Make sure that your child understands his accommodations

For many students who have disabilities, the accommodations that are provided through their Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or Section 504 Accommodation Plan are extremely important to their school success. The accommodations are the things that are being done in a different way because of the impacts of the child’s disability.  Accommodations could involve changes in the physical environment, school assignments, how the student participates in school activities, instructional materials, how much time a student is given to complete a test or assignment, additional supports, etc.  The range of possible accommodations is mind-blowing, but they are selected based on the unique needs of each individual student.

http://www.representingdads.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/1-dad-talking-with-son.jpgChildren should be told about their accommodations as soon as they are old enough to understand what they are and why they were chosen for them.  Many parents are not comfortable talking to their child about his or her disability.  They worry that it might negatively impact the child’s self-esteem. This concern suggests that the child is unaware that they have a disability.  Even if the child does not know the name of a “condition” that they may have been diagnosed with, most kids are very aware of the things that they have trouble with.  They know that it’s harder for them to write neatly, read, do math, remember things, see the board, walk fast, speak clearly, and so on. If they do have a diagnosis, learning that there’s a reason for why they struggle with certain things can come as a big relief.  Even if there is no diagnosis or other explanation for why, it is generally helpful to have others at least acknowledge that things are difficult, and that it’s not their fault.

Talk to your child about how each accommodation is expected to help and how it should be implemented.  Explain that sometimes a teacher or other school staff member might not be aware of the accommodations. Talk to him about how to handle situations where an accommodation is not provided. Discuss or role play what your child can do or say to let the adult know that he is supposed to have extra time, be moved into a separate room for a test, etc.  Let your child know that it is also important for him to tell you when accommodations are not followed. You want to be able to address any problems as soon as possible.

Speaking with your child about her accommodations also gives her a chance to tell you about what is, and is not, working for her.  It could be time to take another look at different ways that your child’s needs can be met, and maybe see if another accommodation would be more appropriate at this point.  IEPs and 504 Plans are fluid documents and student input can sometimes make the difference between whether you have a document that looks good on paper, or one that actually works for your child.

Having these conversations, and preparing your child to handle “what if…” situations, can help your child learn how to effectively advocate for himself.  That is an important life skill that he needs to start learning as early as possible.

 

Back to school: Look closely at your child’s class schedule

http://cbsdenver.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/back-to-school-parents-excited.jpg?w=255&h=195For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.

For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.

These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.

Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:

  • Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
  • Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
  • Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
  •  Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.

Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it.  If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately.  Go to the school in person if you need to.  The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.

Let’s Get Physical (Education)!

In most states physical education is part of the standard school-age curriculum.  In North Carolina, all students in kindergarten through 8th grade have physical education at least once per week, with daily opportunity for other outside activity.  Students who have disabilities are also expected to participate in some form of physical education.

Some students have disabilities that require some accommodations in order for them to successfully participate in a typical physical education (PE) class.  Other students require specially designed physical education, based on the unique needs associated with their disability.  If the student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) the goals for special physical education (sometimes called “Adapted PE”) will be determined by the IEP team, just like goals for other academic or functional skills.  Needed accommodations for physical education will also be documented on the IEP or Section 504 Accommodation Plan.

While this seems pretty straight-forward, there are a couple of specific situations that were unclear enough that guidance was sought from the U.S. Department of Education.  In both cases, the children involved were at an age or grade where physical education was not an automatic part of the regular education program for students without disabilities.

Most high school students are only required to take one physical education class in order to meet graduation requirements.  The high school may offer additional PE classes as electives, but those classes are not required.  In most public preschool programs the children will usually have the opportunity for play and outdoor activity, but it is not part of a structured physical education program.

Does this mean that school systems do not have to provide physical education services for students who have disabilities in preschool, or after the PE graduation requirement has been met?  As with most things having to do with students who have disabilities, the short answer to that question is, “it depends.”

The U.S. Department of Education issued two letters in 2013 which clearly made the point that, if a student with a disability has an IEP that calls for specially designed physical education as a way to meet their unique needs, the school system must provide that service, either directly or through another public or private program.  The letters further clarify that, in this situation, the right to a free appropriate public education, in conformity with the IEP, would include special physical education regardless of the location where most of the student’s services are delivered.  Even students who participate in a community-based transition program would be entitled to special physical education services if it is listed on their IEP.

