Friday, November 09, 2007

Graduation: 2013?

Gameboy's educational path may appear to be the same as other kids. However, there's a lot that goes on to ensure his academic needs are met that the average person does not see.

As a result of his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, he is classified as an "Exceptional Student" by the state of Florida. We entered into the state, comfortable in the knowledge of how the IEP (Individual Education Plan) process worked and what we, as parents, needed to bring to the table when the IEP team met.

We came from a relatively average size school district in Maryland. The participants at the school level were always the same, but the participants from the BOE offices would always be different. Let me explain: the typical IEP has your child's classroom teacher; a teacher (or three) that provide any special services (speech, reading or other specialty); the principal or assistant principal; a facilitator from the Board of Ed and sometimes the school psychologist.

In Maryland, we had a pretty full meeting each time we convened an IEP. Ed and I brought a friend's mom (a teacher) to the first one because we had not a clue of what to expect, but Peggy was a veteran. She asked the questions that we needed to ask, if we hadn't already done this. We came out of that first meeting far more relaxed than when we walked in.

We had been extremely fortunate that our son's brand new school had at its helm a principal who had spent years heading the county's high school for the worst behavioral students. She had seen emerging issues with our son and her goal was to prevent him from attending THAT school. Not that it was a bad school, but she saw brilliance in our child-that school would not be able to focus on academia in the manner he needed.

Testing was initiated and we reconvened to go over the results. He was confirmed to have Asperger's Syndrome and the ADHD we already knew about(the other diagnoses came later) and plans needed to be made. What could the school do to help him? The amazing part was that in that second meeting is that the principal, Dr. S, turned to me and Ed and asked "What do YOU want for Gameboy?"

They agreed with our desire to keep him in the mainstream program as long as they could. When Gameboy started spending a part of every day in Dr. S's office, we all met again. This happens with the early stages of those IEPs. There will be a lot of tweaking until the right balance is achieved. A year after he began the IEP process, Gameboy was moved to a program our county had at another school. It was self contained and when we walked into the first grade classroom-there were 10 other boys with similar issues.

This program had an established method to assist the students. When there was an issue, a student went into a 'quiet room'. It was a closet that had been completely emptied and padded. The walls were covered with carpet. (We were shown this in our tour and told 'we hardly need to use it." Gameboy gave it a workout!) Many times with Gameboy, he gets so worked up in a meltdown that to get him back on task, he needed time in this place to regroup. Thankfully, there was always one of the social workers, secretary or principal of the program around to coach Gameboy back into behaving. He made great strides in 18 months. We didn't have to get him from school all that much.

Then we moved to Florida. We silly parents, we thought we were pros. We came down here well prepared with all of his paperwork (except for the actual document that indicated Asperger's). We told the facilitator at our first IEP that Gameboy was classified as Federal Code 14, Autism. This is because Asperger's is an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What we did not know is that Florida does not classify Asperger's under the Autism spectrum, rather its classified as Neurologically Impaired.

The upshot is that Gameboy spent third grade with a very sweet teacher and aide and five other students from first through third grades. She taught to the lowest common denominator. Gameboy, who had been studying third grade curriculum and learning cursive writing at the previous school, now was bringing assignments home that had basic addition and very simple reading assignments. Had we known more, we would have opted for one of the other placements offered. We had weighed the pros and cons. The facilitator (here, we will have the same dynamo until he graduates) didn't know Gameboy except for what we'd told her. If she had, she would have pushed for a neurologically impaired placement.

At the end of third grade, it was time to review. His test scores for the various Florida standardized tests came back and he was in the 98th percentile on all of them. We said we wanted to try mainstream again. Thanks to those scores, our request was granted.

What a nightmare that was. Gameboy was placed with a second year teacher who had a major chip on her shoulder. We met with her before the school year began and gave her a narrative about Gameboy. We offered to email back and forth and give her a heads up on bad mornings and she could do the same when we needed some more details about what was happening in school. We had done this up north with great success (Alas, Netscape deleted all of those emails in their purge of anything over 60 days. Netscape sucks). No, this was an affront to her expertise and 25 year old "I am the teacher, you're just the parent" credo.

