Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The School System

Warning: Super long post

Riley had an appointment today with an endocrinologist. I took the day off work and picked him up early from school. He got to go to two classes today. We headed to the appointment. The doctor spent almost an hour with us, going over his height/weight charts, etc. She ordered some more blood work (much to Riley's dismay), but we didn't have to do it today. He needs blood drawn before 8 am for one of the tests, so he'll be visiting the lab before school, sometime this week. I think Kevin should take him this time so that he can partake of the "fun."

The doctor's concerns are that Riley seems to be gaining weight, but he's just not growing taller. His projected height is only 5'3" which is not very tall. Quinn has similar issues, and also sees an endocrinologist. There does not seem to be a hormone deficiency (in either boy), which is good. It appears that Riley is a perfect candidate for a study. There's a pill that he can take, once a day. It will freeze the growth plate, which down the road, could amount in a better height outcome. There are no side affects, so we are interested in seeing what the doctor running it has to say about it. It's the same doctor at Stanford that Quinn has been seeing, who is running the study. The doctor we saw today is a doctor at our medical clinic, as they now have a pediatric endocrinologist. They didn't when we needed one for Quinn at 4 years old. The good news about this is that if it works, down the road it could benefit Quinn. Part of being able to be a part of the study is that the kids have to be just starting puberty, so that excludes Quinn, but is perfect for Riley. We'll see what happens.

Instead of sending Riley back to school, I was selfish. I kept him with me. We went to Ikea and looked through all of the fake dwellings. We had lunch in the Ikea cafe too. It was a nice day, and Riley would tell you it was because he didn't have to go to the lab that made it especially good.

So school. Interesting school year. This year started out ok for Riley, but at the end of the first quarter, there were issues with PE and his honors Science class. The Science teacher has really high expectations, and I don't get a sense that she's particularly organized. There have been many instances where Riley (and the other students as well) have completed an assignment only to get to school and she says they all did it wrong, and everyone redoes it. This is maddening for neurologically intact kids, but for Riley, it's especially hard. He can't read her-he can't really read anybody, so it's hard to get a sense of exactly what it is she wants. He's struggled all year with it. It's an honors class, and I believe there is an assumption the kids know the information, and are not being taught-NOT what an honors program is about. But we plug on, supporting him and trying to get through. He is capable to do the work, but he needs written guidelines as to the expectations-something she does not provide (I asked).

PE is a complete disaster. Riley is not athletic. He hates to run. He has horrible self esteem. He doesn't understand why the other kids tease and get mad when they don't win. It's normal stuff, but Riley just does not get it. I sent the PE teacher two emails at the beginning of the school year, outlining that Riley was in therapy for self esteem issues, and was being evaluated for depression, anxiety, Autism, etc. In PE the kids have to "run a mile." It's the most annoying, aggravating thing ever. See when he ran the first time, that was his time. Every time he runs now, he has to come within something like a minute of that first time or it's a "fail" and 30% of his grade. He can't beat his time-apparently he ran too fast that first time. We have already prepared him that NEXT school year, he's to run slowly. Is that idiotic or what? I understand the need to run. Riley needs to run. He needs the exercise. I am not against him running. I am against the timing and grading of the running-for ALL of the students, not just mine.

So we got an SST meeting (which we got because I wrote a letter requesting they test my son). I knew they wouldn't want to test him. He does not need Special Ed. He's too smart for that. I wrote the letter because I knew they would have to respond, and I wanted a meeting. I wanted a 504 for Riley. They responded within two days. TWO days! Isn't that cool? I was very pleased. They were awesome about the whole thing. I had been in contact with the school counselor anyway. I had gone to school to meet with her way back in November, and I told her about our plans for having Riley evaluated. We had emailed several times back and forth. When I got the diagnosis from his therapist, I again contacted her. I wrote my letter requesting the testing and took it to school. She was super supportive, as was the psychologist, when I spoke with her. We got the SST meeting first, inviting the PE teacher because at that time PE seemed to be the biggest issue. In fact, last quarter Riley got a "cinch" notice for an F in PE. An F!! How does one get an F when they dress every day (he's never forgotten the PE clothes) and they participate every day, and they aren't giving any attitude? Oh, and also when the mile run is supposed to only count for 30% of the grade. What about the other 70%? It's funny, but we got the notice five days before the SST meeting we had scheduled with the psychologist, VP, counselor, and...the PE teacher. So I asked about the PE teacher about the F during the SST. How could I not? Apparently some grades were "missing" from the computer when the notices went out. I was not born yesterday. We'll see what the final grade is when report cards come out this week. The teacher was open and receptive at the meeting, and he took the paperwork I had for him, about Aspergers and PDD NOS. He seems like a nice man, just doesn't know what to make of Riley (he's not the first). I explained to him that Riley didn't understand the teasing, which is totally normal during PE when kids want to win, but Riley doesn't get that. At. All. He takes everything personally. I could see a lightbulb go on when I explained that sarcasm, joking, and playful teasing are lost on Riley-something he probably uses with the other students. I also explained to him how much we troubleshoot for him at home. Example: Riley has his PE clothes every Monday because if he ever forgot them, he would have a meltdown. He would not handle wearing the "loaner" clothes well at all, and then the PE teacher would have to deal with that. We have saved him that by making sure Riley is prepared. We continue to talk to Riley about the things kids say that, yes, are mean, but are just normal behavior for the age group. We try to give him the appropriate wording to be able to fight back. I'm thinking things are better. Riley hasn't complained about PE, and he has talked about encouraging things his teacher has said to him. We are glad, but again, we'll see what the grade looks like.

