Monday, September 5, 2011

Watch Out, This Parent is "VERY Assertive!"

Look at my cute little baby boy.  
This is when MJ was just a month old or so.

I don't know how I would have reacted if I knew then how hard life was going to be for my cute little boy as he grew up with Asperger's in the mix.  Sometimes things just aren't very fair.

MJ is 11 years old now and since he skipped a grade, is now entering 7th grade this year.  That means he is in Junior High.  This is a big step for such a child.  A big step indeed, especially if you have Asperger's.

Now, we have fought long and hard to make things work in Elementary School for MJ.  It has taken time and some fighting, but we've mostly come out on top.  The elementary school had a 504 Accommodation Plan that helped him get along well.  They had worked with him to allow him to do advanced work and eventually let him skip a grade even when it "raised all the red flags" as the psychologist at school warned.  MJ had a very successful year in 6th grade both socially and academically with straight A's in every subject.  Although he didn't have close friends, he was accepted amongst his peers and was generally happy to hang out with different groups of kids.  

Well, here we were to start a new school as a 7th grader.  Now, me, wanting to be very proactive, began calling the school and sending emails to the junior high as to get ready and make sure they had all the information they needed and so that MJ would have a chance to meet his teachers before school began.  But, things did not quite work out.  My emails were shut out of their system, and no one was at the school to answer phone calls.

So, I persisted, and finally we went into the school 2 weeks before school started to make sure they knew of MJ's 504 Plan and that everything would go smoothly for the first week of school.  We weren't too worried.  MJ's accommodations are rather small.  Just a few things here and there; using graph paper instead of regular paper, needing to sit closer to the teacher, being allowed extra time on written assignments.  Mostly our major concern was making sure they knew about MJ's PDA that he used at school to cue him and to record any important assignments and information.  The junior high had a very strict rule against having any electronic devices in the school building. 

Last year he had this old PDA, like a palm pilot of olden days that he took to school to cue him when to turn in assignments, when to go to certain classes, when to stay at school, etc, but this year we gave him an old smart phone that was easier to use and organized information better.  Although it was technically a phone, it had no sim card, and so there would be no way of making phone calls or texting.  But still, I didn't want MJ to have any problems, so we met with the school counselor who assured us everything would be fine and that he would personally send an email out to all of  MJ's teachers to let them know about his PDA.  He even had us go find the vice principal to make sure he knew it was OK.  So all was well supposedly.  

Well, the first couple of days seemed fine although MJ came home telling me he had gone to 2 of the wrong classes and sat all the way through them before the teacher let him know he was in the wrong class.  (Really?!  Don't they take roll or something?)  

But then by day 3 something happened.  After school MJ met me at the crosswalk.  He wouldn't talk, he wouldn't look at me, his head was down.  I knew right away something was wrong.  I tried to ask him what was the matter, and he wouldn't respond.  Something bad had happened.  For MJ, normally when something upsets him or something bad happens, he pretty much shuts down.  He won't talk, he won't look at you, he basically looks like you just killed his dog or something.  It is very very bad.  He becomes completely withdrawn and it usually lasts for a while.  

I finally dragged it out of him after much prodding:  He told me he was in his 2nd class of the day and they were announcing something important over the intercom.  Like he has been taught (and how proud I was that he was remembering this), he pulled out his PDA to enter the important information into it.  Well, the teacher saw this, and she began yelling at him that he is not allowed to have it and must go put it in his locker.  When MJ tried to explain the teacher wouldn't listen and continued to demand he put it in his locker.  Not only that, but then she used him as an example in front of the whole class that he was breaking the rules and that no one was allowed to have any electronic device in the classroom.  Then she made him leave the class to go lock it away in his locker.
Well, hence to say I was outraged!  I had spent all this time going to the school and making sure this would not happen!   How could they do that to my son!?  

Well, I left MJ outside the school, but I marched in there and began demanding to speak to the school principal or who ever would help correct this situation.  They again directed me to the school counselor who upon me entering seemed a bit forgetful to talking with me before, but then seemed to remember and asked me, "Oh, weren't you going to shoot and email to all the teachers?"  Aaaahhh!!!  The whole reason I had met with him in the 1st place was because I couldn't get any emails to the teachers because their email system was down.  I reminded him we had discussed this and he had told me he would email the teachers.  To this he says, "Uh, oh....oh. yeah...."  

