When Our Kids with Special Needs Return to School
Just a few days ago I planned to write a back to school post about the kind of “back to school boogie” I’m doing as my children with special needs go back to school. But, my sweet mental boogie was derailed yesterday with a surprise note home from Logan signaling a change of teacher this year for his special needs classroom.
Those of you who have followed the Cafe for a little while might remember a post I wrote a while back concerning Logan, restraint and seclusion, and the teacher who thought a rifton chair was good placement for him way too frequently throughout the day (including for transport between periods). That same teacher is now his teacher again this year.
I’m not the parent to demonize a teacher or school, but I can’t take this lightly. I’m pretty sure this was a new teacher with very little experience teaching children with special needs. I’m even pretty sure that she didn’t understand why putting my child in a rifton chair constantly was a bad thing.
I was more concerned with the school’s response, at the time, which was one of defensiveness. (and sure, I can understand that)
How About Your Child with Special Needs & Back to School Worries?
So, we’re starting school this year with the fears of many special needs parents, worried about Logan’s placement and at the same time trying to ensure that we are doing everything we can to ensure his rights are protected.
And this made me wonder if all my readers understood what kinds of choices you could be making if you found yourself in a similar situation this school year.
Parent’s Checklist: When You’re Concerned About Your Child’s Placement
I advocate for others, and have been inside too many case conferences to count, both for my own children and for others’ children. The worst thing you can do is to let your anger, fear, nerves … whatever, get the best of you. You must stay calm and think about this in an organized way.
Read on to see how I worked through this over the last few days. Three steps …
First Step: Consider the Problem You Want Addressed
In our case, we are uncomfortable with Logan’s placement because of instances with this teacher in the past. The problem is two-fold – problems with the teacher can lead to regression for Logan, and problems with understanding of IDEA and Article 7 (Indiana’s Special Education Law) could mean my child is subjected to things they shouldn’t be at school.
In the middle of this we have the ongoing concerns about Logan’s behavior, his epilepsy, and his regular special education needs to consider.
Second Step: Decide on the Outcome You Want to Accomplish
Sometimes you want more than one outcome. In our case, I wanted to make sure I felt more comfortable with Logan’s teacher this year. But I also want Logan to have more speech therapy, I want to address his Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to make sure we can accommodate any tweaks needed with his newest behavior concerns, and finally, I want to make sure they understand the type and frequency of Logan’s seizures, which have changed a bit over the course of the summer.
To think about the outcomes you want, don’t consider how you will make it happen, just what your end goals are supposed to be. And try hard to let go of any anxiety, anger, or outright fear you might have about your child returning to school, the teacher they will have, or the bullies that have been bothering them lately.
Third Step: Consider How to Meet Your Back to School Outcomes
We don’t always know where to start when we have children with special needs. I know that when I considered this latest school year, I was terrified for several hours after learning who Logan’s teacher would be. While my first outcome might have been to change the teacher, that isn’t a valid request in a case conference unless there are additional circumstances and only after the full team meets.
Instead, I pulled away from my fears and memory of two years ago. I never thought that his previous teacher was a horrible teacher, or evil, or anything that dire … I thought she was caught in a situation she didn’t understand and took actions she thought were needed under the circumstances. She made a mistake. Repeatedly. But she did so in ignorance.
I decided going forward with meeting the teacher at the meet the teacher event would be a great chance to gauge how well I thought she could do this year.
I went to the meet the teacher night and spoke with her, for almost an hour, about the outcomes I wanted and how I thought we should work toward them. I did take a moment to touch on her previous mistakes, to remind her that I didn’t accept the use of a rifton chair for punitive purposes, period.
We then went over his current behavior intervention plan and looked at the protections in place. His previous teacher was available to go through those with us, and we had a great discussion about what portions of the BIP might need to be tweaked should his behavior become a concern at school.
Because I had an open mind about talking with the teacher rationally, she now knows and understands that I am more intimately involved in the IEP and BIP process, and that there are certain things I will be checking for. This makes me much more comfortable with her as Logan’s teacher this year.
We agreed to further discuss the BIP at the upcoming case conference, and they know I’ll be adamant about adding speech services back into his IEP (he currently has consulting services with the SLP because she felt she had done all she could do for him … after much reflection I strongly disagree *grin*).
I was able to note the different type and severity of seizures he’s had over the summer and wanted to adjust his seizure plan at the upcoming case conference as well.
The Result: Working Toward IEP and BIP Goals for Our Students with Special Needs
So I have goals in place to help achieve all the outcomes I want. Granted, in the full scheme of things this is but one small battle I’ll fight for my kids’ educational rights. But the process is the same. Sometimes you have to approach the situation with a bit more patience and understanding than with IDEA and Article 7 facts and threats.
So I’d say it’s time to do a bit of both – boogie and worry. After all, when it comes to our special kids, there’ll always be something to worry about. Children with special needs come with their own ongoing educational needs. It’s our jobs as parents to make sure we are their first and best advocates.
Your Turn: Are you worried about your child with special needs as they go back to school this year? What outcomes are you hoping for and what goals will you be using to achieve those outcomes?