Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reprise: Don't Yell Just Embrace Your Inner Bitch; Dealing with Bullying and IEPs

This morning on our tweetchat we discussed how to help your child deal with the "mean" middle school kids. It reminded me of the article reposted after the italic break below. The chat reminded me of this article because you need to know how to prepare you and your child for middle school It is a methodical, logical process fraught with alot of pent up emotion and lets face it, real anxiety.

Middle school is a big step. I won't lie to you. It was hard. But it is hard for everyone, not just special needs children. The hormonal changes and brain imbalance that goes on in the average adolescence would probably kill an two-ton elephant. Luckily it only makes our children less desirable to be around at times.

Now the trick to a successful time in middle school is making sure that everything is ready:

1. Make sure all the proper supports are in  place; alternate location for tests; use of a computer; extended time on tests; note taker and or access to teacher notes; breaks if needed during class time and on tests; questions reread and explained on tests; homework accommodations leading up to learning how to handle a full course load; resource room/ study skills class; para; special education support; psychological/guidance/social worker support; placement of desk in a classroom; OT accommodations in a classroom; speech accommodations; pre-teaching for a topic or a science lab.

2. Not just typical accommodations are warranted, maybe they need guidance counseling sessions (group sessions with other children), social worker sessions (group sessions with other children) or what passes for circle of friends in middle school. They can also set up a lunch buddy program for your child if they have noone to eat with. Don't let the schools tell you that it can't be done. It was done for both of my boys in their middle school. The idea is that they will have a ready made group of people who are their "friends." Those with "friends" are less likely to be bullied.

3. Also if they have regular contact with a guidance counselor, social worker or special ed teacher they will have a safe person to go to if there is a problem with another child during the day.

4. Learn what your districts bullying and zero-tolerance policies happen to be. So many of these regulations are overbroad and unconstitutional, i.e. they punish a child who is defending themselves from being beaten up, or if your child verbally retorts to an insult, some districts give the victims detention too.

5. Make sure it is in your child's IEP that if there is any issue with another student everyone will be called. Some districts do not call the parents if a child is being bullied. In fact with CM1 when he was bullied in middle school the bullies' parents never got a phone call, but I did. To this day these parents do not know how their children harassed my son. IMPORTANT: do NOT confront these parents on your own. Most parents will not take kindly to you telling them that their child is a little shit. Demand that the school call and confront the parents. It is their job.

6.. Know your school state law when it comes to how the district is to protect your child from bullies and what they are legally obligated to do. It does vary from state to state. Hire a lawyer if you need to inorder to enforce your child's rights if the school does not protect them.

7. If there is a bullying situation that is not getting resolved, go to the local youth officer and see under what circumstances they will intervene.One school district near our home, actually called social services on the bullies and their parents becasue they would not stop harassing another student and that student was staying home from school because of how bad the bullying was becoming. The bullies parents all of them, refused to intervene in the "social problems of children."

8. Keep your child OFF social media. Cyberbullying is a big issue in middle school. It is an issue because most of it continues after school and then there is no safe haven for your child even in their own home. Best not to even start with social media until they are much much much older. Bullying in "real life" at school is enough for any one child to have to deal with, don't add another dimension of possible problems. P.S. neither of my boys even had their own email until college and neither boy had any kind of social media account until college. To this day they only have You Tube accounts and we still watch their comment threads. (Over protective, yeah sure, but when you have children with social disabilities you need to be hyper vigilant in a social world, especially the unregulated world of the internet. Heck you should be vigilant on social media even if your child doesn't have special needs.)

9. Most importantly too, make sure that your child knows without question that they can always come to YOU, no matter the situation, no matter what has transpired. YOU are their shield against the world and it is YOU who will do battle for them if need be right now. They will need to learn how to handle adult bullies when they get older, but that is something learned overtime and something that everyone needs to grow into to. It, as with everything, is not learned overnight and it takes almost a lifetime in figuring out how to handle the "creeps" in the room. I always tell the boys that you have to learn how to deal with these kinds of jerks. No matter where you go there will always be an "asshole"...the trick is to learn social skill so that you don't end up being the "asshole."

10. Be aware that alot of districts like to try to blame the special needs child right off the bat if there is an issue. They claim that the special needs child either started it by mistake or misunderstood the situation because of their disability. Don't let the district get away with that. It is them passing the buck onto your child instead of doing their job.

Lastly, but not least....there may actually not really ever be any issues to talk about as far as your child and bullying. While CM1 was bullied terribly in middle school and alienated into highschool, that never happened to CM2. In fact the students in CM2's year took it as their obligation to make sure that he was protected and welcomed into the school. He may not have been invited to tons of parties through high school, but he felt liked, secure and wanted in school. That is all anyone really wants for their child, and it can happen. It truly depends on the student body.

Listen, my boys are only three years apart. Went to the same schools throughout their education but had totally different experiences as far as the other students are concerned. It just proves the point that it is how a child is raised. Not the ethnic, religious, or economic background of a person that makes the difference, but whether they are raised by descent parents or are dragged-up by lowlifes.

