Sunday, December 16, 2012

Troubled Children Grow into Troubled Adults without Intervention

Reading about the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary just confirms part of why we have IDEA and why our schools must take a different role than they usually do, at least around here.  This was a troubled boy who grew into a troubled man.  Instead of ignoring the mom's pleas and instead of taking the stance that we must save as much money as we can, perhaps if districts take the stand that they are here to educate and help our children grow into strong and thriving citizens we will see this kind of thing stop (or at least happen less often).  When they refuse to help these kids and rebuff parents they set themselves up as the bad guys.  Good care costs money, but good care leads to good outcomes.  Which is more important?  I have often wondered when some parent will have taken all they believe they can handle and go and do some violence, now we have seen what happened to a young man who apparently believed he had taken all he could handle.  It's time to start caring for our kids instead of avoiding doing anything for children who are different.

See Aaron Sereboff's post here:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why We Get an IEE

When someone goes to get an IEE it is for two reasons. First you are hoping to convince the school district that your child needs more services than they say your child needs. Sometimes this works, but often what happens is your IEE needs to stand up in due process because many districts would prefer to hire attorneys than give your child the services your child needs. So that IEE better be pretty good. 

You want a person who understands the particular area, who understands schools and what they cover as opposed to an evaluator who is working under a medical model and is used to writing evaluations for insurance companies. They are very different. Even if they can do an evaluation under your insurance, you want to make sure they have experience in with educational reports, and then you want to be sure that they will attend an IEP meeting and be able to defend their report or your child will not get the needed services.  You can pay for that, or ask that your district covers part of the IEE but I wouldn't tell them which part.  I have found the district is unlikely to work this sort of thing out with us though, so it may or may not work, even if the person who takes insurance, who is covered by your insurance, is good at educational evaluations.  

The best IEEs include arguments from the start that your child needs this intervention that will stand up in court, even if you don't have to go to court, which hopefully we don't have to do. I have found that most of the medical people we have used for treatment have not been able to even say if my daughter is getting appropriate services at the school, even though they know very well what to do under the medical model.  It isn't their fault, they are just not trained in the educational model.

Let Your Pediatrician Help

I just got back a from a visit to our pediatrician with our youngest.  He had a traumatic brain injury suffered at birth and has some learning and behavioral issues as a result.

He is a great kid - but when he gets into what for him are overly sensory and auditory stimulating environments he has trouble taking in information and behaving appropriately because he gets stressed out.  He doesn't listen well in that environment and he has trouble thinking.  Really, who can think when they are stressed out?  Anxiety and thinking just don't go together!  Anxiety creates an instinct response, which is going to be fight or flight, not helpful in the classroom.

So our attorney suggested that we see our son's pediatrician.  I explained our concerns to her and told her what is going on in the classroom.  She felt that we could go a couple of ways.  One is having him attend school for half days for the time being, and the other would be for him to go into Home and Hospital Instruction (HHI) for the time being.  She asked me what I thought would be best.  I have already been taking him for half days and things haven't gotten any worse, but they also aren't getting better and he is missing significant chunks of instruction.  It is difficult for him to keep up this way so I said I think to go to HHI is the best for him right now.  That way he won't get to school and be expected to take a test the others are taking when he hasn't been there to practice what he will be tested for, and other similar situations.

She immediately wrote a note for him to attend half days until HHI can be set up and she will sign that paperwork once I get it from the school.  This is so much better than continuing to fight for him to try to fit in where he can't succeed, yet it keeps the district responsible for him getting an education and services.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Advocating for a Child with Behaviors

Warning - this is a long one.  I go into details so that you can learn from my mistakes.  My husband and I have fostered and adopted kids for the last 12 years.  Our final foster child became our son officially almost five years ago but he melted our hearts just prior to his two month birthday when we brought him home from the hospital after several surgeries, more shocks to his heart than any child should have to endure, and with the love of a ton of nurses who really nursed him into health.

This little guy was born to his biological mother at her home.  She proceeded to drop him on his head, cut his umbilical cord and not clamp it off, stab him 40 times in the trunk with a pair of scissors, and then wrap him in a wet towel and leave him under an open window shortly after Christmas.  For some reason, before he was completely dead she called 9-1-1 and they came and took him to the hospital where doctors administered extraordinary medical interventions and saved his life.  He has scars all over his still small body.  His lungs both collapsed, his pericardium was cut, but luckily not his heart, there was liver damage that was life threatening, he lost so much blood that there was lack of oxygen to his brain which in turn caused seizures.  I really don't remember all that my little love went through in those first moments of life, but it was hell.  He wasn't expected to live, and once it seemed he would live he wasn't expected to do much.  The doctors didn't expect him to sit up, stand, walk, eat, speak, or be able to care for even the most basic of his own needs - ever.

Our little guy doesn't do what anyone expect him to do though!  He has above average intelligence according to the testing we have had done, he not only walks, he runs and climbs and rides his bike without training wheels.  He can swing at a ball and hit it and he can do some amazing jumps on a trampoline.  He is on track for all of his academic milestones.

