Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Q&A #192

How do you even know that's her real name?? Seriously....what else is she hiding if she can't give out correct info. I wonder if her son really was sick. If that's the case then she has serious issues.
I don't... I guess. She's probably lying about that, too! GRR!!

When I was in second grade, math was just basic addition and simple stuff. Now they're practically learning algebra by that point. I am not good with math so by the time my kids were in 4th grade, I was useless to them if they needed homework help. Luckily my oldest can help my youngest but the oldest is taking college level engineering classes in 9th grade so he's on his own. lol
Exactly! LOL Once Kass hits geometry, I'm useless. Thankfully Frank enjoys math and he's good at it, when he's home anyway! 

To the person who asked about signing IEPs in Mi. I live in Michgan and most certianly do sign my IEP each time and have for the last 8 or nine years now along with the principal. 
Watch for a letter... per the comment below this one! 

Renee, I read your blog and saw the comment from a parent in Michigan who doesn't sign and then saw the other mother post that she has always signed (me too); however, I got the mail today with a letter that there are some changes to my child's IEP this school year. One of the major changes is there is no longer a signature page, formerly located on the last page of the IEP. The Michigan Dept of Education has ruled that there is no longer a requirement and therefore it has been eliminated. The decision was based on the Michigan Rules in which "Parent Consent" is only required for the initial provision of programs and services. In other words if your child has had an IEP, then it would not be considered an initial provision of programs and services. Parent consent would only be required for the initial or first IEP, R340.1722(a)(3)
I think I would like to sign though :)  
So, parents, teachers, advocates etc. Is this happening anywhere besides Michigan? If so, where? This is so interesting to me!!! 

In my school district (in Indiana) we have parents sign the IEP, but, they don't have to. They have 10 days to sign it...if they do not and have not written a dissenting opinion the IEP goes into effect. Maybe this sounds crazy, but, you don't know how many parents I chase down to try to get them to attend case conferences. Scheduling and rescheduling and they still do not show up...and then...I send copies of the IEP certified mail asking them to sign the appropriate pages and return them in the SASE. Nothing! I call...phone numbers don't work, we make home visits, no one is home or won't answer the door. I had 18 case conferences this year with less than 30% of parents attending. I was able to get some parents to participate by phone, some parents told me to have the meeting without them...I just don't understand! Not every year is like this but most are. 
This is so sad! I know of a couple families here who don't bother showing up to their child's IEP meeting (not for lack of the school trying to make it possible for them to do so!). I just don't understand how parents can just not care about their child's education. Guess that's what makes me an over-involved parent! 

As a special education teacher I think the most important factor in student success is parent collaboration. So preparing an IEP without parental input doesn't help anyone. My approach is to meet with the parents a couple of weeks prior to the ARD meeting. By then I should have completed any new assessments and updated the existing goals. The parents and I can discuss progress and what they are wanting next for their child. Then I "draft" the IEP goals to take to the meeting. So there are no surprises when we get to the meeting, on either side.
However, the goals should be driven by assessment: an accurate picture of what the student can do now, then a measurable and quantifiable goal of what we think they can do over the next year. It is so important to collaborate and if that is not successful, not only will the ARD meeting not go well, the school year will not go well and the student will not make sufficient progress. Renee, your presentation looks awesome. 

This is a great approach! Love it! Thanks for the feedback! :)

M is missing those very same teeth. Still! She'll be 4 in a few weeks. I was happy to see that pic because now I know it's not just her. We've both got pretty, slow-teething girls. :)
How funny! Wonder what it is about those particular teeth?! 

When you do move does the army send a moving truck and movers to pack things up or do you have to drive a moving truck across country? 
They would, if we wanted them to, but we're choosing to do it ourselves so we are sure to get all our stuff and, you know, not have shoes thrown in with our dishes! ;)

Are you getting the kids all new bedroom sets when you get to Colorado?
Not exactly. We are ditching the bunk beds because we're SO over that phase and are hoping to separate out the kids differently in CO. Keeghan will be moving from a toddler bed to a big boy bed which my mom is giving us one from her house, and Kennedy will also be getting a bed from my mom's house (that was actually Kassidy's). Kassidy MAY be getting a bed from my mom's as well, if it works out size wise. We need to measure the room she will have in CO. Kameron will be the only one getting a "new" new bed, which we will probably scour craig's list etc, once we get to CO. Kellsey will keep the same toddler bed she has right now, partly because she is not ready for a big girl bed and party because she thrives on familiarity and routine so we're hoping it will help her to see her bed in her new room wherever that may be! 

Are you advertising it in other ways?
Yes, we have advertised on FB on my church's page, the Ft. Campbell yard sale page, our local military ministry wive's page and a bunch of other places. We need to hit up our newspaper too. We're also going to put up posters and stuff the morning of :). 

