It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written. For one, it is difficult to write during the school year. But second of all, I’m not sure how much I should write about my Cameron, who is no longer a little “noodle” of a child who doesn’t care what I write about him. Well, actually he truly doesn’t care what I write, but as he gets older, I feel like it’s more important for me to censor what I share as not to embarrass him. So, while I may have a bunch of stories in my head that he’s fine with me sharing, I’m not sure that I should. With that said, I do, indeed, have stuff to say… Shocking, I know. This one is a long one, but I think it will be helpful for anyone struggling with the decision of how to get your SPD kiddo help at school.
Cameron and I were keeping a dialogue journal with each other. A dialogue journal is a notebook where you take turns writing to each other. He had written to me and asked me to read it right that moment, which is odd for him; usually he wants me to read it without him in the room. Seeing that it was grown-up TV time in our house because he was supposed to be in bed, I begrudgingly read about how he was taking the WKCE practice test (the statewide assessment) at school and was asked by his teacher to double-check his work, seeing that he’d finished so quickly. It was clear from what he wrote that his teacher wanted him to check, but Cameron wanted to read instead, so Mr. G politely asked Cameron into the hall to talk with him about it as not to embarrass him. To Cameron, this was a huge deal. He ended his journal entry with a giant “I HATE SCHOOL I HATE SCHOOL” scrawled across one page with pencil marks so dark I’m surprised his pencil didn’t break. I looked up at him and immediately he began to cry. Hard. This was the moment that became clear to me that Cameron needed some help at school. The fact that he’d been this upset about a practice test that he’s more than capable of taking in combination with his frustration with homework and his handwriting made me realize it was time. At 10:00 that night I left a message for the school psychologist at his school to start the evaluation process to determine whether or not Cameron qualified for special education, a decision I’d been struggling with for months before then, and one that his past teachers had alluded to.
Every day I teach students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Program—a legal document that speaks to what children with special needs need to be successful in school), but still I wasn’t sure whether or not he would qualify. His teacher thought the evaluation was a good idea, but I didn’t want Cameron to resent me someday for putting a label on him. All I knew was Cameron hated school, and he needed some help to meet his potential while he was there.
So one day, I just decided to ask Cameron what he thought. I asked him if he knew what special education was. He didn’t, so I explained it and told him that I was thinking about seeing if he was someone who could be included with special education to get some help at school. I told him I was afraid he’d resent me if we went through with it. “Why would I do that?” he asked. Then he said, “I think I want to try that special education thing.” With relief I went forward to write the referral, talk to his school psychologist, the speech pathologist, the teacher, and more. I mentioned all of the quirky things that we see at home, including his disorganization, his sensory-seeking tendencies, his frustration with homework, his handwriting that is “light years” behind his peers, the way he starts a sentences, gets about four or five words into it, and stops to recollect his thoughts, leaving everyone who’s listening to wait (im)patiently for 10 seconds or more, how he struggles to properly/effectively brush his teeth and wash his hair and body, how he cries whenever things change from what he expects, how he obsesses about Abraham Lincoln and repeats what he’s read verbatim, I even mentioned how I think he may be on the border of having Asperger’s Syndrome. It was like I was blogging to his IEP team; maybe I should’ve just given them this website.
When it came time for the team to determine for which “disability” he would qualify, I knew they were thinking “Other Health Impairment” (OHI), which is what many students with ADHD or SPD have as their label. What I didn’t know until I received an email while working was they were also considering him for “Educational Autism.” Now it was my turn to cry. I mean, I’ve cried a lot when it comes to Cameron—I’ve cried out of frustration, pride, fear for his future, etc., but this time I cried because I thought I’d said too much, and I’d put an “autism” label on my son. Me. I did this. I gave him autism. (This may be a good time to point out that the team would be looking at whether or not he qualified for special education under that label, and did not, by any means, say he had autism—I may have been overreacting a bit- another shocker). I share a petri-dish-sized classroom with a coworker who has become a very close friend, and who also has a son with SPD tendencies. “Cry it out,” she said. So I did. And when I was back together a few minutes later, I called the psychologist, who explained that from what we talked about it sounded like this could be a possible label. (So, as I’d expected, it was my fault.) However, the benefit of teaching special education is that I know that there is criteria set by the state for whether or not a child qualifies, I had already looked up the criteria for Educational Autism, and I knew without being biased that it was a far stretch to say that Cameron qualified. The other benefit of teaching special education is that the psychologist believed me and took that label off the table. So just as quickly as I gave Cameron potential autism, I took it away.
A few months later, it was IEP time. We gathered in a room of many, including the school psychologist, his teacher, a social worker, a social worker intern, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a teacher of students with Learning Disabilities, the principal, my husband, and me. It was overwhelming to be on the opposite side of the table, and I didn’t know prior to that how long initial IEP meetings were. By the time the students come to me in middle school, it’s clear that they have hearing loss; I’ve never taken part in an initial meeting.
The meeting was LOOONNG. To sum it up in a long paragraph, everyone said wonderful things about Cameron and raved about how delightful, sweet, smart, funny, and observant he is. Some of my favorite highlights included when the social worker observed him taking a book out of his desk to lick it before putting it back (yes, he licked a book), not long after using pencils like drumsticks and saying, “Watch me Rock-N-Roll!” to his group. Another highlight was when the LD teacher helped him organize his desk one day, only to find 21 books that he’d hoarded away like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. I had known he lked to read while he was supposed to be focusing on the teacher, but 21 books?! Long story sort of short, he didn’t qualify for special education. What made the meeting even longer, though, was the discussion about how many accommodations his teacher was doing for him every day in the classroom. His teacher is wonderful, and we’re so grateful and blessed that he understands Cameron so well. He allows Cameron to use a computer when writing papers or spelling tests, he prints out the assignments that Cameron is supposed to write down each day so we can read them, he even went back into Cameron’s WKCE booklet to make sure he’d filled in the tiny circles completely so he would be accurately scored. He’s fantastic. Unfortunately, not all teachers differentiate as he does. I was worried that if he didn’t have something in writing, all of the hard work that he does would be lost in years to come by teachers who don’t feel they need to help him because there is nothing in writing. So, for students like Cameron who have a diagnosis of ADHD, as well as SPD, there is the 504 Plan- which is a list of accommodations that are needed for a student to have equal access to learning in environments equal to their peers. After discussing the need and qualification for the 504 Plan (about 30 minutes worth), my dear husband spoke up to ask if we were “pushing it” and maybe almost enabling Cameron by providing him with accommodations different from others in the class. I appreciated where he was coming from, but at 90 minutes into the meeting, I (and seemingly the others on the team) agreed that while the accommodations are being implemented this year without a 504 Plan in place, it’s good to have it in writing for years to come. My husband later informed me that he was having a hard time “reading the room,” and that he wasn’t sure if people were just agreeing to accommodate Cameron’s crazy parents who are demanding more from the school and less from their child or if they actually agreed that Cameron needed help. What sold me on the 504 most of all was when his principal said he was the same way as Cameron and wished he would have had a team putting this together for him.
So, Cameron has been fitted with an appropriate 504 Plan, which will be revisited annually to make sure it works for him. He is much happier at school now, as I think it opened everyone’s eyes to who he is and how he learns. I like to think of him as a squirrely, book-hoarding, child who needs a bit of help to show what incredible potential he has. He is great, and with help that hopefully lessens over time, he will someday be a happy, productive, responsible adult, which I think (hope) is what all parents want for their children.