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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

23 Dec

A couple of days before we got out on break, I got something very special from my special education director at the board office.

Now I can share my joy with all of you!

This is also a jumping off point for a new series about IEPs. I figure since I have to do this anyway, I might as well blog it. It might help other teachers as well as parents. My IEP series is linked in my blogroll and has been the biggest source of traffic to this blog since I posted it. Maybe the same trick will work for my Teachertube and Youtube channels?

Thanks for y’all coming by and joining in my foolishness!

(Note: I’m not at all bashing my special ed director here.  I’m just having a bit of fun with the inevitable Life That Chose Me.  You just have to laugh, sometimes)

A Word or Two About Parent Advocacy

20 May

I have new videos posted on TeacherTube! On one, I began a rant on the onerous IEP process that parents never see, which is all the work that goes into preparing these things. It turned out to be more of a rant on goals and objectives, though. I’m also playing around with Movie Maker effects to make it slightly more interesting.

From the autism walk, you can see CJ singing the National Anthem! I don’t know him that well, but I’ve always looked at CJ as being pretty severe as I’ve never heard him say anything! But seeing is believing, and there he is singing just as well as ever, and pretty much stayed on-key the whole time with no music to help him. Is it true the national anthem is one of the hardest songs to sing? CJ made it look pretty easy! Plus there is a presentation by Kimberly Rockers where she talked about genetic links to autism. Yeah, that’s my oldest running around and standing in front!

But I want to do more than just post updates, as I have some actual thoughts to blog about. And this time it is about parent advocacy. I ended up on the other side of it recently, and it was more traumatic and harrowing than I would ever have anticipated. Part of the reason was that it was very much unanticipated.

If you want to raise the blood pressure of the teacher, waiting until the IEP to spring all sorts of concerns and complaints is one way to do it. But you’re going to pay a price for that tactic, which is some resentment from someone who could be advocating with you. Is it worth it? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

When going through the IEP Process, I advocate the teacher and parent working together hand-in-hand and step-by-step, collaborating on providing the best services for the student. “Best” in a public school is a relative thing. The first, greatest and best teacher for your child is YOU. Not the teacher, the SLP the OT or PT. It is YOU, the parent. No one else has the time that you do with your child. No one else cares as much. No one else has the motivation that you have. No one else has the knowledge you do. No one else has the intimate relationship and attachment that you do. And more often than not, many of these other people you rely on to provide services have their own children to care for and feed. During school time, you want these other people to be effective in helping your child to meet their potential. Meeting potential in the school system nowadays means accessing the regular education curriculum. Math, English, social studies and science are what we’re supposed to be teaching. Communication, mobility and other skills must fit into that general education context. Folding laundry and washing dishes are not part of the general education curriculum. Those days are disappearing. Write your congressperson if you feel differently. I have.

One area of contention I had to endure was Extended School Year or ESY. In my view, given what I said above about the parent being teacher #1, ESY makes less sense when you consider that the person that is going to be delivering services is not necessarily the child’s teacher/therapist. It is also probably not going to be in the same location and it is not going to be following the same schedule as the regular school year. Different setting + different teacher + different schedule + different bus + autism = …..progress?!??!

Think again. A child would do much better to have services done in the home or staying with family for the summer. As it is, it is a recipe for behavior problems all the way around and NOT a recipe for progress. Some people are wild about providing social skills instruction during the summer. I can say from reading the research that the efficacy of even the best social skills programs is suspect, at best. But I see more and more parents advocating for it. So let’s plug in a novel peer group into the equation I just outlined above. You have a sudden, severe series of transitions that will be repeated at the end of the summer when they go back to school. Are you really doing your kids any good? I don’t know. You decide.

When I see this sort of “advocacy” it begins to look more and more like the parent simply wants the school to raise their child for them. It is also the failure to see the reality that school services might be able to make progress but school services are not a cure!