Ultimately, the decision about whether a student with a disability requires specially-designed physical education rests with the IEP team.  The IEP team is also responsible for determining the accommodations that will allow a student with a disability to participate successfully in a PE elective course, whether that course is taken out of interest or as a way to maintain an adequate degree of fitness.  The school district’s responsibility is to implement the IEP.  It’s really not that complicated after all.

 

Safety Tips for Kids

During the summer months children are outside more and tend to spend more time in public spaces than when most of their day is spent in school.  Other children are home alone for longer periods of time and need to know how to keep themselves safe.  The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department recently included Safety Tips for Children in its June Newsletter. Parents can use these simple rules to help their children stay safe without creating an unreasonable fear of the world that we live in.  Reviewing the safety rules every once in a while will help your child learn and remember them.

Safety Tips For Children

Who is a stranger?  A stranger is a person whom you have never met.  You might have seen the person before, but you don’t know anything about him or her.  Strangers do not look like monsters, aliens or bad guys you see on TV.  Strangers look like ordinary people.  “Safe Strangers” are people you do not know, but can trust to ask for help.  Police Officers, Fire Fighters, teachers, store clerks, etc. are examples of a Safe Stranger.

My Rules for Safety:

  • Before I go anywhere, I will always check with my parents/caregiver.  I will tell them where I am going, how I will get there, who will be going with me, and when I will be back.  I will let my parents know if the plans we talked about change.
  • It is safer to be with other people when going places or playing outside.
  • I will say “NO” if someone tries to touch me in ways that make me feel frightened, uncomfortable, or confused.  I will tell a grown-up what happened.
  • I will not go with a stranger and if he or she grabs me, I will yell for help, say no, kick, run away, and tell a grown-up what happened.
  • I know a stranger should not ask me for help and that it is all right to tell them “NO”.
  • I will not take candy, toys or money from a stranger.
  • I will not tell a stranger my name, address, or telephone number.
  • I will not tell anyone my “Secret Code Word”.  I will not go with anyone who does not use the “Code Word”.
  • I will not open my door or let anyone in the house without asking my parents first.
  • I will not tell anyone that I am home alone.
  • I will trust my feelings and talk to a grown-up about problems that are too big for me to handle on my own.  I know that many people care about me and will listen and believe me.  I know that it is never too late to ask for help.
  • I am a special person and I deserve to be safe.

Deeper conversations can, and should, be held when the time is right.  But sometimes, it’s good to keep things simple.

Preparing kids at home for the Common Core Standards

Many parents have been hearing scary things about the Common Core State Standards that most states are now using as a foundation for their General Education Program or Standard Course of Study.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are intended raise expectations for what high school graduates will know and be able to do so that they will be better prepared for the demands of our 21st-Century Global Economy.  We know that students will still be taught how to read, write and do math, so many parents are wondering what’s so different about the CCSS, and whether they will still be able to help with their child’s education.

This blog will only address some CCSS highlights.  However, detailed information about the specific standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grade can be found at http://www.corestandards.org.    Also, the Council of the Great City Schools has created Parent Roadmaps to Common Core Standards, which are available in both English and Spanish.  The parent-friendly roadmaps give parents information about what their child should be learning in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade K-8 and during the high school years.  They show how the standards connect from one year to the next and also give parents ideas for how they can support their child’s learning at home. You can find the roadmaps at http://www.cgcs.org/Page/328 .

One of the things that you will find throughout the CCSS is a focus on higher-level thinking skills.  Instead of just asking students to memorize facts and repeat definitions, the CCSS requires students to actually use increasingly complex information to understand situations, solve problems, analyze, create and evaluate arguments, explore possibilities, make decisions, communicate with others, and collaborate to reach a common goal.  Students will also be taught to become independent learners who can find needed information and use technology on their own.

