Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Triennial again

We just had our second triennial. Has Joey been in school so very long? It was a fascinating meeting. We had all four of Joey's teachers there, the speech therapist, my private occupational therapist (the school one didn't even try to come!), and the school psychologist. Oh, and me.

We started with classroom updates. Joey has a regular ed teacher and a special ed teacher in his inclusion room, who spoke about his improvements, his setbacks since Christmas, what he is doing well and what is still a struggle for him. He is spectacular in math and spelling, not so much in reading. Since Christmas, he has been able to be in reading group only a handful of times due to behavior and sensory problems. (Remember this was a child in a reading group in a REGULAR classroom last year). It has been interesting watching these teachers realize what Joey can do, and how he is actually disabled. The one teacher has figured out that Joey's reading comprehension is not the problem, it is his ability to communicate what he comprehends, and to answer questions. She spent the meeting correcting folks every time it was mentioned that he was having trouble with reading comprehension. "It's not the comprehension- it is what he is able to communicate that he comprehends!"

He is doing better with noise and assemblies- the bigger problem is boredom.

Joey spends a good part of his day in self-contained, and that teacher is new. There was a whole different attitude towards teaching from that facet of the team. Mr. T takes his kids as they come, and works to make sure they are learning. He seemed surprised at some of the problems and concerns in the inclusion room, which he simply saw as not a problem, but just facts of the child. Joey likes to walk around and needs movement. The inclusion room attitude is, "how do we get him to sit down?" The self-contained attitude is "how do I give him opportunities to move?"

Then we went to look at the evals- except there weren't any. The last speech eval was done by my private therapist, and we were about to renew it when the office was closed- so it was from 2008. The last developmental? 2005. We had some info from his gifted and talented screening which placed him in the superior range, but the intelligence test they gave him- and they only gave him selections from any of the tests- only put him at 58%. The math part? Only "high average." Well, we knew those tests were inaccurate.

The speech therapist stepped in and gave an overview of her experience in lieu of a formal eval. It was interesting to hear how different her assessment of concerns were from those of the classroom. The classroom teachers noticed trouble with communicating understanding of the feelings of others, ability to express narrative sequence, and expressing the main idea of a passage (Joey tends to place equal emphasis on all the details instead of being able to capture the larger picture in reading a passage; I understand this is pretty common in autism). The speech therapist was interested in his struggle to make predictions, create or understand narrative, or answer complex questions. Sounds like IEP goals to me...

Then my private OT stepped in with her eval, which was from the spring, and yet still a good snapshot of Joey and his abilities for functioning. Funny what info you can get from appropriate evals done in a timely manner.

We decided to update all the evals, do some cognitive testing, and have him take the complete tests provided by the gifted and talented people, even though he "doesn't qualify"- we want to understand why these tests are not accurate, what skills he does have, and how to support and teach him to help them be accurate, with the goal of having him graduate with a regular high school diploma, not a provisional/special ed one. He needs to be able to take SOL tests to get a "real" diploma (what? a special ed diploma is a piece of pity paper? Do people have any idea how much work these kids do?)

Then came the good part.

My OT piped up to ask a few questions. Or drop a few bombshells. Whichever.

Since Joey needs to move to learn, he will do it whether given appropriate opportunities to do so or not. What appropriate opportunities were being provided? Math is done in centers- plenty of opportunity to get up and walk around. Reading is done seated in a group... no wonder he has a harder time there! She provided some suggestions, such as allowing him to read standing up. Mr. T apparently was doing that already, and hadn't really thought it odd that Joey likes to read standing up. I remember when he had to stand up to eat. (I'll never forget it, as we were accosted in a restaurant once because of it!) Yep, different attitude.

Then we discussed Joey having communication alternatives for when he is excited, angry, frustrated, upset- times when he is likely to lose his ability to access language. This is a sticky point for me. I have a terribly difficult time getting others to understand that just because Joey is verbal, doesn't mean is he is verbal all the time. His ability to access language and use it effectively plunges when stress and anxiety come crashing in. I think that is true for most kids, but for Joey, it is an extreme. We talked about cards and items he can take with him from classroom to classroom, and items that can be copied for each classroom. He likes to carry things on his head. The notebook made for the self-contained was being used in the inclusion. Many of the interventions we had developed had faded into the background and needed to be reinstated. When Joey doesn't need a certain support for a long while, it can be easy to forget to leave it in the toolkit- but when he needs it, he needs it NOW. Our OT also suggested training Joey to use a card to indicate when he is processing and needs extra time to respond. It can take Joey up to three minutes to process through information to the point he can answer a question. Teachers expect answers within 5 seconds. That is a huge gap, and there is concern he is being upbraided for not listening or responding when he is processing. The card would be cue to the other person that Joey has heard them, and needs time. Apparently, our OT went to a conference with an autistic woman who used these cards to great effect, and she instantly thought of Joey.

Then came the Big One. We know Joey is gifted in math and spelling... so what gifted programs are available for him?

Gifted programs are not made to be accessible. They assumption of being "super-able" pervades our attitudes, and that of society. The gifted program is designed "for kids who are generally gifted... kids with pocket talents are handled through differentiation." In other words, the program is designed for super-abled kids, not kids with specific gifts. Hmmm.

I doubt I will fight this battle, though. The gifted program is another pull-out, another transition, and not designed to meet Joey's needs. It is another set of people to train, who probably have even less interest in learning what is needful or dealing with disability in their program. A program where kids are given a project and just told to "go for it" would be an anxiety-ridden disaster for Joey at this point.

Yet the issue remains hanging there. Why can't someone like Joey participate in the gifted program, when he is clearly gifted? Why is he cut off from that social circle? And how can that be addressed? And if boredom is a problem, how is that being addressed?