There is one area that is difficult for him though.  Speech and language.  He actually speaks pretty well, his articulation is very good most of the time and he can put together a sentence that seems quite appropriate for a child in kindergarten.  He has trouble taking in what he hears though.  He likely has a condition called Auditory Processing Disorder or Central A.P.D.  In our state it can't be technically diagnosed until a child is 7, so we are left knowing he has this trouble, but not being able to get a diagnosis and get him some of the help he needs because he hasn't turned seven yet.  Kind of a ridiculous rule, law, whatever it is, but hey it's what we have to deal with.  Pretty much what happens is he doesn't hear things exactly like they were said - I might say tangerine and he might her magazine.  He also has trouble with some concepts.  Mostly these are positional concepts like over, under, between, behind, first, last.  He also has trouble answering "wh" questions, and the toughest of them naturally is "where".  These difficulties are amplified in the classroom - lots of other noise, constant change/transitions, and a bunch of kids who don't understand that he has this difficulty.

Kindergarten classes in our district have 30 kids this year.  Last year it was 20 kindergartners, this year it is 30.  We worked hard to get him into the local charter school, thinking their multiple intelligences style of teaching would benefit our little guy.  The charter school doesn't have all of the overhead of the large district, but since the district was putting 30 kindergartners in each class, they had no need to place fewer children in the kindergarten classes.  Additionally, this made more parents happy since they could put more of their children into the charters classes.  Many of us enrolled our kids in their hybrid Independent Study program which includes going to class on campus three days per week and home-schooling two days per week.  My little guy was 6th on the waiting list so we could feel very secure in the knowledge that he would be in a five day a week class in first grade and then he could spend the rest of his academic days at charter school until he completed eighth grade.  And by then it was expected that the charter might even have a High School.

Because charter schools are actually public schools they must take children with IEP's.  This particular school doesn't take students with more severe special needs, kids who need a special day class, but they do take kids who can learn in the typical environment.  this seemed like a perfect opportunity for my son.  He had been in a special ed preschool class where he had a few behavior issues, but not more than you would expect from any preschooler, three incidents in two years of preschool.  His speech had come along - when he first entered the program he spoke only 10 words, and what little he did say was difficult to understand.  After two years in preschool with speech therapy (albeit not the best speech therapy - it was the district/county program after all) and over a year of private pay speech therapy he was able to speak clearly most of the time (anxiety has effected his speech and it gets unclear at times) and he spoke in full sentences.    He seemed pretty much like any other kiddo but we knew he did need some extra help, therapy and some modifications and accommodations to benefit from his education.

We went to meetings, we got him his uniforms, we got him to school with his homework done, but after about four or five weeks we started hearing that he was behaving inappropriately in class.  He was pinching some of the other children and even spitting at them.  This was shocking, he hadn't done it before.  We were told that this wasn't all that unusual given the severity of his speech and language deficits.

We worked in an IEP meeting to prepare a behavior support plan with school staff.  He would be given positive reinforcements every half hour until he could do well with that, then the supports would move to an hour, then two times per day, then once a day, until his behaviors were acceptable.  The teacher would give him small rewards, like passing out the pencils, high fives, and being the first to do an activity.  I gave her stickers that were motivating for my son - Cars 2 stickers, and we would use a variety of rewards for bringing home good behavior reports , including milk shakes, toy cars, and DVD's.  Each of these was predicated on increasing his positive behavior reports.  the teacher had already been doing the behavior charts, but we were meeting and making it formal at an IEP meeting.

Initially I got no reports.  It was so odd, because I had been getting reports prior to the meeting and once it was part of the IEP I got nothing.  It took a few days to find out what was going on, but I was told the teacher thought that someone was making up a new behavior chart.  Why she thought this was a mystery as her chart was fine.  There had been no negative comments, no one said a new chart was needed, but what was even more unbelievable was that she felt using nothing was the strategy to use after having a meeting to discuss how vital my son's need was for support in this area.

Finally after two weeks of nothing the behavior charts were again instituted with the additional supports that were put together by the RSP teacher and the SLP.  It was working!  This was so great!  My son's behaviors were down to no more than one per day.  BUT, we had forgotten one important piece, no one had asked what happened just before my son behaved inappropriately.  We all fell lock-step into the idea that he misbehaved because of his speech issues.  I've read up on CAPD and I was ready to believe this, kids with CAPD often times have difficult behaviors as a result of not understanding fully what others want from them.  Okay, so we believed it, but apparently no one in the classroom was at all interested in what was going on that made my little guy so angry.

Shortly after we returned from the Christmas break I observed a situation in which another child was taunting my son.  This was at an award's ceremony and every child but my son got the trifecta of awards.  Perfect Attendance, Perfect Homework, and Excellent Behavior.  Really, every other child in the class was perfect?  Now, I don't think my son was perfect, but every other child was perfect?  I don't think so.  I have never seen such a situation.  I think there is something wrong with a teacher who can't see that only one child isn't perfect - it was bizarre.

After the kids got their awards one child was trying to take away my son's award. I watched as my son refused to give the child his award, apparently he had figured out the other child was planning to throw his award.  I walked away after that, thinking he was handling this so well.  I needed to check in with another mother and he was doing great.  Well, a few minutes later the teacher approached me and told me that my son had convinced another child to give him his award (a pin that was to go on the child's sweater) and he had thrown it.  She told me "It's too bad he had to ruin the whole day".  Really, he ruined the whole day?  What he did sucked and wasn't okay, but had he really ruined the whole day?  The pin was located and returned to the other child, my son apologized, and the "whole day" was "ruined".