Are you moving away and taking your kids beds and all their toys away from them? LOL! I have a feeling they will have new ones when they get in their new home and I am sure they are not going to be without toys either. LOL!!
HA! Not hardly! They will still have PLENTY of toys left!!! We are just weeding out the ones they never play with or have outgrown... which is A LOT!!!

Tell your Mom, she needs just move up there with you. Didn't she move to Tennessee because of you? Well I cannot think of a better reason to move to Colorado either. LOL!!

She hasn't decided yet what she's going to do. I guess time will tell! :)

Kennedy took all of those?! They're amazing! She's a great photographer!
Yep! I think so too!! :)

Are you all doing an DITY move? I just realized how much packing you are doing! 
Yes!! Total DITY move. I'm WAY too OCD to let the military move us! HA! 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pool Party Time!

Summer is officially here! Yesterday we had our first pool party of the year over at my mom's house with my mom and our friends Amy and Casandra and their families. Frank grilled yummy food of course and we all swam until the kids were exhausted! I actually didn't get in because the water was too cold, but that gave me lots of time to take pictures! :) The weather was perfect - 90 degrees! Awesome swimming weather! The forecast is saying 90ish for the next week or so, so I see lots of swimming in our near future! Hope you enjoy these pics!! :)

Happy Memorial Day!

We will never forget the reason for today... it's more than just a day off work...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Through the Eyes of Kennedy (Part 1)

Here are some pictures from Kennedy's camera... she finds some interesting things to take pictures of, and I thought you all might like to see the world through her eyes! :) Enjoy!!

Grandma, Symphony and Angelina, one of the chairs at the tea shop and another one of Angelina

Dena, our friend and photographer who came to Kennedy's party (all is fair in love and picture taking!) 
The menu at the tea shop
Charlie and Anna and Dena again :) 

Almost empty tea plates, the fan at the tea shop,
Symphony REALLY close up, the wall with a pretty clock, and a self portrait of Symphony and Kennedy

Me! :) A robin's nest? Symphony and Angelina dancing and a yummy looking cake!

The lady who works at the tea shop, Daddy
Karson the guinea pig and our remote (you know you always wondered what it looked like! HA!)

Cute little feet... I'm thinking Kennedy likes feet! haha and Charlie

Kennedy and Charlie self portrait, our brush... again, you've been dying to see it, right? And Charlie again!

Wobblers, Kennedy's tea spoon, Silly Keeghan and empty boxes (which are now full!) 

Such a crazy brother! And one of Kennedy's birthday balloons...

Gloria, Kennedy's speech therapist... some cards Gloria was holding, and Kenn's iPod playing Toy Story

Kassidy, Kameron and Daddy :)

More to come!!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

This N That...

I keep thinking I need to blog for the day, yet I have nothing to say! (I know, shocker!) LOL Frank and I worked hard yesterday getting more boxes packed, more stuff cleaned and sorted through, and our house is looking emptier and emptier. I even took a lot of pictures off the wall. I haven't taken the ones in the living room down yet because, well, we live in this room and I just think it may be a little too early, but the rest of the house is picture-less.

Speaking of pictures, here are a few random ones left over from the month of May. I can't believe it's almost June!!

Partners in crime! 

Kennedy with her butterfly wings

Silly birthday girl!



Kass on a shopping date with daddy

Apparently the aliens are watching their weight... 

Kam with some of his friends on his last field trip 

My handsome boy

I guess I've already posted all the pics I have of Kellsey this month. I'll be sure to get some pictures of her in the pool tomorrow! She loves the water! :) Speaking of which, I need to go bathing suit shopping today. Ugh. I know you all envy me, right?! HA! I hope you all have a nice holiday weekend! 

Friday, May 27, 2011

HUGE Moving Sale!!!

We are just weeks away from our PCS move to Colorado! Seriously, that feels so crazy to say! We've been talking about this for months, we've been planning and packing and now, it's just around the corner! The next step in our "getting ready to move" process is a huge, gigantic moving sale! If you live in Tennessee or Kentucky, please stop by and check it out! We have tons of stuff that you may just LOVE! :) 

When: Friday and Saturday, June 3rd and 4th, 2011
Time: Starting at 8am (no early shoppers allowed!)
Where: We are in Clarksville off exit 11 across from Richview Middle School (email me or leave me a comment for exact address)

Kassidy and Kameron will be out there with ice cold lemonade, 
so come thirsty!!

