Monday, November 17, 2014

We Have A Plan!!

Last Wednesday I met with the school's principal, school psychologist, Joey's teacher, the resource teacher, and even the district's special education director. I've gotta tell you, honestly I was so scared to go into the meeting. I had done my research and knew what to expect. I had researched what accommodations and modifications may be helpful for Joey. I had already met everyone who would be attending the meeting, with the exception to the special ed director. What had me so intimidated was Joey's teacher. She has always seem stand-offish and I had some things I wanted to call her out on. I'm not really a confrontational kind of person, but there were some things I couldn't let go unsaid.

There wasn't much about the results of the evaluation and IQ test that I hadn't expected to hear. Joey is very smart, if you can get him to stop bopping around long enough to do the work. His spelling and handwriting were below grade level, but we already knew that. They had Joey's teacher address her thoughts first, as she had a limited time before having to get her class from art. She kind of gave off the vibe that Joey is the way he is, he'll always be that way, and there isn't much any of us can do the change that. Other than to list off the a bunch of negatives, she didn't have much to say. The Special Ed director and the psychologist tried helping her out by asking about various ways she may have accommodated Joey. After a lot of replies of "No, I never tried that.", "If he would just...", "That wouldn't work.", "If I did that I would have to..." It was apparent to everyone that other than get him a "bucket seat" the day before she hasn't done much to help Joey out. I was surprised when the psychologist started asking his teacher what she would want another teacher to know about Joey, I think she was shocked by this too. I knew she wasn't doing anything to make school easier on Joey, but to have the others realize that I wasn't just being a squeaky wheel over nothing was a huge weigh lifted.

Now was my turn to address his teacher. We (and by that I mean I) implemented, Joey needs to chew gum during class. That not only does it help stop him from chewing on pencils and his shirt, it helps him maintain his focus. I bought and sent in a pack of dye-free, sugar-free gum a month ago, there was only 18 sticks in the pack. Given that Joey should be using 1-2 pieces a day, I should have heard by now that he needs another pack of gum. Joey has told me that he has asked for the gum and she has told him no he couldn't have it. She told me that she only gives it to him when he asks and he hasn't really asked for it. It was the resource teacher that put me at ease and said sometimes when the kids know the option is available they don't need it, that just knowing it's there is comforting to them. My next concern was his darn spelling tests. As soon as I mentioned spelling tests she (the teacher) said "I don't mark him down for his handwriting errors." That's what she had told me before, but yet the 5 most recent spelling test I pulled out of my file (and many more like it were at home) had multiple words marked wrong because of handwriting. The special ed guy asked if maybe Joey could use an Alpha-smart for his spelling tests. Which gave me the perfect opportunity to mention, "Joey says that Alpha-smart is new and his teacher won't let him use it, because he may break it." His teacher just shook her head in disapproval. Again it was the resource teacher who problem solved with us, due to the way the spelling tests are set up it would be confusing for Joey to use the Alpha-smart. Special  Ed guy suggested that maybe the teacher could make a set up table on Joey's paper for him. She sighs and says she wouldn't know how to do that (of give me a break, I could do that and send it in every Friday), so the PRINCIPAL volunteered to print up a spelling table paper from Joey every week. By this time it was almost time for Joey's teacher to head back to class, so it was now or never time voice my major issues with his teacher. Joey loves hugs and cuddles, but can not stand being "restrained" even just holding his hand if he doesn't initiation it, will have him struggling to "get free". He absolutely can not stand that his teacher will put her hand on his shoulder to get him to sit down or refocus, she knows it bothers him and that's why she does it. If she touches his shoulder he will sit just to get her to walk away. I had to ask that she find a different way to redirect him, this instantly puts him in defense mode. I also asked that though Joey can be so frustrating that its infuriating that she not talk down to him, especially in front of the class. Telling him to put the pencil on the paper and move it and it may actually make words or pictures isn't helpful and doesn't send a positive message to his classmates about how to treat Joey.

After his teacher left, things progress more quickly as a plan was set in place. Joey would now take his spelling tests in the resource room every week. He would also spend the first and last half hour of the day in the resource room. That way the resource teacher could pump him up for a great day and could review how each day went. Joey would still go to the resource room during the day as needed as he has been doing since the beginning of the school year. The resource teacher is also going make 2 cards for Joey to bring down to room when he comes so both she and him know why he's there. 1 card that says "work", so they know he's there for a quiet place to work or catch up on his work. The other card will say "disruption", so she can help him decompress and refocus. The resource teacher says there have been times when Joey has come to her room all upset that he was in trouble again only to later learn that he was sent to complete an assignment. They are also moving his locker to one closer to the resource room, which will allow him an empty locker on either side of his, and he'll have more space. Joey will also see the school psychologist at least twice a month (maybe more) to work on his social skills.