Later that day I asked my son if there was anyone at school who was mean to him.  He immediately named the child who was trying to take his pin.  He said "______ is mean to me every day, every day."  Apparently no one had bothered to ask him what had happened, and even if they had he would have had trouble explaining his side, and even if he had the teacher had determined that he was the trouble and all the other students were perfect, never having teased or taunting my son, so there was no reason for him to share what had happened, he'd already been judged and found guilty.      



An IEE is the basis for getting your child needed services through the school district.  The district does their evaluations and may find your child needs special education (or not) but then they do little to nothing to help your child actually learn and gain from their time in school.  Most children in special education have a specific need or needs that keeps them from learning in the general education classroom.  It is services that allow them to learn.  If your child has difficulty reading, then they need intensive instruction in reading.  If they have speech issues then they need speech therapy.  If your child cannot write well and has fine motor issues then occupational therapy is called for, or the OT may also help with sensory issues.  There are more servies than I will enumerate here, but the key to getting any kind of help for your child is often in the IEE.

WHAT:  IEE = Independent Educational Evaluation - should be done at public expense, the district can set up a contract with the expert so that you do not have to pay out of pocket, they will likely drag their feet though, so it might go faster if you can pay up front and have the district reimburse you, but, don't do that until you have an agreement in writing that they will reimburse you for the cost.  Districts often set limits on who they will reimburse, some of those limits are reasonable, others are not.  They cannot speicifically deny an IEE due to cost, though if your expert costs 5 times the prevailing rate they will usually not reimburse you for that IEE.  I have found the popular way to avoid the use of experts that do a good job of advocating for our kids in this areas is to set a mileage limitation on the experts one may use.  There are two ways to fight this.  1) they cannot set limits that they do not follow themselves AND 2) You may have a good reason for using these particular people for your child and you can argue why you need to use these particular experts.  All of our best experts are about 5-10 miles outside of the mileage limitations, but I have been able to use them so far by arguing that they do not adhere to their own limits, so I should not have to either.  Below is a letter I have used to make my point with the district.

As we are aware, all of these experts are outside of the mileage limitations as prescribed by the WESELPA, but that the WESELPA limitations are outside of the limits prescribed by OSEP.  See the letter copied into this e-mail below.  Because the district uses experts from outside the area set by the WESELPA, it can not set those limits for parents.  As I shared with you in an earlier conversation, Ms. Abby Rozenberg, who was offered as a provider of an IEE for another of my children, just over two months ago, is further away than these providers, so the distance criteria is not appropriate as per OSEP. The WESELPA mileage limitations are not in accordance with OSEP policy.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.  Please see the letter below, and if there is any question as to the authenticity of this being in the Dept. of Education database I am including the link to this page on their site.  The letter I refer to is the third letter down from the top on that site.  I am also including contact information for all of the experts listed, below the OSEP letter in order to make setting up contracts quite easy. 

Linda K Higgins

Dated February 20, 2004

Alice D. Parker, Ed.D.
Assistant Superintendent
California Department of Education
721 Capitol Mall
Sacramento, California 94244

Dear Dr. Parker:

This is a response to your letter to Larry Ringer, Associate Division Director, Monitoring and State Improvement Planning, requesting guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) regarding an independent educational evaluation (IEE) under 34 CFR §300.502 of the regulations implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Specifically, you ask whether it is permissible for a public agency to restrict a parent’s choice of an IEE to only the evaluators on a list provided the parent by the public agency and whether the public agency has the ultimate authority to choose the evaluator.

The current IDEA regulations specify that the right of a parent to obtain an IEE is triggered if the parent disagrees with an evaluation initiated by a public agency.  See §300.502(b)(1).  The regulations also require that on request for an IEE, a public agency must provide the parent information about where an IEE may be obtained, and the agency criteria applicable for IEEs. 34 CFR §§300.502(a)(2) and (e)(1).  The public agency must set criteria under which an IEE can be obtained at public expense, including the location of the evaluation and the qualifications of the examiner, which must be the same as the criteria the public agency uses when it initiates an evaluation, to the extent those criteria are consistent with the parent’s right to an IEE.  34 CFR §300.502(e)(1).  Other than establishing these criteria, a public agency may not impose conditions or timelines related to a parent obtaining an IEE at public expense.  See §300.502(e)(2).

It is not inconsistent with IDEA for a district to publish a list of the names and addresses of evaluators that meet agency criteria, including reasonable cost criteria.  This can be an effective way for agencies to inform parents of how and where they may obtain an IEE.  In order to ensure the parent’s right to an independent evaluation, it is the parent, not the district, who has the right to choose which evaluator on the list will conduct the IEE.  We recognize that it is difficult, particularly in a big district, to establish a list that includes every qualified evaluator who meets the agency’s criteria.  Therefore, when enforcing IEE criteria, the district must allow parents the opportunity to select an evaluator who is not on the list but who meets the criteria set by the public agency.  

In addition, when enforcing IEE criteria, the district must allow parents the opportunity to demonstrate that unique circumstances justify the selection of an evaluator that does not meet agency criteria.  In some instances, the only person qualified to conduct the type of evaluation needed by the child may be an evaluator who does not meet agency criteria.  For example, because children must be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, there may be situations in which some children may need evaluations by an evaluator who does not meet agency criteria.  In such situations, the public agency must ensure that the parent still has the right to the IEE at public expense and is informed about where the evaluation(s) may be obtained.  

