Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Annual Review: Win!

annual review, Asperger's, autism, IEP, mean kids, medication, nice kids, related service providers, safety, school
Today was Gus's ever-stressful, anxiety-provoking annual review. I've been mentally preparing myself for weeks now, preparing for an epic battle. I anticipated that there would be fists banging on tables and possibly threats to call lawyers or to remove Gus from the school system. (Okay, so my imagination can get a little overactive, and I'm a sucker for a worst case scenario.)

DH took the day off to attend the meeting, and just prior to the meeting we made our last pre-battle preparations: We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for a sugar and caffeine boost (French vanilla with extra sugar). If I've learned nothing else today, I've learned that a non-coffee drinker should never drink coffee before a meeting that will last more than 5 minutes.

So there we were, ready for the smackdown, doing mental calisthenics, readying our arguments and rebuttal. The smackdown. Never. Came.

Not that I'm complaining.

Gus will remain in his program next year with the same services (OT reduced by half an hour, but I'm okay with that). Since state testing starts next year, he will have a multitude of accommodations: word processor availability, extra time, separate room, redirection prompts, reading of directions...there may have been more, but I lost count. Summer services are in the package as well. If our luck holds, he may even be able to stay in this program (barring any drastic changes) until the end when he transitions to middle school, but I won't count my chickens just yet. A win all around.

There were some annoying moments, or maybe it was just my caffeine enhanced scrappiness. The minute I was asked about my visit to the other school that had been suggested, I started throwing around the word 'safety.' But there was no rebuttal. The chairperson agreed that it wasn't as appropriate as she thought. I got a little miffed that she mentioned that we might want to eventually consider medication for Gus (that always gets me bristling, even if we happen to be thinking about it). I let DH handle that topic, which he did very tactfully. The psychologist irked me a little when he wondered if Gus was really getting all that he could academically. My response was something along the lines of, "He's performing at grade level or higher; how much more do we need him to get right now?" Low expectations? No. I just don't feel the need to pressure Gus to be a super-genius.

There was one nice moment when the physical therapist gave her recommendations. She mentioned that Gus often runs into the middle of kickball games because he lacks safety awareness. Apparently, the kids know him now, and when they see him coming, they just wait until he's in a safe place and then resume their games. I found that to be sweet, especially when contrasted against the neighborhood kid who was giving him funny looks at the bowling alley. They haven't teased him or been mean - what a nice thing to hear!

I'll admit, I was having a really hard time behaving at the meeting this year. I'm sure the coffee had something to do with it. Maybe it had something to do with knowing that the chairperson had lied in the past regarding my son. She did get a little closer to my good side once I saw that she was being at least somewhat sincere about how much she likes Gus. A few sarcastic comments escaped, but I bit my tongue when standardized testing came up. (Because of course that's an accurate measure of what a kid can do - we all know that. Don't get me started on that one.) When the psychologist asked me to sign a permission form for something, I very nearly said, "no," just to see what he would do, but I controlled myself. However, the guy sitting next to me didn't escape my mischievous streak. He loaned me a pen and when he asked for it back, I said, "What would you do if I said no?" He didn't seem amused by that. The next time he loaned me the pen, I said I wasn't giving it back. No reaction. And they say my son is robotic. Pfft.

By the end of the meeting I was really antsy, but fortunately we had to run out of there or we'd miss the school bus. So that was our day - we were very lucky. I'm very glad to be working with the same team next year. I'll also be very glad when this caffeine buzz wears off - there's a good reason I drink tea.

So fess up, have you ever been tempted to misbehave in one of those meetings for any reason? They're long; they're stressful. It's hard not to crack under the pressure! C'mon, share your story!

P.S. I know at least one teacher friend who really ought to weigh in on the whole question of standardized testing. I threw that in just for you!


  1. Ok--you crack me up: I said, "What would you do if I said no?" He didn't seem amused by that.

    That is so you if I ever heard it! So much time and so much change, and yet so little. HILARIOUS and spot on

  2. You can just imagine what it's like for me to sit through these things considering my great love of meetings. ;-) The only thing that makes me behave is the importance to Gus; otherwise, I think there may have been paper balls flying.

  3. Well, that sounds perfect.

    I have withdrawn my autistic son from the system, and the guy that lied (yep, we had one too), kept lying.
    And boy did I jump on him when he send his report to the council.
    My mail was there within the hour of receiving his account of the meeting we had, and the council never got back to us. Which is good after they've been threatening us with court for over a year.

    I hate those meetings, because some people are not interested in my child at all and only care for their jobs.

    It has made me very critical, and not nice.
    Imagine: I asked permission to have a look in a report. The woman told me the report wasn't written out and so not typed out yet.
    I told her I was taught how to read handwriting too.
    She said she didn't have her notes with her.
    Well, while she was talking to me she was trying to put them away!!!
    So I told her that I didn't trust people who think I can't read handwriting upside down. LOL!

    You should have seen her face.

  4. Wow, that was some nerve! good for you for calling her on it. I would think as the parent, you have the right to see any reports on your child. Amazing what people try to get away with.

  5. Ah, standardized tests...

    Where does one start?

