I must say, if my school district were a mythical creature, then I think it would be the Hydra. Cut off one head and two more sprout up in its place. I don’t, however, think I’m Hercules as much as I would enjoy the benefits of demigod status. I feel a bit more like the Village Idiot with a wooden sword that asked, “How bad can it be?” while marching off to beat up some unknown enemy only to find out that the bully who’s been kidnapping all my neighbors and friends is really a carnivorous, fire-breathing dragon. Didn’t I do a good job mixing my metaphors?
My district is up to no good again, and I’ve run out of steam to fight. My wooden sword has been turned to ash. I’ve got some third degree burns, and I’m exhausted. Grace starts her new school on January 2, 2013. This is good news to be sure. I’ve come to find out that the school district was cooperative because an investigator from the Department of Education dropped in on them. It seems that DOE investigators have a bit of influence. Grace’s advocate, who happened to be a regional ombudsman from the Ombudsman’s Office for Disability and Mental Health, filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Education. Oh, the drama…I feel like I’m trapped in a soap opera. So, the cooperation I witnessed last Monday was not because they found their brains. It was because they had the the DOE breathing down their necks.
So, what’s my problem? I have another child with an IEP in this district. What sort of IEP does she have? She has an autism spectrum disorder so she has an Autism IEP because ASDs get their own IEP. They are not viewed as emotional, behavioral, or other health impaired. She’s had this IEP since she was 4 years-old. She is now 9.
Here’s the thing about an IEP. It’s only as valuable as its implementation. If an IEP isn’t followed, then it’s useless. My daughter’s IEP is not being followed. I have asked her teacher and social worker to follow it. They won’t. Last year, her teacher didn’t like her and even rolled her eyes in an IEP meeting. This teacher even hit another child in the classroom, and my daughter witnessed it and reported it. This year, my daughter’s teacher spent the first ten minutes of our parent-teacher conference complaining about my daughter and her lack of social understanding. I sat and listened to her complaints and then explained ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) to her. I explained the difference between neurotypical children and non-neurotypical children. I explained that my daughter has an ASD, and all of her complaints were centered around my daughter’s autism. She asked me what ‘neurotypical’ meant citing that she had never heard that word before. She had never heard of ‘theory of mind’ before either. How is this teacher supposed to teach an autistic child if she doesn’t even understand the hallmark feature of her disorder? She has two other ASD kids in her classroom.
What does this tell me about our district? They have not educated their staff on ASDs which is unfortunate because 1 in 86 kids have and ASD, and that number is rising. What’s more, this district uses the Responsive Classroom approach in their classrooms. My daughter is not responding well to that approach, and if the teachers don’t understand ToM difficulties in ASD kids, then these kids will flounder.
My daughter comes home everyday crying. This has been the case since first grade. She is now almost at the end of the first semester of third grade. She hates school, and she almost hates herself. She thinks that she’s stupid. I have spent inordinate amounts of time talking her off ledges–every single day. If her day at school is going particularly badly, she self-harms at school. She might dig her nails into her arms until she bleeds. She might pinch her little legs so hard that she’ll have deep bruises. This is not unusual for ASD kids. They do this for a few reasons: 1) there is an endorphin rush caused by the pain which eases their anxiety 2) they feel helpless and need to channel it 3) they are very angry. My daughter does it for all three of the aforementioned reasons. She rarely does this at home.
I told her social worker and teacher about her tendency to self-harm, and I warned them that if they catch her doing this then they must intervene and help her. Self-harming is a sign that something is profoundly wrong in her world. Yesterday, my daughter came home and told me about her day.
I didn’t have a good day. Our class had to go to the library with another class, and it was loud. Kids were pushing. I don’t like doing that, and I took a deep breath to cope with it. I guess my teacher heard me because she looked at me and said I could handle it. I don’t know if I did something wrong. I started to feel upset. So, when we got back to our room I wanted to hug myself with my knees up, but I’m not allowed. We have to sit in third grade position. My teacher said I could sit in the rocking chair and rock it out, but I don’t like that. I have to do that in front of everyone. I told her that I didn’t want to do that. So, she said in front of everyone that I didn’t have to do that, but I was not to go and hurt myself. That was not an option. I felt…I don’t know. Like crying when she said that.
This teacher was standing at the white board in front of the entire class and told my daughter, who was sitting at her desk, that it was not an option to hurt herself. All because she chose not to sit in the class rocking chair as a coping mechanism for her anxiety. I was stunned. That information is private, and it’s not private now. There are a few children in her class who are unkind. What might they do with that information? What has the revelation of that information done to my daughter?
After consulting my daughter’s developmental pediatrician as well as her psychologist and lying awake at night interminably, I have come to a decision. I will be removing my daughter from this district. I have tried to collaborate with them for three years where she is concerned, and they refuse to do anything that will ultimately help her. Not every district works like this, of course, but mine does. I will be enrolling her in a virtual school, and we will start anew.
My husband will be speaking with the school. At the very least, they have violated disclosure agreements, and they certainly weren’t following the criteria set forth by the Responsive Classroom. I have offered to collaborate with them where my daughter is concerned. No response. And yet she comes home telling me that she was made to sit in the hallway for crying.
Our school district has not always been this way, but I suspect we have an administration problem. Trickle-down leadership troubles and all that. At this point, however, I don’t have the stuffing to call an emergency IEP meeting, confront everyone, and demand accommodations. Not when I’ve become “that parent” due to Grace’s IEP problems. Not when this district seems to care so little for the children in their care to begin with. Not when her teacher isn’t interested in collaboration. I can’t throw my girl under the school bus to make a point and start a fight that I won’t win. Not when this district would rather pay an attorney our tax dollars to call up an ombudsman and lie for 30 minutes. Not when it takes an investigator from the Department of Education calling them up to get them to cooperate.
And this is why districts can carry on, business as usual. They deny services, watch children fail, and exhaust the parents until the parents either remove their needy children from the district or just fade away from emotional and physical exhaustion. Well, they can continue doing as they have, but my tax dollars will go with me when I leave as will my support.
Operation Rebuild My Daughter’s Self-Esteem and Get Her on The Right Track begins January 16, 2013. Wish me luck.
Helpful link: Theory of Mind in Normal Development and Autism–The best article on Theory of Mind difficulties I’ve ever read, written by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at University of Cambridge in the UK. He is a forerunner in research on theory of mind difficulties in autism spectrum disorders.