Section 300.502(b)(2) of the regulations states that “If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation at public expense, the public agency must, without unnecessary delay, either (i) initiate a hearing under §300.507 to show that its evaluation is appropriate; or (ii) ensure that an independent educational evaluation is provided at public expense, unless the agency demonstrates in a hearing under §300.507 that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet agency criteria.”  Therefore, if a parent elects to obtain an IEE by an evaluator not on the public agency’s list of evaluators, the public agency may initiate a due process hearing to demonstrate that the evaluation obtained by the parent did not meet the public agency criteria applicable for IEEs or there is no justification for selecting an evaluator that does not meet agency criteria.  If the public agency chooses not to initiate a due process hearing, it must ensure that the parent is reimbursed for the evaluation.

At your request, we have reviewed the guidance provided by the California Department of Education (CDE).  We recommend that CDE add to the guidance after the first sentence that (1) the parent, not the district, has the right to choose which evaluator on the list will conduct the IEE; and (2) when enforcing IEE criteria, the district must allow parents the opportunity to select a qualified evaluator that meets agency criteria even if that evaluator is not on the list of potential evaluators established by the district.  In addition, the district must allow parents the opportunity to demonstrate that unique circumstances justify the selection of an evaluator that does not meet agency criteria.  We recommend revising the second sentence as follows:  if a parent elects to obtain an IEE by an evaluator not on the public agency’s list of evaluators, and the public agency believes the evaluator does not meet agency criteria or there is no justification for selecting an evaluator that does not meet agency criteria, the district may file for due process rather than pay for the IEE. 

We hope that you find this explanation helpful.  If you need further assistance, please call Dale King at (202) 260-1156.


/s/ Patricia J. Guard for 


WHY: You disagree with the evaluation done by the district.  You can disagree with all or part of their evaluation.  Often times I find that the findings may be adequate, but that the receommendations are seriously lacking.  If you are asked what you disagree with it is generally safe to tell them that you are not comfortable with the recommendations made or the lack of recommendations as many districts do not allow the evaluators to make recommendations on their reports, thus keeping them from making recommendtion that the district would not like to pay for.  SOmetimes a distric tevaluation may not include all aspects of the area they should assess.  Our district repeatedly avoided valuating in the sensory realm, a huge area for my daughter, if the district does not evvaute in all areas of suspected disability then you deserve an IEE.

WHEN: When you disagree with the school district's evaluation in any one or several areas. Generally you might ask for an IEE in Psychoeducation, Speech, Occupational Therapy, Augmentative Communication, Assistive technology, Vision, Physical therapy, or any other area that the district may have assessed. The general rule of thumb is that the district should have performed the evaluation within about a year.

WHO: An expert in the particular field who has experience writing up reports that the district takes seriously. The evaluations they write up need to include an explanation of the tests they did, their conclusions, why they believe your child needs whatever they recommend, and goals for the district to implement.  A great IEE is one that lays out exactly why the child needs the services receommended so that the district is not as likely to go to due process to fight the need for more services, you want to win in the initial phase rather than ending up in court. It is usually not effective to use people employed at hospitals as they are experts at writing up an evaluation for funding from insurance companies for medical need, not for writing up educational need. They may be great at writing up reports but you want an expert who understands the educational system.

HOW: Get the names of great evaluators in your area from attorneys, advocates, and other parents who have been successful in getting their child's needs met. Don't use the people sugggested by the district. In most cases these people will not do an adequate job, they will often write a very poor report that does not justify any increased services and that is why the district recommends them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Prior Written Notice or PWN

Prior Written Notice from

§ 300.503
Prior notice by the public agency; content of notice.
(a) Notice. Written notice that meets the requirements of paragraph (b) of this section must be given to the parents of a child with a disability a reasonable time before the public agency—
(1) Proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of FAPE to the child; or
(2) Refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of FAPE to the child.
(b) Content of notice. The notice required under paragraph (a) of this section must include—
(1) A description of the action proposed or refused by the agency;
(2) An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
(3) A description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
(4) A statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards of this part and, if this notice is not an initial referral for evaluation, the means by which a copy of a description of the procedural safeguards can be obtained;
(5) Sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding the provisions of this part;
(6) A description of other options that the IEP Team considered and the reasons why those options were rejected; and
(7) A description of other factors that are relevant to the agency's proposal or refusal.
(c) Notice in understandable language. (1) The notice required under paragraph (a) of this section must be—
(i) Written in language understandable to the general public; and
(ii) Provided in the native language of the parent or other mode of communication used by the parent, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so. 
(2) If the native language or other mode of communication of the parent is not a written language, the public agency must take steps to ensure—
(i) That the notice is translated orally or by other means to the parent in his or her native language or other mode of communication;
(ii) That the parent understands the content of the notice; and
(iii) That there is written evidence that the requirements in paragraphs (c)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section have been met.
(Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1415(b)(3) and (4), 1415(c)(1), 1414(b)(1))


This must be done if the District chooses to discontinue a service, add a service, evaluate a child, change placement, or deny a service or placement that a parent requests for their child who is in special education.