Here are just a FEW of the items we have to offer: 
toddler bed (Backyardigans)
Kid's table and 2 chairs (Two sets one Backyardigans, one white)
2 cribs (both white and both in great shape!)
dining room table and 4 chairs, 
doll house with furniture
computer, extra monitor, scanner, routers, printer 
computer desk with matching bookshelf 
girl's bedroom suite (2 dressers, headboard, nightstand)
, 2 double strollers, several single strollers, 
2 pack n plays, 
coffee table, 
lots of kitchen and bathroom items, 
misc military equip., 
new and used TOYS galore!, 
kids and adult clothes, 
kids shoes
kids rocking chairs, 
TV and VCR, 
and SOOOO much more! 

Come help us clean out before we PCS!! 
We just can't take it all with us... 

Q&A #191

Response to your first question and answer: I wonder if it's because it's only just in the last decade and in rare cases (special parents who didn't listen to "experts) the last two decades that anyone really tried to teach ppl with DS. IOW Low expectations leading to no results. 
Right, I think that has a lot to do with it! I am seeing kids (and of course adults) with Down syndrome reading ALL the time lately thanks to awesome blogs and facebook videos! :)

I seem to remember that you recommended a filter that you have on the internet for your kids' laptops. I have been trying to find that recommendation again, but I give up. Can you publish that info again? 
Yes! Kidzui, it is awesome! It blocks undesirable websites and only allows them on kid friendly sites and it sends you weekly reports of how much time your child is spending online and what sites they visited. We've loved it for Kass and Kam. Best of all, it's FREE! (Man, I sound like a commercial! LOL)

Is it just in Michigan now that the parents don't even sign the IEP? Just the principal signs it whether the parents agree to it or not. 
I have never heard of that before! How bizarre! How can the IEP go into effect if the team doesn't ALL sign that they agree to it? Like Linda commented back in the comment section, I think that's illegal. Any other states out there have this same practice? 

Is your Mom going to move to Colorado with you?
I honestly hope so. I know she has been a big help to you over the years and I am sure your kids will miss her very much. So either you need a house with a "Mother in law quarters" or she needs to house hunt as well. LOL!!

She's not sure yet. We definitely will miss her a lot. She's weighing her options trying to decide what to do. 

Way to go Kass + Kam! How much homework do they get? It always seems like they get so much....I think the most amount of homework per night I got in elementary school was like 30 minutes! 
They both seemed to have a lot of projects this year, but regular homework was probably about 30 minutes, usually less for Kameron, he sometimes finished his in the car while we were driving to pick Kellsey up from school. I'm worried about Kass for next year entering middle school, I remember having SO much homework then because each teacher would give like 20-30 minutes worth! She gets overwhelmed by homework easily. 

Renee, I just had an ECI evaluation of my youngest (he'll be 3 in December). Due to the experiences I've had with the school district with my older children, I don't expect them to fulfill my child's needs without a fight. Could you give me some links to get me started?
Yes! First, contact your local ARC to see if they have an advocate service. Also check out Wright's Law. They have a wealth of information on every subject. There's a search bar at the top that may help you out. You can also find them on Facebook.  And please buy that tape recorder and give the school 24 hours notice that you WILL be recording the meeting. You may never need that tape, but if you do, it will be invaluable to you later. 

YIKES... I remember that hairdo, on ME! I would love to see who buys that treasure and why..LOL!!! Hope ya'll do great with the yard sale. 
Haha! I'll have to have my camera handy and interview the person who buys it! :)

Remember, Kellsey will grow up one day and see these pictures - I hate to see what payback is going to be. Just remember you will deserve it whatever it is! LOL I can't wait to read the Kellsey blog and see how she responds to this one!!! 
Ahhh yes, I can see it now! I'll be 95 and in a nursing home and she'll be crimping my hair! LOL She actually liked it when I showed her in the mirror. :)

WHY did we think this looked good? And please tell me that even if you don't sell it you will donate it? It's for the greater good, I promise! 
Donate it where?! LOL It reminds me of the Sound of Music when Maria said she donated everything to the poor except the hideous dress she was wearing because the poor didn't want that one! LOL Poor crimping iron! 

We aren't tooooo far..i think i could make it there by saturday to get it ;) It would be a good excuse to come visit y'all before you move further away!
Come on over! I'll give you a good deal! LOL 

Crimping is soooooooo back in! (Well here anyway!) I just bought one for my Goddaughter, they are hard to find! I have mine from the 80's too....pulled it out for my daughter and her friends one night....
You may really want to hang on to that.....just sayin'

SEE!!!! I told you it was a treasure! LOL 

I will send you 3 dollars for it! I live in Colorado as you know so I cannot come to your yard sale but I want it!
HA! And it IS a wanted item! :) If it doesn't sell at our yard sale, I will bring it to you! 

