Archive | Hope RSS feed for this section

Your IEP Child: Starting Off the New School Year Right

20 Aug

It’s a new school year!  New clothes, new supplies, new teacher!  Exciting, right?  For children that struggle in school, the coming of the new school year can be a difficult transition time.  Past experience may have taught them that school is not a pleasant experience.  My own son, who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, has, in the past, dreaded the coming of the new school year.  When your child does not have a healthy and happy attitude about school and learning, it makes their struggles even more painful for them and you (as their parent).  This does not mean that you should just except that your child will never enjoy going to school.  Many of my students that are on IEPs are  happy at school. Some student’s have a naturally positive attitude, but most of my struggling students need support to develop a healthy and happy attitude about learning.   I am happy to report that my son is looking forward to school beginning in a few weeks.  He has gotten a lot of support over the last school year and this summer, through his summer program.  He is looking forward to starting his new language based program and seeing the friends he has made.  Here are some ideas for building a healthy and happy attitude toward school that I have seen work with students on IEPs:

  • Be sure that your child’s educational needs are being met.  Nothing will bring down any student more than not getting what they need.  Ask questions of your child and the teachers that will tell you if the IEP is not being adhered too.  For example, you coud ask “Are you being given extra time to complete your tests?”
  • Remind your child OFTEN of the strengths they have.  Plan games and activities that emphasize these areas. For example, if your child is good at math, have them be the banker during a board game and be sure to say, “Mary is going to be the banker because she is so good at math.”
  • Let the teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes.  Set your child up for success by informing the teacher right away of how to please them and how to avoid a melt down.
  • Experiment with homework times to find the best suited time for your child.  Try to set up and stick to a homework routine, this will reduce meltdowns and set expectations.
  • BE POSITIVE!  If your excited about school and learning, the chances are your child will pick up on your attitude and may imitate it.  Ask questions in a positive way.   For example:  “What great things happened at school today!”  “Tell me about something you were proud of today!”  “How many fun activities did you get to do today!”
  • Call out school staff that are being overly critical or negative about your child.  If you sense that a teacher’s attitude is affecting your child, you can call that teacher out (politely).  You could say something like, “Joey has been upset lately about some of the things that have happened at school.  He feels like he is being called out a lot and not being complimented enough.  How can we work together to fix this situation so that Joey can be happier at school?”

Helping the Learning Disabled Child Overcome Obstacles to Their Success!

1 Aug

How to help your child with a learning disability (LD) overcome social and emotional obstacles and be proud of who they are!

In my last post, I talk about social and emotional vulnerabilities in children with LDs.  I wanted to make sure that I also posted about how your child can avoid those obstacles.  Like I said, there is no reason that a child with LDs cannot feel and be successful regardless of the severity of their disability and the past failures they have had.  In fact, many children with LDs experience success later in their education or careers because they have learned to persevere more than the non-disabled students.  Your job, as a parent of a child with LDs, is to make sure they have the best odds to learn that perseverance and overcome the pitfalls of LDs (anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem).  Having hope for your child will help to instill a feeling of hope in themselves.  

Here are some tips for instilling hope and pride in your child with LDs:

  1. Learn about the Disability:  A great place to start is to learn all about the disability, then explain it to your child in a positive way.  This will help them understand themselves better and take some of the pressure from them.  Once my son knew that his struggles were not caused by something he had done wrong, I saw an almost immediate change in his self-esteem.
  2. Find Success Stories:  Find other people who have learning disabilities that have gone on to be successful.  There are many actors (Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford), professional athletes (Michael Phelps), and historical figures (Albert Einstein, George Washington)  that have LDs.  My son loved learning that one of his Star Wars heroes (Harrison Ford) has dyslexia like him.
  3. Don’t Hide the Disability:  Telling other friends and family about the LD will show your child that you are not ashamed about it and will teach them not to be either.  Being honest about their weaknesses will help your child to not be ashamed to ask for help when they need it, an important self-advocacy skill for all children.
  4. Be Patient:  Allow your child to grow and learn at their own pace, but with your gentle encouragement.  Try not to force them to master something that they are not developmentally ready to learn yet, this will only increase their frustration levels (Remember:  You have to walk before you can run).
  5. Be Kind:  Try not to criticize or discourage your child, instead be understanding and supportive.  This can be hard at the end of a long day and your child is having a homework meltdown, but your child is probably already condemning themselves in their own mind.
  6. Don’t Enable:  Never do something for your child that they can do for themselves.  You don’t want your child to learn to be helpless, they need to see that they can do something for themselves.  Give your child the least amount of help that they need to still be successful.
  7. Be Flexible:  When nothing is going right… go left!  Try new things until you find what works…
  8. Never Give Up:  If you give up, your child will give up.  Put something aside, find a new approach, ask for help… but never, ever give up completely!
Quotes that I keep handy and refer to often:
  • Never discourage anyone who continually make progress, no matter how slow.  -Plato
  • An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching. -Gandhi
  • A jug fills drop by drop.  -Buddha
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.  -Ben Franklin
  • …the hardest victory is over self.  -Aristotle

Learning Disabilities and Social/Emotional Difficulties

31 Jul

Student’s with specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia) often struggle with social and/or emotional difficulties, but these difficulties do not cause learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LDs) are believed to be largely genetic based, and are not caused by anxiety, depression, or poor parenting.  Social and/or emotional difficulties could be a result of the discouragement that children with LDs experience.  These children are intelligent. Their teachers and parents can sense this, but they wonder why they are not able to meet expectations.  Many of us think that if these children would just try a little harder they would do better.  What we don’t know is that the learning disabled child is probably trying harder than any other child to do well, but they are consistently not able to meet their teachers’ and parents’ expectations.  This is frustrating and discouraging for both the child and the adults, and many children with LDs end up feeling stupid.  Learning disabled children do not get to experience the fruits of their labor the way other children do.  This is why evaluations and diagnosis is so important.

As a parent, I loved being able to explain to my child that you are not stupid, in fact you are very bright, however your brain works differently than other people’s.  I saw a weight lifted off my son’s shoulders when I was able to explain to him why he was having so much trouble learning to read and write.  Many of his anxieties over school and school-work have lessened since his diagnosis with dyslexia, but as a teacher I know that children with LDs are vulnerable to social and/or emotional problems relating to their disability.    This list may seem daunting, but I believe that knowledge is power and that by acknowledging these vulnerabilities I can help my child try to avoid them.

Here is a list of problems associated with LDs in children:

  • Anger:  Children with LDs may be angry about the frustration that they feel.  They may have outbursts at school and during homework.
  • Anxiety:  Children with LDs may be fearful of school, school work, or other social situations because they fear they will experience failure.
  • Depression:  Children with LDs may experience depression related to sadness they may feel about their inability to achieve at the same pace as others can.  They may have a low self-esteem if they turn their anger about their LD in at themselves.
  • Self Image:  Children with LDs may feel inferior to others, powerless and incompetent because of the failures they have experienced.
  • Social Skill Difficulties:  Children with LDs may be immature compared to their peers and they may seem awkward in a social situation.  They may also have trouble reading social cues (or body language) or  have trouble with oral language (stammering, pauses while speaking, etc.)
While there are many negatives associated with having a learning disability, I believe that children with LDs can experience some extreme positives when they are able to overcome their challenges and experience success despite their LDs.  My next post will be ideas of how you can help your child avoid these problems and come out on top!

