Friday, August 1, 2014

Julianna, Part 12: Getting a 1:1 Aide

Quick recap on where we left off: Julianna had just spent the last six months doing homeschool with me, but I became pregnant with Nathan halfway through, so I was looking into what options were available at the school now that her wonderful resource class had been removed.

School started in 2012, and for the time being, she was placed in the highest functioning class the school had. Blake was in 1st grade now, so that meant both of my kids were in school all day. I opted out of the bus for Julianna, for two reasons: One, she said she never liked riding the bus all these years, because most kids weren't nice, and some even would take things from her backpack, or clips out of her hair, and she had no one to help her on the bus. This broke my heart hearing it, but I was also happy that she had reached a point where she could tell me what was wrong. Two, now that Blake was going to school at the exact time, it just didn't make sense for me to put one kid on the bus and drive the other one. So I drove them both, and the district would reimburse me for the miles driven.

Because I was not sure about the class, I walked in with her every day for the first few months to observe and find out it would work. I was getting very pregnant by that time, but that did not stop me from making sure she would be okay at school. I knew that throwing her in a regular classroom didn't work, because this caused her great anxiety, which is why I pulled her out to homeschool. But I also had my concerns about the special ed class, because many of the kids were prone to displaying spontaneous behaviors or outbursts, and this only increased Julianna's anxiety. The curriculum was very low for her, so I knew she wouldn't learn as much as she could either. So it wasn't long into the school year that I told her teacher that I wanted to get Julianna a 1:1 aide and place her back into the regular classroom. Her teacher totally supported me on this, and said she would do whatever she could to get that for her. The first thing she did was use one of her own classroom aides to send with Julianna to the regular classroom for part of the school day. I chose to send her to a 2nd grade class instead of 3rd, because she wasn't quite at 3rd grade level yet. And the aide her special ed teacher chose could not have been more perfect. This was the year that Julianna got to start playing the flute for the first time, only because her wonderful teacher convinced the music teacher to let her start a year early (my fault on this one; I thought kids could start playing an instrument in 3rd grade, but it was actually 4th.) So since I had been telling Julianna she could play the flute that year, we all knew we couldn't go back. The amazing thing was, her aide played the flute in school, so she was able to help Julianna much more.

The process for obtaining a 1:1 aide is not easy. Once you request it, the school district by law has 60 days to make a decision, based on their own observations of Julianna and what they think her needs are. So I knew that at the end of the 60 days, there would be an IEP meeting; a meeting that, to me, would be a huge part in determining whether Julianna would be able to succeed in school. Once her aide was comfortable working with Julianna, and I felt comfortable with her in the classroom, I stopped coming each morning to observe. The special ed teacher said she specifically assigned Julianna an aide before the decision was made so there would be more evidence to support the fact that she needed one. I don't even know if she was allowed to do this, but she did, and I was so grateful to her for all the support she gave me during this time.

During those 60 days, I talked to this teacher a lot, and she would tell me things she was hearing from the big people in the district. I know for a fact she wasn't supposed to be telling me these things! As the IEP meeting approached, I felt more confident in securing the aide, mostly because of what this teacher did for Julianna.

Well, the big day of the IEP finally came, and once again, I would be sitting around a table with people who all know Julianna really well by now, and who all say they want the best for her, but when it came down to it, what I was requesting was not something they just handed out to anyone. All the teachers came with what they thought would be best for Julianna, and I only knew that her special ed teacher was on my side. The meeting was mostly led by the behavior specialist for the district, who was temporarily replacing the evil "Mrs. Fox" that I referred to in earlier posts. Turns out Mrs. Fox was silently let go over the summer, and I couldn't be happier. I knew that if she were at this meeting, there would be no way Julianna would get that aide. So, we all sat around the table, and went over a questionnaire that listed items that were required in order to obtain the 1:1 aide. After each item, we all voiced our opinion, and by the time we answered all the questions, there was no denying that she clearly needed a 1:1 aide to succeed in school.

Something that is important to note, especially for those of you looking into placing your child in the right classroom, is the "least restrictive environment." Basically, every child deserves to be placed in the classroom that is right for them. Least restrictive means you do everything you possibly can to make it work in a regular classroom, because all students, regardless of their disability, deserve the chance by law to learn with typical peers. Not every child can just be thrown into a special education class, which is what most school districts usually do. It's the easy thing. But it is a more restrictive environment, because there are aides and more supports. Julianna wanted to be in a regular classroom, but she needed help in order to do well and focus, so assigning her an aide was the answer for her. They did tell me that a 1:1 aide is the most restrictive placement, because someone is with her all day helping her. Again, going back to the least restrictive environment, I wasn't really doing that for her, according to their defintion. But to me, this placement was actually the least restrictive for her, because it meant she could be with typical peers and model their behaviors and follow their classroom structures and routines. It was literally freeing her, not restricting her, and this is what I had to explain to the teachers at the meeting. We all came to an agreement, and a 1:1 aide was written into her IEP. One more battle won for my little girl!

What I have learned about the IEP process is that IEP is called individualized for a reason. It stands for individualized education plan. Every child learns differently and has different challenges. Throwing a special needs child into a special ed class is not always the answer. It took me a while to figure out what would work for her, but I did, through much trial and error. I don't think I ever would have discovered this if I hadn't pulled her out to do homeschool with her. Every step of the way, I have been guided in helping Julianna.

No comments:

Post a Comment