The following is a letter I wrote after the worst IEP meeting I ever attended. I sat and listened to a group of education professionals, who I thought were supposed to have my child’s best interests in mind, itemize everything Teddy “did to them” while not once addressing a single strength or the possibility they just might have contributed to his struggles. This was my attempt to point out what I saw as the contributing factors to Teddy’s regression.
May 24, 1999
Dear Members of Teddy’s IEP Committee and concerned others,
I am writing this letter to address issues that were not discussed at the May 21, 1999 IEP gathering. Overall, the tone of the meeting was very negative. It is crucial, in preparing a worthy IEP for Ted, to fully examine his history and that means more than just a discussion of his problems. Ted has had so much success and that was completely omitted this past Friday. It is very relative to examine what happened from Ted’s kindergarten year to his first grade year. We had the same child, two different teachers and very different results. This is very telling. We must also address that, in Ted, we have two exceptionalities, Asperger’s and Gifted. He is NOT Emotionally Conflicted. It is also important to remember that we are only considering this placement to accommodate the school system, not Ted. It is our preference he attend his zoned elementary school but they do not have a full-time staffed resource room that he could go to when the pressures of a mainstreamed classroom are too great. Nor, despite our many requests, is the school system willing to provide Ted an aide.
First, let’s revisit Ted’s wonderful kindergarten year. It was said by the special education teachers in the spring of 1998, “At the beginning of the year Ted was the student we were most concerned about, by the end of the year, he was the student we were least concerned about.”
Ted’s kindergarten teacher was firm, had clear behavioral expectations yet was very loving. He felt safe, secure and loved. He was provided the social supports so needed by a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and excelled.
When Ted began 1st grade, everything changed. The crucial elements of love, security and acceptance were removed. He had a rigid teacher with whom he felt very uncomfortable. He no longer felt safe and secure. He was under a behavioral magnifying glass. He did however behave in one on one situations. Ted went to the library as a “safe place” from his classroom and peers and he felt very secure with the staff and was not a behavioral problem there. He also went to the resource room every afternoon, another place he felt safe, and had no problems there either.
In addition to Asperger’s Syndrome, Ted is gifted. Very gifted. He has scored as high as 160 on IQ and academic achievement tests. I think this issue wasn’t addressed appropriately at the May 21st meeting. Ted sat in a 1st grade class spending the morning learning to read. As I have stated before, my son started reading his first words at 2 ½ and has read books since he was five. Yes, he needed phonics skills, but can you imagine how boring it must have been to spend three hours each morning learning to read when he already can?
The 1st grade math book was review for him. When we began homeschooling on January 26, 1999, we began on page 125. On February 12 he finished page 372. My son, in 15 minutes breezed through 16-17 pages of math a day with comments such as, “That was so easy. I already knew this.” The most challenging problems, at the end of the book, were 30+40 and 8+5+5. By April, Ted was doing three-digit addition and subtraction regrouping. It took getting to four digit regrouping and multiplication for him to start showing signs of being challenged. Can you imagine how bored he was in math class doing 5-0 and 4+4?
Finally, I address the question of whether Ted is “addicted to the computer.” As I said on Friday, NO he is not. In Ted’s 1st grade science class they learned, in his own frustrated words, “That the earth hasn’t always looked the way it does now.” Yes, Ted uses the computer a lot. He reads a lot too. He also plays a lot. It is because of this that he can tell you about the Big Bang Theory. He can tell you about the geological stages of the earth’s development and he can tell you how the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon. My son loves knowledge, and I might add it is not “trivial knowledge” as it was referred to in Friday’s meeting.
He loves to learn and my son knows that it takes these supplemental avenues to provide the enrichment he craves. Good for him! Bravo! It is absolutely wonderful that a seven-year old can do that. It is wonderful a seven-year old WANTS to do that! We should celebrate his awesome mind and work like crazy to feed it rather than restrict it so he fits “better” into the confines of our school system. His intelligence and quest to learn are his ticket to success. He isn’t ever going to be a “social” person. He may one day discover the mystery of the universe or cure cancer, but he probably will never be student body president.
Again, can you imagine how bored he was in 1st grade science? And now I ask the fundamental education question. What does a child do in class when they are bored? And moreover with a teacher who does not like him? He acts out!
By writing this letter and taking the stand that there were external contributing factors to Ted’s deterioration this past year, I am not trying to excuse away his actions. My son has behavioral issues – I do NOT deny that. My goodness, I live with him 24 hours a day! We are trying to address these issues head on. We are trying to help him with his social skills that are naturally affected by Asperger’s. We are sending him to weekly hour-long counseling sessions to help him with his anger, aggression and intolerance, which I openly admit are very major issues in his life. My son is more in tune with himself than he may appear. On May 19, when discussing feelings with his counselor he told her he ALWAYS feels the following: bright, bored and mad. Wow! These are the ways he feels and we must all help him to address these issues in his life.
Ted is not old enough to attend his own IEP meetings. That is a decision that I made for him. But let’s all remember his feelings when we actually write his IEP. Out of respect to Ted, to his honesty, to his intelligence and to his behavioral needs, as the adults in his life, who he depends on for guidance and support, let’s put together a plan that will serve this unique child and provide him all the opportunities he so richly deserves and hasn’t received in a year.
Coming Up: A Bright, Bored and Mad Ted Goes to the Emotionally Conflicted Classroom.