While this may all sound a little intimidating, there are some basic things that parents can do to help their child develop these skills.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • http://askecac.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/2fe19-136.jpg?w=155&h=118Expose your child to as many different kind of experiences and people as possible.  Even if resources are limited, you can expose your child to other parts of the world, art, music, theatre, nature, history and science by choosing the right shows to watch on television.  Visit zoos, museums, historical landmarks as well as state and national parks.  These experiences give your child something to connect to when different topics come up at school.
  • Build your child’s vocabulary by occasionally using words that they don’t already know or discussing an unfamiliar expression that they may hear in a story, movie or from someone else.  Look for opportunities to take things to the next level.  For example, go from “dinosaur” to talking about specific species of dinosaurs and what makes a herbivore different from a carnivore.
  • Ask lots of “why” questions.  Why do certain plants or animals only live in certain places? Why do some animals hibernate during the winter? Why is it a bad idea to start a fire outside on a windy day? Why are there more seashells on the beach first thing in the morning? Why do cars cost more than bicycles? Why did you pick that jacket to wear today? Why do they put food coloring in beverages?  The point isn’t to see if they know the answer already, it’s to make them think and communicate their ideas.
  • When reading, hearing or watching a story, ask “what if?” something had happened differently at a particular point in the story.  How would that have impacted what happened later? Would that have been better or worse? Why?
  • Actually talk about why a person shouldn’t believe everything that they hear and under which circumstances some people should be trusted as reliable sources of information.  For example, you should be able to trust your doctors to give medical advice within their field of expertise, but is there any reason to take their word on which car to buy?
  • Look for ways to use math skills in natural situations like shopping, cooking, working on a project to build something, or deciding how many cans of paint to buy to do a job.

The point is that if parents challenge their kids to think more at home and help find different ways to express those thoughts, it will go a long toward preparing them for the challenges of the common core.  Start early and don’t assume that anything is over your child’s head.  Children can usually understand, at least the basics of any topic, if its broken down and explained the right way.

Learning in the garden

I have loved to watch plants grow, going back at least to age 7 when I laid on the ground to look up, with pure appreciation, at a spindly young tree in front of my family’s apartment in Baltimore. Beginning with bulbs and flower seeds there, I have grown houseplants and/or vegetables in just about every place that I’ve lived since that time. While I personally find gardening very therapeutic, it is also a natural laboratory and a place where children can learn all sorts of valuable skills and life lessons.

Here are just a few of the things that children can learn in a garden:

  • The life cycle of plants and insects how they are able to transform over time without changing their identity. (Biology)
  • How energy is neither created or destroyed; it just changes form. (Physics)
  • That all soils are not the same. They have a history. (Geology)
  • That fertilizer and Ph make a difference. (Chemistry)
  • Fine motor skills: crumbling soil, seed handling, tying plants to a support, using hand tools, etc.
  • Gross motor skills: digging, reaching, balancing, pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, etc.
  • Math: measurement (space, distance, volume, height, weight, time), counting, geometry (e.g. how shadows will be cast), estimation, etc.
  • Veggies always taste better when you grow them yourself. (Nutrition; Self-confidence)
  • Plants do best when they are put in location where their needs for sun, water and space can best be met. (Analysis; Organization)
  • There is a very close relationship between the effort that you put in and the success of the garden. (Cause/Effect; Work Ethic)
  • Things will happen in their own time. (Patience; Delayed gratification)
  • Sometimes your plants are damaged by forces you have no control over, like weather, disease and pests. (Resilience; Humility)
  • Next year things will be even better! (Planning; Optimism; Self-determination)

There must also be studies out there showing that gardening has mental health benefits, even though they may be more difficult to measure.  It’s never too early or too late to introduce children to gardening, whether at home, school or in a community garden.  If you are a gardener, share your love and experience with some young people.  It’s education, nature style!

Don’t forget to plan for non-academic school time!

Part of the excitement of going back to school is thinking about the fun parts of the school experience.  Many children look forward to playing with friends during recess, having lively conversations at lunchtime or on the school bus, and field trips that bring history, art and science up close and personal.  Many schools also offer extra-curricular activities that range from sports, music, and drama to special interest or service clubs. It is through these activities that many students form lasting friendships, discover gifts and talents, or gain experiences that help prepare them for future careers.

Students that have disabilities should be encouraged to consider becoming actively involved in all parts of school life. By law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), they should be given an equal opportunity to participate, but sometimes that message is not clearly communicated to the students, or to the adults that make the extra-curricular activities possible.  In some schools, notices about club sign-ups, team tryouts or driver’s education courses are not even distributed in the special education classrooms.  It’s hard to make a choice when you don’t know what the options are.

School staff may need to be more intentional in their effort to publicize these opportunities throughout the entire student population.  Parents can also ask about what’s going on at their child’s school and the process for becoming involved if their child has an interest in a particular activity.

