Yesterday morning I emerged from my meeting at the middle school a very happy mom. We all know that isn't always the case, but when it is, it feels good. Really really good.
Flashing back: when we were setting up Daniel's IEP and schedule last spring I was very focused on getting him para support during lunch. We had dropped it back in about 3rd grade when he sat with "his girls" in our safe little elementary school cafeteria. He continued to be independent during this time. We had had a few minor incidents over the years, but honestly, not much more than MOST kids experience. Middle school lunch sounded like a nightmare to me. It was a new huge place and he wouldn't know half of the kids. I wanted him to have support and also thought that the person with him, could help him find appropriate people to sit with and maybe even facilitate some conversations. I got what I asked for.
What I gave up was support in band. I know. Really? you ask? I know you are thinking I was nuts. Maybe I was, but I was blinded by the lunch room, and actually I had some good reasons for giving that up. One being that his para did not go into band with him in 6th grade. She would check in, she would go get him if he needed to leave, but really, he was pretty independent. So I went along with it. What I DIDN'T take into account was that band was going from 2x's per week to 5 x's per week. The size of the class doubled and they went from 1 percussionist to 4. Had I KNOWN that I wouldn't have made that decision. IEP tip #1: this is why it is a good thing to have the general ed teacher there when a decision is being made about a class. Had I heard that, I wouldn't have agreed to it. Hind site is 20/20.
Rolling forward. A few weeks ago the last thing happened. I keep calling it "the hose". What does a hose have to do with anything? Read on. My cousin and her husband live in a cute house. It is "cozy" and they bought it as a couple with no children. They now have 2 growing boys and a dog. There isn't much room left. The tightness of the space kept building and building. One day the husband bought a hose. He couldn't find a place to put it. There was not an inch to spare, he proclaimed, "that's it! we have to move!". Is the fact that you have a hose with no home a big deal? No. But it was all of the things leading up to it and the one thing that pushes you over the edge. For me I wrote a note in "the notebook" to Daniel's para asking what music they should be practicing at homeand she sent me back a list. I had NONE of the music at home. He'd (again) been practicing the wrong songs for over a week. That music was my hose. I snapped and said "that's it" we need some help. Was the fact that we didn't have the music a huge problem? Not really, but it pushed me over the edge.
I constructed a very long email, outlining all of the issues and problems Daniel has faced this year in band. Tip #2 a calm fact based email describing all of the difficulties he has had this year. I explained the ways we have tried to overcome those difficulties and how they haven't worked. I explained the impact to not only Daniel, but his peers in the class. I explained that it is no reflection on the teacher, she has done her best, but it's too much. Lastly, I asked them to consider giving him para support in this class. Calm, cool, emotionless facts explaining the problem in detail.
I am explaining these tips because I have been working as an advocate now for almost 4 months. The mistakethat I see parents make is that when "the hose" happens they fly off the handle and make a huge deal about "the hose" when it isn't the hose at ALL. This gets you no where with the school district. They'll tell you "it's just a hose".
The school district had someone collect data, there were discussions. The Special ed director observed a class (guess what happened THAT day? Correct, best day of the year! I suggested to her yesterday that she should be there EVERY day :) I had honestly expressed my concerns that he escalates so much that he may hurt himself or go after someone else. You would think I set this up, but he did grab an adult for the first time since the beginning of 3rd grade, while we were in discussions about this, proving my point nicely. We discussed the hormones and how they are affecting him, I explained how he has gone backwards in some areas (physicality) because of it.
So yesterday morning I sat at a table with the Special Ed Director, the Principal, the Special Ed teacher who handles his case, the band teacher, and the AI specialist from the county (and an intern; I love when they get to see how a meeting SHOULD go) and little old me. My husband asked if I was intimidated. No. Not at all. It is my job now after all, but I have learned it is WAY different when it is someone else's child you are talking about. Plus, I think our district really does a great job (IF you present it right)of working through things. These four months of working as an advocate has left me a bit stunned at how some other districts operate. To be fair, it leaves me a bit stunned at how unable and inappropriate some parents are. But yesterday they genuinely understood AND they gave him support during band. So I'm giving the school props where they deserve it. In a super super tough economic climate, when money is no where to be found they chose to do what is best for the STUDENT. What a novel idea! I'm very very pleased. For now, my hose is just a hose.
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