IEP Woes

broken-pencil-schools-jpg_021534It’s January, so that means it’s IEP month. (IEPs are individualized education plans for children with special needs.) Actually, this time around, the IEP madness started in December 2015. It’s a triennial year, so my daughter was subjected to lots of testing throughout the fall. Testing with dubious results. When I’m told my bright, sensory-challenged child has an IQ of 51 and a completely normal vestibular system, I know something is very, very wrong.

Katie and I have a rather tortured history with our home school district. If you aren’t familiar with this tale, you can read about Round #2 here: Sometimes the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10. A summary of Round #1 is included in there somewhere. I think it’s safe to say that things have never worked out well for us in this district.

If you don’t want to read all that, here it is in a nutshell: the district can’t (or won’t) meet Katie’s sensory needs and then they get behavior the classroom staff can’t deal with. They unintentionally reinforce the very behavior they want to stop and the situation spirals out of control. Multiple suspensions occur and then they ask (more like demand) that I keep her home. Each time they have violated federal law. Each time I’ve had to contact Community Alliance for Special Education (CASE), a public interest law firm. The advocates mutter how they hate schlepping to Livermore to deal with the same old issue. Katie transfers mid-year to another school district. Her sensory needs are met and the problem behaviors disappear.

Stack of papers2The story didn’t change much this time around. Things seemed to start off well, but when the district lost Katie’s 1:1 aide to a higher paying district, everything fell apart. First Katie had a sub (excuse me, a “long-term sub”), then two well-meaning gals with limited autism experience. They soon grew to fear Katie, who was thrilled to be calling the shots in the chaotic classroom. Despite this, the occupational therapist insisted she wanted to keep Katie’s sensory input “fluid.” This hasn’t worked in eight years and is a large part of the reason Katie spent five of the last six years in two other school districts. But the expert insisted.

This, of course, is the same expert who wrote a report stating that Katie’s out-of-whack vestibular system was “Typical.”

Katie came home from school overstimulated virtually every day. I complained. I wrote emails and letters. Nothing much changed. They tried weighted lap blankets and neck rolls. They tried massage. They spun her in an office chair until she broke the behaviorist’s iPhone. They played 80s dance music. Gave her longer “relaxation breaks.” Everything but what she needed.

The sub quit and new kids were added to the classroom, so the district finally hired new aides. Because they had no experience with autism (or any other disability, for that matter) someone made the decision to switch Katie’s 1:1 aide every period “to avoid burn out.” Interacting with a brand new person every hour is pretty much the definition of torture for someone on the spectrum, especially when they are already overstimulated. Katie would come home from school and fall apart.

It took Katie getting suspended two weeks ago and me telling the Vice-Principal (a lovely man who I suspect serves as Katie’s unofficial aide most days) that I’d be calling CASE to reopen our file for Katie to finally get three structured sensory breaks per day. She also finally has regular access to the swing she can see from her classroom.

I fear, however, this may be too little, too late.

Until next time,

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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