I had made some changes in policy and services in my community applying things I had read and learned from others. My son had settled in and all the other children with hearing impairments had been placed in age and grade appropriate settings.
All but one …
His name was Ricky and his mom Helen was part of our original group. Ricky was high school age and that was the last grade level to be returned as programs were put in place. Helen would buy her coffee every morning and on her way to work she would swing by the administration center awaiting the arrival of the superintendent and walk him to his office discussing how soon Ricky would be placed in a school. Helen was persistent and fairly soon she received notice that an IEP had been scheduled to discuss Ricky’s placement in a local high school. I attended the IEP and arrived early. I took a seat and soon the room began to fill up. Ricky and Helen had not shown up yet, and the building principal walked into the room. The principal looked around and, not seeing Helen, assumed the room was occupied only with district staff. For whatever reason, he didn’t notice me sitting there. The principal announced: ”I don’t care what this mother wants – you give it to her. Just keep her out of the superintendent’s office.”
I smiled to myself as Ricky and Helen entered the room and sat down beside me. The meeting began and every request Helen made from a full time interpreter to being shown the type of book bags the other students wore was met with a resounding “no problem.” I was dying inside and it was all I could do to keep from cracking up as I watched the looks on her face as all her requests were granted immediately and without any resistance or discussion. I managed to keep control even when there was a break to make copies and Helen leaned over to me and said, ”This is going very well isn’t it?”
I look back on my career and count the moments that truly were special. The smile that appeared on Ricky’s face when it was signed to him that he would, for the first time in his life, be able to attend school in his own neighborhood, has to be up there toward the top of the list. There was a period of adjustment for everyone as plans were made, such as understanding that when the bus came – beeping the horn would probably not gain Ricky’s attention. Flashing the headlights would probably be more effective.
There are thousands of stories over the years some funny and others sad. In this business of parent advocacy it does seem to be extreme in either direction. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the cussers, hitters, biters and spitters. (Behavior and Emotional Disorders in Special Education) I was always the first to run to their defense. I think of a young man who being placed in a time out room proceeded to attempt urinating on the shoe of the teacher and as reported by the parent chased her around the room seeking to acquire the target. (Addressing Behavior Challenges in Young Children)
I think of Sal and his parents. Sal was diagnosed to be on the extreme end of ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder) and his impulsivity seemed to always land him in hot water. His parents were from Italy and English was a second language for them. I attended an IEP for Sal discussing his behavior and introducing a new behavior plan. In an attempt to help the parents understand what was being proposed, one of the consequences identified Sal liked spending time with the soccer coach and PE instructor. It was explained to Sal’s parents that if Sal had no negative behaviors’ he could have lunch with the coach and be allowed to help him during PE class. (Understanding Problem Behavior) If Sal had referrals he would lose those privileges. The school reinforced presenting this as they explained it to Sal’s parents using pictures. One was cookies and a sandwich representing lunch and the other was PE with a red circle and a line drawn through it signifying the removal of the extra PE time. The meeting continued and at the end I turned to the parents and asked if there was anything that they had questions about. (Behavior Suite) Sal’s father spoke up and said – “Yeah, Wadda ya mean Sal no pee? Sal gotta pee Sal gotta pee.” We had an interpreter located for the next meeting to translate in Italian.
Sal had done something in the lunch room and was being disciplined by being given time out by the dean. As the dean turned to leave Sal flipped him off and got caught. When Sal’s mom asked him why he did that Sal replied, “Momma, my hand shot into the air before my brain could tell it no.” In discussing the incident with district staff it was there after referred to as having been given a Salute. Sal eventually pursed a vocational track and exited with a work diploma. The last I heard he had made a successful transition into the workforce working for a major retail chain.
I recall working with a Vietnamese American mother of two young boys who were part of the neighborhood boys group that hung out in our driveway. She had some issues with her son so I suggested she go to the school and request an IEP meeting. She called me the next day to share that she had done as I suggested and requested an IUD meeting and no one at the school seemed to know what she was talking about. (Disability and Special Education Acronyms) These are both perfect examples of why clear communication is critical. Always seeking clarification to anything you do not understand and getting things in writing is usually best. (Communicating with Your Child’s School Through Letter Writing)