It must include:
>What they will or will not do
>Why they are doing or not doing it
>A description of what they use to make that decision - evaluations, reports or records that were used to make the decision
>A copy of the "Parent's Rights" (Procedural Safeguards)
>Places to get help understanding the rights
>What other options were considered and why they were rejected
>Anything else that they used to decide what they would do

It must be understandable and in the person's native language or that the parent can have it interpreted so that they understand it.

I have found that the district avoids saying anything relevant in the PWN's.  They don't want to give reasons - the favorite catch phrase in our district is "we respectfully decline to ....".  But it is not respectful and it is not appropriate to simply decline a parent's requests for their child's educational needs.  Fortunately we can demand more information and that information has been very helpful to me in the past, since they don't generally have any sound reasoning behind their "no", and this becomes apparent in the PWN.  Without sound reasoning they will have a hard time defending their refusals at Due Process.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

iPad/iPhone/iPod Apps

  • I have a few favorite iPad apps that I will list and I will tell you why!  In addition thanks to my friend Helen Robinson, I have found some other ways to access suggested apps for the iPad for kids with special needs.  You will find links to those spots below.

    I always use the Lite versions first to see if my kids are interested.  Sometimes what looks like a lot of fun to me will not interest my kids at all.  I have wasted a few apps, but with the lite versions when they are available I can pretest and avoid wasted money.   Luckily though most of the apps I have purchased are less than $2 so not a great waste.  Sometimes you have to take the risk! =)

    Pocket Phonics:  My kids love this one!  They learn letter sounds and practice making the sounds into words.  The also get to practice  making the letter with their finger.  It covers so many of the bases on letters and it's a game and it's fun.  I have accidentally purchased apps (usually only free ones though) that aren't fun - why bother?  My kids wont play with them!  They even have a free trial that you can use to see if your child will enjoy it.

    Tangrams:  It seems like it's just about fun, but these puzzles go from simple to complex and puzzle skills are great for building a good math brain!

    Any of the apps are good if they are interactive - the flash card apps were not at all entertaining but the apps that have you find the right object or person are great!  Some kids like flash cards though so if your kid likes to do flash cards those would probably be good.

    Different Roads to Learning has several fun apps - I have chosen different apps of theirs based on my kids' particular needs.

    Voice Memos is cool for your child to hear themselves.  Audio Note - Lite - might be just as good as Voice memos depending on your kid.

    Fun Rhyming is a lot of fun and rhyming is a skill taught in kindergarten so important to practice.  This would be a great kindergarten prep activity than can be used through at least the kindergarten year and most likely beyond.

    Autism Xpress - great for learning a few facial expressions - but you might find something with even more expressions once you've gone through these.

    Peekaboo Barn - fun for the very young -hear animal sounds and try to guess with animal it is - great for building auditory discrimination skills.

    Cake Doodle - great for working with your child - you can pull more language out of a reluctant speaker by having them name what they want to do - the reward is a beautifully or goofily or crazily decorated cake!

    The Monster at the End of This of This Book - and The Monster at the End of the Book 2 - My kids love these very interactive books - seriously this is why books on an iPad (or other fun device like this) were created!  Kids help the monsters get to the end of the book despite a certain monster's every effort from keeping them back - so fun and encourages reading!

    Starfall ABCs - Starfall is a premier in educational learning

    Alligator Apps has many entertaining and educational apps - just depends on what you child needs and likes - I would check out their selection.

    Bigitech Matching Games - free trial and you get six matching games for just $ .99!  This includes cars, flags, smiley faces, traffic signs, and animals.  Great for improving memory!
    FizzBrain's Eye Contact - great for kids with autism though it can be hard to get them to play so depends on your child.

    Dot to Dot Numbers and Letters - great for developing alphabet and counting skills - my kids love do to dot and this doesn't waste a ton of paper!  There is a free trial app you can use to see if your kids will like it - could be too hard for kids with fine motor issues on the iPhone and iPod - great on the iPad for almost anyone.

    Super Duper has a number of great apps - they are a bit expensive - $2.99 so pick carefully the ones your child needs.  And most of them require that you are working with your child so if you don't want to sit with them regularly don't waste your money.  If you enjoy working with them, these are worth the cost for those apps that your child needs.

    Speech with Milo interactive storybook - Fun and interactive - but it requires that you be able to hear the app well so some devices may need additional speakers or headphones - it is great on our iPad, but too quiet on my iPhone - it really depends on your device.

    Steam Draw - great for developing letter writing skills - the kids like it because it's like drawing on the shower door

    Below are the places you kind find apps for autism and other special needs:
    TweetInstead of making folks ferret out multiple posts for apps info, I've put together a categorized spreadsheet of iPad apps for people with autism.

    Looking for the special needs apps? In this post we highlight 10 Websites that give you information and reviews about Special Needs Apps for the iPad & iPhone.

    Helen has also shared some apps and Facebook pages that you might want to check out while we are on the subject of technology.

    LINKS  This is Helen's favorite site for technology!  

    Read, Think, Write:


    Free Technology for Teachers.

    Technology in Special Education.


    Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Your Next IEP Meeting

There are some things you need to keep in mind when you walk into an IEP meeting. You need to know what services they get and what you think they should get.  It is not uncommon for the District to make a change (usually to less) in services without specifically informing you that they are suggesting a change.  If you don't know what your child currently has they may recommend a reduction in services by simply saying we recommend that Child A receive group speech therapy one time per week for 20 minutes in a small group setting.  If you have forgotten that your child is currently receiving therapy twice per week in a small group setting for 30 minutes and one time per week in an individual setting for 30 minutes then you might give up two sessions and ten minutes thus resulting in a total loss of services of 80 minutes per week.  If we go in unprepared we have a lot to lose.  So we need to ask ourselves the following questions.

