I pulled up to Cody’s school after having several self-talks on the way there to meet our head BCBA who is also Cody’s advocate and my rock and support my husband, Brad. As we all got out of the cars and walked towards each other we did not have to say a word and you could tell we were all a little uncertain how the meeting was going to go. I thought to myself,” I am a little nervous and in the same breath told myself, “Don’t be! we got this!.” And we did.
I read a lot and I research a lot and very involved with Cody’s programs daily. I felt prepared and believed in what was important for Cody backed with a lot of recommendations from his doctors and current therapists. And truth be told, I was very interested to better understanding what they thought may be the best class setting for Cody which I quickly learned he was right where he needed to be. I was a little unsure going into this meeting.
My mind often will drift to other parents thoughts on social media or in conversation at a birthday party who express similar sentiments before an ARD meeting. This one was different because for the first time, we did not agree with the proposed goals. We have been told time and time again over the last 3 years, how hard is it to figure out how Cody learns. We have had some therapists literally feel failed because he is such a tough one to figure out. When we opened his world to his communication device this is when it all changed. You have read past blogs time and time again how much we had no idea he already knew until we introduced his communication device. Is it the traditional way most children with autism learn? No, it’s not. But it’s also no different than a manual PECS system or sign language. I am certain it will become a traditional way before long for those that are non-verbal. The beautiful world of technology allows us to have unlimited access of words and pictures with a voice over. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.
Look how much time and laminating sheets you are saving? And how much time you are gaining spending time with your child? I believe he knows more because of his device. He may not score high on a school evaluation today if you are testing him without his device but what if our school districts would open that to an option one day? A fight I know many are fighting currently and may not pave the way for Cody’s education journey but one that may be an option for the next generation.
We then walked into the conference room and I naturally positioned myself on the end of the table where I could see the exit (my own anxiety issues I deal with daily) and was a bit overwhelmed with the amount of school resources that piled into the room together. I think I counted 11! The most we have ever had for sure in an ARD meeting. And then at some point during the meeting, we were trying to re write a goal so Cody could “score properly” versus what was best for Cody’s development (don’t get me started on this topic) and I thought to myself, why stress over ARD meetings and be so nervous?
As a mom, it hit me that an ARD meeting is pretty much the least important part of the process. No, really it is. Think about it. We invest all this time, energy and emotion into this one meeting…and for the most part, it’s irrelevant. Ok, not irrelevant, but it certainly is not worthy of the amount of weight we give it. It doesn’t really matter what is said in the meeting. Well, of course it does. But what matters more is are we prepared and do we have goals in place that are in the best interest for the child? There is so much more learning that occurs that goes way past these IEP goals.
Plan ahead for your child’s ARD meeting. Make a binder, be organized. As a parent, I will do anything to make sure Cody is happy and in a supportive environment with development growth. When it comes to discussing his education with his teachers, you need to have an advocate. Why? Well duh! We are not the experts in this process. No matter how involved I am or as much research and learning that I do, it’s good to have someone with this experience. Here’s why.
You need a level playing field. When you have a qualified special education advocate that has been working with your son over 35 hours per week and understands your rights and the school district’s obligations, this will level the playing field for you.
Understanding testing. I hate that I even have to include this as is frustrates me to know end how we base our child’s development on testing instead of how they learn. It’s unfortunate for the child but also a battle I can’t fight until they change their testing. A special education advocate can review your evaluations, progress reports, and other data and explain to you what they mean, how they apply to your child, and what services your child may or may not be entitled to based on those results. And in some cases request for some evaluations that may be needed.
Other than the teacher, who in your ARD meeting spends the most time with your child? That’s right the parents and your outside therapists. Your district may forget something. Do you think your child would benefit from Assistive Technology? Is it time to discuss transition? Has your child been having behaviors in school that impact his or her learning and you believe that the district has not tried everything they could? A special education advocate can assist you in ensuring you have gotten all appropriate services for your child. There were items that ours mentioned yesterday, that I easily would have forgotten.
Is meaningful progress being made? As a parent, I know Cody better than anyone else. I may feel he is not making progress in their current program or simply needs more. If this is the case, it is important that you speak with your advocate to do an analysis of your child’s progress, or lack thereof, and assist you in obtaining the program and/or services your child requires to make meaningful progress. This past December, we learned we needed to make some changes and ensure we are generalizing his programs in all of his environments. By doing so, we will observe a quicker increase in development.
Leave the emotions to a blog or when you get home. Be sure to take them out of it at your ARD meeting. Let’s face it; we get emotional when speaking about our children. My advocate was at my home today for team meeting and teared up after discussing what is in the best interest for Cody’ growth. She gets it. She understands him. She is invested in him. Yes, most understand but there still is a little resistance when it’s something new. Shit, Cody’s diagnosis threw me in a complete whirl spin on where to start and what to do but you embrace it, act on it and do what you have to do. It’s tough but it’s also not optional.
I should have left the meeting yesterday with a feeling we have a great upcoming plan of action in place for the next 12 months, but I didn’t. I told myself on the drive home that it will all sink in and that I just need to process it, but it didn’t. I should feel more excited about what we have in place for Cody’s upcoming year and hope to get there. Not sure why I feel the way I do? Maybe because of the uncertainty of what his goals were going to look like and if we even had him is the correct type of classroom. We were able to incorporate his communication device into a few of his goals, increased his speech sessions and have some upcoming evaluations being done. I am sure I will get there with time once we get over these small hurdles. The one thing that is certain is we have incredible teachers that will help us pave the way and do what’s best for Cody. That part I am blessed for.
On a side note, Baseball has been the best distraction ever this last month. It’s been such pure joy watching Cameron learn so much from these pitchers, understanding the Marcus Baseball Club and the coaches. I am so proud and he is working his butt off right now not only on baseball but his grades too to get him a new bat! All A’s = NEW BAT. Now that season has started he does not get much batting time in at practices, so he comes home and he and Brad hit the cages! I will keep you posted on his progress!