Friday, October 18, 2013

A Good Problem to Have

There we were, sitting around the table at IEP meeting number 176. Okay, really it was probably only about the 6th or 7th of these meetings we've had, but it felt that way, because they're always the same: positive, friendly staff that I love; fairly good reports on Ethan all around; a principal who I wish would just thaw out a teensy little bit; everyone on their best behavior due to said principal.

I can't complain about these meetings, after the horror stories I've heard. I thankfully am not fighting the school tooth and nail for services. My son is making advances, which puts less pressure on the staff, which means everyone feels pretty good. Thank you God, because if every meeting was like our very first, I don't know what I'd do, besides be an emotional basket-case.

This time around was much the same. I am so stinking proud of my boy, I could burst. He is above average in math and reading. He's just about at DRA level 6, where they're supposed to be at the end of kindergarten. In speech he reached all of his goals except one -- explaining why things are different (i.e. verbal reasoning). In OT, he reached his goals and can write all of his upper and lowercase letters.

The minuses are few: he needs a little extra help to stay on task; he tends to get silly and get in people's faces, poking them, etc.; he still needs his social skills group big time to work on things like emotions and perspective-taking. I would barely call them minuses. They're just, well, Ethan.

For the year ahead, they are going to cut down his speech and OT and make sure he gets the 40 minute, twice-weekly social skills group. His shared paraprofessional, who he barely uses and who the teacher thinks he doesn't really need, is not being reassigned...but, she's no longer going to be working much with Ethan. They're re-writing that into the plan as him requiring "additional adult support when needed."

After all this positive talk, the principal said it. She said what the special ed. teachers have been hinting at for the past few years, and she phrased it in the form of a question.

"I'm wondering after hearing all of this," she said, looking over her paperwork, "why Ethan is even receiving special education services?"

She didn't mean it to be combative; the meeting had been concluded and decisions made. She wasn't arguing to take anything additional away from Ethan. For now. But I can see that the seeds have been planted.

I first heard the words 504 plan a year or two ago, when one of the special ed. teachers said in passing that down the road, that may be all that Ethan needs in school. I'd never heard of it, like so many other terms you don't become acquainted with unless your child has special needs, so I looked it up.

According to
"The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment."

So what does that mean? And how does that differ from special education, or having an IEP (Individual Education Plan)? An IEP is:

"...a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services."

The difference?

"...For students with disabilities who do not require specialized instruction but need the assurance that they will receive equal access to public education and services, a document is created to outline their specific accessibility requirements. Students with 504 Plans do not require specialized instruction, but, like the IEP, a 504 Plan should be updated annually to ensure that the student is receiving the most effective accommodations for his/her specific circumstances."

So if I'm understanding this right, and if I heard the other subtle hints the principal kept getting at during the meeting, the question about whether Ethan needs an IEP relates to whether or not he requires specialized instruction. Apparently, that does not mean something like OT. And to my surprise, it apparently doesn't necessarily mean the social skills group, either. One teacher mentioned that being able to be "fit into a 504 plan down the road."

I don't want to get ahead of myself here. Ethan's plan for the next year has been set. But if he continues the way he has been (and that is an "if," because school will become increasingly difficult and complex), he may at some point be discharged from the special education system.

Of course in many respects this is thrilling news. Of course we would be happy about that. Or -- would we? The more I dig around, the more I hear from parents who claim you should do everything possible to keep your child within the special ed. system. Why? I don't understand all of this very well, but I believe it's because the IEP is a legal, binding document, and a 504 is not. Meaning, the school can say they are going to do whatever they say they are going to do to help out your child -- but no one is holding them to it.

I'm not going to think too much about this now. There are too many unknowns. Who knows where Ethan will be a year or two or five from now? Maybe there is a fight for services looming on the horizon. Maybe everything will fall into place. I'm going to educate myself. I will slowly learn and slowly prepare, should a decision like this come our way down the road.

For right now, I'm going to enjoy where we're at. Because in the end, having someone tell you your child is doing too well is actually a very good problem to have.

1 comment:

Floortime Lite Mama said...

its a WONDERFUL problem to have
One of R's therapists has this problem
her son has slowly grown out of his disability
Its a wonderful thing