Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Child Left Behind Part II or Our Brief Foray into Public School

So, this is a draft of a letter I wrote in September. School started here in Baltimore on August 27, I believe.


September 9, 2012

Dear Person Concerned with Education:

            My name is Kathy King and I am the mother of a special needs child in Baltimore City. Elinore is four years old and recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is enrolled in the Bright and Ready program run by Baltimore City Public School at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Reisterstown Road. This is the program recommended by the IEP team at our meeting in July of 2012.

            On the first day, I was willing to overlook some of the problems we encountered, due to the program being brand new. The transportation provided by the city did not show up, and we scrambled for a ride so as not to miss that all important first day. Upon arriving, I discovered that Elinore is the only student enrolled. Aside from the fact that her IEP specifies peer interaction, I was excited to think of all the one-on-one attention my child would receive. Her program meets two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays, for two and a half hours. I wondered between the IEP meeting and the first day of school how such a short program would prepare my student for Kindergarten. At the school, I learned that Bright and Ready is a three year old program. I felt like my  child had been failed a grade before she even began her school career. Out of that amount of time, Elinore is to attend two half hour sessions at the library for story time. She did enjoy the stories with movement and music. I began having doubts about the academic nature of the program. The program takes place in the meeting room in the library, and that first day, I mentally excused the lack of supplies; none of the following were available for my four year old: pencils, paper, crayons, markers, play dough, paint, blocks, dress-up, alphabet posters. The room provided one child sized table with four chairs, and one carpet. There was nothing else.

            On the second day, I expected a little more organization and preschool-like surroundings. The teacher assured me since Elinore was the only student in the class, she would administer some assessments and tailor a program specifically for Elinore, at least until more students arrived. This sounded promising. I observed while a few assessments were administered with some breaks thrown in when Elinore had difficulty concentrating, and checked on Hannah, my eighth-grade home-schooler working independently in the library. Elinore's teacher also read a book about dinosaurs at school, and discussed school behavior such as raising her hand, being polite, taking turns, and other social amenities that Elinore may have had trouble applying in her class of one. Elinore was expected to raise her hand to talk to the teacher, to ask for a break, and to use the potty. Elinore has both expressive and receptive language delays and cannot verbalize her need for a break or to use the potty, and these issues are addressed in her IEP. The teacher also wanted Elinore to sit properly in her chair and tried to teach her how to move it. At lunch, I noted that it was a deli meat sandwich with fruit cup and drink choice, the same as on the first day. I wondered if her entire school lunch experience would consist of lunch meat sandwiches. The cafeteria sent ten lunches for my one student, so my older daughter and I were invited to partake. After lunch, I played hide and seek with Elinore at her request, and the teacher's assistant borrowed some toys from the library upstairs while the teacher was working on her laptop. Elinore had 50 minutes of "free time" and started running in circles, a repetitive motion activity she engages in for sensory input. Elinore was so distraught by the lack of structure, schedule, and social behaviors with no practical application, that in the taxi on the way home she started yanking her own hair out, a behavior we have never seen. She also engaged in spitting and biting herself, two more new behaviors. Her sister and I had to physically restrain her.

            I was relieved that Monday was Labor Day with no school, and asked that  Elinore's grandmother attend school with her on Thursday. I wanted someone else to see what I was seeing. My apprehension was slightly relieved on Thursday when the teacher greeted us with a schedule. The teacher also mentioned a few activities such as calendar time, and learning to carry a tray that were impossible to complete without the calendar and the tray. Before I went upstairs, I voiced some of my concerns to the teacher. How long before Elinore's IEP supports would be in place? Elinore does not do well with chairs, as we had seen on day two, and a fidget cushion, toys, and weighted items were specified in her IEP. When would her speech therapy start? The teacher had no idea Elinore was to receive speech therapy, nor how to access this service, or even a phone number to access someone who might know. Perhaps her zone school? I pointed out on Elinore's IEP that this option was declined as less than optimal, and it was my understanding at the IEP meeting that she would receive this in her school setting. I asked to see the outcome goals of the program. What was my daughter expected to learn by the end of the year? She assured me that there would be quarterly assessments, but did not have anything tangible to show me in terms of a lesson plan or annual goals. The end of Thursday marked the end of the first half of her first month in school, and I felt like we had wasted valuable time.

On Thursday, Elinore's grandmother, who has a degree in special education, and many years of experience with IEP meetings for her own children, made a page and a half of notes which she shared with me. Some were positive, some were neutral, and some were concerning. The main issue was one of the teachers commenting that Elinore did better without her mother in the room. At the July IEP meeting, we were assured that a parent was not only welcome, but encouraged to attend. It seemed, perhaps, that the teacher was not fully aware of the goals of the program, one of which was encouraging parent involvement in the learning process. Also, Elinore had been sitting on the carpet for two hours with no movement breaks. We had planned to lunch with Elinore, as we had been made to feel welcome the previous week, but Elinore was told to pretend we weren't there, and eat lunch at her little table, so Grandma, Hannah and I went upstairs. When Hannah opened the peaches, she found mold! I raced downstairs to stop Elinore from eating her lunch and the teacher assured me the food could not be moldy. I had to prove it by showing her. Hannah and her grandma both suffered from food poisoning that night, I presume from the sandwich Elinore did not eat. I rejoined Elinore and her grandma a little before the end of the school day to see if I was a distraction, but she merely acknowledged me with a glance and continued listening to the teacher's aide read a story while the teacher worked on her laptop. When instructional time was over, the teacher had Elinore demonstrate her new skill of using six steps to close a door.

