Susan's Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The IEP and Dumbo

Second Quarter Summary:
Achieved: Outbursts, Follow Directions, Short Passage, Sightwords, Safety Skills, Task Completion, Vocational Checklist, Academic Checklist, Initiate Interactions, Respond to Questions, Money ID, Filing, Vending Machine, Typing, and Gym.
Progressing: Complete Sentences, Conversation, Intelligibility, Math, Answering Phone, Placing a Call, and E-Mail.
Not Progressing: Vocational Tasks, Meal Prep.

Language Arts/Reading: (Achieved)
“Nat has reading skills at the beginning first grade level…Nat currently reads a short reading passage out of a level-appropriate book….Nat currently reads directions on a worksheet and completes the appropriate tasks…Nat currently identifies sightwords that he would find in recipes in a cookbook.”

Communication: (Achieved)
“Nat is a very quiet student and will only have a conversation when spoken to. He needs to choose a topic that he would like to discuss and initiate a conversation with another person.”

Math: (Achieved)
“Nat has a variety of math skills…He has learned to complete simple subtraction, addition, multiplication, and division worksheets using a calculator…He currently follows the Touch Math Curriculum where he is learning to add and subtract without the use of the calculator.”

As I read through this Quarterly Report of Nat’s IEP, a whole range of emotions tumbled through me. First, I had my oldest feelings, a welling-up kind of sadness, where I said quietly to Ned, “Poor Natty.”

Ned looked up from his computer, “Huh?”

I said, “His brain is so fried.”

Ned did not seem to hear, and I did not persist.

The television buzzed and flashed in the background. I kept reading. It wasn’t long before my feelings morphed into something quite different. The more specific description that I absorbed about how Nat spends his school days and all the tasks he is speeding through, the more the sadness gave way to a lump in my throat: pride. “Wow,” I said.

Ned looked up. “Huh?”

I said, “He is doing so much!” As I continued to read, I felt energy pulsing through me and a strong desire to call his teachers and shout my praise. Soon I was flooded with a sense of wellbeing and excitement. Who knew what Nat could be capable of? The sky’s the limit! I put the sheaf of papers down and stretched out on the couch happily and watched the stupid T.V.

A bit later, Ned put his computer away and sighed.

“Huh?” I said.

“I just wish Natty weren’t so closed up,” he said.

I thought about it, and wondered what to say. In some ways, Nat is more closed up than he has ever been. It is very hard to get him to initiate with us and tell us even the most basic thing, like asking for the salt. He’ll just stare at his dinner for the longest time without saying a word, without eating. “Yeah, I know,” I said.

But I also thought about this afternoon, sitting with Nat while he watched Dumbo. During “Baby Mine,” where Dumbo is visiting his jailed mother, I, of course, started to cry. Nat looked at me in alarm; he hates it when I cry. I said, “Dumbo’s mommy loves him. He’s her baby.”
Nat said, “Yes.”
I said, “Who is Mommy’s baby?”
Nat said, “Nat.”
I jumped up and hugged and kissed him.

Conversation goal achieved.

I looked at Ned, whose face was very tight. His eyes looked wide and a little blurry, as if tears were close. Then I remembered that he had woken up very early this morning. “You should go to sleep,” I said. “And read this thing soon. You’ll get a better idea of how Nat is really doing most of his day.”

We went to sleep. I think that rest will restore Ned’s natural optimism, and I hope that reading the IEP Quarterly Report will take care of the rest. If not, I’ll have Ned watch Dumbo with Nat.


I can so relate to this. IEP season is coming (do we all have the necessary hunting license for rogue hurtful comments and negativity from school administrators?) There is always that dichotomy in feeling when I look at Sam’s IEP (first grade). Yes, he has achieved some of his goals, but this year is so much harder than kindergarten and we are feeling him slide, unable to keep up with a curriculum that assumes abilities that Sam does not have. Yes, he is reading at first grade level, but has no clue what he is reading. The words are just words to him that he recognizes but do not have meaning at first; only when he can read them a few times, look at the pictures in the book can he figure out a comprehension question. He’s been less able to cope with mainstreaming and I am tired of feeling bad about this and now am just mad that they can’t help him cope better rather than just assuming that “life skills” is the best he can do. On the other hand, wow, what he has accomplished since last year! He can actually write his letters somewhat legibly. He can look at a photo in his journal and write a couple of sentences. The writer in me loves that! So as we get ready to sit around the table with his “team” (fully aware that my husband and I are the only ones who are truly loyal to Sam’s best interest), I steel myself for the pain that comes inevitably. I’ll have that out of body experience where I wonder “how did I get here; this was not how it was supposed to be!” as I listen to his teacher explain how his lack of pragmatic speech is limiting his socialization with peers. And I’ll squeeze my husband’s hand under the table and know that when we are all at home later and Sam is sitting at the kitchen table talking about his Thomas trains and how one crashed but “luckily no one was hurt”, a favorite stim, that this is what really counts. The love of family, the safety and acceptance that only home can offer to Sam, and the knowledge that while I may not know how I got here, here I am and here I will stay. And it’s not all bad!