How to be a Special Ed. Advocate for your Child

27 Jul

If your child struggles in school, you will need to be a strong advocate to get them the help they need.    When I began to suspect that my pre-school child had special education needs, I went straight to the school.  They did a screening on my child and told me everything is fine.  But I knew it wasn’t.  I am also a special education teacher, but my mom intuition was what was telling me to pursue this further.  I had to push for an evaluation to be done on my child.  When he did qualify for special education, then the real fight began.    I had to learn how to advocate for my child so that I could get him what he was going to need to achieve.  My son is now entering 3rd grade. He has been placed in a wonderful program for children with language-based learning disabilities.  He is happy because his needs are being met.  He continually makes progress and feels proud of himself. One of my happiest moments each day is seeing his happy-go-lucky face skipping out of school.  It is what I always wanted for him.  I made many errors trying to advocate for my son and from those errors, I learned a great deal.

Here is my list of Do’s and Don’t while trying to advocate for your child:

Don’t Do These Things 

  • Get overly emotional or argumentative
  • Make quick decisions
  • Knock it until you try it
  • Make something more intense than it is
  • Trust that you have all the information
  • Make verbal agreements
  • Make threats you won’t follow through on
  • Allow your child to be given anything less than what they deserve
  • Agree to your child having lower expectations placed on them
  • Let things that make you uncomfortable slide by without discussing them
  • Do anything for the sake of being nice or agreeable

Do These Things

  • Research your child’s disability and treatment options
  • Find out what resources are available to your child
  • Ask lots of questions to many people
  • Put things (requests, disagreements, agreements, conversations) in writing
  • Ask for verbal agreements to be put in writing
  • Think before you make a decision
  • Consider all alternatives
  • Remain calm, respectful, and mature
  • Look through all documents, reports, updates, etc.
  • What you feel is the right thing for your child
  • Follow through with ultimatums, threats, or agreements made
  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Talk to other experts or experienced people
  • Give the school a chance to correct mistakes or try something new
  • Attend all meetings
  • Get to know the school staff
  • Make your opinion heard
  • Consider yourself an equal member of the special education team
  • Remain positive, hopeful, and strong

Advocating for your child is not easy, but it very rewarding.  You may not always make the right decisions, but if you are making your decisions with the right priorities in mind (your child’s needs) even your mistakes will be okay.

Getting What Your Child Needs at School

11 Jun

What Every Teacher Would Love to Tell You but They Can’t

Your child is struggling at school and the teacher calls you in for a conference.  She tells you that she is concerned about your child’s progress, but you leave the conference with more questions than when you got there.  Does my child need special education services?  Why didn’t the teacher just come right out and suggest it?  Most likely it is because, like many teachers, she’s under pressure not to.  She may be trying to get you to make a special education referral for your child without saying it out right.  You may have mixed feeling about special education and be confused about what your child really needs.  As a teacher, I can tell you that if she’s called you in for a conference, you have reason to be concerned and should, at the very least, investigate her concerns.

A teacher can make a special education referral for a student, but it’s preferrable for the parent to do it.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that it takes longer for a teacher to make the referral.  A teacher has to go through a process of trying different things and documenting if they are successful or not.  This can take several months to do.  If a parent refers their own child, the testing starts within 30 days of your written consent to testing.  The second reason it is more preferable for a parent to refer their own child is that some school systems subtly pressure teachers not to refer students for special education.  SPED costs a lot of money for public school districts and they are obligated by federal law to offer these services to any child that qualifies.  The only way for a district to keep their SPED costs down it to qualify less students.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

Your child’s teacher can help them if you don’t refer them for SPED testing.  Many schools have a way to help general education students that are struggling.  It is often called RTI (response to intervention) and it can be helpful.  The classroom teacher may be the one to give the intervention (extra help) or it could be a teacher’s assistant, a Title One teacher, a reading or math coach, or other qualified school staff member.  All good intervention should include regular assessment to be sure that it is working.  As the parent, before agreeing to intervention services ask:

  • How much intervention will my child get? ( Once a week for 30 min. is not enough.)
  • Who will be providing it?  (It should be a qualified, trained person.)
  • How will they know it is working?  (They should be assessing every few weeks.)

