Last week was the annual review of Cordy’s IEP, an event I both look forward to and have extreme anxiety about each year. Since Cordy spends nearly her entire day in a mainstream classroom, I looked forward to speaking with her teachers about how she was doing and find solutions to deal with any issues they were having.
The meeting involved the usual suspects gathered around the table: her special needs teacher, her mainstream teacher, the physical therapist, the principal, and Aaron and I. We began with a review of last year’s IEP and the progress she’s made.
Based on testing and observation, Cordy no longer qualifies for physical therapy. She was only deficient in one area – running speed and agility – and it was made clear that it wasn’t her running speed keeping her score down. (The kid is FAST.)
Cordy also no longer needs occupational therapy. Her handwriting is still sloppy, but is considered no worse than the average first grader. Or her mother. Maybe she’ll be a doctor?
Academically, she’s at or above her grade level in all areas. She’s already been moved to second grade reading after demonstrating (over and over) her proficiency in reading to her mainstream teacher. It’s possible she’ll be moved to second grade math as well. They’re impressed that not only is she reading at a second grade level, her reading comprehension is strong, too.
Not so good:
The real issue with writing is Cordy’s resistance to doing it at all. She has a hard time translating her thoughts onto paper and often gives up before even trying. We’re going to try teaching her typing as well as handwriting to see if that helps overcome some of her anxiety. When you’re a perfectionist like Cordy, being able to backspace and delete mistakes might make all the difference to her.
At this point, her primary support needs are with social/emotional issues. She still reacts strongly when transitioning from one activity to another – especially if her current activity involves the computer. She’ll whine and throw a fit and the other kids look at her funny when she overreacts like this. Same goes for a change in schedule – indoor recess due to rain can sour the whole day for her.
She also doesn’t handle correction well. When she’s told she did something wrong, she usually has a verbal outburst (often along the lines of “You should just kill me then!” or “I’m just going to throw this away!”), occasionally hides under a desk and refuses to come out, or sometimes runs out of the classroom. Thankfully, when she does run out of the class, she is running to her special needs teacher’s class – the last thing I want to deal with is hearing she ran away from school.
The social issues do bother me. I know she gets overwhelmed and frustrated easily and she takes any slight correction as as condemnation of her entire existence. Her classmates probably think she’s a weirdo as a result. But I still think it’s beneficial for her to be in the mainstream classroom.
I agree with the concept of accepting kids with autism for who they are, but no matter how perfect I wish the world to be, I know Cordy will likely face years of bullying and teasing. It will be important for her to compromise and learn what’s expected in a classroom, scripting her behavior if necessary to “fit in” as much as possible so that she’s less of a disruption, and less of a target.
At the moment she has an aide in the classroom with her most of the day, helping to provide redirection when these moments of frustration pop up. And the teacher reassured us that it isn’t all that frequent – other kids are far greater behavior problems than Cordy is. They also report that, even though she doesn’t have any school friends she tells us about, she does play with other kids at recess.
The team had a lot of praise for Cordy, including how sweet she is most of the time, and in turn we asked them to not be soft on her because of that charm. Sounds mean, I know, but if you try to baby-step her through anything she pushes back and resists. She knows that if you’re trying to gradually introduce something, it must be hard and so she doesn’t want to try it. If you shove her into the deep end, though, she flails for a moment, but then usually rises to the challenge as long as you stay consistent.
When asked what our long term goals for Cordy were, I explained that we wanted her to be seen as a child and student first, and autistic last. It’s a part of who she is, but I don’t want it to dominate how her teachers treat her. I want to eventually wean her off of any assistance, although only when it’s clear that she won’t suffer as a result. I want her to be successful in school, whether she’s gifted or not, and always be challenged to go further.
It was interesting to hear Cordy’s special needs teacher talk about Cordy’s talents. She told us how much Cordy reminds her of another kid – a boy labeled as “twice exceptional” for being autistic and academically gifted – and she added that he was now in high school and on track to graduate. She said she could see Cordy going the same route – maybe even going to college?
I understood her meaning behind the story, and know she was trying to be encouraging, but at the same time I was frustrated. Probably graduate? Maybe go to college? Oh, no, no, this kid will graduate and will go to college! I’ve set high goals for her because she’s already shown every determination to do better than what’s expected.
At three years old we were told she may never be mainstreamed. She would always have behavior issues and may need medication to control her. One expert told us to prepare for the possibility that she may never be capable of living alone or caring for herself. The same people who saw her then are stunned to see the young girl she is now, charming, polite and full of energy to discover the world around her. They never expected her to become the bright student she is today. But I always knew she could do it.
Cordy’s IEP is set for another year now. There’s still plenty to work on, but yet again she’s managed to cross several items off of her IEP to-master list. And the new skills for this year are challenging, but as long as her team is supporting her and cheering her on, she’ll succeed.
I feel like a helicopter parent sometimes, and I’m sure her teachers are regretting that they gave me their email addresses, but Aaron and I are her primary advocates. My job is to make sure she’s getting the education she needs, and I take that job pretty seriously. I see the potential in her, and I have to make sure others see it, too.
With the right guidance, there’s nothing she can’t excel in.
Except maybe penmanship.
(But hey, we all have our limitations. Just be glad I’m typing this and not writing it by hand.)