Meanwhile here is one of my favorite past articles...remember everything in the article goes for protecting your child from bullies as well as making sure that they get every support they are entitled to under law.

We have all heard the stories. That mother who screams and yells at their child’s IEP meeting. The one who every professional talks about, that ”crazy” mother who just won’t listen when they talk about her child. Yeah, that “crazy” mother, who they delegitimize because she got frustrated and yelled at them. You know the one that thinks she knows better than them about her child. I have talked about the condescension of the professionals, it is a pet peeve of mine. Personally there are times I think that some of us would probably like to punch out these professionals so they are lucky if all we do is yell, but I digress. So what do you do though if you are faced with a problematic situation? How to do you channel your frustrations? How do you get for your child what they need? I call it embracing your “inner bitch.”

Throughout our lives we have been taught to be nice. To play nice. To talk nice. To be pleasant and friendly. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I learned a good lesson. Who cares what others think? You need to do what you need to do for yours. That is what I call “embracing your inner bitch.” Now I had always had that attitude, you might say, because the people in my little hamlet were none too happy when collegeman came in district and I didn’t care, but I learned to have that attitude with the professionals too, on the rare occasion that it was necessary.

Now this is a good thing. You use your frustration and your anger to embrace what you are going to need to do, but you do it in a way that is calm, intelligent and very thought-out. You leave the yelling and the kvetching and the breakdowns for home, facebook or twitter (as long as someone from your district isn’t following you on social media). So the question becomes how do you get what the children need without throwing a fit?

To start with, come in prepared-very prepared. Read the law books available from different law sites. I like Wrightslaw. Their books are succinct and to the point. They guide you through the process with wonderful examples. I also like their website. There is a lot of information available. Also go to your state education department, they should have guidelines for special education accommodations. In fact, in my state there is even a special section on autism. Check the federal government’s website. Remember an IEP is based on the Individual with Disabilities Education Act and a 504 plan is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Make sure you are well versed. Learn the lingo. Learn the difference in the two laws and how they apply to your children.

Next, get the medical information in order. Make sure you have a diagnosis letter with you and a letter outlining the supports the doctor recommends. Now this is not a guarantee but it is a good place to start. The schools do not have to take the recommendation into consideration, but it is good to come armed with something that shows you are serious. It is also good to have this information if you decide to go to a due process hearing. The school will know you are not coming alone and that you have back-up. (Doesn’t always work, but at least the school is on notice). If you had outside testing done, in addition to the testing done by the school, make sure that is with you too, and that it has been sent into the school before hand. Don’t let them use the excuse that they haven’t seen the testing, to delay helping your child. If you can work it out, it helps that the doctor or psychologist is there at the meeting or at the least the committee should call the outside doctor during the meeting. Even if they say it’s not necessary. I would insist strongly. (This is why the state regulations are very important to understand)

The next thing to know is what services are available in your school district. Your child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which they are making academic progress. This does not mean that they are getting As. Children get promoted to the next grade who get Cs as well. Also if they can function in a mainstream environment with support, like an aide, then they should be in the mainstream. That would be the LRE. However, if your child still cannot learn and still has meltdowns and still cannot function in a mainstream setting then it might be wise to seek some specialized program for them. Now you must, with a BIG MUST, understand the programs available in your state.

Here, in NY, the Education department has to certify any program. You are obligated to try to keep the child in state. We are very close to two other states with programs, so I am not talking residential placement, but for that you have to look instate as well first. Get a list of the appropriate programs and talk to the directors; go see the programs with and without your child. The school is also supposed to go view the programs. There is an application process that the school has to abide by for each school. Make sure that they do, request to be copied on all paperwork. In fact see if they will give you copies of the applications. Call the programs to make sure that everything is being sent the way it is supposed to. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

The last step is to prepare the IEP to fit the program that the child is entering. Make sure that the goals are realistic and that there is also some growth allowed too. Don’t let them make everything too easy. If the child reaches their goal, they don’t need services anymore, right? There should also not just be educational goals, but social and emotional goals as well and very very important, EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING goals. These executive functioning issues are the bĂȘte noir of our children’s existence, I have remarked on that several times in the past. It sounds simple, but if the children don’t learn how to organize, and process for themselves, they will be lost in their lives.

So these are just a few things to remember in preparing for that IEP meeting. You don’t have to yell. You don’t have to threaten. You don’t have to knuckle under. What you do is learn, organize, and collaborate with those who work with your child. Unfortunately if all else fails sometimes we do have to go the route of hiring a lawyer. It is not pleasant, but it may be necessary. Hopefully for all of you it will never come to that. It didn’t for us, because I followed the above rules.

So put aside that societal contretemps of being the nice girl, whom everyone has to like. The one who has to please those around her to validate her self-worth. Use your intellect. Use your strength. Use your ability. Use your wisdom. Use your power. Embracing your “inner bitch” is a good thing. And if necessary you make sure they learn what the word “BITCH” really means.

Until next time,


P.S. If anyone can think of anything else parents should do to make sure their child has the support they need and the ability to handle bullying in middle school and beyond add it in the comments. Let's share our knowledge and support each other.