Some students with disabilities may need accommodations, assistive technology or other supports to successfully participate in their chosen extra-curricular activity. They may also need accommodations for some of the non-academic parts of the regular school day.  IEP teams and 504 committees sometimes overlook these times when they are discussing the child’s educational needs. In some cases, this amounts to a missed opportunity to enhance the child’s school experience by supporting them through their disability-related challenges, or continue to work on IEP goals in a non-classroom setting. For other children, such an oversight can set them up for avoidable social or behavioral difficulties.

The good news is that IEPs and Section 504 accommodation plans are living documents that can be revised whenever the need to do so arises.  Teachers, coaches and other adults also have the freedom to make many accommodations on their own when they identify a need for them.  It almost goes without saying that a child may need different types of support for different activities.

The I’m Tyler video http://imtyler.org/index.php/video/  does a powerful job of making the point that students with disabilities are capable of participating in a wide range of activities when the adults around them focus more on what they can do than on what they can’t do.  A little effort, imagination and open-mindedness goes a very long way toward giving students with disabilities the chance that they deserve to experience each day as full members of their school and larger communities.

Dissecting a Victory

askecac:

So many parents will be able to relate to your experience. Beautifully written!

Originally posted on autismblues:

So today was the big day. We had our eligibility meeting at the school to determine if our fourth child, a third-grader, qualified as being on the autism spectrum according to the school district’s definitions. And I’m happy to report that the IEP team (consisting of the school psychologist, the speech therapist, our son’s teacher, the assistant principal, our private psychologist, and Katie and me) all agreed that he met the district’s criteria for being identified as ASD.

A Good Day.

On one level, not much has changed as a result of this new designation. He is still receiving the same services he received under his previous designation as “Language Impaired.” We’ll revisit his Individualized Education Plan later in the school year to see if he needs more help than he’s currently receiving.

But having him identified as being on the autism spectrum is also a safeguard for the future…

View original 786 more words

Don’t let YOUR disappointment cause your child to fail!

As parents, we are convinced that we know what’s best for our child, or at least what they need.  When it comes to school, we may have very strong opinions about how our child learns best, how much structure they need, what kind of teacher they would work well with, what kind of classroom setting would work, or the amount of support that they need.  This is especially true for children with disabilities who may require an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and specially designed instruction to meet their unique needs.  Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could just tell the school what to do?

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately in some cases), that’s not how educational decisions are made.  Parents have a voice in developing their child’s IEP, but they do not have the power to control the decisions of the IEP team.  The IEP team may decide to agree or disagree with any suggestion that a parent makes.  Other decisions, such as school assignment, teacher assignment, curriculum, school bell schedule, and graduation requirements are usually made with no input from parents at all.

make lemonade out of lemonsIt is sometimes difficult to accept decisions that you honestly feel are not in your child’s best interest.  But, if you want your child to have a fighting chance to be successful in a less-than-ideal situation, you will need to be careful about the spoken and unspoken messages that you send your child.  If she hears you using catastrophic language and talking a lot about how terrible things are going to be at school, it will be very difficult for her to expect to have a good experience.

I worry about children who spend all summer listening to their parent wage battle after battle in a losing effort to overturn some school-related decision. Maybe they wanted their child to be promoted, or maybe they wanted to keep them at the same grade instead of being “pushed through” to the next one.  Maybe they wanted to keep their child with the same effective or caring teacher as last year, or maybe they wanted to get away from one that they felt was not a good match for their child.  Maybe they wanted their child at the neighborhood school, but the special education class that he needs is at another school, or maybe they were hoping to transfer out of a school with a bad reputation or one that was in the wrong part of town.  Maybe their request for an important accommodation, piece of assistive technology, or one-on-one support person was denied.  Whatever the issue is, the child may have heard or overheard the parent repeatedly talking about how awful it was going to be for their child if _________ did or didn’t happen.  Some parents even promise their children that,”I’m not going to let them do this to you.” What happens to your child if you lose your battle and things don’t go the way you want?

It is great, and often necessary for parents to advocate for their child’s education.  However, there is a right way to do it and a point at which you need to shift your focus toward helping your child accept and be comfortable with the situation that they will walk into when they return to school.  To the extent that you can, keep you child out of your conflict with the school. Try to have conversations when you know that your child (or his/her siblings) is not going to hear you or see your look of frustration afterward.  Communicating with the school in writing helps with the first part of that suggestion, but you still must watch your body language and what you say to others about the situation.

