Monthly Archives: October 2014

“No Behaviors of Concern”

We had two attempts at Mikey’s IEP meeting in as many weeks. Each meeting was two hours long. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about them.

The first meeting was desperately uncomfortable. My advocate reminded us that the school is required to provide a copy of the evaluation report for us to review two weeks prior to the meeting. The meeting date was only set 9 days in advance and I had to ask for the eval report, which seemed to surprise them. Things went downhill from there.

I kicked off the meeting by asking where the information about Mikey’s sensory screening was located in the report. I’d read it many times and it was clear there was information missing. People from the school side began scrambling around, printing paperwork, shuffling forms, dashing into the hallway to whisper.

It became very obvious something was wrong, someone was in trouble, and we were just sitting there waiting to move on. Cody and I sat there for 2 hours, taking turns rocking our newborn, while we paid a babysitter to stay home with Alex. Cody used his last vacation day from work, a day he reserved from his abbreviated paternity leave.

Eventually, the program officer stopped the meeting. She said the school was wasting our time, apologized for that, and said we had 10 days to try again before the evaluation expired and we had to begin the 6-week process from scratch.

That put us in a really tight spot because we had to sacrifice some of our…I’m not even sure what the term is, but we had to suck it up and pay for MORE childcare, take more time from work, and spend more hours on the phone and reading through revised, properly-completed documents.

The school had not completed any of the paperwork correctly. None of it, from the invitation to the meeting to the signature page to the evaluation itself. Our advocate actually asked if the school team had ever completed an IEP before. Her question was met with silence.

SO yesterday, we tried again. This time the program officer conducted the meeting and asked us if we minded whether school personnel attended as observers so she could “model” what she expects from an IEP meeting. Yikes! I felt very uncomfortable entering the meeting, but the tone was light and professional and things went well.

What made me happiest was hearing how things are going so WELL for Mikey. His classroom teacher reports that he is meeting mastery in 30 out of 30 categories for his “report card.” The same report card last year showed him scoring in the lowest range for 30 out of 30 categories.

Mikey has no behaviors of concern. Mikey is interacting with peers in an age-appropriate (if brusque and strikingly honest) manner. Mikey responds to teacher instruction. When his attention wanders, he requires no atypical interventions to get back on track. In short, his teacher views him the same as everyone else in the class.

He does not qualify for special education.

Because he has no goals requiring specially designed instructions, he does not qualify for an Individualized Education Plan.

Quite a different picture from what was painted in June, when we were told the school recommended he be moved to an autism support classroom in another school!

So what do I make of this?

My son has a 504 plan in place to make sure he gets accommodations for some atypical behaviors (he gets to take breaks to use the trampoline in the resource room and has a special area in the classroom where he can decompress periodically). He is otherwise just a regular kid.

So why have I spent the past 5 months going through this process?

I’m not sure whether it’s a question worth pursuing or if that would just lead to increased frustrations.

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Searching for Gold

Cody sent me the most beautiful image the other day as I was away at a baby shower. Our neighbor had brought our boys some Canadian dollar-coins from her recent trip, and Mikey loves the golden Loons. He keeps thinking I’m saying “doubloons” and that I’ve actually given him pirate coins.

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So, adventurer that he is, he donned this fine outfit to go in search of golden coins.

This week, we are working our way through his evaluation report and meeting with his “team” at school to talk about what to do next. I feel much like him, searching for gold. I’m reading about him staying on task 60% of the time at school, which is very typical for a kindergartener. I’m hearing the school psychologist saying she sees Mikey performing like a typical child.

I’m reading about him testing in the superior range on IQ tests, on the cusp of very superior, so we all know he is a bright kid. He’s testing average or above on all the evaluations and assessments he’s being given at school.

I’ve been picking through the evaluation report, digging for gold, trying to make sense of everything that’s happened or that I’ve learned since our June meeting at school. I feel like my son is doing well. I feel like he has good supports at school. I see nuggets pop up, like Mikey picking his nails and his face, but these things don’t affect his learning or the learning of others.