I'm not sure if you've already answered this but.. does kellsey have denal issues? I noticed in a few pictures she seems to be missing teeth- or something- but in these you can tell there's some obvious gaps...
Ummm not really issues, but yes she does have two missing teeth on the bottom. When we first took her to the dentist they said that they (the teeth) may not be there at all. Many kids with Ds have missing teeth. They said it could also be due to malnutrition or who knows, they could have been knocked out in the orphanage somehow. That would have been REALLY weird though because it's the same tooth missing on each side. THEN a few months ago, we finally saw the tips of those teeth break through the skin, so they ARE there! :) We have no way of knowing how old she was when she got her first tooth, so it could just be delayed teething. Ironically, Kennedy was missing those exact same two teeth for the longest time and they finally came in when she was 3 1/2. Still waiting on Kellsey's to grow all the way in. 

I couldn't even think quick enough to make up a fake address! I guess lesson learned! next time get a license plate number and ask to see insurance card, and driver's license!!! Hope you catch up with her! Scour the phone book or google her!!!! 
I know, right?! She drove away from the scene because she said her son was having a seizure and Frank didn't get her license number. We have been searching google and facebook! haha

Oh that sucks! Is her husband in the military? Can you go through them if he is? 
He is. Frank is trying to track him down now. 

I'd say you should have gotten a police report, but it probably wouldn't have helped since it was in a parking lot. 
We do have a police report, but she took off before the policeman got there so all Frank could give him was the info that this Jennifer lady gave to him. 

I would call her insurance company myself. Could be she really does not have insurance at all. I hate to say that but there are lots of people out there that do not have any.
I did call and they have no valid account with Safe Auto. They used to though. *sigh*

Do you have uninsured motorist in TN? Had it in CA and oh it was great. Worked easier than when the other person HAD insurance. Isn't your insurance supposed to be the one to go after the other person?
We do actually, we're going to check into it today and see how much it will raise our rates. It's going to be pretty hard for our insurance company or the police to go after this girl without a valid address. We're still working on tracking her down. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Car Accident Take Two...

So remember last month when I wrote about Frank and Kameron getting into a car accident in the Wal-Mart parking lot? That accident happened on April 9th, and in my post I said, "Thank God for honest people!" Well, I may have spoken too soon. First this woman who hit them said that the insurance company was dragging their feet filing the claim and now she won't return Frank's phone calls at all. We have to get his suburban fixed before we move! So today he's going to show up at her house... if that doesn't work he'll go to her husband's chain of command. He may even call Safe Auto, which is her insurance company, and talk to them directly. One way or another, we're getting our car fixed! So much for honest people!

Edited to add: Frank went by her house and the address she gave us does not exist. Awesome. I called her insurance company and the policy number she gave us was incorrect. They used her name and phone number to search their system and a policy DID pop up... which has been dead in the water for some time now. :( Looks like we may be getting screwed again. Jennifer Gardner, if you're out there reading this, time to step up and pay your debts! We'll be waiting!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

IEP Tips - Part 2

What to do if you have to file for Mediation or Due Process

First of all, if you missed the IEP tips part one, you can find them right here. Second, these tips were formulated by Dr. Linda Brake who worked in the school district that Kennedy was in last year and actually sat across the table from us at mediation. Who better to ask, right? She put together some great points if you are heading into mediation and/or Due Process... and I might add some of my own thoughts below that. ;)

This comic always makes me laugh. I was totally "Annie's mom" before Kennedy started school. I know many parents out there who get slapped with reality after their child starts school, but the nationwide survey that we put out there shows that most people are happy with their IEP teams, so take heart! I'll publish those results as well in the coming days. OK onto the tips: 

  • Know and understand your parental rights under IDEA. 
I talked about this in my IEP tips as well. Get a copy of your state code, be prepared! If you live in Tennessee, the STEP program offers free training workshops for parents of kids with all special needs. It's 2 or 3 hours long and they throw a lot of information at you. You may even want to take it twice. It's seriously worth your time though! And I think they give you a complete copy of our state code! ;) Please don't wait to take this class until you have to file for Mediation though, it might be too late! 

  • Remain Calm and Professional to Boost Credibility
This goes back to "leave your emotions at the door", and again, easier said than done for some. Still, it's not going to get you anywhere to go in ranting and raving and cussing everyone out. (I didn't do that, I promise! I just cried! HA!) Also, treat mediation and especially due process like a business meeting. Don't go to Mediation in jeans. Dress the part. 

  • Have evidence to prove your allegations 
Do you want more therapy for your child? Why? Be able to prove it! Do you want an expensive communication device or a one on one aide? Show the research as to why these things will help your child succeed academically. Remember, you can't say, "Well Bob has an aide! We want one too!" An IEP is individualized to your child. Just as you shouldn't care what anyone else in the school is doing, neither will the district. If you're going to Due Process, bring in expert witnesses on your child's condition or in the field you're fighting for. Do you want full inclusion? You better have research as to why that's more appropriate (not best) for your child. There are experts out there who will come testify in court. Other good witnesses would be your child's pediatrician, private therapists, and parents of classmates who witnessed your child thriving in an inclusive environment. Have a whole list ready to go! 

