Love Means ‘Never having to say you’re sorry’ For Standing Up For Your Child’s Special Learning Needs

Those of you old enough to remember (or young enough to know movie trivia lines) will recall the movie Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali Mc Graw as two college students who fall in love and marry. Then Jenny (Ali McGraw) contracts a fatal disease and dies at age twenty-five.  In their last moments together, McGraw says that famous line to O’Neal: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  Well, there are a lot of things and times I can think of when that line has not been quite true, but there is one case I can think of that always follows this rule.  Parents should never feel sorry about loving their child and standing up for their child’s special learning needs, even if they need help with their child’s behavior, IEP, special education supports, or educational challenges.

An event today beautifully illustrates this point. Earlier, I met with a lovely family of 4 children, mom and dad.  All four of the children had some kind of very special learning need(s) and educational challenges.  Mom was homeschooling two of the four children because of the schools’ failure to develop IEP’s to meet the children’s specific learning needs. Through behaviors, these two children had, at various points, begun communicating that school was a frustrating, anxiety producing place of academic failure.

Now, Mom felt she knew better. With the youngest child, she was more confident. When he began experiencing similar learning problems and exhibited some concerning behaviors, she met with the school, requested evaluations, and questioned all kinds of issues that did not appear to add up for her young son’s special education and general education learning needs.  Yet, the parents knew things were still not as they should be because their child’s progress continued to be minimal to non-existent. At home, the child was showing evidence of higher and higher levels of anxiety  and inappropriate behaviors related to school and homework.  The added school supports, such as educational evaluations and even a referral to special education, had to be spear headed by the parents.  The parents felt that they were experiencing déjà vu reliving the trials and tribulations that had previously occurred with their older two home schooled children.

Mom reached out to me, an educational consultant, for assistance.  I reviewed her child’s records, IEP’s and school history. Then, the parents and I met in person to fill in missing information and to clarify their goals for their child.  Before our first meeting, I could tell this mom was well informed.  She had communicated regularly with others about the needs of her children and kept a copy of all the documents. To address her children’s learning needs, she had sought private tutoring, private evaluations, behavior support and more.  I had expected that her need for my help would be minimal.  I was wrong.

While these parents were caring, involved, dedicated and informed parents, they were at their wits end.  After I reassured the parents about the wonderful job they had done initiating help for their child, reviewed the current records with them and provided suggestions for how they could move forward based on their identified goals, the parents began to apologize to me.  They said how sorry they were that they had to reach out to me because they felt overwhelmed and uncertain as to their next steps for their youngest child to support his educational challenges.  I could see the pain in their eyes as they shared briefly the heart shattering stories of their other children’s educational challenges, especially the two children mom was now doing her best to home school.

I have words of advice to these parents and to all parents out there struggling to make sense of the failure, frustration and anxiety your child faces regularly at school due to educational challenges.  Never say you are sorry, ever, for standing up for your child to find answers and appropriate help at school.  The school can help.  Navigating this support can be a challenging and confusing experience.  If you need it, reach out to others to assist you with your child’s behavior, IEP or special education supports.  But never, ever, be sorry for standing up for your child’s special learning needs.

By | February 12th, 2019|Behavior, Special Education|0 Comments

No More Suspensions!

It is the third week of school.  A child with autism is in a first grade class with a teacher, a paraprofessional and 8 other children with autism.  This young child has communication needs so severe that an augmentative alternative communication device is a part of the supports provided.   Frustration abounds in this child’s day.  Routines are not set. Expectations may not be clear and practiced. Transitions are not well defined.  Sensory overload has occurred.  The child was not ready to transition.  The child was not able to say, “Please wait. I want more time.”  Frustration overflowed in this precious child.  He shoved his classmate.  He pushed a chair into another student.  He was suspended.

What is to be learned from this scenario?  How does suspension relate to the behavior exhibited?

This question MUST be examined by every administrator in every school where students with disabilities attend.  In fact, it is a question to be examined by all administrators of all children.  We are learning to understand and implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in some of our nation’s schools for some students.  What are the PBIS strategies to act proactively and the behavioral support  strategies for students like our child in first grade?  Explain how suspension helps?  What does it teach?  How does it help address and prevent the triggers that likely caused the unacceptable response by the child with autism?  How does it teach the child to better handle frustration and respond differently next time?

Yes, administrators have tough jobs.  Bless them.  No, hurting a classmate/teacher with such a response is not an action we ever want to see at school or anywhere.  But there are far better solutions to address the situation than suspending the child.  IEP teams need to be flexible enough to quickly address these kinds of situations.  Administrators need to reach out to those teams.  Teams need to reach out to administrators.  Let’s keep the child in a positive learning situation.  Let’s make sure more children are not hurt, or worse, by teaching the wrong lesson.  It’s the age old question: Does punishment work?  Not in this case or any other like it.

By | September 23rd, 2018|Behavior, Uncategorized|0 Comments

More than A-B-C Data : Multifactored Functional Behavioral Assessment

As a teacher, are you responsible for conducting the FBA, Functional Behavioral Assessment, in your grade level or school? As a parent, have you been asked to provide your consent for an FBA? An FBA is required under IDEA federal law to help identify and support behavioral needs of students. And while there is a required manner in which to conduct an FBA, many schools use narrow versions of behavioral observation, looking at the specific behavior and what happened right before and immediately after the behavior occurred. This is certainly one important aspect of examining the target behavior. However, a more comprehensive assessment is essential to try and determine not only root causes of why students exhibit behavior but also how to provide supports and replacement responses. This approach encompasses looking closely at the learning environment, task demands, other classroom variables, as well as other needs of the student. Putting together this comprehensive picture helps provide the student, parent and teacher with various components to address the whole child. It also takes the stress from one main observer to gather information/assessment to provide to the team. Behavior is complex. The assessment for the FBA should be complex as well, examining all aspects related to the need.