Realistically, they can probably fit this extra help into your child’s schedule about 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  Do not allow this extra help to be provided by an untrained staff member, it may end up being a waste of your child’s time.  Ask for the assessment results to be sent home so you can keep track yourself.  This kind intervention is enough for some student’s to be brought up to grade level in reading or math.  However, for some it is not.

If your child’s school is providing this kind of extra support for your child I would check in after about 8 to 10 weeks.  I would ask for a review of the data that they should of collected on your child.  (By data I mean results from an assessment that they should be doing to track progress.)  Make sure that what they are doing is getting results (the scores should be going up consistently).  If it is not, the intervention is not working and a referral for special education should be made.

What Will Happen if I Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

You will need to write a letter asking for testing.  In your letter you should state what you suspect may be the problem and list the types of assessments you want done.  You will have to sign a consent form.  Do this quickly, because the testing will begin within 30 days of the school’s receipt of that signed form.  Within 45 days of that consent, you will have a meeting with the school to review the results.  Ask for the results to be given to you before that meeting in you original letter (they have to give this to you at least 2 days before the meeting).  This is a good idea to do for two reasons.  First, you will need time to read this report on your own and look up any terms you don’t understand.  Second, sometimes schools wait until the last (and I do mean last) minute to test your child.  Tests are done in haste and reports can be shoddy.  If you ask for the reports to be given to you before the meeting, the district will have to complete the testing and report at least 2 days before the meeting and they will know you intend to give the report your full attention (meaning a shoddy report isn’t going to fly with you).

Here is what to include in you referral letter:

  • Reason for referral (something like… my child is struggling in school and attempts to help have failed…)
  • Suspected disability (it could be a specific learning disability, a health disability, a developmental delay, an emotional disability, etc.)
  • Assessments you want done (some types of assessments are: learning/educational eval., speech & language eval., psychological eval., behavioral assessment, occupational eval., attention/distractibility scale, sensory scale, reading skills assessment, math skills assessment, auditory processing eval., etc.)
  • Request evaluation reports given to you at least 2 days before the scheduled meeting

*****For more information on this, see my “Testing (Core Evaluation)” posts*****

My Child is Struggling in School… How Can I Help?

7 Jun

If you are reading this post, then you know the heartbreak that a parent feels when their child struggles in school.  Every child struggles now and then, but if your child struggles daily you are probably searching for ways to help them.  Some children struggle with a certain subject, while other children struggle with classwork in general.  Some of our children are fine academically, but struggle with the social aspects of school, or what some people refer to as the hidden curriculum (more about that later).  No parent wants their child to struggle daily at school, but many of us are at a loss for what to do.

I am parent of a child with special educational needs and a special education teacher myself.  I have personally experienced success and failure in trying to get help for my child.  It is not always easy to get the help your child needs, but I can guarantee that if you stick it out, advocating for your child is definitely worth the fight.  I have found the following ideas to be successful ways to help your child that struggles:

  1. Start by communicating your concerns directly to the teacher.  Make an appointment to meet with them, or ask them to call you during a mutually good time.  Tell them exactly what is concerning to you, fill them in on any past successes and failures at school, and ask them to observe your child and report back to you what they think may be the problem.
  2. Come up with a plan of action.  Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the pre-referral team at your child’s school.  All schools have this, but they all call it something different (Child Study Team, Teacher Assistance Team, Instructional Support Team).  This team meets to discuss struggling students and make suggestions for ways to assist the student in the classroom.  This is NOT special education.  Any struggling student can get help this way.  The team will write a plan of action and then meet back in 4 to 6 weeks to discuss success or failure of the plan.
  3. Refer your child for an educational evaluation.  Write a letter asking for your child to be evaluated for eligibility for special education.  Be specific in your letter about what you suspect may be the problem and what kinds of testing you want done.  (For example:  Please evaluate our child for a suspected specific learning disability in reading.  Please complete a full educational assessment, including reading ability testing.)  The school will have to contact you with in 5 days to confirm your request and start testing within 30 days.  You will receive the results at a meeting that must take place within 45 days of your request.
  4. Take an active role in planning for your child’s educational needs.  You need to be aware of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education.  As the parent, you should be included in every decision and your opinions should weigh as much as any other team members.  However, many sped teams will not automatically treat you this way.  You will need to speak up at meetings, ask questions, research the options on your own, and make your opinions known.
  5. Get an outside evaluation done if you disagree with the school’s testing.  You may or may not have to pay for this testing yourself.  Tell the school right away that you are not satisfied with the testing they did.  Put it in writing and explain why you are unsatisfied.  Ask the school about the districts policy for getting the testing paid for by them.  Find a reputable educational testing facility (most pediatricians can recommend someone) to test your child.  Once you get the results, you must give a copy to the school if you want them to consider the results.  The law states that they have to consider the findings as valid unless they can prove they are not.
  6. Be reasonable and professional when you are communicating with the school staff.  Do not yell, use profanity, write insulting emails/notes, make unfounded accusations, or get overly emotional. Try not to over communicate, teachers will not be able to call or email you everyday (they may have over 20 students in their class).

What You Can Do if Your Child is Denied SPED Services

30 May

Your child is struggling in school.  You, or your child’s school, has requested that your child be tested to find out if they qualify for special education services.  You meet with the team and are informed that your child does not qualify for services.  It has been determined that your child is making “adequate progress.”  However, your child continues to struggle and is not receiving enough support at school.  What can you do to get the help that  your child needs to make progress?

First, you should know that you can challenge the school’s decision to not provide services; however, consider that the federal law says that even if the child has a qualifying disability they can be denied services if they are making progress in the general education curriculum.  Making progress is a term that can be interpreted differently, but to most schools it means not failing.   As parents, it is beyond frustrating to see our children working very hard to earn a “C”.  We want them to feel successful, be rewarded,  for all the hard work they do.  Eventually, many students give up because they feel that no matter how hard they work, they fail to get the grades they want.  It is very hard to convince a school district to put a “C” student on an IEP, but there are ways you can advocate for your child if they have been denied SPED services.

How to Advocate for your Child After They’ve Been Denied SPED Services:  

 

  1. Gather documents that prove your child is not making the same progress as his peers.  [Ask to see his file and look for reading level scores, benchmark testing results, end of year tests, etc.]
  2. Ask if the school will consider a 504 plan for your child if they denied them an IEP.  [A 504 plan is for accommodations in the general education classroom.  For example, extended test time, less homework, tutoring with the teacher, etc.]
  3. Start being very vigilant about your child’s progress.  [Question the teacher often about grades, assignments, and the progress they are making.  Write notes when homework is to difficult.  Ask for re-testing when they fail a test.  Speak with the principal if the teacher is not accommodating your requests.  Basically, be a pain in the neck so that the school staff begin to understand the level of difficulty your child is having.]
  4. After gathering more documentation, ask for mediation to resolve the dispute with the school. [Documentation being independent testing, a review of your child’s records, notes to and from the teacher and principal, etc.  You will need this information to prove your case with a mediator.)
  5. Tell the school right away (in writing and verbally)  that you disagree with their findings and/or the testing. [By doing this, your opinion goes on the record; and, if you get an independent evaluation, they may have to pay for some or all of it.]
  6. Request that the school do specific evaluations, such as a reading evaluation or functional behavioral assessment. [This will be helpful if your child’s school only performed an achievement test, such as the Woodcock-John or WIAT.]
  7. Tell the school you will be getting an outside evaluation done and they will be testing for specific learning disabilities. [The school must consider the results of an outside evaluation as equally as they consider their own testing results.  Also, depending on your income, they will be required to pay for all or some of the testing to be done.]