First:  What are the services my child currently has?
     What specific areas does my child get support in?  Speech/Ot/PT/APE/ABA/other
     How many hours per week/month does my child get support?
     Is that support in an individual/small group/group manner?
     Who is supposed to give this support?  Is it the therapist or an assistant to the therapist or a specific        credentialed teacher or the school psychologist or someone else?
     Do they receive push-in or pull-out services?

Second:  What are the services I believe my child should get that they are not currently receiving?
     Do they need an increase in current services or a switch from group to individual or from individual to group?
     Do they need a change to push-in or a change to pull-out services?

Third:  Has my child been making progress on each goal?
     Has that progress led to my child being ready to move on from the support service they have been receiving?
    If they have been making progress but are not ready to move on from the support service, does this goal lead to another goal or are they ready for a new direction with help?
    If they have not made progress what is the reason?  Was the goal too lofty?  Did the District attempt to work on the goal?  Was the goal just not right for my child?

Fourth:  What will I do if they District recommends reducing or eliminating a particular service?
     Do I agree that the service should be reduced or discontinued?  If I agree that a service should be reduced or discontinued, why do I believe that?  Is my belief based on what the District is telling me?  If so, have they been reasonable and trustworthy in the past?  If not, do I have information from a reliable independent expert that makes me believe that the service should be reduced or eliminated?  If not, I suggest asking for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) so that you can get an unbiased opinion from an expert at the district's expense.

Going in to an IEP meeting with all of your information at your fingertips will make for less mistakes.  Less mistakes means a better program for our children, and despite the fact that we will likely make some mistakes along the way, reducing those mistakes will make for the best possible program for our kids.  Being prepared will make those mistakes we still make less important and have a minimal negative impact on our child's education.

Dealing With Liars and Avoiders - The Public Records Act

My son is in kindergarten in a charter school in our town.  At his first parent/teacher conference in November we were told he was below basic in many areas.  When his report card came he got 2 "C's" and 2 "D's" along with "A's" in all of the non-core subjects.  His teacher explained that his grades were based on his meeting kindergarten level standards, since he was not meeting end of year standards he had earned poor grades.  My husband and I questioned this to be sure we understood, and she explained that grades are based on what he is expected to do at the end of the year, and that since he did not know all of that material - despite the fact that it had not yet been taught - he was considered to be near failing.  An administrator who happened to be attending the meeting backed her up.  This seemed ridiculous to me but I was of a mind that kindergarten grades are not a big deal (most schools don't even give grades until years later anyway) I felt it was best to let it go.

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  My son is given his second report card.  It is much better.  I have pulled him out of the class and am home schooling him due to the fact that he was being bullied in the classroom and the teacher refused to even look into it.  Letters to the principal brought no response.  My son had responded to the bullying with aggression.  It wasn't a politically correct response, but he is in kindergarten, and when he told the teacher what was happening she refused to believe him - she shared that in an IEP meeting, explaining it away by assuring everyone in the room that "no one else saw that", even when I had reported seeing it take place.

Finally, this last week I had a couple of conversations with different people.  The Speech therapist who works with my son told me that she had to insist repeatedly that the teacher base my son's grades on the most recent information she had, she said the teacher was planning to grade him on earlier information despite the fact that he is currently completing first grade level writing.  He can write a full sentence properly, with a capital at the start, spaces between the letters, and a period at the end.  She intended to give him a "D".  her reasoning was that many of her other students were doing no better now than at mid-term so using mid-term grades was reasonable despite the fact that he had been tested the week before and had aced the writing portion of the test.

Then a couple of days later I spoke to some mom's of other kindergartners at the same charter school that I have known for a few years.  Their kids are not being graded on the principal of meeting end of year standards.  Their kids are being graded on what they have been taught, not on what they will be taught in the future.  Imagine that, being graded reasonably.   So the next question is what to do with this information.  I decided it was time to write a letter asking for the schools actual policies. This seemed pretty reasonable to me.  I asked what the policy is for grading kindergartners both in regards to academic standards and regarding the use of time sensitive testing.  I figured an honest and forthcoming administrator would be happy to share policy with me.

Apparently I was wrong to assume I would reach an honest (forget forthcoming) administrator.  I was told to "ask the teacher".  If I wasn't happy with that answer "ask the principal".  So ask the teacher who I already suspect has lied to me and ask the principal who completely ignored my concerns about my child being bullied.  Besides, I was just asking for a copy of a written policy, why the run around?  Not only was I told that he would not answer my questions, but he sent this letter at 9:18 on the Saturday night before Easter, and included a "have a happy holiday" as though he was being friendly and helpful.

Well, this is exactly why our legislators have made a policy that requires that public entities must make their records open to public scrutiny.  The thinking is that we, the public are their owners, since it is our taxes that pay for their programs, and so we have the right to view how they are using that money.  We have the right to keep them accountable.