As parents, we didn’t ask to have children with disabilities. We’re sending the best children that we have. I just want to make sure that my children have the same access that other students have to an education. However, I do not rely on the schools to teach my children everything. His mother has really done most of the real grunt work when it comes to his education. And she has done a stellar job of it. I’m realistic enough to understand the limitations of public schools in that they do not have the resources to do everything demanded of them. I believe that parents need to step up and take the responsibility for educating their children. The school system is there, but it is not the main education agent nor should it be. We, as parents, need to step up. And if you are a parent of a child with disabilities, you’re going to have to be twice as diligent. Does that mean being more diligent in getting your child services? No. It means learning how to do the things service providers do, and do them yourself. The best therapy my son ever got was after we were able to watch what the therapist did. We have video of his OT, SLP and PT therapists working with him, and we were able to replicate what PT, OT and speech were doing at the private therapy clinic. The light bulb came on in my mind when I saw my son participate a Georgia State study with Mary Ann Romski, and I saw exactly what the SLPs were doing. In fact, much of her research revolves around training parents how to implement interventions.

I’m a big believer that if parents are given the knowledge and tools, they can be the ones who are making the real and significant contributions to a child’s development. Fighting with the school system simply saps your own resources and energy that you could devote to more meaningful activities.

The experience of being rolled over was an exercise in humility. I’m not as good as I thought I was. I am not a special ed. wizard. I’m one person, trying to do the best I can within my own limitations and I have a lot of those. I’m not able to cure anyone, and I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I could. I’ve come to realize that the best I can do is to extend the hard work parents have already put into raising their kids, not the other way around. Nowadays, people often talk of parents needing to support their schools and teachers, which I think is backwards. The parents are the primary educational agents in the lives of their children, and the school plays a supportive and augmentative role. I’ve been around enough to see what happens when family support at home breaks down. Performance at school also slips and behaviors worsen and little learning takes place. So teachers and parents need to be supportive of each other.

So when you are advocating, just what exactly is your expected outcome? If it’s a cure, you’re going to be frustrated pretty much all the time. If it’s for everything you want, you’re going to be frustrated all the time because even when you think you’ve gotten it all, there’s going to be a missing piece. Perhaps you get the para support but the para is untrained and lazy. Or perhaps you get an untrained teacher. Training these folks takes time. Are they going to spend school time getting the training? That’s less time with your child. Is it over the summer? Oh wait…you want them to do ESY! You’re going to have to break in and break countless teachers, paras, therapists and administrators as you fight and battle your way through your child’s school years. Because I have seen more than one teacher move on to another setting rather than continue battling a contentious parent, especially with the prospect of having to be locked in battle for years in the self-contained setting. Let’s face it, I am not up to the task of fighting with the parent of a 16 year-old until that child is 22. Quite frankly, some of you are bent on being angry and frustrated and seem to be conditioned to making everyone else scared, angry and frustrated.

As a parent I have had skirmishes with teachers on a few occasions, usually when the teacher wants to put the child in an overly restrictive environment when they have no data to substantiate such a placement. Basically, if the school starts making noises about putting my child in a self-contained setting, they need to show me something more than just an opinion. Sometimes a parent wants to try a less restrictive setting, and I admit I get nervous about that with my students whose functioning is measured in months. There’s the whole fear that they’ll be victimized by some of the street-wise kids. But you want to try, go ahead and try. Perhaps it will work. I’ve seen good things happen when severe kids are around those less severe. But transitions can be rough.

I’m interested in hearing/reading stories from parents whose advocacy has helped turn a situation around. Perhaps you managed to turn a bad teacher into a good one? Or maybe you’ve battled for years and finally got everything you wanted and it turned out the way you wanted. I have heard of parents who battled until they eventually got a teacher they wanted. I’ve been on both sides of that one, as a parent getting good teachers and as THE teacher some parents wanted.

But I am not all that, as either a parent or teacher. No super teacher/parent here. I can write about it better than I can actually do it! In fact, this is not as much me choosing this life as it is the life that has chosen me!

D.

IEP Process: Summary of Performance

12 May

My IEP series has yet to include this as this is my very first crack at this abomination. And as a teacher, it is truly an abomination, compared to the good ‘ole days when all you had to do at the very last meeting was look at goal mastery, write some minutes, pat the child on the head and say “C-YA!” In those days, dismissing a child from school and special education was as easy as gravity.

