Workshop For Dads – Autism and Special Education

Dads navigating through their children’s preschool through high school experiences have long been seen as the person who only attends an annual parent-teacher conference or appears at a school meeting when problems arise.  No longer.

Fathers are taking an active role in every phase of their children’s lives, and this is never more true than when their child has an autism spectrum diagnosis and is requiring special education services and supports in school.  The complexities of their children’s needs and the special education arena require dads to understand the basics and well beyond in order to truly be key players in the process.

“The Dad Dilemma: Your Child, Autism and Special Education” is a workshop for dads only being held in the Philadelphia area on June 26th and July 10th.  From understanding the language of special education to effective parent advocacy strategies, this interactive session will end the confusion that many dads feel and will replace it with information and actionable steps.  Dads should not have to struggle to “catch-up” to understand what’s happening with their children in school.

Information can be found at: http://www.education-navigation.com/fathersworkshop or by contacting us directly at 610-628-4456.

Permission Granted

Here’s how I see it…there are three types of people – those who ask for permission, those who don’t and just back away from whatever it is, and those who just do and deal with the consequences later.

The “typecasting” typically starts in childhood – e.g. asking to stay up past 9:00 or just doing it and dealing with the parental wrath later.  We were taught that the act of asking shows good manners and respect for the other person, and we teach the same to our kids as what parent doesn’t want their child to be considered well-mannered and respectful.  Yet here’s the thing … the “real lesson” is giving the *permission* to ask.  It’s the step that precedes “ask and ye shall receive” because if you don’t know it’s okay to ask, many simply don’t.

Believe it or not, there are millions of parents who are reluctant to ask their child’s teacher (or principal or IEP team members) the questions that fall into the “5W’s” category:  Who is bullying my son at lunch; what is being done to help my daughter develop her organizational skills; where is my child’s aide during transitions when problems are continuing to occur; when will we receive the data being collected; why is my son still reading well below grade level.  And we haven’t even touched on the “h” question – how are you going to help my child learn social skills or how is it that my child’s IEP goals are repeated from year to year.  All questions that parents *must* ask, yet far too many appear to be hindered by the asking process because they are waiting for permission to do so.

Some of the reluctance to ask comes from fear… of questioning the “experts”…of retaliation…of being labeled one of “those parents”.  Yet fear is not a good enough reason not to ask, and certainly not when your child is struggling in school.  Asking is the conduit to information and it is – or needs to become – an ongoing activity.  This is one area – and time – where parents need to stop worrying about how they’ll be perceived and start realizing that their job is to ask…and to keep asking.

So consider this the blanket “green light” to ask…for answers, information, explanations, data, reports…whatever it is that you need.  And if you’re not sure exactly what you need, ask for everything involving your child – records, work samples, charts…everything.  Because here’s the reality…I guarantee that when a parent walks out of a physician’s office after hearing their child has autism or a reading evaluator’s office with a diagnosis of dyslexia, one of the first “out-of-the-gate” responses (after possibly shock) is to ask…everything.   There’s no difference when it comes to school.

The only way a parent can truly become an advocate for their child and the “true expert” about what’s happening in school is to ask…and ask often.  And the path to asking begins with having the permission to do so.  Permission granted.

The Roller Coaster Ride That Never Ends…

How many parents haven’t agreed to ride the roller coaster at least once with their kids?  It’s almost a “right of passage” – sitting for 3 minutes on a ride that you can’t wait to end.  Yet riding the roller coaster at an amusement park doesn’t come close to the other roller coaster ride – the one that parents can’t get off because it simply doesn’t end.

I can count on two hands the number of days school has been in session yet would need my hands and toes plus those of others to count some of what I’ve already been told…

  • My child’s teacher refuses to allow my son to have a midday snack even though it’s on his IEP and has been documented by medical need.
  • We explained that my daughter needs extra time to transition from class to class and it’s in her IEP, yet we’ve already received a note saying that she’s been late for class several times.
  • Even though my child’s IEP states that homework will be limited to 30 minutes per night, we’re already spending double that amount of time and behaviors are starting.

Yes..it’s the start of a new school year.  New backpacks.  New classmates.  And a host of new issues that often combine with those carried over from last year.  If your child is in special education, you know well that this ride is anything but short and you won’t be on solid ground for a while.

Added to the challenges that inherently accompany having a child with autism, ADD/ADHD, or a learning disability comes slashed budgets, larger class sizes particularly if your child is in a regular education classroom, and fewer resources.  Districts are stretched thin and so are teachers.  Yet the reality is that it’s the parents who are feeling the strain and the children are already showing it.

Every school year begins with the hope that it will be a good one.  That services will be provided, supports will be in place, compliance with IEPs will occur, and collaboration will be the approach.  And for many parents, this is indeed how this and every school year begins.  Yet for many others, it’s anything but.

A few things to ease the mounting pressure:

  • If your child is already showing signs that things are not working, reconvene your IEP team now.  It should be routine that, depending upon how your child is doing “out of the gate,” you convene in September or early October.  Remember that you can call an IEP meeting at any time so don’t wait.
  • If your child made progress or regressed over the summer, bring this information and data to your IEP team meeting.  It’s essential that everyone involved in teaching and supporting your child knows what has happened from June through September.
  • If your child has been evaluated or re-evaluated over the summer and you agree with the findings, provide a copy of this report to your district before heading into an IEP meeting.  You want to give them sufficient time to review the documentation so that you’re all on the “same page” during your discussions.

And the most important piece of guidance is this – your child is continually changing and as such, your child’s IEP may need to change as well.  If you developed this year’s IEP last year, think about the weeks and months that have passed in the meantime.  Things that may have appeared appropriate in March may well be different in September.

If you have not been keeping notes at home, do so.  Your observations and data factor into your child’s educational plan so be sure you’re watching, listening, and recording things as the school year unfolds.  Document all conversations with school district staff – no “off the cuff” discussions apply.

Your child’s greatest resource is you.  Pace yourself.  Be proactive.  Focus on collaboration.  And don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions or to bring in outside support if needed.   I read a great business quote that certainly applies here too — “What you want, you will get.  But you have to want it enough to go about getting it.”

Snap Out Of It…

I love this line from the film “Moonstruck,” when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It’s a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises.

The topic is labels and let me first say this…no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But…they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don’t want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out “why” can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a “snap out of it” response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be “labeled” no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to “face the music” need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and “what if’s” from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school…and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated “F’s” on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it’s the things out of view – the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties – these are the things that can take away a child’s desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn’t matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and “label” think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the “snap out of it” message needs to be said…and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose…pretending the issues don’t exist, hoping they’ll just go away with time, or telling your child that you’re now “on the case” and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger’s Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information – and diagnosis – your child needs, please…snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.