Sam’s mom

— added by Sam's mom on Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 7:04 am

IEP talk seems like a good segue way into…does anybody have constructive ideas about what to ask for/how to put my foot down (without stepping on important toes) in our forthcoming talks? My son has been in an autism preschool classroom, but we’re headed for kdg and it’s scary! He’s done very well in his class, and I haven’t yet had to fight with anyone, and don’t plan to now. It’s just that I want things like scheduled down-time (not recess, but “let him be as autistic as he wants” down-time) and would love to read if anybody has any other real suggestions if I’m going to “shoot the moon” anyway. Thanks!

btw, “hunting license” made me LOL. To quote Homer Simpson, “It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true.”

— added by Waxhaw5 on Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 8:15 am

If our experience can be of help – look up – it will give you an idea how Alex went from being a non verbal 6yo to graduating high school with honours & awards with his grade 1 peers. His Web page with more info on his schooling is no longer up but is accessible at:

As far as getting what you want without stepping on toes – be firm, ask for what your child needs, let them know you are the expert on your child but allow them to feel they are experts when it comes to educating. Let them know that by working with you and with your child, not against either of you, it will serve the best interests of everyone involved.

One thing I clearly stated from day one was that Alex was not to leave the classroom without a peer with him – he was only “scheduled” to leave the classroom for 20 minutes/day for speech therapy and as it turned out it was that “peer helper” that taught him to talk in grade 1. But, I put that rule in place not to make sure Alex was always “integrated” and surrounded by his peers – I put it in place so they would not unnecessarily remove him from the classroom. If a peer could not afford to “miss time” by going with Alex, then obviously Alex couldn’t afford to miss the time either.

Alex’s “autistic time” was at recess & lunch hour. The one stim he was not allowed to do in school was spinning – in the hallways or classrooms – this was a safety issue and although he threw in the odd pirouette when backs were turned he saved that for recess & lunch and spun all he wanted outside. In the classroom, in his early grades, he frequently went to the window to check the weather (then returned to his seat) and would also get up and walk the circumference of the room & return to his seat. Neither of these (and other behaviours) “disrupted the class” and so he was free to do them. Had a teacher decided that, on principle, he should stay seated in his chair and not exercise these stims, would have found themselves in a disruptive class with an unhappy kid. When Alex began throwing rocks outside (the schoolyard had been freshly landscaped & grass planted leaving many small stones) the answer was not to “punish” him for throwing stones but instead, with my input, they built a “rock box” for him to throw the rocks into. This solution made Alex happy and cleaned the schoolyard of rocks as other kids also used the rock box to rid the yard of stones. A win-win situation all round.

— added by jypsy on Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 3:07 pm

In my “educating the disabled child” class last night, the professor was reminding us that in the US the whole special ed system is based on litigation and due process.

He said that the cynical part of him (he has worked with the directors of special ed for the whole state of California and written laws regarding spec. ed here) says that IEPs are supposed to have minimal goals so that parents can’t come back and say, “look you said you’d live up to your end of this contract and my boy isn’t….”

But, overestimating ability or not giving the right supports so the kid can achieve (like jypsy’s son Alex and his accomodations) is a big problem, too.

My child had problems with comprehension but had a really fantastic vocabulary and could spell perfectly. They overestimated what xe could do in the area of writing. Xe can’t organize complex bunches of information to form linked reasons, at least not very well.

Xe still has a strange way of missing important facts and drawing odd conclusions, though, xe does very well in many ways…

I’m glad I’m not dealing with IEPs any more. Beware post-traumatic IEP syndrome. 🙂

Natty sounds like a fantastic fellow.

Oh, that scene from Dumbo is a real tear jerker.

— added by Camille on Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 7:54 pm