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MartinCommunication MWH blogbannerad February2017



The Melting Pot

The World of Testing, IEP’s and 504 plans

I have a love/hate relationship with my son’s IEP.  On the one hand, it sometimes seems irrelevant because many of the goals get overridden by the curriculum when the expectations in the classroom are way beyond the goal.  It’s a little bit different for something like speech because there is time spent outside of class working on specific tasks.  On the other hand, not only does an IEP contain goals, it also contains accommodations, and if the teacher is able to follow through, they can be very helpful.  So, overall, the IEP is a good thing and definitely beats having nothing at all.  One hitch is that it needs to be renewed every three years.  So, while you really want your child to do well, if they do too well, then they no longer qualify for an IEP.  In theory, outgrowing the IEP is a good thing.  In Monkey Boy’s case, I’ve found it to be a vicious cycle.

If you remember from way back, Monkey Boy had an IEP for preschool.  Because he made so much progress, Monkey Boy lost his IEP before beginning kindergarten.  That’s not to say that I wasn’t able to work with his teacher, and the SST (student support) team really helped get some modifications going in the classroom, but there was no formal plan. Just in case you don’t know, a parent can call a meeting of the SST team any time they have a concern. It worked very well through second grade.  Unfortunately, third grade hit him hard, and I spent most of that year trying to get him the right diagnosis, so he could get the help he needed.  He finally qualified for an IEP again in April of third grade based on his diagnosis of ADHD. 

 

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Preschool

 

Now we are at the end of sixth grade, so it’s the year of retesting and renewal. Can you believe how quickly this year has flown?  And can you guess what happened with his IEP?  If you said he lost it, then you would be correct!  The education diagnostician told me that I should look at this positively.  Past experience has told me otherwise, so I’m having more trouble seeing the good.  As far as Monkey Boy’s attitude, he’s happy he won’t be pulled out of class for speech anymore.  Before I move on, I will say they offered me a meeting to see if he qualified for a 504 plan, which I took them up on, so I will get back to that in just a minute.

Going back to losing his IEP, I do have a few issues. The first concern, and unfortunately I didn’t think about this until after all my meetings, is that he never finished his goals.  In elementary school, I got quantitative measures as to how he was advancing.  In middle school, all I got was “steady progress (or sp).”  As far as I know, none of them, except speech, were ever mastered. My other concern is that the whole process is, from what I gather, centered around his IQ score.  He scored a 96 (in the past it has always hovered around 85, so this is an improvement), which is a low average score, and they calculate his performance around this score.  So, he’s working at his potential, which is good, but the kids with average or above average IQs working at their potential yield much higher scores. For the most part, though, they’re all supposed to be mastering the same skills. I guess that’s more about the SOL’s than the IEP.  But with a lower IQ score, he will always struggle more in school.  He just doesn’t have a specific learning disability nor does he struggle enough to qualify for special education services.

 

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Third Grade

 

Let me get back to the 504 plan.  Here is a good explanation of the difference between the 504 and IEP. The team (made up of his case manager, the educational diagnostician, the psychologist, the vice principal and a classroom teacher) looked at several of his diagnoses; autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder.  In my opinion, sensory processing is also a big issue, but Sensory Processing Disorder doesn’t exist as a diagnosis. Isn’t that nice?! They determined that both ADHD and his anxiety contribute to problems with learning; specifically concentration and thinking.  In reality, he is much more complex than these labels, however, we need a specific medical diagnosis to move forth, so this is what we have.  Thankfully, he qualified.  Whereas the IEP has goals and accommodations, the 504 simply has accommodations.  In Monkey Boy’s case, this is the more important aspect anyway, especially since he’s mastered everything in speech (I was actually happy about this because he had speech both inside and outside of school for a long time, and his gains were obvious). 

It’s hard to say how I feel overall. I think only time will tell, and I get the feeling I’ll be fighting for Monkey Boy for a very long time.  Yes, academically, he has made great strides this year.  The more I read about autism, though, the more I think he’s on the spectrum (something I’ve questioned on and off for years even with his diagnosis).  I think that needs to be a separate post in the near future.  As far as the 504, they took most of his accommodations from the IEP and will implement them next year.  The thing that makes me most nervous is that they don’t want to automatically place him in the inclusion classrooms (these are classes that include the kids with IEP’s, and they have a resource teacher at all times to provide extra help). The team assures me he will be fine. I have years of experience with him that says he’s walking a fine line between excelling and becoming overly frustrated.  But, like I said, we will see. Thankfully, we have a much needed summer break to look forward to between now and then.  And I will reassess my feelings in the fall.

