Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day of Preschool

Today was Callie's first day of preschool!  We both shed a few tears at drop-off, but her teachers said she quickly adjusted and settled right into class.  She transitioned well between activities and enjoyed coloring a picture of a bus for art.  She was very quiet but observant; constantly watching everyone around her.  She was probably taking in all of the boys... She is the only girl in a class of 9!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Special Thanks

As I mentioned in the last entry, county early intervention therapists have treated Callie in our home for the last two years.  She received weekly PT, OT, and speech therapy.  We were fortunate to have excellent therapists who put their hearts into helping Callie.  I think it is worth repeating that they truly cared about her, worked very hard during her sessions, and got genuinely excited as she progressed.  This week was bittersweet as we said good-bye to them after our last sessions before she transitions to the county special education preschool next week.  I will always be grateful to these ladies who were some of the first to help Callie after she was diagnosed in 2010.  They were also like therapists to me as I shed tears during the early days when my heart was broken and more recently helped & supported me through our challenging IEP process.  I will miss our conversations and the personal touch of having individuals work with Callie in our home.  Alana, Marcela, Johanna and Sharon, thank you for everything you have done to help our special baby girl.

Friday, August 10, 2012

First IEP :(

Things have been busy, busy, busy!  As usual I wish I had more time to sit down and write because there is so much I could share.  One of the biggest things going on lately is negotiating Callie's first IEP.  The story starts with an explanation of our county's early intervention services.  When Callie was diagnosed at 5 1/2 months she became eligible for the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virigina.  This program arranged for therapists to come into our home to work with Callie.  Over the last two years we have had PT, OT and speech therapy at home.  We have been fortunate to have excellent therapists who put their hearts into helping our little girl.  They truly care about her, work very hard during her sessions, and get genuinely excited as she progresses.  Children age out of this program when they turn 3, so Callie's time with her home therapists will be coming to an end soon.  The next step is transitioning into the county's special education preschool.  They have classrooms in various elementary schools across the county where children with special needs can attend for a couple of years until they are ready for kindergarten.  Callie's transition from ITC to preschool began this past March when we met and they deemed her eligible for the program.  Once eligibility is determined, the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process begins.  And what a process it was!

An IEP is a legally binding document that describes the educational program that has been designed to meet a child's unique needs.  Each child who receives special education and related services must have their own IEP.  It creates an opportuniatey for teachers, parents, and school administrators to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities.  Our first IEP journey started out very rocky.  I immediately knew there was a problem when I received a call from a teacher from a distant elementary school to set up our first meeting.  I already knew there was an appropriate classroom for Callie in our home school where Owen attends so I was not happy to learn Callie had been assigned to a school much farther away.  Then I learned the type of classroom at the other school was considered a "multiple disability" (MD) class.  Typically the children in these classrooms have more severe disablities than Callie and I was concerned that she would not be challenged by her peers if placed in this type of room.  That was the first issue.  The second issue was that we were supposed to receive a copy of her IEP by mail prior to the first meeting.  It never arrived. Less than 24 hours before the meeting the teacher finally scanned and emailed me a copy.  When I looked over it I was really upset.  Our address was incorrect so apparently it was delivered to someone else (privacy issue!).  Next, it was extremely sloppy.  There were many typos and at one point it referred to Callie as Joshua!  The goals were also very weak.  For instance, her long term one year gross motor goal was to walk just 30 feet.  She can already do this!  Lastly, the service/therapy minutes they provided were laughable.  Just 20 minutes of PT per week and 30 minutes of OT and speech.  Crazy.  Everyone else I had talked to had their kids receiving 60 minutes of each type of therapy.  I ended up taking Callie to our first meeting because I wanted them to see her for themselves.  In the end this was a good move because they quickly came around and agreed with me that she should not be placed in a MD class.  That was the first battle.  Next were the goals.  Over the course of our three meetings they were improved, but I still find them somewhat weak and unsatisfactory.  In the end I decided I would table my concerns for now and call another meeting in the fall once the school therapists get to know her.  Hopefully we can then work together to come up with better goals.  Finally, the service minutes remained.  I expressed my displeasure in the piddly minutes being offered and explained we have a very effective plan in place right now with 60 minutes of weekly PT and speech.  We simply wanted to maintain the services we currently receive through the county.  They came up to 45 minutes for PT and speech, but would not go higher.  I ended up contacting a supervisor of special education for our county and explained the situation.  She ended up attending our last IEP meeting and I had high hopes that she would agree with our logical case that Callie needed 60 minutes of therapy.  But no such luck.  The whole team stubbornly held at 45 minutes.  For an hour and a half we went around in circles.  I argued that they had never met or worked with Callie (the parties at this meeting were different than the first who met her) and yet seemed so sure that she only needs 45 minutes of direct service.  All contributing parties to the IEP who know and have worked with Callie strongly feel she needs 60.  I even had a letter from her neurologist stating 60 was appropriate for her.  They would not budge from the arbitrary number they had chosen.  It was extremely upsetting and I finally broke down into tears of frustration.  Long story short(er), we compromised at 60 minutes for speech, but only 45 minutes for PT.  And she was only given 30 minutes of OT.  I still feel that this is not appropriate for Callie since her delays are so significant, but I was fearful if we delayed her IEP by going through a mediation process she may not be placed in our home school (the class might be filled by the time her IEP was settled).  We did not want to risk this and therefore ended up signing even though we were far from satisfied with the final document.   

This was a learning year.  I tried my best by speaking with special mom friends, consulting with two advocates, and reading what I could to educate myself, but it was a really difficult experience.  I will continue to do what I can to learn to be a better advocate for Callie and hopefully will be an expert at this before long, but for now I feel somewhat defeated.  At least she is in the correct school and in the correct type of classroom, so the battle was not lost.  It was more like a draw.  I am determined to make next year a win.

Callie loves her new Hello Kitty backpack and is ready for school!


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