So I sent a request for public records.  I asked that they supply me with copies of their written internal grading policies for kindergartners in regards to academic standards, copies of their written internal policies regarding current v. older testing.  I also asked for copies of my son's specific testing just prior to both grading periods, copies of the e-mail transaction between the teacher and the SLP who shared that they had gone back and forth several times over how the teacher was choosing to grade my son (using old information when she had new information).  Copies of e-mails between the teacher and the school administrator who had backed up what appears to be a flawed method of grading.  Finally I requested their e-mail destruction policy, because without a policy they may not legally destroy any e-mails legally.

They have now boxed themselves into corner.  If they don't give me the information I have requested, including the emails, they set themselves up for criminal charges.  Once we get the information it is likely it will be obvious that they are covering up a for a bad teacher.  Either way, it doesn't look good for them.  It would have been best if they had realized early on that this teacher is trouble.  I have been told that several other parents have written letters of complaint about her methods.  It should have been obvious to the administration that this was not the person that should be teaching kindergarten.  But this is the way it usually goes.  It is rare that administration want to face the fact that they have made a mistake in hiring.  They may meet with the teacher and try to ensure change, but as long as the masses quiet down, one child being harmed just isn't worth the effort.  It is nerve wracking and anxiety producing to take these battles on, but if we don't who will be the teacher's victim next year?  We can't fix it for my child, but maybe we can keep kids safe from this kind of treatment in the future.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The"Nice" IEP Meeting

The last IEP I attended was much "nicer" than previous meetings.  The "team" was very positive about my daughter with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  She is doing "great" in all of her classes, she is a "superb" student, she is "well organized" and is "turning in her assignments on time".  Her IQ total has climbed a whopping 23 points since she was first tested at age 6.  She is incredibly pleasant to have in class, she is a leader, she is well liked by peers and staff alike!  They all seem to believe that she is very talented, creative, and going to have great opportunities to excel at a University.  All those quotations marks?  Yes, they are actual quotes from the IEP notes page!  So, maybe you, like me are wondering why she is in Special Education and why she needs an IEP.

Before I go any further.  My oldest daughter is one of the hardest working kids you will ever find.  Fortunately she doesn't have the aggressive tendencies of FASD that her brother who we also adopted has.  She doesn't do all of her work but she does a lot, she often times forgets to turn in completed or near completed work though.  She has a good strong work ethic and she has come so far, I am really proud of her.  At the same time I am not the type of parent that thinks my kid can't do anything wrong.  I know she needs extra help and I know that I have to keep on top of her or she will miss turning in (or maybe even doing) assignments, and she has never studied for a test without my bugging her to do it.  She thinks she is smarter than she is - she thinks she is smarter than her dad and me (what 15 year old doesn't) and because of that she doesn't think she needs to study for tests.  She can be a really pain around the house, but she behaves very well at school and at others' homes, typical for 15 years old I think.  She is more like her non-disabled peers than she is different, I take heart in that fact!

She has good grades, a "B" average, with one "D" due to her general ed teacher not being informed of the accommodations he was to have been giving, so the first half of the semester really brought her grade down.  Once she got the accommodations and I was on her to make sure she got every piece of work done and studied for all of her tests she squeaked through.   But, my concern is, is she going to get those accommodations at a University?  And, even though I would be paying for it, is anyone going to send me e-mails telling me that she is falling behind so I can light a fire under her?  I don't think so.

Fortunately, the meeting had to be continued because others had to leave and I had to go pick up a child from another school.  This was the best thing that could have happened!  I took home all of the paperwork that I hadn't received ahead of time, I read over all the comments in the notes section of the IEP, "superb" (really?), I hadn't heard that comment but it sure did make the my daughter look good didn't it?  And I got to think, something there is too little time to do in a meeting with many people talking at the same time.  I find I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out who is trustworthy (sort of) in the meeting and who I need to be very leery of this time around.  That is why I never sign an IEP at the meeting unless they offer to give every service I went in to ask for and even then, I usually want to read the fine print, and then I still often times look back the next year and wish I had objected to something I didn't object to!

Well, after checking my feelings about the meeting, looking over the paperwork, and spending a bit of time realizing that there was a reason for all of the insanity, I got to work.  First, the reason for trying to make it seem like my daughter is the first kid in the special ed system at  her school that should go to a University and major in a creative major is that they have everything to gain from making it seem she is super-girl!  It will cost them a lot less in services and special classes if they can make her seem like the "Incredible Super Smarter Kid".  So then I was able to get to the details.  They weren't actually suggesting that she leave special ed, of course not, they get Federal funds if they can keep her in Special Ed and yet give her nothing over and above the regular special ed classes.  So they want to keep her just disabled enough to need a few special ed classes but not disabled enough that she needs any services - even the ones they just started giving her last year!  Here are a few of the things I found were in that paperwork and were to have been suggested at the meeting - since they included recommendations in the notes - written before hand since they knew what the recommendations would be even before the meeting (called predetermination).

They say she is organized - probably a lead in to not needing any more OT services!  Just two weeks before  she had received a progress report and in one class she had not turned in 8 assignments out of about 20!  That does not signal organization to me!  She had missed 4 assignments in another class and in another she was behind by only one assignment,  but it was worth almost half of her grade so she was suddenly getting a "D" in that class too!  She is in an English 9 class, but since it isn't called "language arts" her teachers determined that she did not need to work on the goal that was related to her language arts class!  I think English 9 is a language arts class, and that isn't a big stretch.