            Once home, I made what seemed like dozens of phone calls to address the issues of no supplies, moldy school lunch, speech therapy, the lack of IEP supports, and the self destructive behaviors that appeared to be directly linked to her school experience. She had just finished an hour and a half, once-a-week, six week long program at Kennedy Krieger's Fairmount school to prepare her for a classroom setting, so starting school was not the issue. We are a homeschooling family, and none of our five children were ever enrolled in public school. The reason we enrolled Elinore was because her developmental pediatrician recommended a school setting to help her learn social skills and to receive speech therapy. Since there are no other students enrolled in her class, and her speech therapy has been moved to her zone school, it seems that there is no reason for Elinore to attend this program. I am very concerned that virtually none of Elinore's IEP accommodations have been addressed (Elinore does receive preferential seating by the teacher).

            I am appalled at the deficits this program contains, not just at start up, where basic supplies should have been available, but that continue two weeks after school has started. The special needs students of Baltimore City deserve better than empty classrooms and moldy lunches.
I am thinking I will polish the letter and send it to Mrs. Obama, my Senators, my Representatives, the Governor, Mayor, every pertinent person on the school board and each IEP team member. Only, the letter will be at least twice this long because we have since had two more IEP meetings, and more adventures.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Child Left Behind Part I


As I may not have mentioned, Elinore has finally received an actual diagnosis of PDD-NOS from her developmental pediatrician. However, Elinore has been in the early intervention system since she was eighteen months.

I must say, her therapists and service coordinator have been nothing short of outstanding. I am not mentioning names here, because I am not sure of each one's stand on privacy issues, but I already knew they were wonderful even before we transitioned from early intervention to the public school system.

When Elinore turned three, we opted for an extended IFSP (individualized family service plan), the pre-cursor to the IEP (individualized education plan) that she got when she turned four (and she is currently four-and-three-months). She started out at 18 months with home-based speech therapy, and gradually added physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and special instruction. So before we transitioned to the public school system, we had:

speech                      1 hour weekly, at home
PT                            30 minutes every other week, center based
OT                            1 hour weekly, center based
special instruction    30 minutes weekly, at home

Elinore made oodles (like that scientific measurement?) of progress. I think it is impossible to quantify how much is due to therapy and how much she would have made regardless.

The biggest thing that made me nervous about that first IEP meeting was as a homeschooling family since, I think, 1991, I was not ready to send my four year old off to preschool. I don't need six hours a day of babysitting. I crossed my fingers, hoping a half day program might be available.

From the beginning of the meeting, things did not seem to be focused on helping Elinore succeed. It seemed more focused on denying services. Here are her new therapy times, slashed from the IFSP, you'll notice:

speech                        30 minutes every other week
PT                              denied, determined it would not impact educational experience
OT                             denied, replaced with 4 hours annual consultation
special instruction     4 hours per week, after the recommendation of full time

On to the placement portion of the meeting, we decline to put our 4-before-school-starts daughter in a three year old program. I insisted I want her ready for kindergarten when she turns five. So we are offered a placement in a brand new program called Bright and Ready! Bright and Ready! met in the meeting room at the library across town only two days a week, for 2 1/2 hours a week, and not only was I welcome, I was encouraged! to attend. Headed by a special educator and an aide, attended by a maximum of 7 typically developing peers, and 7 IEP students, it seemed like it could fit the bill.

I did wonder how such a brief program would prepare my student for kindergarten, but since we were already homeschooling her using Calvert PreK, I wasn't too worried about academics, just trusting that she would get speech therapy and social skills from the program and that the teacher would see her need for OT.

Oh. My. Word. Even my minimal expectations were not met...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Catching up for April

Wow, it's been over a month since I last posted! It doesn't matter too much, this is mostly for recording for our family. I don't have many readers, and the ones who read, already know what's going on.

One of the reasons I post irregularly, is that I like to have at least one photo per post. I have a new camera that is not as easy to get pictures from, and Elinore is still not reliably wearing clothes, ergo, few blog posts.

What Elinore is reliable about...is going to the potty! It took running out of diapers, and telling her "Sorry, you have to wear panties." So few accidents, I am convinced she could've done it sooner. Never mind, she's done.

My birthday was last month, and now I am halfway to 90. I celebrated my birthday by throwing a surprise birthday party for Hannah. Her birthday is not till August, but her birthday party last year was canceled due to a hurricane flooding the State Park where we reserved a pavillion. And boy, was she surprised!