Figuring out what accommodations were needed was rather easy. Most of the things from my list they already had on there. The few they didn't have, they added without much explaining from me. Most are standard things you'd expected for any kid struggling in school. Such as shortened assignments, frequent breaks, directions given both orally and written, seated near the teacher, allowing movement breaks, dictating his answers to a scribe, and use of a focus board/ study carrell. I was very pleased (however sad it needed to be in writing) that part of his IEP states he needs lots of feedback praise, especially from his general ed teacher.

After we had everything pretty much figured out, they called Joey into the office. He had been extremely anxious about our meeting and only got a couple hours of sleep that night. He walks in and plops himself in one of the chairs. Smiles nicely at everyone, they introduce him to the special ed guy as he's the only one Joey doesn't already know. They tell Joey that everyone has had a lot of nice things to say about him and how great he has been doing. Then in true Joey form, he asks the only question that had been on his mind, "So I am getting a different teacher?" There were a couple little snickers, before the school psychologist said that it's a good thing he brought that up that we still needed to talk about that. We gave Joey a general run down about what kind of changes where going to take place within a couple of days and seeing that he had physically relaxed we sent him back to class, with the promise that mom would let him know about the new teacher situation.

No new teacher (as of yet). The room I wanted to switch him to, has one of the few male teachers and is at its limit. The other 4th grade teacher has one of the only kids Joey gets along with in her class, and I'm afraid that it may put too much strain on the budding friendship if they were together the whole day, everyday. The principal said that it would be too much of a disruption to switch Joey's teachers, both in his classroom and whatever room Joey moves too. I offered to see how things go with the IEP in place for the remainder of the semester, but if there wasn't much improvement that I wanted Joey switched for the 2nd semester.

One of my concerns that wasn't discussed in detail is Joey's need for occupational therapy. The school is going to have their OT come in and evaluate Joey and see if he meets the school's criteria for the therapy.  Also the night before our meeting, I received a call from one of the therapy centers we were on the waiting list for and they finally have an opening for OT. We go on Wednesday for his evaluation there and should start OT therapy weekly soon after. I would love if Joey could be getting OT both at school and outside of school.

Everyone on our"team" brings something different to the table and see's Joey through different eyes. The general ed teacher, (boy, is she a piece of work) brings the view of how some of Joey's classmates see him. She sees him as the hyper, behavioral problem, who's mom wants special treatment for. Joey is just another trouble maker she has to deal with until the end of the school year. There is no way she is going to let this kid win, she is not going to do anymore than she has to for him. While saying I'm not a fan of hers is putting it (very) mildly, however she does present a great learning life lesson. I can get a clearer picture of what Joey's classmates may be feeling towards him. Also, I can enforce to Joey not everyone is going to like you, but you still have to figure out a way to make things work.

The resource teacher, seems to understand the challenges Joey is facing. She is in tune with what may work to help him, rather it be to help calm him down or help him refocus. While she "gets him", she lies down the law and does not allow Joey to make excuses for his behavior or allows him manipulate her. She has also been the "middle man" for the past couple months. She's the one who helps me better understand what Joey is like in the general ed class.

The school psychologist is unbiased in her observation of Joey. She sees that he has many issues to work through and many more behavior issues to work through. She also sees that Joey is used as a scapegoat. The other day on the playground she was watching Joey interact with his peers. Currently Joey is working on not chasing kids on the playground. After Joey came to say a quick hello to her, she sent him to off to play. She watched him play parallel with a group of girls. Then shortly after watched as Joey started chasing the girls around the playground equipment, these are some of the same girls who complain to the lunch aides almost daily about Joey chasing them. A quick reminder from the psychologist, in which all she did was call his name, and Joey smiled apologetically and stopped chasing the girls. It took the girls a  few minutes to realize that Joey was not still behind them, and they looked confused like "Where'd he go?"