 

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Sixth Grade

In another corner of my life, we are quickly approaching Master Yi-Yi’s senior year.  Just wait until I tell you how things are panning out with him.

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The Shyness Battle

The other day Little H came home from school telling me a story about a child in one of her classes.  It got me to thinking that I really wanted to write a blog about “shyness.”  After all, it’s something I know a lot about having been a painfully shy child myself.  So much is focused on the extrovert that we forget about the introverts who balance them.  Not that all introverts are shy, nor are all shy people introverts.  But I do think they go hand in hand more often than not.   All of my kids are somewhat shy in different ways, but thankfully none as severely as I was. 

So, the other day she was telling me about a game they were playing.  A student had to go up to the board and then had to choose someone to go against.  The point of the exercise was to work on vocabulary.  One of her friends happened to be picked.  Apparently her friend froze and turned bright red, so the teacher and then the class started chanting her name to…supposedly…give her encouragement.  Can I just say that the last thing you should ever, ever do to a shy child is focus everyone’s attention on him/her??  Many shy children prefer to be “invisible” and find it humiliating to have any type of attention drawn to themselves. 

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Little H clinging to me

Little H continued by telling me that the teacher finally asked the class if anyone was willing to go in her place.  Nobody raised their hand, so Little H’s hand shot up and she volunteered to go up.  The concern and understanding for her friend superseded all of her inhibitions until she sat back down, where she said she proceeded to shake.

I’m sure it’s difficult for someone who is outgoing to understand what it feels like to be shy.  Just like I’m still in awe of people who can get up in front of a group and speak without a problem, and I can’t relate to them.  I remember when I was in school and there was a new teacher or substitute teacher, the kids in my classes would tell the teachers I didn’t talk.  And when I did talk, everybody made such a huge deal about it that it was mortifying.   It always made me shrink into myself even more.  Really,  I wanted to speak and be “normal,” but no matter what I told myself in my head, I couldn’t do it.  A part of me would freeze, and I would be unable to get the words out.  And I was terribly, terribly self-conscious.   And this wasn’t only when I was really young.  It followed me into high school.

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My Family 1981 (6th grade) 

I still remember a presentation I had to do in sixth grade.  I made some type of poster I had to present.  I can’t remember what it was exactly.  But I stood up there, kept going over in my head what I wanted to say, and could never get the words out.  The teacher took pity on me and gave me a “C.”   My childhood was filled with humiliating moments like these… being bullied in preschool, having my hands smacked with a ruler in first grade for not reading out loud, PE and kids sticking their tongues out at me in high school.  Despite that, I was mostly a happy child.  I’m really glad I don’t have to go through 7th and 8th grade and high school again, but I survived intact.  And I was a total chatterbox at home. 

My advice about dealing with a shy child is to draw them out slowly.  Let them have one on one interaction with peers because they tend to “disappear” in larger groups.  Don’t berate them for being “rude,” or tell them that they should know better to act a certain way.  Chances are they already know this.  Let them practice in a situation where they are more comfortable.  Ask them easy questions to help them relax.  The less the center of attention they are the better.  And I can tell you that NO amount of forced public speaking ever made me more comfortable…absolutely none.  I have read how the junior cotillion can help shy people develop better social skills.  Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I’m not sure it would have helped me, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t help my kids (they probably wouldn’t get past the sulking part to give it a chance).  It is a thought, though, if you feel thatyour child could benefit.

Despite my shyness, I managed to tutor kids in the National Honor Society and even went on a two week trip to Germany as a short term “exchange student” the summer after my junior year.  College was the turning point for me.  Nobody knew me, and I had to take care of myself.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I made some close friends and was able to break out of my shell.

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Rothenburg, Germany 1987

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like I’m an extroverted person now.  I like my alone time, I’m better off in smaller groups of people, and large parties make me uncomfortable.  I’m really bad at small talk when I don’t know someone very well, and I still may come off as “rude” or disinterested at times.  Writing blogs for the public is even a stretch for my comfort level.  But I am far from the self-conscious, shy child I was. So, if you have a shy child don’t despair, there is hope, although you may never have a social butterfly.  And just think how boring the world would be if we were all the same!

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When the System Fails

I feel like the system has failed me.  Or to be more precise, it has failed my child.  I’d love to tell you that after all the interventions and therapies it has been smooth sailing with Monkey Boy in middle school.  But it hasn’t.  And I don’t think it ever will be.  I know there are always going to be hurdles to conquer with any child, be they  academic, emotional, physical etc.  But with Monkey Boy, they sometimes seem unsurmountable.  And I’m sure many of you can relate, especially if you, too, have a child with developmental disabilities.   If you haven’t read about Monkey Boy yet, it all started here.