For reading, the only goal is for increasing fluency.  Okay, fluency is nice, it is important, but what good does it do to increase her reading fluency if she isn't understanding what she is reading?  Her comprehension is at fifth grade level, but they want her to read faster at the ninth grade level, even her Language Arts (oops, English) teacher said that increasing fluency will come from reading things that are below her actual reading level so the whole thing seems to make no sense.

One goal was written that she will "complete ---- at 80% 4 out of 5 times".  So 4 out of 5 times is already 80% and then 80% of 80% is  actually 64%, is "D" level work an appropriate goal?  I don't think so.  My daughter may do her best and end up doing 64% but that should not be the GOAL!

Another suggested goal was for her to complete a resume that is 80% correct.  Is a resume that 80% correct okay?  I say keep having her do that task until it is 100% correct.

She has auditory processing disorder so she has been given a listening device that helps her to focus on what is said and screen out background noise.  She has been forgetting to use it but they have objected to a goal for that.  A simple "------ will wear her listening device 90% of the time" seems easy enough, but they don't want that.  Okay, why?

Everyone admitted that my daughter sounds very young for her age yet the SLP denies hearing her speak in anything other than a perfectly appropriate voice.  Funny how in a room full of people the only person who doesn't hear how young she sounds is the person who is supposed to help her with her speech.  And really, try getting anyone to take you seriously when you sound like you are in early elementary school.

Goals were written with a baseline that says "student had difficulty with --------- in her triannual evaluation".  So even if she regresses by next year we won't know that because we don't know what she can do now.

These are the kinds of things that we need to go over privately, away from the IEP team, when we can think.  The goals drive the services so goals need to be good.  We should to be able to recognize the kid they are talking about in their evaluations and in the notes.  If they say our kid can cut normally we should ask them to cut in front of us so we can see if they really can cut.  We can't test everything, but there are many things we can test.  I know my daughter behaves better away from home than at home - I probably did too, but she should not be unrecognizable.

"Nice" is just a way to act, and it probably fools a lot of us into believing that they really care, but the two are very different, and the best IEP teams are made up of people who will tell you the truth.  Talking about your child's strengths is "nice" but talking about their weaknesses and and how to help your child overcome them is what makes an IEP meeting helpful.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Things I'm Learning From Megan - 1

I have to stop myself from saying - "She just said hello to you" - with some attitude when people ignore my daughter's cheerful "Hi".  She is teaching me that it doesn't matter how they react to her, that I should just do the kind thing, the nice thing, the loving thing, like her.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Do I Seem Upset?

“It seems like we’re all getting a little upset here”.  
I’ve heard this a lot lately at IEP meetings.  This is the statement made when the district doesn’t have an answer for a question that parents or advocates pose.  It can also come when the parents seem to be unhappy with the responses the district gives.  It’s said in order to slow things down and its said in a tone of voice that intimates that the parent is getting overly emotional when in fact I haven’t seen that to be the case.
Hey, district personal needs to be prepared for parents not being happy with their proposals, especially since most often those proposals are for far less than experts in the field suggest is needed for growth.  When non-verbal children are given one 20 minute session of speech per week, and that’s usually in a small group which most experts will tell you isn’t appropriate for non-verbal children, parents tend to get upset.  When a child with sensory issues that keep them from learning are given no OT services because they can write, as if writing is the only OT issue to address in the schools it isn’t so good.  Hey, we even knew that before the expert told us and we’ve been advocating for more and better services before we got here with the expert, and you have the audacity to tell me that my kid doesn’t need what it is so obvious he or she needs.  Yeah, I get a bit upset.  But I don’t think that fact is important unless I start looking like I’m about to pull out a machine gun. 
I think the next time someone says they think the group is getting upset I will say something to the effect of “So, what are you upset about?”   Let them get on the defensive for a change. 

Civil Rights

My husband and I have spent the last several months putting together a complaint for the Office of Civil Rights regarding their treatment of our children and of us.  While discussing this today, as we wrap up and ready the complaint to send to the OCR I shared my feelings with my husband about why it is so important that we send this.  I believe this will probably be the introduction to our complaint, but regardless I hope others understand how important it is that we parents look at what is going on at school and that we demand that our districts meet our children's needs.

The law says that I must send my disabled child to school because EVERY child deserves and MUST get an education.  If you are going to insist that I send my child to school then the least you can do is avoid hurting her, and really don’t you believe educating her would be necessary?
If she must go to school then the district has every obligation to make sure that they do not abuse or harm her in any way.  Is it okay to say she “must” go to school and then abuse her?  Dragging her across blacktop like a bag of trash?  Or to cause her so much upset that she does not want to go to the classroom so that staff feels it is okay to drag her to the room as she screams and cries?  Or is it okay to be so incapable of meeting her needs and teaching her so that she becomes so frustrated and upset that she is hitting herself in the face and head hundreds of times during the school day?  Should we accept that this is an appropriate education for our child?  Should we have to enter into Due Process to prove that the district isn’t doing their job in educating our daughter?  And what about the children whose parents don’t know how they are being hurt at school because they implicitly trust the district to have their child’s best interests in mind?  As we did until our daughter was in fourth grade, we had been duped for years.  This is what CVUSD does to every child whose needs they don’t meet.  They dupe parents into believing that they have been educating their child with special needs.  This is a travesty, an injustice, ineptitude, and just one example of their complete lack of regard for the civil rights of children with disabilities.