The principal, I'm not real sure his role at this point. I think of him kind of the a guard dog. I know I scared him a bit when I requested an advocate be present at our first IEP meeting. Also that a couple months into school I sought him out to see about a change in teacher. I think he's there to keep the Mama Bears in check :)

I wanted to include about our visit to the psycho-neuro, but this post is much longer than I anticipated. I'll have to write it another time. My kiddos are begging for dinner :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Update on Joey

I have been meaning to sit and write another update on what has been going on with Joey, but things keep happening and I push off the post so I can include everything. Well, this won't have everything included in it, as I have his first IEP meeting on Wednesday and we get the feedback from his psycho - neurological evaluation on Friday, but this will catch everyone up some.

A few weeks ago I was helping out in the boys' school's book fair. My boys were so excited I was there and could spend their lunch breaks with them. Halfway through the week Joey asked me to go outside for lunch recess with him and I told him I really needed to get back to the fair, I wish I would have went to recess with him. After being back at the fair for about 10 minutes I see Joey walking down the hall crying, he should have been at recess. When I went to see why he wasn't on the playground, he told me that he had to sit in the principal's office and wasn't allowed outside with the other kids. According to the story Joey told me he was chasing some girls around the playground and the girls collided. Both girls and two of their friends told the recess aid that Joey smacked one in the face and punch the other one. Joey does have his moments when he'll strike out, usually at his brothers, but never a girl. After the principal couldn't get Joey to change his story and confess to hitting the girls, the principal called the school psychologist in to get Joey to "tell the truth". Usually if you confront Joey a few times he'll back track and tell you the truth (if he is lying). The principal also pulled me from the book fair for a meeting about the zero tolerance policy. During our meeting that lasted over an hour Joey was left sitting and crying in the office thinking he was in trouble. The principal confessed that no one really knows what happened on the playground, for no adults seen what happened. They had 4 girls saying assaulted two of the girls and only him saying he didn't do it. They needed to have something to tell the parents of the girls, should they call and ask what was being done with the brute that targeted their sweet little angels. The school's solution was that Joey really should lose his recess for the remainder of the week, but due to his issues that they would allow Joey to have his 20 minutes of recess by himself after the other students have had theirs. They figured Joey would be more of a behavior problem if he was not able to release his extra energy. They called Joey into our meeting and explained that he would still have recess, just that he would have to have his by himself for the safety of the other students, but that he was not being punished. Sounded like a punishment to me, so for the next two days I met Joey on the playground so he would have someone to play with (seems it wasn't a punishment). I'm sorry, but no child is going to burn off energy playing by themselves. Joey still stands by his story that he did not hurt those girls; I believe him. This wouldn't be the first (or last) time Joey got blamed for something by his classmates, just so he would be told to stay away from them because he's weird.

During our meeting the principal and school psyc. advisedme that Joey needs to be on medication. They went so far as to recommend two medications that are not stimulants, because I told them (repeatedly) the stimulants don't work for Joey. It really irks me that these two people (along with his teacher) who have known my child for mere months think they can diagnose and recommend medications for my child. The school psychologist also mentioned that some of Joey's issues and aggression may be coming from home and the way his brothers interact with him! I'm trying to keep in mind that I'm "working with" these people to help my kid, but sometimes....

I said it in my last "Joey update" and I'll say it again medication is not ALWAYS the answer! I just had a conversation with the boys' doctor about the school's push to medicate Joey. There are many cases where the schools will not allow students back into class until the parents have the child on medication. So the parents put their kid on the meds the school (where no one has a medical degree) have told them to and the kid gets into the classroom and stabs the teacher with a pencil, when previously the kid was not violent. The side effects of these medication affect people differently.

I'm not ready to resort back to medications. Joey has been doing better physically without them. He actually can fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time and sleeps uninterrupted during the night. He has always had an appetite, but now he is actually gaining weight. He has been on medications for 5 years and still had the same behavioral problems he has now. Granted he sat still a bit more in class, but he wasn't retaining any of the information due to be exhausted from not sleeping. I'm looking into alternatives to medicines. When he was first diagnosed with ADHD I was told our option was medication. Now I know better, I have seen changes in him (as well as my other boys) from removing food dyes, that I didn't even know about until 2 years ago. Which got me thinking what other options are out there we haven't tried. I'm not saying that if he needs medications to help him function that I won't give them to him. I just want to run out any other methods before saying medications are the answer for him.