  • Be Clear in What You're Asking For
Don't leave any doubt in the minds of the district about what you want from them for your child. When you file for Mediation you have a form to fill out and turn back into your LEA. On that form, state clearly the reasons that you are filing. Don't second guess yourself. Don't send mixed messages. Keep it short, clear and concise. "We the parents of Jane Smith are filing for mediation to obtain more speech and occupational therapy in a private setting. We do not feel the group setting is appropriate for her for her therapies, but since her IEP team disagrees we are requesting mediation to resolve this matter." There is no question about what Jane's parents want for her, right? Be clear. 

  • As soon as you file for Due Process, request a copy of your child's records. 
They're your child's files and you have a right to them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I might suggest requesting that copy even before you file for Due Process. You never know when  important documents will get lost... or changed. Just sayin'. 

  • Understand 'Stay Put'
Until Mediation and/or Due Process is completed, there is a 'Stay Put' on your child's IEP. This could work in your favor or it could work against you. In our case, it would have worked in our favor. If we had pursued Due Process, it would have run into the following school year and under the 'Stay Put' law, Kennedy would have remained in the same setting with the same services as her previously agreed upon IEP. They could not have moved her into a restrictive setting unless it was so ordered by the judge. However, if you're fighting for more services or to get your child out of a restrictive setting, this would work in the school's favor because again, they would not move your child or provide him those extra services until it was so ordered by the judge. Clear as mud? :) **Note: Under IDEA 2004, 'Stay Put' does not apply to appeals of disciplinary decisions.**

  • If Mediation is selected, be sure you are willing to compromise. 
So, you don't have to go to Mediation. You could skip it and go directly to Due Process. However, this doesn't look very good to the judge, so you should at least try Mediation, and who knows, it may be successful! A successful Mediation, however, requires BOTH parties to be willing to compromise. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn't. Make a list of the things you are asking for and then make another list of the things you would be willing to compromise on... If you go in so set that you're not going to compromise at all, then you're wasting everyone's time and you may as well go straight to Due Process. 

  • Be Prepared
Just like for the IEP meeting, just like for every other important meeting you've ever been to, go prepared. Know what you're going to say. Have your binder. Bring back up. The boy scouts will be proud of you. ;)

  • Communicate Effectively
I think this goes back to being clear about what you want. If you're not sure, then how is the Mediator (or judge) going to give it to you? Going in and yelling and screaming at the district will get you nowhere. Be willing to communicate no matter how angry you might be. 

  • Be sure you understand everything at the time it is being said
There are no stupid questions. If you don't understand something that was said, especially if you're coming to a compromise in Mediation, ask for clarification. There were lots of things that I thought I understood in our Mediation, but once I asked more questions, it was a deal breaker. I'm glad I asked when I did or I would have signed something that I didn't really agree with without knowing it! 

  • If at all possible, get a lawyer! The school district will be sure to have one, you should too! 
So this should really be the number one tip not the last tip. If you're even considering filing for Mediation or Due Process, get a lawyer! There are a lot of great lawyers out there who specialize in Special Ed law. The district has to provide you with a list of lawyers who work at reduced cost if you ask for one. Make sure your lawyer is a good one and will take the time to do his/her research and fight for your child. You do not want to go this process alone. It can get very personal and very ugly very quickly. I loved my fancy Nashville lawyer... who worked pro bono. (Sorry, little inside joke there.)

I also want to recommend these books again. I know I've done it before, but I guess it can't be said enough... 

From Emotions to Advocacy - The Special Education Survival Guide, 2nd Edition
by Pam Wright and Pete Wright was published in January 2006 (ISBN: 978-1-892320-09-4, 338 pages, perfect bound, $19.95).

"If I were asked to choose just one book to help me learn advocacy skills, this is it!" - Support for Families of Children with Disabilities

"A superb reference, From Emotions To Advocacy is highly recommended reading for parents of children in need of special education services ... it's filled with tips, techniques and a wealth of resources, from web sites to worksheets, forms, and sample letters …" Midwest Book Review

All About IEPs - Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About IEPs
(ISBN: 978-1-892320-20-9) by Pete Wright, Pam Wright, and Sue O'Connor, 192 pages, $12.95.

In this comprehensive, easy-to-read book, you will find clear, concise answers to frequently asked questions about IEPs. Learn what the law says about:

IEP Teams and IEP Meetings
Parental Rights & Consent
Steps in Developing the IEP
Placement, Transition, Assistive Technology
Strategies to Resolve Disagreements

And that's it! (I know, you're saying, "Thank goodness she's done talking!" HA!) Again, I hope these tips were helpful if you DO have to go to Mediation and/or Due Process. Linda said that looking in from the other side of our whole process, this comic best described me: 

Hopefully there will never be another "next time", but if there IS, I'll be more prepared! Experience is a good teacher! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

School's Out for SUMMER!