If it becomes clear that you have a less than 70% chance of getting what you want for your child, then you should make a deliberate effort to help your child be open-minded about what might happen in the future.  Every option has pros and cons.  Try to think and talk about some possible positives of  things going the other way. For example, if your transfer request was turned down, you can talk about the shorter bus ride, the friend from last year that will be at that school, the fact that the school is newer, has a better playground, or the fact that your child already knows their way around the building.  If your child was retained, you can talk about how this will give him a chance to catch up with his skills and be a much stronger student when he does move on to the next grade, the fact that he can still spend time with his friends outside of class, or how he will have a head start on his classmates because he won’t be hearing everything for the first time.

Even while you are hoping for the best, you should prepare your child for the worst.  Do your very best to help your child go into the next school year with hope that things will go well.  Continue to work on academic, organizational or social skills over the summer to help your child become a stronger student.  Look for ways that you can work with the school to create a successful experience for your child, even if things didn’t exactly go the way you wanted them to.  Helping your child develop resilience, the ability to bounce back from hardship, will be a greater gift than smoothing out every potential bump in the road to adulthood.  You know what they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  What you definitely don’t want, is to have your child go to school looking and feeling like he just sucked on a giant lemon!

FAQ: Can I pick my child’s teacher?

questions-and-answersFAQ:  Do I have a right to choose my child’s teacher?

Answer:  As a general rule, parents do not have the right to select the school staff who will be working with their child.  However, there may be ways that parents can influence that decision.

This question is usually asked by parents of children in elementary school.  The situation in middle and high schools are complicated by scheduling limitations (only so many sections of a particular course are offered at any given point in time), the requirement that secondary teachers are highly qualified in the content area in order to teach a core subject, and the practice of organizing middle school students and teachers into “teams”.

Elementary school principals are typically  responsible for assigning students to specific teachers.  It is expected that this process is not done randomly.  Principals have lots of information available to them to help make that decision.  They can consider student  factors such as age, gender, skill levels, discipline history as well as teacher input and recommendations.  Teacher characteristics, experience and training are also usually taken into consideration.

Once classroom assignment decisions have been made, most principals do not want to deal with a lot of parents who are unhappy that their child did not get assigned to the most popular teacher at that grade.  They often worry that the floodgates will open if they give in to a parent’s request to add “just one more child” to Miss Suzie’s class.  This is understandable.  The principal is trying to make sure that all teachers are valued and seen as competent, and that there is an equitable (not necessarily equal) distribution of the student population.  A parent who pushes the issue too hard can find themselves on the losing end of a power struggle.

So, what can you do to help get your child assigned to a teacher that will be a good match?  Or at least avoid a worst-case scenario?  Some kids can go with the flow and will be fine with almost any teacher.  For that child, it will probably be safe to let things occur without any interference.  However, if you have one of those children who is not going to be okay in every situation, or will not do well with every teaching style, it is best to be proactive.  It is always easier to influence a decision before it’s made, than to change it after the fact.

In late spring, try to set up a face-to-face meeting with the principal to talk about your child and his educational needs.  Share information about what makes your child unique.  Discuss relevant personality traits, past experiences, learning style and disability-related issues that you would like the principal to think about when they are deciding who to assign as your child’s next teacher.  You can talk about classroom environment and teacher traits that will allow your child to function at her best.  You can also mention past situations that did not work well for your child.  Be careful to not put down any past teachers!  Instead, you can talk about teaching styles, amount of classroom structure, authoritarian versus nurturing approaches, physical environment requirements, health and safety needs and any special issues regarding interaction with other students.

Unless the principal is new to that school, they should know their staff well enough to know which teachers are a good match for your child and which will likely lead to disaster.  Leave a written summary of the key points that you want the principal to think about.  The actually classroom assignments may not be made until weeks or months after your meeting, and your document can be a much-needed reminder of the things you talked about.  If you learn that the decision will not be made until the end of summer, consider sending a greeting (by phone or email) expressing that you and your child are looking forward to the new school year, and thanking the principal for taking the time to meet with you earlier to talk about your child.  If you send an email, it might not be a bad idea to attach another copy of the reminder document.  Play that one by ear though, and skip the attachment if you think that the principal might consider it too pushy.

http://www.summerspictures.com/education-and-learning/happy-young-student-in-classroom-s_83.jpg

Remember, the goal is to get a good situation for your child, not for the principal to feel like you are trying to tell them how to do their job.  Diplomacy and effective advocacy are often about knowing when, how, and how hard to push.

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