Archive for May, 2012

As I indicated in my previous posts, my son’s learning experiences in elementary school had lots of room for improvement, and in some cases did more harm than good.  It was our hope that sixth grade would be a better experience which would result in some actual education.  My son no longer had to deal with a social working turned teacher who, from his perspective, bullied and tortured him about his Tourette Syndrome.

A few days before the first day of school my son became really sick.  Throwing up.  Thirsty.  Drinking mass amounts of liquids.  It got to the point I couldn’t stop the throwing up.  I assumed he had a really bad flu.  He needed medical help, so I took him to the emergency room at the local hospital.  Initially the doctor thought it was a flu or a virus and they put him on an IV to pump in fluids and an antibiotic.  They knew my son had epilepsy and was on the drug depakote.  They took blood to evaluate whether his blood levels were okay as it relates to this drug, and then also do some basic testing.

The doctor came back and indicated that they had found something unexpected.  One of the tests they took was an A1C which is a test that measures the glucose levels in a person’s blood.  My son had diabetes.  I was absolutely shocked.  My son already had so many things going on with his health.  It never occurred to me that he would have one more challenge to face.  Looking back there were many different signs.  He had lost lots of weight in a three-month period.  At that point the doctor said we needed to transfer my son to Children’s Hospital.  They would have better experts there to help my son.

My son was in the hospital for several days.  It took awhile for them to get all of levels closer to normal.  When a person has diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes, and their glucose levels our out of control, the body goes through many chemical changes.  The sodium and calcium levels become off.  My son’s body could not deal with the glucose, so his body was basically eating away at itself.  While at the hospital we went through a lot of education classes.  What type 1 diabetes is, how to manage it, and how to deal with day-to-day life.

As a result of this, my son missed a week and a half of the first days of school.  When he returned to school on his first day of sixth grade there was one big surprise.  In his special education class he was sitting near a girl who was his best friend since kindergarten, but had been separated for a few years when she moved to a new elementary school.  He was so happy.  Sixth grade seemed to be going well.  My son enjoyed his Special Education teacher.  She seemed to understand what was going on with him.  She had arranged for a quiet place for him adjacent to the classroom where he could go if his tics became really severe.  Physical Education initially caused some anxiety which increased his tics.  She slowly helped him get over his stress and he was able to participate.  His other classes were pretty much uneventful.  It was a surprise to me how well he transitioned to this new school.  In addition, he was able to manage his diabetes pretty well at school.

The first hint that I had that something wasn’t quite right was when we had our first IEP meeting.  Most of the IEP goals were directed at accommodations that were needed for state testing.  The only other discussion was in regard to how to handle my son’s medical issues.  There were also some goals for reading, language, and math.  The meeting was very rushed and, like the previous school, was held before school started which now I realize was a tactic to limit the length of the meeting because teachers had to leave to attend to their classes.

The other odd thing that happened was when it came to Parents Teachers Conference.  His teacher said there was no need setting up a conference since we had just met on his IEP.  I responded ok, but later thought to myself she was not the only teacher my son had.  He had classes outside of Special Education, but in this conversation they were ignored.  Today, I regret agreeing because became the beginning of the end of this school for my son.

As school entered its last trimester, the school started to complain about my son’s absences.  Keep in mind he had missed eight days at the beginning of the year due to his hospitalization and onset of diabetes.  In addition when my son’s tics got really bad, especially at night when they went on for several hours with no relief, he would also miss some school.  Add to that his doctor appointments and days missed for general illnesses such as the flu.  I was a little irritated by their attitude, especially when his teacher said she had no problem catching up my son when he missed a day.

Little did I know that this was the beginning of the end and would bring us to some major decisions about my son’s education.

To be continued . . .

Fifth grade for my son was uneventful.  He loved his mainstream teacher.  For his special ed. classes (reading, language and math) he was stuck with the social worker serving as the special education teacher.  Serving is probably not an accurate description of her activity.  She was a thorn in my son’s and my side.  She did not understand Tourette Syndrome or Non-Epileptic Seizures.  My son had no privacy when these events went on, which could go on as short as a minute or as a long as forty minutes.  She expected him to continue working while his body was having these spasms of  tics and loud, yelling vocalizations.  She kept telling him he was fine, and to him, he did not feel fine. 

Something to note, since my son was put in Special Education I saw no evidence of school work.  No completed assignments, no home work (which was specified in his IEP), no comments in his assignment book, no nothing.  The only way I knew what was going on was by what my son would tell me.  In our teacher conference that happened once a year, they would flash a couple of papers in front of my face and tell me everything is going fine.  In those days I was not smart enough to ask for a definition of fine.  I made an assumption that they were doing what was best for my son.  They were supposed to be the experts. Big mistake that was.

What I did know is she was still teaching him math facts using the timed tests, which in turn created more episodes of tics and/or non-epileptic seizures.  I had given up trying to make the school stop.  Each day my son would come home and tell me how this teacher was treating him.  She was consistently punishing him for having these tics.  He was left out of any reward systems which was available for the rest of her students.  I kept telling my son to please hang in there.  This was the last year he would be in this school because he would be moving on to Middle School.  At that time he would not have to ever see this teacher again.

