Friday, February 22, 2013
Princess came to us with an IEP already in place for emotional/behavioral disabilities. The school district here used it "as is" to start, since they had nothing else to go on. We adjusted it every quarter over 4th and 5th grade. For 5th grade, it was on a "consult only" basis, meaning she didn't actually receive any special services or accommodations.
She had three main teachers those two years. The elementary school she went to is set up so that third, fourth and fifth grade have the same teachers - and the same classmates - all three years. One teacher is math and science, another is reading and the last is social studies and writing. They three grades rotate through the three teachers each day.
Well, one of her teachers was adamant that she didn't need an IEP. I constantly felt like she thought I was the problem - that I over-exaggerated Princess's issues. Princess is a good student and holds it together well in school, but she'd often lose it the moment she got in the car afterwards.
I'd talk about her anxiety, meltdowns or insomnia that we experience at home, and the one teacher would always say stuff like, "Welcome to parenthood," "All kids push the boundaries," "It's the age," and "That's what kids do."
It was so frustrating that first school year. Then I started piping up. I'd shoot back, "No, all 10-year-olds do not have a kicking and screaming tantrum in the school drop off line because you told them they can not eat three hot pockets for dinner in nine hours."
I still think she thought it was all in my head, but she kept it to herself more.
So, anyway, this teacher didn't think Princess needed an IEP and was determined to get it dropped before middle school. She was afraid middle school teachers would see the emotional/behavioral label and write Princess off as a problem child instantly.
She fought to get the IEP dropped at the end of fourth grade and every quarter of 5th grade. Fortunately, two other teachers and two ESE staff were also involved in the process and heard me. I didn't want it dropped because I know from my former professional life how hard it is to get one in place.
I didn't know what middle school would look like for her or what services she'd need. The others got all of that, so she went off to middle school (6th grade) with her IEP in place - on a "consult" basis still.
I shot an email out to all of her teachers and the ESE coordinator the first week of school letting them know a bit about her past and that she suffers with extreme anxiety, even though they might not see it in school. Three of her seven teachers contacted me right away - two of them by phone and one even on the weekend. The ESE coordinator also called me. I was annoyed that four teachers didn't respond, but the ones who did were amazingly receptive and supportive.
One of the things that stressed Princess out early on was bathroom passes. They have a certain number of passes in the back of their agenda and once they use them up, they are gone for the year. The thought of this had her panicking all of her hours outside of school.
One of the teachers made up a special laminated pass for her to use after chatting with the school nurse. The ESE coordinator let all the teachers know that Princess could use this any time instead of turning in one of her paper passes.
It made Princess feel better, but she reported to me soon after that some of her teachers wouldn't honor it. She was really upset a few weeks ago because she asked if she could pop outside the classroom to get a drink of water and her math teacher said, "You need to plan better and do that between classes," which embarrassed her in front of everyone.
She's so paranoid about being late for classes that she rushes from one class to the next. Her classes are all spread out, so it takes her a while to get to each one. Actually, some of her classes are right next to each other, but they are only allowed to go one way in the hallways, so for some periods she has to walk all the way around the building just to get to a room two doors down.
So last week was the first IEP meeting of the school year. We have two quarters under our belt and she averaged honor roll for the semester. And, of course, no behavior issues at school, but lots of big, fat, messy meltdowns about school at home.
I was so impressed with the meeting. It was with the school psychologist and the ESE coordinator. They had written reports from her teachers. I was worried because the paperwork they sent home said it was time to re-evaluate if she qualified for an IEP. I was certain I'd have to fight - and that there would probably be tears since I'm especially easy to cry lately at any little emotion.
BUT the first thing they said when we got in the meeting was that they were approving the IEP for another three years based on my correspondence with the ESE coordinator about her anxiety - no testing or further documentation
Princess is going to miss a week of school later in the school year because we got into an specialized therapy program several hours a way. They wrote it right in her IEP so there's no grumbling allowed from her teachers about her missing five days of school right before standardized testing.
They also wrote it in her IEP that all teachers are to accept a laminated pass from her anytime she needs to go to the restroom, water fountain or office. Her school gives the kids 20 paper passes and when they're gone, they're gone. This has been extremely stressful for Princess so one of her teacher's made her a special pass that exempts her from using paper passes and the ESE coordinator put it right in the IEP since some teachers weren't accepting it.
They also wrote in the IEP that she can go to the ESE coordinator, student support specialist or guidance counselor any time she is stressed. I told them she won't do that, which they understood, but we all agreed to keep it in there.
The ESE coordinator said she's seen tons of files of kids with horrible histories like Princess, but she's the only one who is doing so well in school despite it. Yeah, she's a mess at home sometimes, but she is rocking it at school.
Hubster has said to me several times, "Imagine where she'd be with school and life if all that crap didn't happen to her. She'd be a freaking genius in college already at age 12."
She's back at school today. She's still not feeling great, but good enough to be shoved back to school. And it took some work for both of us because going back to school after being home a while is always hard for her and feeling yuck still didn't help. BUT there were no tantrums, desrespect or unpleasant behavior. There was honest talk of her being nervous and brainstorming about what to do to make it easier.
I put minutes on her little tracfone last night (actually, I bought her a new one because I had a code that made the phone free when I bought minutes. She hasn't had minutes on her old phone in so long it would have had to be reactivated with a new number anyway.) I let her bring the phone to school and promised to keep my cell phone right next to me all day.
She asked me to drive her to school instead of BFF's mom. I parked in front of the office and we sat in the car until the bell rang. Then we walked into the office together. I brought her doctor's note to the nurse and she went on to class.
She's been there an hour and just sent me a text, "I'm okay."
Yup. My girl is totally okay.
Middle school is hard for most of us, but for kids who suffer with high anxiety it's especially terrifying. Knowing the school takes her anxiety seriously and is willing to put accommodations right in her IEP instead of fighting to take it away completely instead makes me feel so much better about sending my baby off to a place that scares her each day.