Genius Mode: Learning the Language of Learning Disabilities
As homeschoolers, we apparently have very few rights. We pay taxes and ask nothing of the government, but when, for the past seven years, we sought some type of evaluation of our second son Pasha’s needs, one would think we had come down with leprosy to dare to ask for such a thing. Our family gave up, mustered on, until we grew frustrated again with “the system”.
At last, after hundreds of hours of research on my part, I found the missing link in our area, the right department. The correct office decided to convene a meeting, a panel, a team on behalf of our child. So mother, father, and 19-year-old arrived and were ushered into a conference room.
Not a person spoke.
“Good afternoon!” I smiled to each. “I’m Alexandra, this is Benedetto and our son, Pasha.”
Silence. No facial emotion. Not a twitch.
Now I understood that our meeting had something to do with a special education evaluation and Individualized Education Plans… but really? The thought crossed my mind if they had their necessary faculties or wits about them….
Long story short (very long story), the “team” considered our data, the fact that our son was “passing” his tests, was pretty much on grade level, posed no huge behavioral problems. In essence, they appeared to wonder why we were even there? The student was not the brightest bulb on the block, but why would we wish to “label” him for life and get him any specific diagnosis?
Um… to help him? To see where his strengths or challenges may actually lie? It was not so much that we were seeking specific services for him, since he was not in public schools. Perhaps get him accommodations for upcoming tests, such as the SAT, extra reading time?
We listed for them that he was a literal thinker, had trouble comprehending readings, had faulty here-again, there-again memory issues most likely due to fetal alcohol exposure, had poor executive function and difficulty expressing himself…. They duly repeated and regurgitated our findings back to us, not really pausing long enough for Pasha to get up the courage to address them.
“He would receive perhaps 30 minutes more time on a 6-hour test such as the SAT,” they bluntly informed us. “Not really worth labelling him for life….”
As parents, Benedetto and I felt silly for even considering such a thing. He was hardly brain dead, just very slow in a variety of areas. After an odd meeting, with some of the panel present via crackly speaker phone, we were asked to sign-off on papers “closing his case”. They were rejecting him because… he looked good?
This was not a young man with autism, who might physically strike out at them, or clear the conference table with swoop of an angry arm. He was not a head-banger, he was not inarticulate, he did not have ADHD where he fidgeted and could not sit still.
Pasha was slow. Slow to comprehend, slow to read, slow to speak. It took time to process thoughts. It took longer to retrieve information. He could appear thoughtful. But generally, mentally and emotionally, he was out in left field, compensating by making jokes or seeking out much younger friends.
We came home exhausted, drained. What had we received from the IEP “team”? Zippo.
Later that week, at our second home, we chatted with some “snowbird” friends who came to stay in this locale for several winter months each year. He was a retiree with a long career in education, some of which had been spent among the ranks of special ed.
“Your rights have been violated,” he revealed. “You have rights as parents and student.”
“No,” we shook our heads. “They didn’t even want us to speak as parents. Now that Pasha is over 18, he’s supposed to be making all of the decisions, himself. And he wouldn’t even know how to get to the office on his own-!”
“No- no- no…” our friend rattled off several key phrases that he instructed me to research online. By law, testing was available to us, we just had to know how to use key words and put it all in writing.
And this began hundreds of hours of research and exhaustion on my part… on his behalf. We would ask— no, Pasha would ask— for a reconvening of the meeting, a reopening of the case, and he would be chairing our next meeting.
Stay tuned for what happened next….
—————Tags: adoptees and education, asking for special education services, comprehension problems, IEP, individualized education plan, international adoptees and education, learning challenges, not the brightest bulb, obtaining evaluations and accommodations, special ed and adopted children, strengths in children, testing a child for learning disabilities