Each time we went to the school for an issue (and we seemed to do this a lot), we'd meet in the principal's office. He would be calm and rational, she'd be sitting with a puss on her face and arms across her chest, clearly annoyed at this child. She wanted him OUT, because he ruined her idea of how a classroom should be. She had succeeded in having the boy across the street removed from the class before and I guess she figured that temper tantrums to the principal were how to get what she wanted. Maybe, but it appears it also prevented her from getting tenured at the end of the year.

In December, despite decent report cards for academics, Gameboy was moved to the "Other Neurologically Impaired" class. Finally, we met a teacher (and aides) in Florida who treated Gameboy exactly the same way we did at home. I will tell anyone who asks that with him, I am not a mom, I am a drill sergeant. We do a lot of yelling and repeating of the same thing over and over. You coddle him, he becomes a terror. These teachers got that. They didn't have to yell, but he got the same drill sergeant front. It was an amazing fit, and we didn't want it to end.

Fifth grade began with worry-next year, we would have middle school to contend with. Ms. W, Gameboy's teacher, told us to relax. The framework of her class was created by Ms. McC at the middle school that he would be attending (IEP took him to this school rather than the neighborhood feeder). All year, we heard how Ms McC's class was where all of her students went and the consistency helped. She eased our worries to an extent, but there was a level of anxiety for us all through fifth grade. At the year end IEP meeting, our facilitator was pleased with Gameboy's progress. Attending the meeting was Ms. M, the ESE specialist at the new middle school.

As a testament to her commitment to her students, Ms. W culled Gameboy's spelling and vocabular words from a college science textbook. She made lesson plans for each of the students, with a main lesson that would work for all of them. The best proof of what she did was that Gameboy made Honor Roll for the whole year. (He'd made it the two marking periods he was in her class in 4th grade). He also got high marks on the FCAT, a test that really doesn't allow for much accommodation of a child with writing issues. As he'd been doing so well, we made the decision to have him attend extended school year with Ms. W, to keep the routine going. All eight of her students attended, and they had a blast.

August 1st rolled around and I started calling his new middle school. To ease Gameboy's anxiety and OCD, I wanted him to walk around the campus, meet the teacher, talk to her and hand her a narrative about Gameboy. I was told the teachers would not be in until the 9th, call back then. So I did and left a message. Then, I got a call from the ESE specialist to arrange a meeting. We agreed on the Wednesday before classes began.

The ESE specialist for the school is great. She pulled Gameboy's info and discovered that HE WASN'T ENROLLED. Apparently, his IEP did not get entered into the system. We had to fill out paperwork to place him at this school. Ms. M walked us around the campus, showing us where the 6th grade pod was, the gym, the cafeteria, the science classes and the library. We went in to meet the principal, as she likes to meet all the students.

First off, she see's Gameboy's discipline record at the top of his file. Why it was at the top, we don't know(he had no referrals for most of 5th grade). He got a stern lecture that it wouldn't be tolerated here. Uh, lady, sorry to disappoint, but you're dealing with a child who is emotionally three years old. Then she saw his FCAT scores-all 4's and 5's. Again, we hear 'talented and gifted' classes. Again, we say we are not inflicting his disruptions on the other students.

The next evening, we attend "Back to School" night. We go to meet Ms McC, only to find that she is not teaching that program any more. Gameboy *might* be in her class, but she didn't think so. We run into Ms. M, the specialist, and she asks us to come back Friday morning, since Gameboy is still not enrolled in the system. Ultimately, we did not meet his teachers then, but we had a mini IEP meeting and all parties got the narrative about Gameboy. We'd be sending him to school Monday morning and Ms. M would get him to the right place.

He was split between two teachers: one for English and Social Studies, the other for Math and Science. Over the first few weeks, we had encounters with one of the aides in these classes, who griped to Ed about Gameboy "he doesn't look at me when I'm talking to him" and other things that made it clear that she had not read that narrative. Ed had to explain each time, some facet of Asperger's that she obviously did not bother to find out.

