. As a parent it's an instinct to defend your child, but that doesn't help during and IEP meeting. If Haydn has a difficult time with birthday parties in class, it doesn't matter how much fun he had at the one he went to at Chuck E. Cheese's last week. He doesn't have to learn division at Chuck E. Cheese's. He needs to work through the birthday bullsh*t in school and figure out a way to make it work. And the staff has to help him.
It is critical to strip away the emotion and take a cold hard look at his development and progress. There are many things that Haydn can do that have surprised us all... But there are many things that he can not do, and those are the things that need to be addressed.
I always go into the IEP meeting with goals and plans of my own for Haydn, and this year was no different. Every year the focus of my agenda is on his social skills, his impulse control, and his anxiety management. I don't care too much about grades at this point in his life. The kid's got a photographic memory, and a terrific work ethic... the academics will be fine. And everyone is in agreement with this. He will be evaluated weekly to be sure that he is learning the third grade curriculum properly and his grades will be pass/fail again this year. As long as he grasps all of the necessary concepts that a third grade student needs to know, the grades don't matter much at this point. I don't need a 'My son is an honor student...blah,blah,blah' sticker on my car.
Now if they had one that said: 'My son likes to stim out on ceiling fan videos...'
Now is the time to attack the areas of greatest weakness, and that is of course, the social aspect of school. I want him to be placed in challenging and awkward social situations whenever possible. I always want him to be put in a position to succeed, but that does not mean it has to be easy for him. Get him out there with the rest of the animals and see what he can do. He's a tough little bugger, he can take it.
We learned a lot at this year's meeting: Haydn is VERY good at mathematics, but not so good with money (must run in the family). Haydn has terrific recall when he reads (he remembers EVERY word), but the interpretation and application of what he reads still requires some help from a paraprofessional. His speech therapist is very pleased with his development, and for the first time Haydn's language usage has registered in the 'normal' area of development. Granted it's 'low-average,' but he's taken a huge step forward this year. However, and I quote, "Haydn's receptive and expressive language difficulties will likely impact his learning, academic, and social performance and interactions with peers and adults." Very clearly stated, and very clearly WRITTEN right into the IEP.
Always get it in writing...
So, speech therapy will continue.
His occupational therapist works with him twice a week. His writing has improved and he has learned to work through his anxiety in the classroom without disturbing his ability to perform. But the work must continue. So she stays.
He has a counselor that he meets with weekly (or more often, if necessary), who helps work on his social skills and addresses any anxiety or emotional issues that may arise. She definitely stays.
We learned more about the role his paraprofessional plays in his school day. She shadows him in the classroom, but her main role is primarily to redirect his focus when it wanders off topic. She stays out of the picture unless she is absolutely needed. It's not stigmatizing in any way, Haydn has always had an aide (in fact, he told me one of his friends wants to borrow his aide), and the two of them have developed a terrific relationship. She is an invaluable asset to his success. She stays too.
He will receive his language arts and math instruction in a resource room environment, but his progress will be monitored by his general ed. teacher to ensure that he is working up to the standards and achieving the goals of the rest of the kids.
He is going to be pushed very hard in third grade and challenged on a daily basis. There is no looking back and no moving in reverse. Now that he has moved into the general population completely, he is going to stay there. He can not go back to the self contained class.
The IEP was reviewed, signed and returned, and Haydn was set up and ready to roll for third grade.
When the school year rolled around, Haydn was placed in (once again) the perfect classroom, with the perfect teacher, and was set up with the perfect classroom assistance (she has know him since pre-school). I know that the IEP experience is not like this for many people, but this our experience.
Every year we get together and there has been no drama, no anxiety, and no tension.
Every year it's a meeting of like minded folks, getting together with one goal and one goal only:
Helping my amazing little boy have a better year than the last and give him the tools and the skills to have an even more amazing life in the future.