Caitlin came over to celebrate MY birthday and I wanted to go to AC Moore for my birthday (totally believable, right?). So we had lunch at Ruby Tuesday's and headed to AC Moore. Jeff walked her in, and oddly, he had put his hands over her eyes. Everyone yelled "Surprise!" and I said, "Happy Birthday Hannah" and her response was, "Wait, whuut?"

She made Duck Tape purses with her friends Lexi, Lydia, Eden Bethany, Mariah, Justus, and Jobe. Her dad made a birthday cake from scratch, we had tacos, chippy things, and ice cream. She got lots of presents that mader her very happy. Her last present came in an iPad box. Her friends gasped, "She got an iPad!", but Hannah assured them it was just an iPad box. Imagine her surprise when she found an iPad! Elinore has been rotten about sharing hers, and Jeff found a bargain on Ubid. She is still thanking us!

Monday, April 16, 2012


Things I like about walking to church:

Spring breezes
Birds chirping
Holding soft baby hand
Cheerful neighbors
Anticipation of worship, fellowship, and Scripture

Things I don't like about walking to church:

Used condoms and empty wrappers
Dead rodents
Dog poop
Prostitutes (or maybe not, could be just hanging out, it's hard for me to tell the difference)
Drug dealers (or maybe not, could be just hanging out, it's hard for me to tell the difference)

Did I forget drug needles?

And I live less than two blocks from church.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good Friday

We were blessed to attend Good Friday service at Capital Christian Fellowship near DC last night. We were a little late for the potluck, but our Krispy Kreme doughnuts managed to disappear all the same. Elinore had such a good time in Child Care, she didn't want to leave for home. She recovered from her disappointment some in the gym playing with balls, but was exhausted and insisting in a loud voice, "I'm not tired!!" Naturally, she fell asleep on the way home, and stayed alseep while daddy put her to bed.

I really enjoyed the garden theme in the sanctuary, and the blend of discussion on modern and biblical gardens, the reminder that we plant seeds, but God is the Gardener, and he grows the seeds. Good Friday services have changed since I was a young'un, but I still enjoy them.

Earlier this week, our pastor Marita and family blessed us with some cutie little cupcakes. I know how much work goes into creating little treats, so I am thankful to receive these!

Sunday's Coming!!

Spring Printables

I made this file folder book from printables I found at Creative Learning Fun. Elizabeth always has such nice packets for free! She had so many in the spring pack, I just used the ones Elinore is working on.
Most of them are for color matching.

And working on shape names.

I stacked the folders and used my long reach stapler to connect them in the middle.
Then I added little pockets to hold the pieces.

I laminated the backgrounds back to back so only one side was laminated, because laminate is hard to glue. Finally, I used velcro for each of the little matching pieces. The set stays together pretty well, but the pieces fall out of the pocket if I am not careful. So I leave them velcroed in place and just put them in the pockets when we are ready to play.

We mostly used these with Elinore's special instructor. I don't have her permission to use her picture, so you only see product here, and not "action" shots. I am gifting the set to her to use with other students because a) Elinore already learned her colors; b) she won't need this next spring; c) this is a lot of work and supplies to put together, and I want someone to get some use out of it!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hannah's Fairy Garden

The little garden is showing green sprouts! I think it's the clover. Spring is sprung!

iPad Update

We now have 290 apps. And while I know how I lived without an iPad, it is easy to exaggerate, "How did I ever live without an iPad?"

Most of the apps are free, and I appreciate free. Even the ones that are lite versions, meaning to get the full spectrum of the offering, you are offered "in app purchases," at least lite lets me try before I buy and decide if I want to put out actual money. Fruit Ninja is one Jeff decided we needed the full version of.

I am grateful to Carisa at 1+1+1=1 for the heads up on App Shopper. This handy free app lets you keep a wishlist, and lets you know if the price drops on your desired app! We have downloaded so many free and on sale apps because of this. Sometimes the sale is a day or less, making it difficult to keep track of all the apps. And, the app is not perfect, sometimes the price is wrong. Caveat emptor.

We have tons of ABC, number, animal, and pre-school apps. How will I know which ones will strike Elinore's fancy? So I download free or lite versions, and delete them if they don't work. It's so much cheaper than buying CD-Rom based software that you can't return once opened. We also have oodles of books.and a few things for Hannah. Hannah, unfortunately, can barely get a turn.

So I will end with a free app I found on Pinterest: Singing Fingers It records your voice while you finger paint, and plays it back when you trace the drawing. Only it's not just your voice, it's any sound you can record. Fabulous!


Elinore has new foot orthotics!

I am a little concerned that these new orthotics will not help her ankles any, but her therapist feels she is ready for a step down from her Sure Steps AFOs (ankle foot orthotics).

Given a choice, Elinore chooses the new ones, and now she has her first pair of pretty shoes since she started wearing braces. And since she is a fairy, princessy, girly girl, she is very, very happy.