It’s the Small Things to be Grateful for

dyslexia-awareness-monthLast school year was a complete disaster. My husband and I  fought most of the year to get our eldest an IEP to help her get the assistance she desperately needed. It was arduous work, fighting to get her professionally evaluated, emailing teachers and errant social workers, researching methods and acquiring help from the Michigan Alliance for Families and an advocate.

After fighting so vigorously to get her into the Extended School Year program, my husband had enough. We had investigated a private school that focuses on students with learning disabilities, but it is expensive and I felt that since we worked so hard to get the IEP we should try to stay with the public school system. Besides, the program had a three-part admission process and we were not sure she would get in.

But the Lord was on our side and they approved her. Today, she attends school in a class of only seven students that has a teacher and a certified teacher’s assistant. In addition, she gets one-on-one assistance at least once a week, doesn’t have a ton of homework every day, AND has recess TWICE a day (once in the morning to adjust to school and the other around lunch time). If my daughter were writing this post, she would also want you to know that she happily uses the microwave to heat her lunch (she hates cold food).

Needless to say she loves this school! And yet…I was still nervous. What if this new school doesn’t help her at all?

This morning, my daughter walks up to me while I am finishing packing up her lunch. Holding up her iPad (also required for this school) so that I can see the date, she sweetly says, “Mommy, today is Friday, October 7.”

It might not seem like much, but I literally almost bawled in front of her.

Maybe I can power down the helicopter Mommy and stop harassing her teacher so much…we are finally on the right track.


Uh, Can I Speak to Your Manager?


I have never been the passive aggressive type. It’s probably why I can count the number of real friends on one hand. I can’t help it. It’s the truth or nothing with me and I think my daughter’s school district is learning that lesson the hard way.

It’s the end of the school year and I thought it would be the perfect time to again broach the subject of  Extended School Year (ESY). ESY in our school district is activated during the summer and is designed to help students retain academic/social/communication skills learned during the school year through one-on-one assistance. (At least this is the way they are doing it in our district.)

After repeatedly asking about ESY, I was told that the kid didn’t qualify because they had given their six spots to Autistic children and she wouldn’t fit in that group. Additionally, they didn’t recommend regular summer school because she wasn’t petforming at grade level. I asked, “So where does she go?”

The answer from the IEP Team was disappointing. They responded with a deafening silence. Then came a response from the school psychologist, “the best solution is to give her ADHD medication.” By providing our daughter with medication for a diagnosis that hasn’t yet occurred, she assured us this would help the kid not regress over the summer and help her focus.

Needless to say, I was inflamed. I couldn’t believe that the very institution that was supposed to help my daughter, was failing her. I was stunned that the school felt that this was the end, that they had done all they could for the school year and expected us to just take it. Because everything had been said verbally, I sent an email to the IEP Team basically seeking confirmation. Of course they didn’t respond.

Thankfully we have Michigan Alliance for Families on speed dial. Thanks to them, my husband and I retained an advocate to help and she encouraged us to schedule a meeting with the Special Education Director for the District. That seemed to light a necessary fire under the IEP Team, who at the last meeting,  hadn’t provided all of the reports to prove that our daughter wasn’t eligible. By the time we went to meet with the Director, we were armed with everything and prepared to fight.

Truth be told, we didn’t have to. At the time of the meeting,  the Director had already made the decision that our daughter would receive ESY. Having not be directly involved in our case, she asked about our experience in this process and seemed shocked at the comments that the school psychologist had made. She also had suggestions for the IEP for next school year. I was glad that we elevated the situation and gotten closure for this school year.

Hopefully, we don’t have to do this again next year…

Lesson: Never be afraid to open your mouth and ask to speak to the manager.


Trust Your Gut: The IEP Process

school2I always knew that my first born was different. From the moment she entered this world, she exuded a unique energy. Her cries were so loud that I remember hearing the nurse say, “Let’s hurry up and get her back to her Mom!” As she grew, I noticed that she had more than her fair share of anxieties and struggled in preschool and Pre-K. She hated loud noises  and profoundly avoided certain activities during school. We were told to get her into a  school where the class size was smaller (where can you find that these days…no where).

Her Kindergarten teacher expressed concern and attempted to suggest ways to help her along throughout the school year. Comprehension and focus issues were the main talking points. My  husband and I buckled down and really worked with her and by the end of the school year she was able to pass into the first grade.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought perhaps this small hurdle was over and that our daughter would be able to progress even better in the first grade. I was wrong.

Not even a month into the school year, her teacher pulled me aside at dismissal. She informed me that our daughter was struggling and that she was concerned. The teacher spoke to me about my daughter’s polite and kind spirit, but expressed serious concerns on passing our daughter into the second grade. Those previous fears returned and I immediately began to research. How would my daughter be successful if she could not understand what she was being taught?

I  asked the teacher what the next steps were and she referred me to the school counselor. Little did I know, I had entered the proverbial merry-go-round. This is where school personnel will assure that work is happening –  when it really isn’t. I had requested changes for her regarding her spelling tests, only to be told that  special favors for students weren’t allowed.  I requested reports regarding what she was learning during Title I time – no response. I emailed the principal – to no avail. In the meantime, our daughter was coming home in tears and frustrated.

Disgusted that I wasn’t getting anywhere, I headed back to the Internet. The Michigan Alliance for Families and WrightsLaw have a plethora of information available for parents in similar situations. Having learned what to do, I began to push and  push and push. I was ready to go to the Federal Department of Education if I had to (and I almost did). Nasty phone calls between the school psychologist and I were had, causing me to go over everyone’s head to get my name out there. I knew my daughter needed assistance and I wasn’t afraid to fight for it.


My efforts proved to be successful and my daughter is improving. I realize that the battle is not over, but we are progressing. After getting advice for numerous resources including two advocates, mediators, friends that are Special Education teachers and family, I offer the following nuggets:

  1. You know your child. A friend of mine told me this when my eldest was born and I put it aside at the time. Over the years, I recalled it when I got poor advice from busybodies,  but it is also true in this instance.  I was told because my child was sweet and polite that they didn’t think it was necessary for my child to be evaluated. They only want the kids with the “behavior issues” to be evaluated. Press past bad advice and remember that you know your child better than anyone else on this planet.
  2. Put it in writing. You will read several articles that tell you to put your requests in writing to have your child  participate in a full-comprehensive evaluation. DO IT!!! Verbal requests mean nothing to this process. Also, every verbal conversation you have, whether it is with the teacher, principal or school psychologist, should have a follow-up email. This will give you something to show and help you keep your notes honest. I took notes at every meeting; even the parent-teacher conferences.
  3. Know your rights. As the parent, you have a right to know when your child is being discussed and what strategies are being used on your child during the school day. My child was discussed during support meetings during kindergarten and I had no idea this was happening. However, when I learned about it in the following school year, I demanded to hear more information and if the strategies suggested were working.
  4. Take a deep breath, this is tough. During the initial IEP meeting, we learned where our daughter was struggling academically. This was tough to hear. It’s one thing to know deep in your spirit that your child is having a tough time, it’s totally different to see charts and graphs describing just how tough a time she is having. I had to leave the room for a few minutes just to get my bearings. If  you can,  take a support person who understands the process with you. In our case, we took my Mother-in-Law who has a background in early childhood development and mediators from the Oakland Mediation Center.
  5. Stay the course. You may feel relief when you are assured that your child will receive the necessary services in order for them to be successful academically. But just wait, the struggle continues. Now  you must make sure that the IEP is being enforced and that goals are being met. Make sure that you get separate progress reports and keep up with the resource teacher and other specialists.