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Monkey Boy at 4 months

Don’t get me wrong, he’s made so much progress…huge, huge gains since preschool. But he doesn’t see that.  AT ALL.  And his teachers don’t really understand it either (really, how can I expect them to when they’ve only known him this year?). I wrote a letter at the beginning of the year detailing his struggles, but that’s not the same as living them…and feeling them.  The problem is he is still expected to perform at the same level as his peers.

I came to that realization last night.  Well, that’s not totally true.  It’s something that is fairly obvious.  But it really hit me last night.  Ultimately, every therapy, every intervention, every degree of help was really leading up to one thing. Get him on the level where everyone else is. Ok, so the therapies outside of school don’t focus on that per se. But really, the main purpose is to help his performance in school.

And an IEP is all fine and dandy, except that the IEP is NOT really an individualized education plan (maybe in a self-contained classroom, but not in the mainstream). It does detail his weaknesses, provides help and goals in those areas, and sets modifications that help him. Assuming those modifications are actually implemented.  I know it’s hard with so many children in the classroom. The thing that gets me, and has always gotten me, is that he is still expected to move forward at the same pace as his peers.  But he’s also still working on the skills to get to a place where he can actually understand what is going on. I equate it to taking Algebra while at the same time trying to learn addition. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate that he has an IEP, since it would be much worse without it. I just don’t think it’s the answer to everything. 

So, all Monkey Boy sees is that he is always behind, the only one not understanding, and he is constantly telling me he is “stupid” and can’t learn.  He tells me this at least once a day, and I don’t exaggerate.  And no matter how much I try to tell him that he has already learned so much and remind him of how far he has come, it doesn’t matter.  I know I’m not alone.  But I think a lot of us in these situations don’t openly talk about it very often.

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Master Yi-Yi and Monkey Boy

For him, it really boils down to language. He has all these diagnoses…autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder. But the crux of his problem is language.  He is slow to process what is being said, so listening when someone is speaking quickly completely throws him off. Certain tones and volumes irritate him (he much prefers a male voice), and some things need to be said in a certain way for him to understand. I’m constantly finding myself trying to explain things in just the right way. Again, I won’t say that he hasn’t improved.  In fact, after a year and a half of speech therapy outside of school, he improved exponentially in both comprehension and conversation. In addition, he has enough self-awareness to know what he doesn’t understand and to ask questions. 

So then it really, really frustrates me that he has teachers  who get irritated with him for asking questions. I truly do understand that it can be distracting to them and the whole class. But he has been taught to ask questions, and if he stops because he is discouraged, it will undo everything we’ve worked toward. Which leads me back to “the system”. I completely and totally understand that a teacher cannot hold the rest of the class back because Monkey Boy is slower. What the answer is, I have no idea. I don’t think holding him back a grade would really benefit him.  And after a full day of school, after-school tutoring doesn’t really work either.  There is only so much studying a person can do in a day. Because every day is a huge challenge, he reaches his threshold pretty quickly.  And homework is still a major battle.

In the beginning of the year, middle school was going pretty smoothly for him. He loved the saxophone. He was doing well. He even got on the honor roll the first nine weeks. But now, he’s frustrated again because the pace is a lot for him to handle. I partly blame the SOL tests because their expectations are that every child of a certain age should master the same material in a fixed amount of time.

I really thought we had found something with band and the saxophone. He was excelling. Now it’s gotten more difficult, and he is ready to quit. Because it’s the same thing. He just needs a little more time than most kids to learn something. It’s not the physical playing that’s the problem. It’s reading the sheet music. It doesn’t help that he misses band once a week for speech. I have voiced my concerns to the band teacher and the student support team, and luckily he has an excellent band teacher. So, I’m really hoping he can encourage Monkey Boy to continue.

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First Band Concert 

The worst, though, is math  He was doing great.  He was picking things up quickly and finally understanding concepts that gave him difficulty in the past. Now, he’s come to a grinding halt. He started having a lot more homework, and the pace increased. He’s also constantly telling me his teacher gets annoyed with him when he doesn’t understand something. This week , he was supposed to be learning a concept by watching a YouTube video (and don’t even get me started on the “flipped classroom” method of teaching). He came right out and told me that he can’t learn anything that way, which I totally believe. I had trouble understanding the video even though I completely understood the concept. Which is what actually led me to writing this post. 

