The Daughter Chronicles

Friday, April 16, 2010

IEP time!

On Thursday, 8 April (I'm a tad tardy), Mia had her IEP meeting (that's Individualized Education Program for you lucky people without Special Ed. kids). I mentioned recently that we were a bit worried about it, because her teacher seemed to be pushing for her to be moved to the Moderately Disabled class rather than the Mildly Disabled class she's in right now. You might argue that a kid with a traumatic brain injury is certainly NOT mildly disabled, and you'd be right, but she's probably not right for either class (she should be in the class she was in last year, but budget cuts ended that, so it's not an option), and we'd much rather she be in the class that is a higher level than a lower level. She's been doing well in school recently, so we hoped there wouldn't be too much dissent.

It turns out all was well. The school psychologist and the district TBI specialist wanted to get her classified as "multiply disabled" as well as TBI because TBI is such a broad category that they like to be a bit more focused, and she'd get more funding if she was in two categories (money concerns are, unfortunately, always present when you're dealing with public schools). It turns out she doesn't qualify for the Moderately Disabled class anyway, but even before that, I got the feeling that the teacher wasn't going to push it. I've been talking to the TBI specialist a lot recently, and she told me that the teacher has been working very hard to understand what's going on with Mia and how to deal with her. It doesn't hurt that Mia has been relatively healthy recently (yes, she's been having some surgery, but that's just discomfort - before the surgery, I think she was actually in pain quite often) and she's eating better, so the teacher can focus on her education more. Plus, Mia has gotten to know the teachers and kids better, so she's more into everything. Once that was settled, we simply went over Mia's goals for this year, tweaked them a bit for next year, and all was well!

We've never had a contentious IEP meeting, which is nice. Everyone knows what Mia needs, and it's just a matter of making sure everyone reads the document and agrees with it. The teacher was putting a lot of pressure on herself to make Mia reach her goals this year, and once the TBI specialist told her that wasn't really necessary (as we can, and do, simply tweak the goals a bit), she relaxed. She seems to put a great deal of pressure on herself in general with regard to the kids, so the fact that with Mia specifically (and probably Spec. Ed. kids in general, although I don't know for certain) she didn't need to reach every single goal made her happy. We'd love it if Mia reached her goals, and we were able to take a few off the IEP and add some new one (but not many), but what really matters is that she makes progress. If that means doing something 5 out of 10 times this year and 6 out of 10 times next year, so be it. You take the long view with brain injuries.

The next day I took Mia in after her horse therapy and spoke briefly to the teacher. I told her how much we appreciated all the hard work she's been doing with Mia. She really has worked hard to make sure Mia has moved forward, and anyone who goes into the class after not seeing Mia for a while is amazed by her progress. The teacher mentioned how difficult it is to adjust to teaching - she compared it to studying the Grand Canyon and then going to see it, which is an apt comparison, I think - and how she just wasn't sure how to get through to Mia. Mia is, I think, a bit more difficult to deal with than even other special needs kids, because she learns so very slowly and she really doesn't express herself very well - it's very hard to judge when she's angry or when she really gets something, for instance. The teacher also told me that she's still pinching the aides far too often, and I really think it's because they're not tough enough with her - you really have to get right in Mia's face and tell her, sternly if not angrily, that pinching is unacceptable. She'll get in eventually, but if you do it with a nice voice or half-heartedly, she'll just ignore you. The teacher speaks to her very sternly, and Mia doesn't pinch her. The teacher doesn't yell at her, but she's curt and keeps Mia focused on her when she's talking to her. The teacher told me she understands what I go through - Mia screams bloody murder when you make her work, and about 5-10% of it is actual discomfort or pain - the rest is whining. But when she's screeching so loudly, the tendency is to ease up on her and comfort her. I got over that a long time ago, and the teacher has finally moved past it too. She told me that many people at school have no idea what's going on with Mia, so they think the teacher is being cruel when she doesn't listen to Mia's whining. I've seen enough of the teacher's interactions with Mia to know that she doesn't do anything terrible, so I'm fine with the way she talks to Mia. I'll continue to keep an eye on her teacher, but I also told her that if anyone ever gets on her case about how she speaks to Mia, she should send them to me. If teachers don't give in to regular kids whining, why should they give in to Mia? The only difference is that regular kids whine using words, and Mia cries. If you spend any time with Mia, however, you quickly learn when she's crying "for real" and when it's just her trying to get out of doing something she doesn't want to do. She's a 7-year-old kid, after all - they all whine!

I'm very glad everything went well, and I hope that Mia's even better next year, when we hope her physical issues with her legs are far behind her (fingers crossed there!) and that she's eating more and has more energy. Also, the teacher and aides will have a year of experience with her, so some of the crap she pulls won't work as well then. Such is the theory, of course. But it was still a good meeting, and I'm more hopeful about her schooling than I have been for most of this year.


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