Posts Tagged ‘learning disabilities’

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. . .

As I indicated in my earlier blog, third grade was a significant year for my son.  It is then that he started to exhibit some medical unusual symptoms. During the second half of the year my son was experiencing extreme body movements along with pain-sounding yelling.  The neurologist and neuropsychologist debated if these were non epileptic seizures or Tourette Syndrome or a combination of both.  What we did know is the EEG of these events did not have the pattern of an epileptic seizure.  We worked closely with the neuropyschologist to provide a plan for the school with direction about how to deal with these events.  In addition we set up a plan for my son to see the neuropsychologist on a frequent basis.

Keep in mind, my son’s first kindergarten teacher recognized he had learning disabilities.  By the time he was in first grade that got him reading and language support.  In second grade the school added some occupational therapy support.  Then his second grade teacher had reported that at the end of the year my son was having difficulty with math.  Even though I brought his second grade teacher to my next IEP, no actions were taken. 

During the second half of third grade the topic for math that was being covered in the classroom was learning addition and subtraction facts.  In my opinion this is what triggered the movement and vocal tics that my son was experiencing.  The way the students were being taught the math facts was via one minute timed test on a specific set of math facts, which progressively got harder as you worked your way through the sets.  Each student had a goal of how many correct math facts they could do in one minute, which included taking into consideration their writing speed.  As time went on, I finally figured out that it was these tests that were causing my son anxiety and the result was these extreme movement tics and vocal tics.  Just bringing out the green piece of  paper that the tests were given on would cause a round of these tics.

When this first started my son missed quite a lot of school because he had these movements at night for hours at a time and he had a difficult time functioning the next day due to lack of sleep.  The other big issue was his safety.  There was no way to truly predict when he would have a bout of these movements.  He would fall down or have his arms jerk.  The potential for him to harm himself was high.  Eventually the school understood there were certain things needed to be in place before he went back to school. 

My son needed a private place in the class room that was safe and provided privacy when he was having a round of tics.  They placed a bean bag behind a screened area. This really didn’t give him privacy.  The whole class knew he was having problems when he went behind the screen.  They could also hear his screams.  You can imagine the embarrassment he felt.  Just another thing raising his anxiety.

 They also provided an aide to be there for him so that he did not harm himself.  This turned out to be a big mistake.  She made him anxious and was very judgemental without having any experience with either non epileptic seizures or Tourette Syndrome.  She would constantly tell me son while he was having a bout of tics that he was okay.  To my son, he didn’t feel okay.  The movements were drastic and very real to him.  Telling him he was okay was like accusing him of faking his condition.

My son returned to school slowly, increasing the number of hours as time went by.  While he was in this part-time mode the school provided a tutor for him.  Unfortunately the tutor was his third grade teacher.  At the time I didn’t realize she was part of the problem.  During these tutoring sessions they required me to be present.  The only subject she worked on was Math.  She kept pulling out the green paper timed tests and my son would immediately begin to have these tics.  I finally asked her if she could teach this math without the timed test.  In my opinion, there had to be a way to teach him the math facts without doing these stressful timed tests.  She absolutely refused to adjust her teaching method, and obviously my son continued to have bouts of tics.

Here was an example of a very obvious problem and our school failed to adapt to the situation.  These math facts become a repeating theme in the next couple of years.  The unfortunate thing is my son had figured out addition and subtraction on his own before he even went to pre-school.  As a result of this situation in third grade he started to fall behind in math.  The school had all the information to take action as a response to intervention and instead failed.  The weight of that failure is now on my son’s shoulders.  The math story does not end here.

Continued . . .

Just before we decided to home school, I had an odd discussion with my son’s special education teacher. As you know the discussion of inclusiveness is a hot topic in education. The discussion with my son’s teacher was triggered by an email I had received from the school which included a copy of the school’s newsletter. I read through the lengthy newsletter which included a couple of paragraphs from each class that described their latest activities. The newsletter was pretty long because each grade in the middle school is broken down into sub classes or pods which coincide to a specific location in the school, which is a hub for their core classes. It was also apparent that the teachers of each class were the authors of the newsletter, or at least the source for each article. In addition to theses articles there were also stories from non-core subject teachers including Art, Physical Education, Music, etc.