So if you have a child like Monkey Boy, I can definitely relate. I’m not sure I have any wise words of wisdom, but I find it reassuring just to know I’m not alone.  If I could just make him see what I see.  

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What Is a Melting Pot Family?

If you have a family that includes step-children, adopted children…if you’ve been married or partnered more than once, and keep in touch with your ex…if your parents or other extended family members live with you…you might say you have a melting pot family! That’s how I describe mine. Our recent family get-togethers at Christmas will let me introduce (or re-introduce) the myriad people who make up my wonderful, crazy family!

Let’s begin with MS, my ex-husband.  He always joins us on Christmas day.  He is now engaged, so that may change in the future, or maybe we’ll just add his fiancée and daughter to the mix.  The kids enjoy having their dad around, and we both get to spend Christmas with them.  And nobody bats an eyelash. Really! Ok, sometimes there is a moment of tension, or a small bit of eye-rolling but basically, it works out great.  The lack of “weirdness” may have something to do with the fact that my aunt’s ex-husband (and my cousins’ dad) has spent every Christmas with us, since they were divorced over 30 years ago.  She, her husband and her ex-husband all have a friendly relationship. So, the concept of having a husband and ex-husband together for the holidays is nothing out of the ordinary for any of us. 

 

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Our Family of Seven

 

Then there is my current husband, TR, and his two girls (let’s call them Little A and Big A).  TR had visited them in California recently, but I hadn’t seen Big A in two years and Little A in 18 months, so it was really nice in a crowded and hectic and a “I forgot to make the boys a place to sleep!!!  kind of way, but  definitely nice.Big A is in her late 20’s and Little A is 17, a few months younger than Master Yi-Yi. They blended right in and as far as I could tell the interactions between the five of them were typical of any sibling group with a sixteen year age gap!Did I mention that sleeping arrangement were occasionally an issue?!! Since, TR’s girls were in the boys’ room, the boys moved around on several occasions…think musical beds!

I should probably go back and mention Christmas Eve.  That day is reserved for TR’s side of the family, which is its own little melting pot.  TR comes from a complicated background and should probably have a post all his own some day!  We spent the day with his sister and her husband (his only family members who live in the area), two of her kids, three of his kids as well as wives and grandchildren.  So, it was a very eclectic bunch.  With a face licking dog, two very mobile toddlers, a couple of preschool girls, our older  kids, and adults everywhere, it was quite festive and put us in the proper Christmas spirit…something that had been lacking, up to that point, with all the school work and preparations. 

 

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Christmas Eve

 

Going back to my family, my cousin was down from Pittsburgh for the week along with her husband and their recently adopted 18 month baby boy. Just picture five dogs, and a toddler running around the house screaming “Daddy!” all day long.  My mom’s house was pristinely decorated, and most of it was left alone. Except for the dog bowl and toilets.  Now, those things were super interesting to the little cousin. And to the dogs! All in all, it was great to be reminded of the sheer joy and energy a toddler possesses, and it made Christmas extra cheery.  He and my kids adore each other.  It was also really good for Monkey Boy, especially because of his reservations about being a “donor egg” baby.   If you don’t remember, you can read about that in my very first post, my whole journey through IVF or just my post about Monkey Boy.  He was able to see that love is much more important than biology, and he absolutely loves his little cousin.

In addition, my 95 year old grandmother lives with my parents (who live right across the street).  So my kids have their grandparents as well as their great grandmother as part of their daily lives.  It definitely makes for a short trip to my parents’ house for the holidays!! J  I’m sure my kids don’t realize how lucky they are to have this whole support system, but I really hope someday they appreciate it…especially since I’d like daily interactions with my…future… grandchildren!

 

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Cousins

 

Not only do we have this widespread group of people, but TR’s and my five kids are a melting pot unto their own.  None of them are 100% biologically related.  Master Yi-Yi was conceived naturally by me and my ex-husband.  And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Little H and Monkey Boy were each conceived using a different set of donor eggs.  My husband and his ex-wife had Big A naturally. Little A came along ten years later, but TR found out she wasn’t biologically his when she was four. Um, yes, you read that right and yes, there was some drama between him and his ex-wife in the short run, but he loves her dearly, and is her father in every other way. 

So that basically sums up our “melting pot.”  It’s complicated, sometimes it’s messy. but it’s never boring and I absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometime soon, I’ll delve a little deeper into TR’s side and give you a better glimpse at how our family came to be.  And Master Yi-Yi continues to keep me on my toes as he seeks more and more independence, so I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that! 

