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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Special Ed Help… But Only If You Ask Correctly

(Continued from “Spets Shkola” and “Genius Mode” blog posts from a few days ago.)

iepSo I wrote an e-mail asking our Individualized Education Plan team to reopen our case. How we even had an IEP team without an actual IEP was anyone’s guess…. I basically requested that the team gather their own data on our son via thorough evaluations and tests.

Our friend had informed us that we could go the very expensive route of private neuropsychological evaluations. Been there, done that with few insights that could not be ascertained on our own— maybe that’s the beauty of homeschooling and being together 24/7— we possibly know these kids better than any battery of tests, but hope sprang eternal. The school system needed only to “consider” these outside reports, whereas their own evaluations held a heavier weight and had to be taken into account.

The semi-terse response came back that, actually, they needed to hear from Pasha himself. Really. I meetingexplained that I was writing on his behalf and that if he were able to locate their bureaucratic e-mail, buy himself a computer, open an e-mail account and engage in a lengthy discourse with them, well, we probably would not be appealing to the special ed office in the first place….

The letter of invitation came. He was personally summoned and told that he could bring us along, or any other experts or support persons he desired. Meanwhile, he and I drafted a letter which we decided he would read in the meeting. Better that, than try to rely on his Swiss-cheese memory of points to be covered.

ConferenceRoom10In we were ushered on the appointed day. The last time, monsoon rains had fallen. This time, hurricane-like winds blew on a cool, spring day. The heavens informed us that we would have to fight an uphill battle and go against the wind in order to help our son. We prayed that we were better prepared.

The team leader opened the meeting, reviewing our past pow-wow in summary and asking Pasha what had changed since that time to request a reconvening. Already, in the first two minutes, the rapid-fire questions and academic-level English stumped our son. I could see the direction this meeting was headed: no change in school performance, no extreme failures… and sayonara.

Therefore, I jumped in as his support system.

“Um… I believe that Pasha has a letter that he would like to read to the team. It helps him to organize his meeting7thoughts….”

During our earlier conference, the team had objected to any incorrect terminology on our part: an “evaluation” did not necessarily mean we were entitled to testing, and an “assessment” could only be done to determine if the IEP was working after it was already in place.

Or something like that. In essence, bottom line: they owed us nothing. Their evaluation consisted of our homeschool reports that he was generally on grade level and passing his subjects, albeit with monumental effort and constant coaching on our part. This was not normal and we were not looking for any particular services from them, simply a cognitive assessment, including an IQ test, among other things.

teenSimple. Cut and dried. However, they had basically sent us packing on our previous visit.

So now Pasha read from his letter, having practiced numerous times, making sure he wasn’t reading “evolution” for “evaluation”, for instance. He explained to them that it was quite embarrassing for a 19-year-old to admit that he did not understand their English. While he understood that it was his right to ask for a Russian interpreter, instead, he requested that they speak slowly and simply. He also asked that they not inquire into abuse he may have suffered in Russia, since he would like to leave that in the past. Could they agree to that?

He paused, dramatically, for effect. I had never seen Pasha like this. He actually seemed slightly russianconfrontational.

I wanted to applaud him! This was amazing for him, a step in becoming assertive and arguing for his own rights. Anyone with a shy, often-confused, retiring child might understand. Again, I jumped in.

“See, as a mother, this really pains me, to have to discuss Pasha’s intellectual challenges with him in the room. We feel that, in a sense, we are retraumatizing him….”

The team leader stated that they could not make any such guarantees. There you had it. They might need to go into the causes of his disability. To me, I understood slightly, but still, that made very little sense. If I had a broken arm, for instance, it really might not matter if I tripped and fell, or if I had been hit by a motorcycle.

The arm was broken; fix it.

BusPasha continued, voice firmer than usual for him. He requested four specific tests, evaluations which I had asked for in my initial e-mail on his behalf. This time, the team took note. We used their language, put it in writing, and by law, they had to respond.

At the end, the team leader, surrounded by a public school teacher, a special ed teacher, a school psychologist, and a case worker, asked for copies of the letter. I told him to sign it first and he did so with his own artistic flourish. If he were entering the maze of special ed, at least he would do it with style.

They asked him a few questions, such as whether or not he thought he could live independently.

Happy to comply, he answered seriously, “I think so. Yes.”

“For example, they continued, ‘Would you know how to take the bus to the store, buy necessary items, get pricesthe correct change and come back home on the right bus?’”

In his mind, such a question sounded something like, “Would you like to go for a fun ride on a shiny bus?”

All he knew about buses came from us, maybe riding an airport shuttle bus to a plane or rental car parking lot. He had never ridden a city bus in our own city, much less on his own.

His father and I burst into laughter as the team hung on our son’s preposterous words, that he was conjuring up to the best of his ability. Pasha was not trying to be deceptive. He just didn’t have any clue.

clothes“Could you get up in the morning on your own, get dressed, and get something to eat?” the special ed teacher questioned.

“No, probably not.”

“Which part?”

“Getting up,” he chuckled, glancing at us.

“He depends on his brother’s alarm,” Benedetto added.

“And could you dress on your own?” she asked.

“Matching clothes?” I inserted, knowing she had not seen his Miami-grandpa look of Hawaiian shirt and plaid shorts.

“Say, if it’s 80 degrees outside and warm,” she coached, “what might you wear?”alarm_clock

“Shorts and a polo shirt,” he answered.

“That would be appropriate,” she congratulated him.

Benedetto and I eyed each other over the conference table, unsure if we had made any headway.

He suggested, “Ask Pasha now what he might wear if it’s snowing outside. The fact is, he likes shorts and polos. He could reply that he would wear that in the winter, too, if we did not help him.”

Pasha giggled.

The testing should take place in a couple of months or so. At least we had that. Apparently, there were many students ahead of him waiting for similar assessments. Going down in the elevator that day, we felt like we were headed up in many ways. We gave our son a high-five and headed home.

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