After the SST, the next step was the 504 meeting. Four of 6 teachers attended. The PE teacher did not need to come because we had already met with him. The music teacher was on paternity leave (we didn't need to meet with him anyway as Riley LOVES that recorder class, and there aren't any issues). In attendance, Science, Math, English and History teachers. We got a few surprises. The Math teacher (also an honors class) told us that Riley was failing Math because he doesn't turn in any homework, and that he never starts his homework in class and she gives them time every day-I see that as an issue BTW. WHAT? I pulled out the progress note (which had gone home the week before) and it said, "C." I pointed this out. All she could say was that she had concerns then. Um. A C is passing. It's not great, but it's passing. An F is failing.

When brainstorming accommodation ideas, both the Science teacher and Math teacher were quick to suggest pulling Riley from the honors classes, and they specifically meant theirs...right then. Their classes. It was Riley's English teacher (a man I LOVE) who spoke up and said they couldn't move him with so few days left in the school year. It annoyed me, because Riley has every right to be in those classes. He's smart enough, and if their methods of teaching were better, he could succeed. Nonetheless, Kevin and I agreed to pull Riley out of honors classes for next school year (he qualified for three for next year). I think the GATE/honors program is a complete joke in my district anyway, and having/not having honors classes won't keep my kid out of college. So the meeting continued. The History teacher (Love her too!) had very nice things to say about Riley, as did the English teacher. Those two teachers are working overtime to help Riley. I can tell that they truly care about him. In fact, Riley missed three days of school last week, and the History teacher sent home a detailed outline (outlines are good and they benefit ALL kids) of what he needed to make up and when she wanted each thing. So super helpful for Kevin and I, who could check it off and make sure it got done-and it did.

Accommodations: Well, he doesn't have that many. He gets to use some kind of word processing machine (with spelling/grammar disabled) for the district writing test (his handwriting is horrible-disgraphia). His teachers are to sign off on his agenda every day, making sure he has the homework written down correctly (the Science teacher won't hunt him down though-she told me). They are supposed to email or call if any issues arise. I am guessing all is OK as I have not heard anything. That's it. Those are the accommodations. We were hoping for an accommodation in PE, but we were told there was nothing we could do. Oh and every adult in that room felt that the way the kids were scored for the mile was not fair. I left the meeting feeling confused and let down. I went home and sent an email to the VP outlining my concerns, making it known that I was onto the Science and Math teacher's resolutions. I think he really cares about the students. He said they would add on an accommodation to the timing of Riley on the mile laps in PE. Oh, and Riley also gets to go, unofficially, to a social group at school, that meets on Thursdays, at his lunch time. They didn't have to do that, but they did.

So I guess my frustrations really just lie with a couple of teachers. I really feel the counselor and VP have done a great job, and have been very supportive. The counselor has bent over backwards to help. They were willing to add the PE accommodation-and they got him into the social group. I'm happy for the accommodations he does have. I just think there could be some other accommodations in place. I'm not trying to be a difficult parent, but I want my kid in classes with teachers who are going to appreciate his uniqueness, not punish him for it. I wish I felt that things were all dandy with the Math and Science teachers, but every day Riley goes to school, I feel nervous and anxious for him. Those two teachers do NOT want to do anything extra. Actually Kevin and I are doing the most work. Every day we check his agenda, looking at the assignments. We make sure he does each one. We correct. We edit. We check off that he's done it and then see that he puts it into the appropriate folder, and then spend the rest of the evening reminding him to turn it in. We have no idea why he does the work then doesn't turn it in. No idea.

I am very grateful for the support we HAVE gotten from the counselor, VP, History teacher, music teacher, and English teacher (he's the BEST-next to Riley's 5th grade teacher, he's the only other teacher who I feel truly likes my kid. I will forever be grateful to them). Once we get the clinical diagnosis, I am hoping Riley can get an IEP. I have realized that the public school system is really not cut out to handle kids with high functioning Autism. There's no training for teachers. My next step is to write a letter to my district's superintendent to ask that teachers have training. There are a lot of Autistic type kids in regular ed, who do not need special ed, so teachers really need to know how best to teach them. So far though for next year, he'll have all regular ed classes, and hopefully Beginning Band (did you know that in high school band counts for PE??? We are all over that one), and hopefully his English teacher again.

I am sorry these are such long posts. I want to make sure I get it all down.

Tomorrow: I'll tell you where we are right now.

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