Not so, anymore. From a 1 page breezy narrative, it is now a 5 page millstone.  You can look at it/download it here.  Ours looks slightly different, but it is just as painful.

The reauthorization of 2004 requires this document in order to facilitate the child’s post-secondary transition and provide some sort of seamlessness with vocational rehab agencies. I have no idea if this is true or not for most students, but I don’t see the usefulness for any of my students. Let’s go through this thing together, shall we? I’m filling this out for the student I have identified in past entries as Spaz who is leaving after over 20 years in the system. I’ve had him for 7 of those years, so for about a third of his life. This should be easy, given our history, right?

Checking off assessments used…

This looks easy enough…check, check, check…

And provide copies of the assessment reports.

Crap. The boy has a folder that takes up an entire file drawer. A lot of the medical stuff is buried very deeply. This is going to be painful, made even moreso by the fact that the copier is clear across the school. Perhaps the Central Eligibility Report will suffice for all of this. Yeah, let them look up all the stuff!

Students desired postsecondary goals. This should take into consideration education, employment and community access.

Spaz is pretty darn sick of school and seems tired of everything else for that matter. He’s tired of going into the community, which he used to love more than anything else. But we need to put something down so I can say that he will pursue a placement in a day-hab/sheltered workshop setting. Also, because of the severity of his disability, paid employment is not a goal.

That last statement is a tough one, but it’s the truth. Even as a greeter at Wal-Mart, his spitting on people is not exactly going to earn him a big paycheck. He bites any materials he works with, and his hands are all in his mouth. At least he’s not biting people, and that’s progress.

Spaz will live with his family as long as possible but group home, respite and other living alternatives will be pursued. And I think those alternatives will be pursued diligently as his mother has endured a lot of hardship over the years with Spaz. I daresay, more hardship than most because Spaz has some extensive needs and some extreme behaviors which will try and test the patience of the best of people at their best. She’s had to endure being with him, who has only needed 10 hours of sleep per week, and his waking hours seem to be spent bent on destruction. He breaks things, chews on things, picks at things and generally raises havoc. Curtains, window blinds, windows, walls, electrical outlets, appliances, fixtures…nothing is immune once he fixes upon it without constant supervision. And try keeping your temper on less than 2 hours of sleep every single night.

Moving on…

Academic area: Reading

Well, if I had to pick his brightest spot, this might be it. Spaz can read a few sight words (Walk, don’t walk, go, in, out) but he’s not reading extensively beyond the pre-k level. His functioning according to an adaptive behavior questionnaire is less than a 2 year-old level. He might read at a 3 or 4 year-old level. They want accommodations and assistive technology, but there’s not a lot to offer as far as his reading.

Math

He can almost count to 15, and does so failry clearly with his own voice. Otherwise he uses an AAC device with supervision. Again, he is functioning at a 3-4 year-old level, tops.

Written Expression

Spaz has been working on writing his name for several years and can almost write “Spaz” legibly, but he does bite the pencil, pen and/or paper that he is writing on/with. Which means that writing is not very functional at all for him as he will destroy/eat whatever he is writing on/with. This includes a computer mouse or keyboard.

Learning Skills (Class participation, Note taking, Keyboarding, Organization, Test taking, Study skills)

He participated in class using his AAC device, answering orally or by pointing to people and pictures.

In every one of these areas, they want to no the accommodations, the date and an accommodations rationale. The rationale is the same every time for Spaz: He has a severe intellectual disability and his skills are negligible to nonexistent! That’s the assessment report’s words, not mine. But they have the virtue of being true. And depressing.

Social Skills and Behavior

This area is even more depressing, as he has a laundry list of all sorts of behaviors that have came, went, and returned again over the years. Why on earth am I required to fill this out? How can a parent read this, if it is a truly honest account, and NOT be reduced to tears?

Comunication

Independent Living

Environmental Access

Self Determination/Self Advocacy Skills

Career/Vocational

Medical/Family Concerns

On and on and on and on this thing goes! And that is only page 3. The accommodation for my student is basically the same: 1:1 adult assistance pretty much every time, and the rationale is that Spaz has a severe intellectual disability, and is functioning at less than a 2 year-old level. What else do you want me to say?