I read about him lingering back by the teacher at recess at the beginning of the year, but progressively interacting with peers as the schoolyear continues. I read about his teacher giving him language to interact better with his peers.

Cody and I have to sign some paperwork on Friday to determine what sorts of specially developed instruction we think Mikey needs. It’s hard for us to separate out what his teacher is doing instinctively from what needs to be spelled out on paper and signed by the team.

All these decisions feel so big and so huge and so important. I wish I had magic goggles and a fancy vest/cape to help guide me! Instead I’ll have to rely on my mama heart.

Choosing Works

Currently, Mikey goes to a Montessori school. I know and have always known that this style of education doesn’t work for all kids. I’ve also read that Montessori schools work great for kids on the autism spectrum, though I sometimes wonder how this can be.

Last year, when school officials surprised us by saying Montessori doesn’t work for Mikey, I didn’t give it too much weight because their approach was so abrupt and we were totally in the dark about problems that had supposedly been brewing without intervention.

This year, Mikey’s teacher told us at conferences that he still needs a lot of teacher intervention to choose work. Enough intervention that her assessment is that next year will be a challenge for him in a Montessori environment.

This puts our family in the midst of a hard decision. This teacher, whom we trust and who obviously likes and cares about Mikey, is keeping us informed week to week about his progress and his strengths and his continued weakness: choosing work independently. If she recommends a traditional classroom environment, we take that heavily to heart.

But. We have 2 other kids whom I feel would benefit from a Montessori environment. If we withdraw Mikey, we lose the sibling preference for enrollment for Alex for next year. Even if Alex gets in, I’d have kids in 2 schools on 2 different schedules with pickup and drop off nightmares and conflicting conferences and assemblies and AAAGGHHH!

Also? Public schools around here don’t have much space for emotional intelligence. A Montessori classroom emphasizes peace and respect and the teachers share a pedagogical approach–this is the Montessori method. There is, in other words, a set method to teaching each thing. The style is the same. All teachers in all the classrooms in the school share a philosophy about learning and conveying information and intervening if there are behavioral challenges.

The same is not true of the other public school classrooms, where there is often a punitive response to behaviors and recess gets withheld…

So we have to decide. We have to decide if traditional public school will be “better enough” for Mikey to pull him from Montessori or if he can potentially stay put. Can he thrive in one of the other public schools? Can he thrive where he is? I wish I had a crystal ball to know the answer.

Change is in the Air

I wonder if Mikey is so drawn to October because there is so much change around this month–and he hates change, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. The weather changes so much in Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, it was 84 degrees and sunny. On Wednesday, it was 64 and windy.

The food changes so much in October–we are suddenly presented with pumpkin everything. Last year this made him gag, but this year he’s feeling adventurous and likes pumpkin waffles (but only the ones from Aldi). And of course, there’s candy all over the damn place. Cody took our boys to the builders’ workshop at Home Depot and they came home with THREE BAGS of candy. Three bags!

The world around us changes visibly here, too. The trees flame red and orange almost overnight. I think they peaked as we drove home from my sister’s wedding in late September…but then in the same month, these same leaves fall down and scatter the ground and everything becomes slick and wet and unfamiliar. Or else crunchy and crisp and also different.

For a kid who thrives on routine, October must seem a confusing mess for the senses. This year, his body is responding in a way that is familiar and frightening to me.

His oral/facial sensory needs have increased dramatically. His fingers are bloody from biting the nails down well below the tops of his fingers. A school report from the psychologist reveals that he is just constantly, constantly touching his face and also pressing his hands and feet against things. His poor body just can’t get enough stimulation it seems.

We scheduled an interim appointment with his psychiatrist to discuss how this might be related to his medication. The medication is still functioning in terms of controlling his impulses. He’s gaining weight, eating well, having peaceful days. He’s not anxious or enraged. But when he wakes up in the morning his energy levels just flame and shoot out of his body. There isn’t enough in the world to quench his thirst for everything…food, sensation, pressure, sound, all of it. And then there’s his face and his nails.

Cody and I are trying to decide if we think these side effects warrant adding an additional medication to his tiny body. I’m so reluctant to do that. I wonder if the side effects are harmful for him, emotionally or physically, enough to warrant more drugs? I’m going to order a trampoline for our house and see if that helps.

