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Effective Communication & IEPs

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When the phone rings at 8pm on a Sunday night and it is a local number that no one knows, we generally assume it is the wrong number. I usually answer to let them know and go on about my business. This time was different. 
I answered the phone with my usual hello? and was surprised to hear the voice of the principal from D’s school. I’m sure my heart stopped beating momentarily while I listened to what she had to say. After all, who calls a parent on a Sunday night at 8pm? 
“A careless word may kindle strife, 

A cruel word may wreck a life,

A timely word may lessen stress,

A loving word may heal and bless.” 

— Author Unknown
The conversation was rather short, she just needed to see if we could have a small, informal meeting on  Wednesday afternoon to brainstorm some ideas for helping D get to school regularly. She also wanted to let me know that the principal, 2 regular ed teachers, special ed teacher, director of psychological services, school psychologist, special education coordinator, special education counselor, and two related services personnel would be in the meeting. She went on to let me know that the team had already spent Friday afternoon brainstorming some ideas to help D and they would like for us to consider them. One of those ideas was for them to put D on a bus alone with a driver and an aide. The aide would have special permission to come to the door and get D to the bus every morning. 

I asked if there were other ideas and was told that she didn’t have a list, but they would be available at the meeting. We talked about other, more convenient times to meet, and said our good-byes. 
Once off the phone, I asked Chad if that sounded like a small, informal meeting. He was rather astounded and sent off a couple of emails that addressed the fact that we would like to be told up front if there are more serious changes being considered for D. (Two weeks ago, one of D’s therapists told us that she had been contacted to sign off on medical homebound for him.) We received a prompt reply from the director of psychological services that said she was sorry for the misunderstanding, it would be addressed, and we would receive a phone call the next day.
The whole problem was that the principal did not use words that reduced our angst. Due to some other misunderstandings and communication problems at the district level, this struck a chord for us. We felt as though we were being blindsided by them. If she had chosen her words differently, we would not have felt blindsided. Something like this would have caused much less strife for us. Look, we need to have an IEP meeting. As it stands, with his anxiety, D is not getting to school enough. We’ve brainstormed some ideas for you to consider, I can get the list to you soon. Would you be available for a meeting Wednesday afternoon? 

After a few days of emails, hot telephone lines, and extreme anxiety and stress for us, we finally had the IEP meeting. We got together with a table full of people who, I truly believe have D’s best interests in mind. We ran through a prepared list of ideas, threw in a few ideas of our own, and I feel like we have come up with a plan. I pray that this plan will help get D to school more often and help his anxiety be reduced to a manageable level while he is there. 
  • Picture Schedule – not words because when anxiety is high it is too much to process. It will be the same at school and home.
  • I will work with the sped teacher to write a social story that we will do at night and he will have in the mornings at school.
  • He will be at school by 7:15, go to breakfast, and then the asst. principal who does morning cafeteria duty will tell him, “This morning, D, you need to go to the library to read.” (or one of a few other choices, but she will make the decision, not David – it takes the stress off of him).
  • 15 minutes with the SpEd teacher in the morning (in her classroom) to preview the day with a social story and help with any transition issues he might be having.
  • 20 minutes in the classroom with the SpEd teacher (inclusion) that will be for her to help him pinpoint any problems that cause his anxiety to escalate, organize his thoughts for school and home, and organize his belongings to bring home.
  • 15 minutes in the afternoon with the SpEd teacher (in her classroom) to review the day, decompress some, make sure any problems are addressed that he is able to verbalize, and hopefully just help reduce his anxiety about that particular day before coming home.
  • To address his auditory processing disorder (he has a moderate central auditory processing disorder dx by the audiologist two weeks ago) they will implement some multi-sensory teaching strategies across the curriculum that will be agreed upon by all members of the team by the week after Thanksgiving.
  • We are switching his counseling appointment to a little later in the day on Friday so he can go to school a half day – in order to take care of the other half day, they will have a teacher come out one hour on another day of the week or Friday before/after therapy to help with the rest of Friday’s work. 
  • When he is out another day, the school social worker will bring his work to us (we are literally on the way to anywhere from the school) and if, by Christmas, we see that the strict ritualistic mornings, etc are not helping then he will have a home bound teacher come out on the days he has missed for 1-2 hours as well. 
  • We will put him back on the bus in the afternoons, but he will be a bus assistant to help the bus driver with the pre-k kids in the front of the bus. He will sit in the front seat right behind the driver and he will be sure the younger kids are sitting correctly, have their things when they get off the bus, etc (to make him feel important). 
  • He will have a thermometer on his desk that will have velcro at green, yellow, and red. He will be able to move that when he starts to feel overwhelmed, anxious, etc. and it will be a visual for him and the teacher so the teacher won’t have to try to read him all the time. He will also log his temperature in a book throughout the day to help him learn what his own trigger times are, etc. 
I think that’s all … overall, it was a positive meeting. Much more positive than what we had expected. I hope that the emails and hot phone lines from earlier in the week can be overlooked and we can all continue to work together harmoniously for D’s success. He is so smart, funny, and wonderful – I can only imagine what achievements he could have if we could get past his anxiety and get him to school regularly!

*Note: I would like to sincerely thank all of the members of the IEP team. Friday morning presented a special set of circumstances that caused more stress for us all. You all came to the table with ideas and strategies to help D be more successful. While we have had our ups and downs, I am truly thankful for the work you are all putting forth to help my precious son be more successful. You really are a great team!

**Mama brag: After the meeting, we got lots of compliments on how well behaved the girls and Samoo are; they are always a pleasure to have in the meeting because no one even knows they are there. I really needed to hear that since we’d had a rough start to the morning.

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