School's out FOREVER! :o) OR until August 12th which is when school starts in Colorado. LOL Kassidy and Kameron got out of school at noon today. I went to Kameron's award ceremony and both kids ended up on the A honor roll which finished them both up with straight A's all year long! :o) Kameron also made top 5 in his class for AR (advanced readers). I'm sure Kass was up there for her class too, but they didn't announce it she said. I'm so proud of both of them and all their hard work this year!

Kassidy also got Character Kid this month for Cooperation. She has received this award every year from Kindergarten through 5th grade for different character traits! She didn't think she was going to get it this year and then they surprised her at the last second. ;)

And so now, we are onto Summer... no more car circle, no more school lunches, no more standing in line, no more waking up early (right, kids? Please?!), no more homework or projects (hallelujah!), no more tennis shoes! (We have a Summer rule... sandals only! I don't wash socks during the Summer!) ;), no more early bedtimes (unless they whine!) and no more sitting in car circle. Wait, I already said that. I'm actually going to miss my car circle time a little bit. ;) 

It's still not quite time to hang out and relax though... we have our huge, monstrous yard sale coming up in just over a week. It's nothing short of amazing the amount of stuff we have to sell. Seriously, if you're local, I hope you'll come check it out. Then, right after that, my mom, Kassidy and I take off to Colorado to house hunt. We have some beautiful houses on our list (with lots of bathrooms!) and I'm excited to take a look at them! I'll also be meeting with the powers that be in our new school district while I'm there. Then, when we get back, hopefully with our housing squared away and a moving date set in stone, we will take time to relax, pack some final boxes, say goodbye to friends, and enjoy our last couple weeks in Tennessee. 

Time is flying, and I have a 4th grader and a 6th grader to prove it! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

App of the Week #15

I really need to do these more often! I have so many to talk about. This one is a new one to our app collection, but I am really liking it so far. If you're a parent of a child with special needs or a speech therapist or special ed teacher, you'll probably love this one too!

What: Question Builder
By: Mobile Education Tools
Price: $3.99

This is Question Builder... If your child is struggling with answering the "why, where, how what" 
questions, then this app can help with that! 

First you enter your student's name and select your level of play and which question(s) 
you would like to work on... 

So if your child is not reading well, you will have to do this app with them. They speak the questions out loud, but your child has to choose from a multiple choice answer. I do this app with Kennedy... some of the answers she knows before I even read her the choices, but others she doesn't until I give her the options. When a right answer is chosen, praise is given and sometimes a silly picture pops up on the screen.

At the end it keeps track of your child's stats... 

We have only tried this once so far and have only done level 1. The only complaint I have is that it doesn't retain Kennedy's name in there and I would love to be able to set up a separate account for Kennedy and Keeghan as he really enjoyed it, too. Overall though it seems to be a great app for its purpose and I think that it's really going to help her with her reasoning skills with those pesky what, where, why, how questions. We're going to bump up to level 2 today! :)

IEP Tips - Part 1

Here are some notes from the session Linda Brake and I led on the IEP process on the 14th at the statewide conference for the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee. While Linda and I were collaborating, we were trying to decide what was most important to get out there to parents. We told a bit of our story and everything that happened last year (which she knew more than I did, being behind the scenes and all). I think we both teared up at least once just thinking back. It was... hard... for everyone involved, I know. I am thankful to be moving forward a year later, mending some relationships, praying that others can be healed before we move, and still a little bitter tender about some others still. Time heals all wounds, right?

"They" say you can't run away from your problems, and I don't think that we're doing that by moving, but I do think that a fresh start is exactly what we need. I've spoken to the school district in Colorado where we plan on moving and I'm cautiously optimistic. They were very encouraging, and have a very progressive system set up there for kids with special needs. I will still go in prepared, not ready for battle, but armed with knowledge.

I hope that, no matter what the people at the school or in the system here think about me, they realize that I had to fight for my child and her education and what was right for her. To this day I know that I made the right choice not allowing her to go into a restrictive setting. Her year here at home, everything that she has learned and accomplished, has proven that to me. Still, I am excited for her to go back to school this Fall. She misses it a lot. I am excited to see what they have to offer for Keeghan and Kellsey. I know that Kass and Kam will thrive wherever they are.

So, now I hope to take last year and turn it into an opportunity to help other parents. Teaming up with Linda has been a great first step. She was an invaluable resource, full of legal knowledge and lots of great feedback. I also pulled a lot of wonderful ideas from other parents. When in doubt, ask the people who have been there, done that! Then of course, I threw in some stuff from my own personal experience. I hope some of these tips and ideas help some of you who are struggling with your children's education. If you have anything to add to this list, feel free! We'd love to hear it!