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Lost in Teenage Woes

Once again, I’m finding myself overdue for a blog post.  I know I promised one on my melting pot family, but I’m having trouble getting started.  I began one on dating as a single parent, but I came to a grinding halt halfway into it.  It’s not that I don’t want to write about these things, and I plan to get to them eventually, but my mind is so consumed by Master Yi-Yi, my 17 year old son, that I’m having trouble focusing on anything else.

I’m sure many of you who have teenagers can relate.  I feel like I…have…no …idea…what…I …am …doing.  When the kids were little I used to joke about dreading the teenage years.  I honestly never really saw myself as a mother of teenagers.  Obviously, they were going to reach that point eventually.  But when I thought of being a mother, I imagined little kids.  Yet, here I am surrounded by teenagers and a preteen, and it’s not quite like anything I could have imagined. 

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Two Teens and a Tween

I think it all started when Master Yi-Yi got his driver’s license.  I have anxiety issues to begin with, so having him out on the road increased that tenfold.  He is a fairly good driver, but it still makes me nervous.  He was lucky enough to be given a car by his grandmother, so he had something to drive.  I guess I didn’t think about the fact that he is older than most of his friends because I held him back due to his summer birthday, and they all seem to think he should be able to drive them anywhere at any time.  Luckily, the law limits him to one non family member passenger, but that will change in March.  And it still hasn’t stopped people from asking him for rides because their bus comes too early, or they got kicked off the bus, or their parents can’t drive them.   His car has 200,000 miles on it, and we pay for the gas.   Nobody seems to understand that the main purpose of the car is to get him to school and back.  I’ve learned that saying “no” is utterly exhausting because it’s constant now.

Up to this point, I haven’t made Master Yi-Yi get a job during the school year, and I wonder if that is a mistake.  I wanted him to be able to focus on his school work but he has taken the time to focus more on his friends.  And it’s hard to know where to draw the line.  He gets his homework  done, and he does OK, but he certainly doesn’t go above or beyond the basic expectations, except occasionally staying after for extra help.   Right now we’re trying to brainstorm what job or activity might be a good fit for him, yet leave his schedule open enough for school.  He still spends hours skateboarding each week, and at times his photography class keeps him busy taking pictures, but I think he needs more.


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Some of Master Yi-Yi's photos

And speaking of his friends, I’m happy to have them over, but I can’t keep up with the food and drinks.  Everyone seems to show up at my house absolutely starving.   I’m beginning to feel like I’m going to go broke trying to keep up.  Is it normal to have kids come in and raid every nook and cranny where there might be food?!  And nobody seems to know what a trash can is used for.  I even have one outside.  It typically boils down to me making Master Yi-Yi pick up after them, which is something that he really isn’t very good at himself!

And then there is his obsession with anything having to do with vaping and smoking.   I’m almost embarrassed to write that.  It’s not like he didn’t spend his childhood learning how bad all of that is for you.  His friends share his same obsession.  I’ve taken things away, made ultimatums and forbidden any type of smoking.  I’ve even gone so far as to give him occasional drug tests.  What scares me is that he will be 18 before I know it.  And then he will be graduating.  And he will be considered an adult capable of making his own decisions.  It worries me to think about what the decisions he will make.   

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Another Master Yi-Yi original

Other than restricting him to the house forever, I don’t know what to do.  He seems to be gravitating to friends whose parents have little control over them.  They’re polite and friendly kids, but in general, they’re hardly the best influence on him, especially because he tends to be a follower.  And I think it’s partly because his more responsible friends are busy with jobs, studying and extracurricular activities.  So, do I forbid him from seeing half of his friends?  I constantly struggle with just how much independence I should be giving him.

So, I’m always asking myself, where did I go wrong?  Am I being too lenient?  Am I holding on too tight?  Is he ever going to be a mature, responsible adult?  The perfection I see on social media doesn’t help.  I’m sure there has to be someone else out there feeling the same way.  Right?  Maybe one day I’ll have the answers.  In the meantime, I’ll just remind myself that this too shall pass, and I may actually miss parts of it.

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About Laura

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Laura is mostly a stay at home mom who works part time at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  In the past, she was a first grade teacher.  Over the years, she has kept herself busy volunteering at school, babysitting and caring for her children.  Currently, a lot of her time is spent dragging her youngest child, Monkey Boy, to various appointments in search of answers to his developmental issues.  She also has two teenagers, son:  Master Yi-Yi and daughter: Little H. Her melting pot family also includes her ex (father to her kids), the world’s best step-dad and husband, “TR” two step-daughters, two cats and a part-time dog!

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