Remember that the best way to advocate for your child is to be armed with a lot of information.  Know all that you can about them as a learner, understand your child’s and your own rights, and know about the SPED process.  Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education Notice of Procedural Safeguards (in plain English: A Guide to Your Rights and Your Child’s Rights)  Guide to Procedural Safeguards

Does my child really need an IEP?

28 May

Does my child really need an IEP?

This is a question that many of us have wondered about. We worry that by allowing the school to give our children special education that they will be labeled and tracked for the rest of their school days.  We wonder if they will be denied by colleges if they see SPED on their records.  What will the other children think and say? As parents, we worry about the lasting effects of special education on our children.  Stereotyping, assumptions, bullying, and poor self-esteem are some of the negative things we hear about special education.  So you ask, “Is all of this worth allowing the school to put my child on an IEP?”  If you consider the benefits that your child may receive from being on an IEP, you may decide the answer to your question is yes.

What are the positives  if my child were put on an IEP?

While it is true that sometimes people make assumptions (or stereotype) children in special education, most educational professionals are aware that children with disabilities have strengths as well as their weaknesses.  When an IEP is written for your child, there will be a specific place where the team will write your child’s strengths.  These strengths will be reported by you, the teachers, and the specialists who tested your child.  The IEP should be designed to work off of your child’s areas of strength.  Without the IEP to guide them, many general education teachers may never get to the point where they even discover your child’s strengths because they are so focused on catching them up in their areas of weakness.   The weakness becomes the focal point for instruction, not your child’s strength.

Yes, it is also true that children in special education are victims of bullying.  However, in recent studies it has been found that 1 in 4 of all children are victims of bullying at some point in their childhood.  Bullying has become a hot topic in education now.  Schools are working on coming up with prevention plans for all children.  In Massachusetts, a bullying prevention law was recently passed in congress.  Because of the increase of inclusion programs for special education students, children are more accepting  of a child’s differences than they were in the past.  Children and adults with disabilities are no longer hidden away, they are involved in the school and general community.  While every parent should stay vigilant about bullying, I would not deny my child services because I thought they may get bullied.  There are ways to prevent and stop that problem if it were to occur.

While poor self-esteem is a definite concern for any child that struggles in school, giving a child help usually does not cause a child to have low self esteem.  In fact failing school or struggling with grade-level work is more likely to cause the low self-esteem of a child with learning disabilities.  Children are happy when they feel successful, when they are accomplishing their goals, and when they are not struggling.  Receiving more time from teachers, instruction that is at their level and tailored to build off their strengths will only help to raise the child’s self-esteem.  Another important consideration is that special education services are a matter of confidentiality.  It is not noted in a child’s permanent record or on their report cards that they are receiving special education services.  This information is kept in a separate file and not shared with staff that does not work directly with your child.

If my child’s IEP is carefully planned, written, and carried out, what could be the benefits?

  • Lower teachers to student ratios (more time face to face with the teacher)
  • More time given for review of curriculum (this is extra help for the child)
  • Special testing accommodations (no time limits, use of reference sheets, use of a scribe)
  • Accommodations in the classroom (less homework, use of a spell checker, books on CD)
  • Specialized instruction (Wilson Reading, Orton-Gillingham, Touch Math)
  • Special therapies (physical or occupational therapy, social skills groups)
  • Use of non-standard accommodations (sensory stimulation, fidget-toys, seat cushions, behavior modification plans)
  • No cost summer program
  • Accountability (progress reports, frequent assessment of goals, yearly team meetings)
  • Confidentiality

While special education is not right for every child, it is exactly what others need to be successful. Consider the positives as closely as you consider the negatives when you are deciding whether to give your consent.  Again, I suggest you do your research about your child’s disability, take the time to visit the school and see their special education program, and know what options are available to your child before you make any decisions.

NOTE:  If you feel your child needs special education services and was denied by the school district, there are things you can do to try to get your child the help they need.  I discuss this issue further in What You Can Do if Your Child Has Been Denied SPED Services .