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Sunday, October 27, 2013


"Let’s be clear here. We are not doing assessments to determine eligibility for special ed services. No one is questioning Finbar’s eligibility. So we need to decide what kind of information we want to get from the assessments that would be useful to the process of determining appropriate goals and supports. But again, we are not going to question his eligibility.”  With that, the school psychologist smiled. This month was the time for both the triennial round of assessments to determine Finbar’s eligibility for special education and his annual IEP (Individualized Education Plan).   It was a time to look back at Finbar's progress or lack thereof and a time to set goals for the next 12 months.
The special education process is a perfect example of Life on the Fringe.  Our school psychologist who is an insightful confidence instilling woman seriously questioned Finbar’s diagnosis at his last triennial assessment. This time, she was trying to alleviate any fears that I might have that Finbar would not be deemed autistic by the school district after his triennial diagnostic assessments, and would therefore lose his services.  I should have been relieved as she intended for me to be. I was to a certain extent. On a good day of testing, Finbar could easily charm his assessor and pass for a fairly normal kid - that is what happened during his last round of assessments.  But the psychologist had witnessed Finbar's traumatic start to the school year and no, she would not question his need for accommodations this time.

At the same time, I felt a certain regret that we have not managed to ween  Finbar off special education services and the web of paperwork and advocacy that goes with it.  I had been so sure that this was possible when he was in Kindergarten. Third grade seemed so far away then.  I recall announcing at his 1st grade IEP meeting, “my goal is to have Finbar out of this whole special ed process by the end of 2nd grade. I think that is entirely doable. But with respect to aid in the classroom, let’s not pull the rug out from underneath him too soon.”  Good, but slightly wishful thinking, mom. He still needs the rug, albeit less often.  He has finished 2nd grade.

Now with the upper grades looming on the horizon, and all the social and academic pressure that comes with that phase, I tell myself to be grateful that Finbar won’t have to weather all that intensity without someone cutting him some slack and watching his back. The fact is, that with an IEP in place, we and Finbar have legal rights requiring the school system to accommodate his quirks.  The IEP basically gives me the right to call a meeting at any time to discuss how the school should be meeting my child’s needs.  I can ask for supervision on the playground and on field trips.  I can ask for testing accommodations.  To a certain extent I can request who I wish his teacher to be. And for the most part, the school has to accommodate my requests.  People pay $15k a year for private school and don’t necessarily get that right. I feel better already J

I wonder what they would think if I wore this to an IEP meeting?

The day of Finbar’s IEP meeting, it just so happened that the perfect storm of Bill, me, Finbar's teacher and the special education teacher heading toward the meeting room met Finbar who was riding his scooter on his way home.  He stopped and looked at us quizically.
 “Hi.  Whatcha doin?”  
 “Oh, just going to have a chat with your teacher, Bud.”
“Oh. I see.  Can I come?” 
“No, grandma’s waiting for you at home. Go on home bud.”   
“But why can’t I come?” 
“Because you are supposed to go home. The meeting is just for adults.”  
“Oh, alright then. Bahbye!”  

With a wave, he scooted away looking back at us over his shoulder, wheels spinning in his head.  Busted.  The light bulb went on in my head.  I can no longer hide the fact that I will be talking to the school personnel about him frequently.  He must know that he just went through umpteem rounds of testing and observation.  I would have to tell him about the meeting and our discussions eventually. If he is old enough to scooter home on his own, then he is old enough for me to be honest with him.
“I was surprised that he kicked me the entire time I was assessing him.”

“What jumped out at me this time around really was his inability to focus and stay on task.”
“He was rocking his chair and had his feet up on the desk. I asked him if he could tell me what he was supposed to be doing. He responded, ‘Oh I thought you were going to tell me to get my feet off the desk.’ Yeah, that too, I told him.”
“At one point he just walked out of the classroom without telling anyone.  We found him hanging around the front of the library.”

"His peers really enjoy him because he is always leading such interesting discussions. They love to listen to him. The problem is that it doesn't have to do with what the group is working on."
During the IEP meeting we heard tales of assessment – writing, intelligence scoring, occupational therapy, social pragmatics testing – and stories, some quite entertaining,  some err, concerning, about Finbar.  A total of 9 people sat around the table discussing my son for over two hours until we finally had to call it quits.  I didn’t know whether to thank these people for all of their efforts, or to apologize to them for  holding them hostage for so long.  In the end, Finbar has three new goals on his IEP that basically say that he will behave better with his teacher and his peers.  The well worn rug is still there.

“What Mrs. M REALLY wants for you this year, what the most important thing for her is, is that you work well in groups and with partners. That's what she told me."

“I work well in groups. I always work well in groups.”

Ha!  I thought back to the girl he made cry earlier in the year and to the way he shouts at the kids at his table to be quiet so that they can get table points. 
“Um, apparently not. You have to take responsibility for your mistakes Finbar.  So you need to start being really nice to the other kids in your group or your partners and let them talk about what they want to talk about. Ask them what their opinion is. Take turns. Really listen. That kind of stuff.”

How's he going to remember that laundry list?
Is it realistic to expect 3rd graders to work well in groups? I couldn't even do manage that in MBA school...
The next day Finbar returned from school announcing, “Mom I had a really good day. Mrs. M told me so, she said ‘you had a great day Finbar.’” Bless her.
The behaviorists who come to our home have been modeling using great affect when praising Finbar.  I climbed out of my shell and mustered my best cheerleading voice.

 “Woohoo! Great job buddy! That’s what I’ m talking about!  Proud of you bud!” 

 I gave him a high five and went back into my shell.  I  hugged him. He scrunched his face and let out a squeak. “Mom, thank you for affording me in your big tummy for 9 months and for being my mother. I love you.”

4th grade here we come.




Rebecca Royce said...

I find IEP meetings to be nothing short of hellish. So hard to get through, for me. Great blog. Beautifully written.

Jennifer Leeland said...

Yep. IEP meeting survivor. The good thing I see about them is I have the right to call one when I think it's necessary. And this month, I did.
My son is in Special Day Class. He's diagnosis is (and I quote from the psychiatrist who assessed him) "the worst case of ADD I've seen in 30 years." We're in sixth grade now. It's still a battle, but I've learned how to fight for him, be there for him and learned when to back off.
Finbar sounds like an awesome kid.