    Standardized tests are by their very standarizability limited in what they can tell us about what anyone knows about anything. You have, usually, four answers to chose from. None of them may accurately reflect your understanding of something, and yet, you must chose the one they predicted in order to score...

    But what if you understand the information on a higher level?

    OR what if you came at it from a different angle?

    The classic response to standardized tests, which are often used as standards by which to reward or punish people, is to familiarize children with the format and content of past tests - in other words, to teach to the test. So that when the test asks which day the string beans germinated, you will have the "Correct" answer, instead of something like "Well, the book said they should take X days, but we had really warm weather and 3 of ours sprouted early..."

    In other words, you memorize the answers the testing authority wants to questions which are commonly used, in one format or another.

    I am very very good at test taking. I understood very early on that the questions already asked can often be mined for answers to questions that are stumping you, that your instinctive first answer is most often going to be right in situations where are not sure, and that the correct answer to give was not the most correct answer, but the one that was closest to what the test givers wanted to hear.

    Anyone with a creative view on life, or different life experiences, will score lower on tests which rely on "logic" skills - a famous answer is analogies. There was a question, - X is to Y (I forget what they were) as teacup is to:

    Of the four answers, one was "Table" and one was "Saucer." Children who came from homes without saucers (usually economically challenged ones) would assume that you put the cup on the table, and get the answer "Wrong."

    It is accepted with Civil Service exams that there can be multiple correct answers to a question, that there can be cultural biases in tests, and at least in NYS you have the legal right to examine the answers, and to challenge their "right" answer. In fact, all standardized tests in NYS can be viewed by those who have taken them - which is why there are not always as many dates to take these tests in NYS as there are in other places. However, when was the last time anyone's school district announced that the date for parents to examine their children's tests and the answer key would be such and such? It does not happen. What is standard for adults about standardized tests is not standard for our children.

    My greatest ire is reserved for tests which are literally impossible for our children - for example, the IQ test given to my son when he was about 3 years old. He was unable to pick anything up in his hands. Nonetheless, the testing professional placed a plastic ring and a plastic hippopatamus in front of him, and concluded from the fact that he did not play with them that my son was Mentally Retarded. Yoo Hooo! The child lacked the strength to pick anything up, and, moreover, he knew he lacked the abilty to pick anything up! Why on earth would he try to play with a plastic hippo and a ring? I was told he should have tried. This was a standardized test, and according to the standard of the test, if he didn't put the hippo through the ring, (and, presumably, do a number of other things, all of which required manual dexterity) he must be MR.

    Was this true about the test? I don't know. I know that is how it was used on my son. I know that I can pass tests about things I know nothing about, and that, yet, my brother, who has testing anxiety, can fail a test for which he knows all the material.

    I know enough about standardized tests to know that while they do say something, sometimes, they don't say everything at any time, and that their usefulness with really original thinkers or people with a non-standard perspective is highly unreliable.

    The friend Andrea was talking about. Who made her husband dress up to go to the first meeting, and told him he was not allowed to speak except to agree with her..."Just sit there and look like you know how to dial 1-800-lawyer..."

  6. You never disappoint :-) and you make an excellent point about test-takers and non-test-takers. I was also a great test taker (except for my college placement exam which I took with a terrible hangover) but retained very little of the information I was being taught. The only things I really "learned" were those things that I had a particular interest in (like writing stories) or that I was able to study independently. So when someone tells me that it would be great if my son could show how smart he is by acing those tests next year. All that would show is that he's figured out how to take tests - not how smart he is or what he really knows how to do. I don't really believe that standardized tests are the best measure of whether there are gaps in his foundational knowledge. I thought it was a real shame when they took away the alternative testing options (portfolios) for all but the most compromised students. I always felt that the portfolio/rubric model was a much better gauge of what a kid really absorbed. Thanks for the comment!!

  7. Andrea - you know we've been really lucky. . . we've had a great stable team for the 6 years we've been getting services. We had another meeting today in fact that went very well. At one meeting, one of our teachers did apologize once for something that she and J. Nines had not been able to get to in the past month. . . we said 'sorry' isn't good enough. maybe last year, not any more. We all had a good laugh but we all understood that the person working the hardest, the one who was putting in a 200% effort every day was our child. Good for you and your family that things worked out well. . . especially with services over the summer! That is like a coup.

  8. Our kids do work hard, don't they? Glad to hear your meeting went well and even happier to hear that you've found such a great environment for J.Nines! I'm relieved about the summer for a number of reasons, but mostly because Gus really doesn't do well when he's out of school for too long. As it is he'll have almost a month off this year. I'm planning how to keep him busy already.

  9. Testing of all sorts makes Peter have a meltdown. So, when they had to take a test after 6th grade to place them in Junior High School math, it was a disaster. Of course, he only scored about 7 out of 100. I knew he knew how to do the work, so when I met with his counselor, we decided to put him in the pre-algebra class, despite his test score and he has been getting straight A's all year.
    Don't be afraid to buck the system. If you aren't an advocate for your child, no one else is going to be. And we have a great counseling staff and resource staff. I can't imagine what it would be like with staff and teachers that don't care or are incompetent.


Welcome - thanks for sharing your insights!