For now, I sit in waitful worry. Maybe this will be his seasonal shift and we’re seeing it early. But maybe we’re in for the roughest November we’ve had yet?

Exfoliating

Mikey has been responding to his medication lately by really tugging and picking at his face. A lot! His teacher observed this and suggested adding a face washing work to the repertoire at school. She didn’t add this as something unique to him, just something else for everyone to do. He went over to it immediately and has been doing that work every day. She sent along a picture of him exfoliating vigorously. I love it!

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What a great example of an intervention school can and did implement seamlessly that helps him have a better day.

IT’S OCTOBER!

I’ve mentioned before that Mikey loves Halloween. Loves isn’t even a strong enough word. Halloween is his Christmas, and he prepares for it much the same way Rite Aid does: by beginning to decorate more than a month in advance and generating buzz via scraps of paper, annoying music, and in-your-face promotion.

This year, my mom (who isn’t helping a bit) sent along a huge package of Halloween decorations. We now have window decals, a welcome mat, sparkly garland on the bannister, a string of glitter pumpkins up the stair rail, and orange twinkle lights on the front porch.

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Mikey, mid-decorating session, contemplating placement of various gaudy decorations.

After he finished tricking out the porch, he clutched his bosom and declared it the most beautiful porch on the block.

September 30, he paced around the kitchen, super agitated. I hadn’t seen him this anxious since we were testing the Adderall. He was finally able to tell me he felt tremendous concern we might forget to flip the calendar page the next morning and couldn’t we please just flip to October a bit early? We did, because who could let a kid fester in such worry?

Despite being up a bit late that night, he was up at five October first and stomped right into my bedroom. “MOM! IT’S OCTOBER!” he declared, in his most excited yelling voice. He’s been practicing wearing his vampire costume ever since (because I told him he couldn’t practice wearing his costume until October) and repeatedly begging me for bright red contacts as an accessory.

Our new thing, which I love, is nightly family walks to see how the neighbors are decorating for Halloween. We do these each year until mid-November, when he melts down into a puddle of goo over his constant disappointment that Halloween has passed.

I’m hopeful this year his maturity combined with his medication will help him be more accepting of the transition to November. I’ll admit, I will spend October in anticipation alongside Mikey, only mine will be fear that the honeymoon phase of this year will be ending and manic Mikey will spring back into our lives.

I keep telling myself one day at a time, and when he has a bad afternoon because Ricardo gave someone else the lone Halloween book during silent reading distribution, this doesn’t necessarily mean the school year will spiral into a shit show.

If you’ll excuse me, though, I need to get to work on costumes for myself and Cody and Stanley, because Mikey insists they wear costumes!

School Year Summary: EASY

We fought to institute a daily communication log with Mikey’s teacher this year, to avoid school surprising the pants off of us at a meeting the last day of school and telling us…something we weren’t expecting.

At this point, I almost feel guilty about it. Our BSC created a sheet his teacher can just circle for whether he’s had an easy day, hard day, needed teacher intervention, etc. Each day it comes home with the word EASY circled and a smiley face.

We get weekly email summaries that basically say, “Mikey had a great week! See you Monday!”

I have so many mixed feelings, of course, about everything. I’m so, so happy my son is having a good experience in kindergarten. I mean, it feels really nice to have a kid who is learning things and making friends and running around like a kiddo, with a teacher who likes him. So good!

But then, part of me is bitter and angry. What the fuck was all that commotion about in June? Why did I spend my entire summer gearing up to fight back against the suggestion that my son needed to be in an autism support classroom in a different school? I mean, I was on the phone with school superintendent people from the HOSPITAL where I was recovering from having my baby.

When is someone going to come over and apologize to me about that?

I guess they aren’t. Ever. And as soon as I accept that and move on, I can just enjoy the positive experience my kid is having with a team of educators who seem to support him and feel invested in his success.

I registered Alex to attend this school next year, which is trippy. I wonder what it will feel like to have a child in school without paperwork or helpers or extra meetings??