Some of the articles in the newsletter were very generic and others called out specific students and their specific highlighted activity. After going through the newsletter I noticed there was no article from my son’s special education class. It was noticeable to me because obviously I was looking for his specific class. After further consideration I noticed that there were no articles from any of the special education teachers.

My initial reaction was that it was odd. I would have liked to read about what has been going on in my son’s main class, which was special education. The more I thought about it the more I got irritated. I didn’t understand why these classes were excluded from the newsletter. Besides being irritated I was also sad. This was an example of exclusion. I truly did not understand why the school would decisively exclude these classes from providing class news in their newsletter. As a parent of a child who has learning disabilities, I am very proud of his achievements. In addition since there has never been school work, assignments, or evidence of class activities brought home on a daily, or even a weekly basis, I didn’t have a lot of information about what topics my son’s class was studying. Like many parents I was always asking about what was going on at school, but, like many 7th graders, I got the “Not much” response from my son.

I also understood that in his class there are varying levels of abilities, but I also had a sense that there were commonalities between the topics discussed. For example, if they were studying geography, the whole class were studying the same topic. So once again I didn’t understand the reason for the exclusion. I still could not come up with a logical reason for the purposeful exclusion. In addition I was like any other parent and wanted the benefit to receive the same information as any other parent. It then hit me that not only was my son being excluded, but I also was being excluded.

In the end I was shocked, frustrated, and a little angry. Getting my son an education has always been a battle. It was frustrating to me that the school, who should be the experts, did not offer suggestions on how to educate my son. I had to fight for everything in his IEP and it would have been nice to have an “expert” to make suggestions. They work with my son every day. Who should know what he needs? His teachers! Sorry for the diversion, but the whole IEP is a ruse and another way for the educational system to fail at providing an education. It is a vehicle of smoke and mirrors to make it look like they are providing an education. It is also a bunch of red tape for them to justify their funding.

Anyway, I decided to reach out via email to my son’s teacher to ask why she did not include a story in the monthly newsletter. I was totally shocked at her response. Keep n mind she is my son’s special education teacher. She chose this career and obviously, at one time, had a passion for teaching special education. I recognize it takes a very unique individual to serve in this role and it was not an easy job. It is also obviously clear when a teacher has this passion. When they don’t have the passion, which we had seen in the past, the situation was a disaster. In this case I knew she had the passion. In this case she was also in charge of my son’s IEP, which also implies that she should be highly aware of the laws surrounding an education. She had also, in the past, shown evidence of knowing the importance of inclusion.

In the end her response was that this decision was to respect the privacy of the parents who had children in special education. She went on to say “How would you like to be a parent and have a reference in the newsletter which implied that your child was not in the mainstream classes and was in special education.” To be honest, I was flabbergasted. These statements were coming from my son’s educated special education teacher, who apparently was feeling “shame” for these students and their parents. I asked myself, did she really think that it is not known that my son is in special education. The kids in school know it. And the parents know it too. We have been with all of these children since kindergarten and with that much time you learn which kids are in special education and need a little extra help. In addition, DUH, my son talks to me about his classmates. I know who is in his special education class.

Secondly, I have never met a parent who didn’t have pride in their child. I am not ashamed that my son was in a special education class. And I would be willing to bet that every parent of a child that is in special education, whether it be for developmental delays or for learning disabilities, is just as proud and concerned as any other parent in that school.

In addition there was no reason a specific child’s name would have to be mentioned in the newsletter. I found it hard to believe that this teacher did not have the skills to write a couple of paragraphs about her class without listing specific names of the children. And then on top of it all, she was insecure enough to feel “shame” in these children. I also wondered what type of lesson did this demonstrate to my child. I wondered, if this was happening with a mere newsletter, where else was this happening?

I think this moment was the beginning of my decision to pull my son from this educational system and teach him myself. I didn’t want him to be with a teacher or a school that was ashamed of him. More importantly, I wanted him to get an education, which wasn’t really happening neither. So here we are. Home schooling. And we are proud of everything we do, and I am very, very proud of my son.