How to Survive an IEP Meeting
  • Bring your ideas about goals and objectives. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you think. 

          All of the people at the table at your child's IEP meeting are going to have ideas about what your child should be learning in the upcoming year. They may even have them already written out into a "draft IEP" which I will talk more about later. The thing is, you know your child better than anyone sitting at that table. While they are educators and they have the degrees, you are an expert on YOUR child. You have every right to speak up about the goals and objectives (and placement) they write into your child's IEP for the year, and most schools will WANT to hear your thoughts and ideas. Don't just sit back and say, "Whatever you think is best." Because you'll get railroaded. And may I add, and this is probably a "duh" factor for most parents, but please show up to your child's IEP meeting! It's important! I wouldn't bring it up if I didn't know of at least one set of parents who didn't bother showing up ever. *sigh*

  • Breathe, and never believe that everyone at the school has your child’s best interests at heart. 
OK, so I know this sounds catty and mean, and for the record, this tip did not come from me, but I think it comes from a good place. If I could expand on this, I would maybe say don't automatically think that every idea the school throws out there is because they're thinking of your child first. Unfortunately, many times things like money and state test scores and school reputation come into play. On the flip side, if you find someone in the school (especially a teacher) who is brave enough to stand up and fight for your child and what is right (sometimes even at the risk of their job) hang onto them tightly! They are a rare gem! Sorry, harsh I know, some of them won't be so bad, but I do think it needed to be included. And the breathe part is good too... everyone, breathe in... breathe out! :)

  • Bring a binder. You might include a copy of your state code. Include previous IEPs, testings, report cards, evals etc. Put a picture of your child on the outside. 
So first, your state code is thick, and you're never going to be able to read it all. However, I strongly urge you to peruse it in the weeks before your IEP meeting. Know your rights and your laws! At your IEP meeting, when they offer you a copy of your parental rights, you can say, "No thanks, I have mine right here." They will know you mean business. The school has a copy of the state code, why shouldn't you?! Please please please keep all previous IEP's and evals and testings from everywhere! Start your binder early (and get a big one!) because you never know when you'll need to look back on something. Heaven forbid there is a discrepancy in the IQ score that you have vs. the one the school miraculously pulled out of thin air. Just sayin'. Slip a picture of your child in the cover and leave your binder on the table at all times. It helps everyone remember that you are talking about a child - not a diagnosis, not a battle between parent and school - a child. One who deserves the best possible education he or she can get. I've also heard of parents bringing wallet sized pictures to hand out to everyone in the room or bringing a picture of their child in a frame and sticking it in the middle of the table. Don't forget who is really important! 

  • It is your legal right to tape record every IEP meeting as long as you give 24 hours notice. This could be invaluable to you later. 
This is probably my second favorite tip and one that I say over and over. I wish I would have tape recorded our IEP meeting. I think things would have gone much differently. Go to walmart or wherever, buy a handheld recorder and notify the school that you will be recording your meeting. You need to give 24 hours notice so the school has the opportunity to record as well if they so choose. Hang onto that tape for the entire school year. Should you find that the school violates your child's IEP at any time, you have back up even over and above the written word. It's also helpful if you have to go to mediation and/or due process. It's a small thing you can do to keep your sanity, and it doesn't have to be confrontational. Over and above having it for security, it's good to be able to go back and listen when you need to remember something that was said (especially if it was you that said it! haha). 

  • If your school prepares an advanced "draft copy" of your child's IEP, you have the right to see it before the meeting! Request a copy! 
First, let me say, I think it's totally bogus for the school to have the IEP written before you walk into the meeting. YOU are a member of your child's IEP team (the most important member!) and you should be there to develop his/her goals. It's also illegal to have the IEP written before the meeting, however many schools get away with it by stamping the word "draft" on it and claiming that goals, objectives, placement can be changed with discussion. The truth is, I don't buy that. But maybe I'm cynical - and with good reason. So, if your school does advanced "draft copies" of the IEP, you can do a couple different things. You can either request that it's NOT done in advance for your child (and good luck with that) or request a copy beforehand to look over. Seriously, this is the best way to prevent being blindsided at your child's IEP meeting. Don't let them give you excuses as to why you can't have one. If they have it prepared ahead of time, if they know your child's goals before the meeting, then you should too. 