Toward the end of fifth grade the Middle School met with me to ensure my son’s transition went well.  The meeting included the principal, the special education teacher, the nurse, and the psychologist.  Based on the meeting they appeared to have their act together.  We talked about the various types of support my son would need.  They appeared to be very diligent in addressing these needs.  It was obvious to me that this school operated completely different than my son’s elementary school.

One of the best things that the Middle School provided is an orientation week before school started so that the students could get their bearing in the big middle school.  This school was the biggest middle school in our state and was quite overwhelming for students at first. 

In this orientation week they ensured that the student knew where their locker was and how to open it. The showed them where their home room was, which was the room they went to first thing in the morning and last thing in the day.  They were showed where the special education room was and explained what time of the day they would be coming there.  They showed  where their house was located (the grade was divided into houses, very much like Harry Potter) and the house location served as the hub for most of their standard classes such as English, Math, Social Studies, etc.  They also showed where art classes and physical education classes occurred.  For physical education they explained what to expect as it relates to another locker, clothing, showering, etc.  And finally they explained the bus routine.  This was a new thing for my son because he had not ridden the bus up to this point.  All in all I think this was a wonderful program.  The school brought together the population of four elementary schools into one seventh grade class at the middle school.

Parents were also invited to an orientation which was basically a demonstration of the rules, preparing the parents for middle school.  Believe it or not, I wasn’t anxious about this transitional year until I went to this meeting.  One of the big topics was school absences, which I was really concerned about.  I talked to the Vice Principal after the meeting about this topic and explained that my son would be using up his absences in no time, just for the purpose of going to doctor appointments.  At this point my son was seeing a neuropsychologist every three weeks.  He also saw his neurologist every three months.  The Vice Principal told me to not worry about it.  The absences were understandable.  Later, I learned the absences were a bigger deal that what the Vice Principal led on.

So we were set to start sixth grade.  I use the work “we” because the transition was not only for my son, but also for me.  It was like starting all over again with new people.  I explained to my son that this was an opportunity for us to start out new and not be impacted by personal prejudices that some of his previous teachers had shown.  He was looking forward to the year and was glad he was out of elementary school.

To be continued . . .

As I mentioned in my previous blog, it was in third grade when my son started falling behind in school.  It is also when he started to have some unusual movements and vocalizations, which may have been Tourette Syndrome or Non-epileptic seizures. 

After the school year for third grade was done, I got my son a tutor, which was his second grade teacher who he truly loved.  She worked with him on reading and actually got him advanced up two levels on leveled books.  Keep in mind I paid to have this tutor, which we did two summers in a row.

For fourth grade the school put my son into Special Education for both reading, language, and math.  The remaining classes were in his mainstream class.  After about two months the special education teacher wanted to meet with me.  In this meeting, which also included the Principal and the school social worker, their big complaint was that my son was having too many tics.  My reaction was “And so?”  We had been doing everything we could medically.  We had tried medications with no success.  My son was also seeing a neuropsychologist every three weeks. 

The second complaint was that my son needed guidance from the teacher in order to do his work.  Hello!  He’s in Special Education!  Isn’t that one of the principles of Special Education.  She also said that if she gave direction involving three different things.  He would follow through on one of them and then stop.  He could not remember the remaining two things.  She also complained that he could have gotten clues by looking around at the other five children in the room, because they were all doing the same thing.  Instead he would just sit there doing nothing.

I wasn’t surprised by any of this.  This was no different from what we experienced at home.  Over the years we learned to compensate for this without even knowing we were doing it.  We only gave him instructions one at a time.  There were somethings that we just didn’t ask him to do, because it would take too long, especially on busy mornings as he got ready to go to school.

Finally in this meeting the school suggested that we shift my son to a new room that had fewer children in it and could get more attention from the teacher.  The odd thing was the teacher was actually the social worker in the school.  She had no background in teaching special education.  This decision turned into a big disaster.  My son was then stuck with this woman through fifth grade.  We talked about teaching him “touch math,” which they only did for a couple of weeks and then went back to the one minute timed drills.  End result more tics.

The biggest problem with her was the fact that she punished him for having tics.  She gave him no privacy when he was having a bout of tics.  She expected him to be able to continue working as he was having the extreme movement tics and vocalizations.  Probably the most debilitating aspect of her teaching method was that she had no empathy for his circumstance. 

Toward the middle of third grade I read in the school newsletter that they were going to offer reading tutoring for kids and it indicated we would be getting additional information about this in the near future.  I was really excited about this because my son needed the help.  At the time he was almost two grades behind in reading.  So I waited for the second communication.  I waited, and waited.  Finally I reached out to the principal.  He responded that the program was done and was limited to a select number of kids.  I was furious.  He admitted this was an attempt at increasing their test scores for reading.  The only students that got tutored were students who were on the border of being behind in their grade.

My response to him was he had better watch out, because he is going to get sued.  Here I had been paying for a tutor which was an expenditure I could not really afford.  I was obvious my son needed help.  I told the principal that he was discriminating against my son.  I could tell he was not prepared for this reaction from me.  In the next year they had this tutoring program again and my son was invited. Now I don’t know if he got his equal fair share of tutoring, but he wasn’t excluded. 

Continued. . .