And then I get to summarize all of this to recommend postsecondary outcomes, which for him will require 1:1 supervision and support at all times. As a teacher, this is totally demoralizing. Yeah, I know he’s got a severe disability, but the outcome of 7 years of instruction should have come to more than this. No wonder most teachers quit before they see the results of all their work. It’s too depressing to contemplate.

The next section is even more depressing as if that were possible. It’s the student perspective. I’m somehow supposed to interview Spaz and ask him:

How does your disability affect your schoolwork and school activities? (Think about grades, relationships, assignments, tests, communication, extra-curricular activities.):

In the past, what supports have been tried by teachers to assist you in being successful in school?:

Which of these accommodations and supports worked best for you? Why did they work?:

D. What strengths should others know about you as you begin college or work?:

E.What has been most difficult for you in school?

As if Spaz is going to answer any of these!

What a load of rubbish.

And then we’re supposed to provide a list of contact information for service providers that parents may contact. And I know for a fact that our county has precious few, if any of these numbers. In fact, they had training material for filling out the forms and they used people at the board office as examples for each of those contacts for High School Team, Health and Family Services, Employment Agency, Community Agency, Institute of Higher Education as well as other agencies. I’ll be writing them to see if I can use their info! As it is, I know of no such database in the county, much less the county office of such agencies.  It’s as if they all have some sort of stealth technology to keep people from being informed.  I am NOT looking forward to going through this mess as a parent.  I also appreciate the parents who are doing it right now and blazing the trail for the rest of us.

This thing is painful to the max, emotionally as well as in the sheer scope of all the stuff they want. It’s the caseworker who has to fill all this horse manure out and it really stinks.

Thank you for listening, even if it was not as helpful as other entries about IEPs.  Maybe I’ll come up with a better informed follow-up or perhaps some of you can help me out

D.

Videos on TeacherTube

15 Apr

I have a few videos on TeacherTube with many more to come. My first attempt was demonstrating the Qchord, which is a sort of musical instrument that I sometimes use in the classroom. A more practical video is one I made on the use of switches for students with severe disabilities to use for communication. There’s also an activity attached to that lesson, about 101 uses for using switches in the classroom. Then I did a couple of videos on positioning for students with orthopedic impairments that some might find interesting. And my most recent effort was a screencast about using the Boardmaker software program that special ed teachers frequently use for communication and language instruction. I have some more videos demonstrating that software that I’ll be uploading once I get the narration audio track finished. The problem is that I’m very seldom in a space or environment where it is quiet enough to do narration! There seems to always be noise somewhere around that can be picked up by the mic! Plus we are in full-IEP mode right now so I’m squeezed for time. A ton of folks are hitting my IEP series right now, so I know a lot of people are using that resource.

After talking with one of the new SID teachers in the county, I got a lot of new ideas for resources to add. One of the most common questions I get asked is about my lesson plans. They are not very good or satisfactory enough for my taste and certainly not for addressing state standards. However I do have a data sheet that sort of functions as a lesson plan that I’ll be attaching to a future video on discrete trials. Future features will involve:

-Discrete trial teaching (DTT)

– More Boardmaker overlays

– Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

– Para training

– Schedule/lessonplanning/curriculum

I’m presently looking to get permission from parents to include actual students in future videos, so that should be pretty exciting. Even if I only get one permission form, I can demonstrate quite a lot of what I actually do. So far, I don’t know of anyone else doing anything like this, but if there is I’d like to know about it!

I use TeacherTube because YouTube is blocked by our school and TeacherTube does allow unlimited uploads. You can also attach lesson plans and activities to the video which can really increase its usefulness to other teachers. The downside is that viewers don’t often leave very many comments or give very much feedback compared to what I see on YouTube. The most discussed video is entitled “Pay Attention” which has over half a million views but only 83 comments and the next most discussed has less than 50 comments. It’s not a very interactive community, which is why I see having a blog to support my efforts as being a useful thing.

That’s my weekly wrap up. We’ve only got about 6 weeks left of school! Where has all the time gone?!?

D.

A Call For Help Podcast

10 Apr

A teacher recently posted a comment about accomodations asking for some help and support, so I created this podcast in order to answer her question.

Answering a Call for Help