Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Right Direction

This week P and E have been attending a half-day program run by the school district. It's targeted towards kids in the gifted program but technically open to all, so I enrolled E even though she's too young to be formally identified by the district.

Today when the kids came down from their rooms their instructor came with them. "I just wanted to say," she said quietly, "what a pleasure it's been working with P. He's matured SO MUCH since last summer! He's just been wonderful!"

"Oh, thanks, he's definitely done some growing this year," I said, smiling but still cringing a bit remembering how often his projects ended in tears last summer.

"And her," she said, pointing to E, "she's just great. Nothing bothers her! Well, not nothing, but she just keeps going and going, no matter what. Nothing stops her."

"Oh, that's good to hear," I said with a smile. "She was a little self-conscious because she thought she was the youngest kid in the class."

"Oh, she is," the teacher responded, "but she keeps up! She does all the projects!"

"That's great," I said, beaming. It's good to know that E can hang with the big kids...the big gifted kids.

P's teachers, his OT, and now these instructors...they're all seeing growth. He's still not hitting the target, but at least he's going in the right direction.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trial Run

Today as my kids were cleaning their rooms I was sifting through the papers they'd brought home in their backpacks a week ago. It's the typical end-of-the-school-year avalanche of worksheets, workbooks, art projects, and summer letters for home. In P's backpack I was shocked to discover a thick packet of worksheets, and a few back-and-forth texts with his friend's mother confirmed what I had suspected, and what P had vaguely insinuated...he had a worksheet packet about a novel due when he arrived back at school in the fall.

"I'm actually he has this assignment because it will give him a chance to test run some of the assistive technology I want him to use in the fall," I texted her. "And it will acquaint the ELA teacher with how he'll be using his technology." We exchanged happy-face emojis at the thought, but later on as I paged through the worksheets again, my heart sank. The pages with multiple blank boxes scattered across, with a question and lines to write an answer in each, were visually stimulating to a typical child but a nightmare to my son who has visual organization issues. Should I make him retype every question onto a Google Doc to answer it? Should I let him use an app like SnapType to photograph the worksheet and type or use voice dictation to answer the questions? And if the pages with the boxes seemed intimidating, the pages with one essay question up top and a field of lines below just seemed ominous.

If I was feeling overwhelmed, what could I expect from my overemotional 9 year old boy? Suddenly his 504 plan, which seemed like such a positive step during the meeting, felt impossibly thin and flimsy. What did it provide him, exactly? What had I even agreed to? I didn't even have a copy of it - I had been promised a copy in the mail, but now, over two weeks later, it still hadn't come.

As daunting as it is, I'm still glad we have a trial run. It won't be enough to fully prepare P for doing work in a new way in the fall, but it will at least give us an idea of what issues could come up.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

From G to 2E

Yesterday morning the third graders at my son's school had an awards ceremony. Unbeknownst to me, P won an award for his hard work and improvement in writing. That afternoon P's teacher, the school OT, the school psychologist, and I sat down and found him eligible for a Section 504 plan for fine motor delay with dysgraphia traits. The meeting was largely to quantify his impairment and formalize the many accommodations his awesome teacher was doing, but still. The contrast between the way the day started and ended stuns me.

P has had sloppy handwriting for awhile. It's what brought us to OT originally (although our wonderful OT soon found a host of other issues to work on). It's what made his second grade teacher give his writing assignments "Basic" grades because she couldn't read them, and therefore felt she couldn't grade them. When I confronted her with the fact that his OT said that his handwriting is sloppy because his muscles are weak, she replied that she "knew" he wasn't trying and that he could write well "if he wanted to." His sloppy handwriting made me gasp when I saw his work portfolio in March during parent-teacher conferences. And when I asked him about it, he started telling me that he was embarrassed of his handwriting and didn't want other people to see it. He said that his teacher corrected his papers since his classmates couldn't read his sentences or spelling tests. The production of his handwriting, which was nearly illegible and couldn't manage to stay on a line or maintain a margin, was finally to the point of becoming a disabling condition.

Fun fact, occupational therapists can't diagnose dysgraphia. Only a neuropsychologist can do that. But now, at this point, three OTs have looked at P and said, "Well, I can't OFFICIALLY diagnose dysgraphia, but this sure seems like it..." So on paper P's official diagnosis is "fine motor delay with dysgraphia traits." But in reality, I truly believe that he has dysgraphia. And to be honest, it freaks me out that his problems don't just involve the fine motor act of writing. It involves organization, visual perception, coherence...it seems more like a learning disability than just not being able to hold a pencil. It scares me because the answer to his problems don't lie simply in giving him a computer and teaching him to type...it involves something more, and I'm not sure what will fix it.

I'm also feeling sad because he can now call himself "twice exceptional"...a child who is both gifted and has a disability. Kids who are 2e are a rare breed, and can often fall through the cracks in a system that can barely deal with gifted kids or kids in special ed...when you need both, they don't know what to do with you.

I'm giving myself the rest of the day today to feel depressed, afraid, and teary. Tomorrow I'm drafting an email to the school's principal advocating for a specific teacher to be his homeroom teacher next year. I've already found an app that I know will help him, and I'm going to start researching tablets that he could take to school to supplement the laptop the school will let him use.

I had said that when I retire, I wanted to be an advocate for exceptional kids...both kids with disabilities, and kids with gifts. I guess I'm getting my practice in with my son, who is both.