So anyway, it is only 3 days into school and now I have a 7th grader who is shut down and who has basically been humiliated in front of his class.  The counselor said he would fix it, but it is just so frustrating.  Maybe it's my fault.  I should have not left anything in the hands of another.  I should have persisted more until I knew for sure everything was taken care of. 

It's hard to think anything is funny about this whole situation, but there is one small thing.  When I first met with the counselor 2 weeks before school, he told me he had a file on many of the kids coming from the elementary school that gave the junior high a little bit of instruction about them.  Well, he read me MJ's bit which said something like, "Gifted, skipped 5th grade, has Asperger's, has 504 Plan....." and then something in which said, "Parents are VERY assertive!  Will need to be watched closely!"  Ha ha haaa!  When he told me this I thought it was rather humorous at the time, but at the same time I was glad they knew I was a strong advocate for my child.  Well, they definitely knew it to be true now.  

I didn't leave it up to the counselor though.  Sure, I figured he would email the teachers now, but I went home and typed up my own long informational email to all of MJ's teachers as to leave no questions left unanswered.  

I didn't want to make MJ having Asperger's a big deal at all.  I wanted things to be mellow and let him adjust easily to Junior High, but I guess that wouldn't work.  Something as small as a PDA in the class wound up being a huge deal.  

Hopefully, things would look up in the next few days.



deThis made me tear up for your lil guy. How humiliating! I hope things get straightened out for him. My son is 6 and just diagnosed. He is on the high function side and dr says he is "borderline." But after seeing him now every couple weeks...I think she is more certain this is what he has. My son is very smart and I tried to go the school also before 1st gr started to talk to someone about him..but my email was ignored. After a simple assignment was poorly graded for something he misunderstood I talked to teacher. She said she would look into things for me. This was 4 weeks ago. He seems to be doing good in school and is happy, only gets very frustrated at home doing homework (mainly any writing). Should I just let things slide or should I be more assertive? Please let me know what you think...I so enjoy reading your me hope! Thanks! Wendy

Becca said...

Remember, YOU are your child's best advocate. The schools are nice to help sometimes, but honestly we have gotten most of our help NOT from the schools. Even the teacher who first brought his differences to our attention when our son was in 1st grade said we should go up to the children's hospital to find answers ourselves. It is a huge battle. Plus, I think a lot of the time schools purposely won't diagnose a student because then they become liable and have to provide the funding for that child's special schooling. At least that is how I often see it where we are and I've had friends in the counseling programs at University's and those doing internships tell me that quite bluntly that the schools won't diagnose a kid. Then again, when we first got MJ's diagnosis, we brought it to the school district and they said, "So, what?" They told us they didn't have to accommodate any student with any disability unless they were failing academically. I thought that was wrong and so I have fought it ever since and mostly I feel we are winning. Every new school or every new environment gives us new challenges and we have to fight, but many of the school administrators can see MJ's potential and so they let us work things out. MJ is in Junior High now and I'm sure it will be more interesting as he gets into high school, but we plan to be there every step of the way to fight for his rights to make things equal for his learning as it is to any other student. Of course, at the same time we have to learn how to get MJ to learn his own independence and how to fight for his own rights and accommodations and in thus doing so, prove himself to others that he can be successful. But yeah, I always say, be more assertive! If you let things slide, then the school will let him fall through the cracks. I like the school to be on their toes from the minute the year starts and so they know that we are on the ball and don't mess around. Be proactive! Good luck!

Megan Nielsen said...

I feel so lucky to have come across your blog. My 6th grade son has aspergers and we have struggled so much with getting his school to help him. Next week, FINALLY we will be having a 504 meeting, but the school psychologist suggested maybe he just needs to be in special ed. NOT!! I would love the chance to talk to you and glean some of your knowledge. I am sure you are crazy busy, but I would love the chance to email if you can. Thanks a bunch! Megan