Sunday, April 20, 2008

Giant Step Forward!

Have you ever felt like you had to prove to the world that you were not crazy or being unrealistic about your child's abilities? That is exactly how we have been feeling this past month, thus the long blog break!

We have been working on kindergarten placement for Harrison for next year. Our IEP Team was not on the same page as we are about the reasons for wanting Harrison in an integrated or regular kindergarten class. They believed because of their "testing" and "observations" that Harrison was not "ready" and would get so far behind, then get frustrated, and finally become a behavior problem. Let me tell you I saw red when that came out! My son has never been a behavior problem (he is the most compliant-overly at times- child that many have worked with).

Yesterday we had our transition meeting from pre-school to kindergarten. The feel of the meeting was that the school was right and we were just over stretching Harrison abilities. The teachers and team did say some positive things however the "can't do, and the wont performs" were a much longer list. At one point in the meeting I started doubting what I knew to be true about my son.

The format of the meeting went something like this: (a good way to work one in my opinion)
1. The Team Arrives: Bring a man with you, the tone of the meeting really does change when you have a man with you even if they are only there for support. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!!

2. Introductions-who is everyone, and how are they connected to your child, how are they talking to you. What does your gut say about this person, you know your child best does it appear to be the type of person who your child will respond to?

3. Where is the child currently and how did they get there-If you are paying or participating in private therapy then make sure that you get it out at that time. My son can do many things in private therapy that the team was saying that he could not because of his short attention span and focus issue (That is called Autism right?). This is where the discussion regarding the distracting environment came in-his disability makes it hard to focus and what better place to learn to focus than in that type of environment with peers. This really opened the door for a regular general ed kindergarten for us.

The team also stated that they did not consider the transition to this program and his progress successful and tried to blame it on me that I pushed and the district complied with my request. I reminded them that I am a member of the team and that the entire team from our previous placement felt it was a good move for him.

Do not let the district pin something on you that you asked for that they feel is not working. Do not take TOTAL RESPONSIBILITY for the decision you asked and the TEAM AGREED. Stand up and lay the blame right back in the entire teams lap!

4. Overview of IEP Goals and Objectives-this is hard but just let the team talk and tell you what is happening currently. If you don't have your child in regular ed or with typical developing peers and want that to happen make sure that the communication goals and the learning goals include the words "typical distracting classroom" or something similar. How do you practice these skills if you are not around a bit of distracting and interesting things?

5. THIS IS THE IMPORTANT ONE: Make a list of what type of Environment your child needs to learn in! Make sure to include thing that are important to you and you feel will make a difference in his learning.

Our list looked something like this:
A Class Placement that Includes:
-Small Group instruction-Environment that provides opportunities to practice new skills
-Typical Developing Peers
-Strong Teacher with a solid, set routine
-One to One support as needed
(OK you get the idea these were the ones that were the most important to us but there were 7-8 on the list)

6. After this is done then talk about placement. Because we have a district that has pilot project that provides opportunities for children with IEP's who may be right on the edge an opportunity to be placed in regular general education we felt that this was the best opportunity for our son. We made a comparison between the current preschool placement (which we view as extremely successful socially-academically they are right not so much- but that was not what we were looking for when we moved him) and that because the district had a program similar for kindergarten we would like to continue that environment.

They tried everything they could to "make us see" that we were setting up Harrison to "fail" however when everything that was said and done they could not make a good case as to why Harrison could not be successful in the program we felt would benefit him most.

7 Finally only sign off on the placement if you are really willing to accept that decision. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SIGN IT AT ALL!!! The district has to provide you with a letter stating where placement will be within 10 business days (in our district) and then you have to start the paper trail process for requesting a reconsideration of that decision and go through "Due Process" and use your "Procedureal Safeguards" to make sure that your child gets what they need to make education progress.

Just a few more details : I started voiceing my desire for kindergarten placement in January of this year and did get the run around. I did get a chance to visit the intergrated kindergarten classroom and talk to the teacher about her style and how well students do in this environment. I asked her questions about her background in working with children with autism and she was able to tell me about the accomidations that she had made for some of the children with picture schedules right on the desks in the beginning of the year.

My GUT (yes listen to yours too) said this is the place that my son could be successful and a teacher like this could tell me when to step back and what she needed me do or have done in private therapy to help Harrison be successful!

I finally feel like we can now finish up this school year and enjoy the excitement with all the other families who have children going to kindergarten this fall. It will be amazing, adventous, scary, exciting, and nerve racking but at least it will be our journey and one that we are ready to go on-well informed and supported.

If you or someone you know needs more information about IEP's or Speical Education Services in Eastern WA send an email to either me at davearmie@comcast.net or Families Together for People with Disabilities FTPd@familiestogether.org . The Special Education Ombudsman at OSPI (Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction) from your state should be able to help you in providing information that may be relevant to you. If you need that information for Washington State send me an email and I will get it to you.

Families Together for People with Disabilites is a private Non-profit agency who helps to strengthen families through support and encouragement. Do you have a little extra to give? Please consider them. Donations are tax deductable! See their website at www.familiestogether.org
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