At the teacher conference, I met one teacher who sang my son's praises-she adored him and kept calling him 'a sweet boy'. She told me what I knew, that he was reading quickly and far ahead of his peers. What impressed me was that she was giving him assignments that catered to his abilities. This meeting went much better than I had anticipated.

Unfortunately, I'd been assigned the last appointment for the day and could not meet with the other teacher. I had no idea how he was doing in Math and Science. Science is easily his favorite subject, but he learned no third grade math instruction. (Once we're financially flush again, I'll be getting him a math tutor to review. He can do far better in math than he is). He gets a daily report card, and while it had some information, we had not a clue how the score related to his academic progress.

Three weeks ago, we began a new marking period and got the word that Gameboy's class assignment would change. He now would spend the entire day with the teacher we had not met. This decision was made because she teaches the 7th and 8th graders. WTH? He's in 7th grade classes?

Apparently, based on his file, he'd been placed with the older student for math and science. This was their work around the talented and gifted issue. I liked the way they thought. Even though I see him struggling with math (basic multiplication is not rote for him), he apparently is keeping pace with the kids a grade ahead.

The new placement has been good, but then in begs more questions. Academically, he's doing 7th and 8th grade work in 6th grade. What are they going to do to challenge him in two years, when he's a grade ahead curriculum wise?

We got his report card yesterday and were happily surprised. Even though the daily report cards ran the gamut, he must be producing enough otherwise. He appears to have the photographic memory that runs in my family, which comes in handy at test times. The net result is that he earned two A's and four B's. In a major surprise to both of us, he made honor roll, even with all the changes and disruptions he's had adjusting to middle school.

Yesterday, along with the report card, there was an item that now has thoroughly confused us. We got what basically is a statement of graduation intent. This document lists how many credits are needed to graduate and the break outs into each area of study. Gameboy's was not completed, but it looks like we're supposed to list what classes we'd like him to take (like European History, American History, Physics, etc). It came home with a note to sign it and return to school.

Both of us looked it over. It looks like it is supposed to come home with all the classes filled out, we just are supposed to approve it. His was blank. the thing that confuses us the most is that it has Gameboy's name, address, school and in the box for graduation? 2013?

I had him the year I turned 30 (made my goal of child by 30 by three months, booya). That little fact made me remember that I graduated in '84, he's supposed to graduate in '14. So, now we've got more questions.

*Is he now considered a 7th grader? Skipped without all the red tape? (If so, I don't think I will complain, provided that for now he's in a multi grade classroom)

*Was this sent in error, since he's surrounded by 7th and 8th graders? (somehow, I doubt it, since it was printed with his information as if it came directly from the Board of Education)

*How do we fix this if it's wrong? (I suspect if this was a mistake, it's going to be a headache to get corrected)

If you've made it this far, you've had a peek into the lives of a special needs child's parents. It's not as simple as what happens today, we really have to worry about the future. Most parents probably wouldn't have given that 2013 a second thought? Meanwhile, we're here wondering if it has a bigger meaning. Did he get skipped without so much as asking our permission? What would YOU think?

(C'mon, you can comment. I won't bite...................much)

2 People talked back:

Tracey said...

Well my first comment and I am sure you are aware and if not do some research, under the no child left behind act they are required to pay for and provide any special needs education inside or outside of the public school. meaning, the public school would be required to pay for private school if they can not meet the needs of your child. If you articulate correctly you can get them to pay for that math tutor. have you tried? i would try to do that. I did read the whole thing and I am amazed at what you have to go through but not surprised as I have friends that home school to avoid those labels that schools put on adhd kids. I can't imagine how aspergers on top of that is affecting the entire family.

Hang in there, you are smart, strong, resilient and very persistent I have no doubt that "gameboy" will get the very best education he can with you as his mom.

sort-of grown-up said...

Wow, I have no idea what that means. Actually, I do, it means "the administration messed up," which I remember distinctly from all levels of schooling.

My boyfriend spent several frenzied days in college telling all of the administrators, "No, really, I want the B.S. I came for not a B.A." (...and this year!)

It sounds like you and Ed handle the system pretty gracefully, so, good work on that. : D