Two weeks ago we had our annual IEP meeting for Cordelia with her teachers and support staff. After the problems we’ve been having with her at school recently, this meeting couldn’t have come soon enough. We were already talking with her special needs teacher before the meeting and all in agreement that something had to change to get Cordy back on track.
At the start of the meeting we went over Cordy’s testing results. She’s reading at a beginning fourth grade level now. (She’s in second grade.) It’s possible she’s reading at a higher level than that, but she got annoyed with the testing and wouldn’t go any further. Her math scores are equally impressive, scoring off the charts on many of her timed math tests.
Her greatest challenges are linked to her anxiety. She tries to avoid anything new, she’s very sensitive to noise in the classroom, and she’s prone to overreaction when her behavior is corrected. This leads to many of the problem behaviors she’s been having recently, landing her in more and more trouble. She’s unable to self-soothe when she gets anxious and instead self-destructs. She also is bothered more by sensory stimuli when she’s bored and not focused on the task at hand.
We set up new goals for her to accomplish during the next year and then we discussed how to make school a better environment for her. We agreed that her current classroom was not working for her – it’s too loud and Cordy is bored with the level of work. It’s not the teacher’s fault, as she’s doing her best to deal with a class of kids who are just particularly rowdy. But there was also a disconnect between Cordy and the teacher, and it seemed like the best response was to switch classrooms to send her to the other second grade class.
So far, it’s going well. She likes the other teacher and says he has a “quiet, calm voice” that makes her feel less anxious. We haven’t had any calls home since the switch, and the end of the day reports are generally positive. She did get upset one day because she was caught reading in class (when she should have been focused on the teacher), but we used the Flummox & Friends video to remind her when she needs to be “in the group” and when it’s ok to not be in the group.
(Side note to parents of kids with autism, ADHD, or even neuro-typical kids: go watch Flummox & Friends. They only have a pilot so far, but they need to get this show produced. The episode has already given us new ways to cue Cordy on social behavior. No, I’m not an affiliate or anything – I actually gave them money through Kickstarter to help produce their pilot and I think they have a great idea.)
Back to our story –
We also met with the principal to discuss higher level reading and math for Cordy. After talking it through, we all agreed that skipping Cordy ahead an entire grade level might not be the best idea, as she’s already behind socially, but we clearly have to address her academic needs, too. I give the principal credit, she’s doing a lot of string-pulling to get the best possible education for our daughter.
This week we started our new Frankenschedule for Cordy, just in time for Halloween. They’ve cobbled together a work-in-progress new schedule for her that involves remaining in her new second grade classroom for most of the day, but attending third grade reading and spelling each day, and getting supplemental math homework supplied by the third grade math teacher while still attending second grade math.
Of course, reading times between grades don’t line up, so she’s missing reading one day to make sure she attends her required gym class each week, and going to music each week with the other second grade teacher’s class so she won’t miss music. She’ll have an “independent study” time on Mondays, too.
It sounds messy, and at the moment it is. Cordelia has had some anxiety over the changes, but I’m told she’s handling it fairly well. She told me she’s nervous about being with third graders, but lucky for us she was in a split level class last year (first and second graders taught together) so she knows a few of the kids in her third grade reading class. An aide is also going with her for now to provide reassurance and stabilize her emotionally.
It’s also still just a test as we see if this Frankenschedule will work out – five different teachers and the principal are working together to coordinate their efforts for my kid. If Cordy continues to excel at math, she may be moved up to third grade math, too, meaning another re-write of the schedule.
Aaron and I are also just as involved with this change. The new schedule requires a lot more effort from us at home, too. Her third grade spelling class has required assignments every night, all requiring parent participation, so we’re required to be more involved with her homework. And the supplemental math homework coming home is a form of self-study to keep her challenged and assess her abilities for a higher level of math, which means we’re the ones teaching it to her at the moment. (Thank goodness I was a math scholar in high school!)
The principal also agreed with the special needs teacher that Cordy should be re-tested in math as soon as possible. She missed the “gifted” in math assessment by a single point on the standardized test last year and they’d like to see that corrected. They’ll also be bringing in an evaluator to assess her for “superior cognitive ability” with an IQ test. They strongly suspect she’ll test in the gifted range, which will then make her almost guaranteed to have a spot in the fourth/fifth grade gifted & talented class when the time comes. That class is very non-traditional and everyone I’ve spoken with about it believes Cordy would thrive in that setting.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am that the school was willing to take action after the problems Cordy was experiencing a few weeks ago. She’s still anxious over all of the changes (she hates change) but she’s already showing signs of being more relaxed and there haven’t been any new incidents. We’ve agreed that she’ll no longer be sent to PEAK and lose recess for any outbursts, but will instead be sent to the special needs classroom for appropriate redirection and consequence if needed.
I’m crossing my fingers that the new schedule will work for Cordy and she’ll rise to the challenge. She’s getting a semi-custom education now, and it’ll be a tough adjustment for all of us but I think it’s worth it. We’re making active progress at controlling her anxiety so she won’t get in the way of herself. I have high hopes this kid will do great things.
There aren’t a lot of public role models for girls with autism out there. I look at Temple Grandin, and I’ve read her mother’s book about raising her and fighting to make sure she succeeded, and I can only hope that Cordy will be just as successful because of her autism and not in spite of it. She has unique gifts that will hopefully guide her purpose in life, and we’re here to nurture them and help clear any roadblocks for her.