Two weeks ago I was a gas station and noticed a business called Life Balance across the street. Thinking it may be another place to try to get Joey in for his occupational and behavioral therapies I stopped in. (He's still on waiting lists at two different places) Turns out they do therapies, but just not the kind I thought. They are a brain balance center. While the receptionist explained how they go about balancing one's brain, I started thinking this is too good to be true. It's the simplest thing, my kid sits and plays a video game, reads a book, or whatever, and they put headphones on him. Through the sound waves and some computer it will find what ever imbalance my kid has and will corrected it by making the brain connections that his brain isn't doing on it's own. Here's the catch, it only has an 80% success rate and most people need 12-15 sessions. Each sessions is $100, and most insurance companies won't cover it!! I have heard some about Brain Gym sessions that are all over the place, my friend's son's Choi class offers them to their students. So there seems to be some science behind why this may work (some, but not enough for $100 per session). I vowed to look more into it.

That very same day, I came across a book at the library about brain balancing your child with ADHD, ADD, or Autism. The books claim was it could cure all this things and more. I didn't quite believe that it was going to cure Autism or ADD, but it was an opportunity to get a better understanding of this brain balancing thing is about. I've gotta give the author credit, it makes logical sense that in theory this could work to some degree. I filled out all the checklists and had Joey do the assessments. I figured we'd give it try, after all it was a library book and we could try it for free. While the theory behind it makes sense, some of the exercises don't seem like they would help much other than to get my kid doing regular exercises. How doing 45 sit-ups in a minute in going to balance my kid's brain is beyond me. While others I can see the connection to why they may "balance" my kids. I did learn some interesting things about Joey I never thought check, like his sense is smell is off. Which explains why he will eat weird concoctions of foods or eat just mustard if its on his plate. He's sense of smell effects the way foods taste. There are a series of exercises to do to strengthen his little sniffer. (Actually those exercises were a favorite amongst all my boys.) We are two weeks into the exercises the book recommended for Joey per the results of the checklists and assessments, the book says that he should be mostly if not completely "fixed" by the end of 12 weeks on the program. I'm not expecting to this thing to work as it claims, but it's worth a shot to see if there could be any improvements on Joey's behavior. I'll keep you updated on how well balanced our brains get :)
Joey can now after two weeks identify 9 different smells while blindfold when held 6 inches away from his nose. He has very recently started trying small amounts of new-to-him foods, and liking most of them. Otherwise I have haven't noticed any changes that make the think this could be the Holy Grail for Joey.

A week ago was suppose to be our first IEP meeting and after sending a email to the school psychologist, we decided to push back the meeting until after our neurology appointment. Our IEP was for 10:00 am and the neurology appointment was for 2:45 that same day. I had made phone calls the week prior to the neurology appt. to make sure that the feedback from the psycho-evaluation would be sent to the neurologist by our appt date. I was assured that the results were completed and would be available at our appt. Long story short, the results were not sent to the neurologist and Joey and I wasted over an hour for nothing. Only good thing that came from the appt was the Neuro. told me that she would not prescribe any medications for Joey that if I wanted him on medications I would need to go through the pycho- neurologist. SO when the school called about rescheduling Joey's IEP and if I received the results of the evaluation and were they going to medicate Joey again. I could tell them flat out the Neurologist would not medicate him, and they backed off about when I was going to get him back on his meds. :) Seems Joey is not going back on medications (at this time) it didn't matter if we went ahead with the IEP before hearing the results for the medical evaluation that was done and could just base Joey's plan off what the school concluded. However, depending on what I learn on Friday from the psycho-neurologist I may need to set up for another IEP meeting.

I am excited and scared about our first IEP meeting. I am so very ready for us to figure out what will work for Joey to get more out of his school days. I've nervous because this is new to me. I was part of my nephew's IEP team when he was in my care, but his accommodations and goals were clear and easy to address. Also I knew my nephew's teacher (they were fellow staff members and we had been in the school for 6 years) and they were willing to work with me (and Matthew). Joey is a bit more fuzzy when it comes to seeing what will work for him. We are still relatively new to the school district and the school itself. So far this year I haven't seen much in the way of open communication or willingness to assist Joey from his main classroom teacher. In the last 10 years (since Jordan started school) this is the first time I have encountered a teacher that willing to work with me. I do have my list of demands....I mean, my requests for modifications and accommodations ready for our meeting.

Side note:  His teacher is still marking spelling test wrong due to handwriting issues.