  • Always always bring an advocate or support person with you to every IEP meeting! 
And this is my first favorite tip. My advocates were invaluable to me! Again, this doesn't have to be a confrontational thing. Bringing an advocate to an IEP meeting doesn't have to say, "I don't trust you and I'm gearing up for a fight." You can simply say (because you really should let the school know you are bringing an advocate with you) that you want someone there who knows the IEP law better than you and who can be an impartial person at the table, because let's face it, when it comes to our children, we can get a little emotional. I cry. Others get angry. Whatever it is, it's nice to have someone there who can say, "I think we need to take a break." They can also offer suggestions and tips that maybe the school has never tried or you, the parent, has never considered. They are there for everyone. You can find an advocate through your local ARC in most states. Please utilize this service! 

  • Never use the word "best" always use the word "appropriate". The school does not have to provide what is "best" for your child. 
Whether you're talking about goals, therapies, other services or placement, you want what is appropriate for your child. It was not appropriate for Kennedy to be in the Life Skills classroom. (Clearly it was not what was best for her either, but that's not the school's concern.) ;o) Take the word "best" out of your vocabulary for the day. 

  • Bring food! It adds a personal touch and lets them know you are wanting to play nice. 
I tried this, it didn't work too well, but I might try it again. I know some people bring a whole spread of great goodies as well as coffee (to keep everyone awake?! haha). It's kind of an olive branch as you walk in the door. :)

  • Make sure you understand everything in the IEP before you sign it! Take it home and look it over. You have 10 days to return it or file for mediation. Never sign something you don't agree with 100%!
Even if you are in agreement with your child's IEP, may I recommend taking it home and looking it over? Sleep on it. Talk about it with your husband if he wasn't at the meeting. Call your mom or a friend. Really pray about it. The next day you may look at it again and think, "How could I have forgotten to include THAT!" An IEP is a legal and binding document. It's as important as any other legal document you will ever sign, and while you can call another meeting at any time during the year, it's not something you want to go into hastily. If you have questions or issues, resolve them before signing your name to that document! 

  • Be realistic about what the school can and should provide, but then expect them to follow through. No excuses. 
And the teachers cheer, "Finally!" ;o) I have been trying to figure out how to come up with some good examples for this one... the best thing I can suggest is to make a list of what you want for your child as far as services, placement, goals, etc. Then decide what is really important. For example, if you live in a district without a ton of money, it's probably not going to do you a lot of good to demand that the school provide an iPad for your child. You can most certainly ask! You never know what will happen! But be willing to compromise. Decide what you can/will bend on and what you won't. And seriously, have some things that you are willing to bend on. It shows the school that you ARE willing to work with them. Once something is written into that IEP though, it's the school's job to follow through. If they write in that your child is allowed to go on field trips with his grade level, then he gets to go. No excuses. Don't let them tell you that they don't have an aide available for that day or they don't have the right accommodations, that's not your problem. It's in his IEP and therefore they need to figure it out. Just an example, but it's one that really hits home in our county right now. 

  • Leave your emotions at the door. 
So, this is easier said than done, I know. Especially for me. ;o) And this really goes back to having an advocate. They can really help with this and keeping emotions more even keeled. I applaud those parents who can go into these meetings and not shed a tear, because I am most certainly not one of them. Maybe one day! :)

  • An IEP is individualized to your child. It doesn't matter what any other child is doing. 

I don't care if every other child with Down syndrome in the entire district is sitting in a Life Skills classroom right now, that doesn't mean it's appropriate for my child. I don't care if every other child with Special Needs in the school is only getting 30 minutes of group speech therapy once a week, if you feel your child needs more (or individual therapy), say so! Just because every other child in the class has the goal of learning to tie their shoes (and that's a totally loose example so don't slam me for that), it doesn't mean that goal needs to be written into your child's IEP. It doesn't matter what the other kids are doing, what matters is what is appropriate for your child. Get it? Got it? Good! 

  • Be sure that all team members are present. You, your child's teachers, your child's therapists, etc. While you can call an IEP meeting any time you wish, sometimes the annual review is the only one you need. Attendance is important! 
Again, my "duh statement". Show up to your child's IEP meeting. The school will schedule the meeting at your convenience. I've even heard of some meetings being held in the child's home! They will work with you in most situations. Every year of your child's education is important! It's also important that anyone working directly with your child is there. You need to be able to talk to them, get their feedback, ask them questions, etc. If they cannot be at the meeting for whatever reason, ask to reschedule. Also, members of the IEP team cannot leave the table unless you agree. For example, after a therapist goes over his/her goals for your child, many times they will bow out saying they need to get back to work. They're not allowed to do this unless you say it's ok. Technically, they should be there for the entire meeting in case you have some questions for them later. 

OK so there was so much more to our presentation, but this was the end of the IEP tips. I will do a part two later this week. I hope that some of you found this helpful! I wish you all could have been in our session. We received some great feedback and a lot of other wonderful tips from parents and teachers alike... none of which I can recall right now. If I can remember them later I will add them in! Thanks for reading if you got this far. I look forward to your constructive feedback! :)