Last month I posted about beginning the process of setting Wonderboy up with speech therapy services through our local public schools. These things take time (especially during the holidays), and we are just now moving to the next step. Today will be the "goals" meeting with various district personnel to determine what will go in Wonderboy’s IEP, or Individualized Education Plan.
This important document will spell out what services Wonderboy will be getting from the district and what our goals are for his progress in the next six to twelve months. If he were enrolled in a public school, the IEP would also define what special arrangements would be necessary to help him in a classroom: accomodations such as an aide, an FM system, seating near the teacher, and so forth. (I’m giving broad examples here, not necessarily things that would apply to a three-year-old.)
In the home, meeting Wonderboy’s specific needs is much easier and more intuitive than would be the case in a preschool setting, so his IEP will serve chiefly to get him speech therapy. We have a couple of options for this, and part of my job as his "case manager" has been to educate myself about the possibilities. Our district does have a dedicated deaf/hard-of-hearing preschool classroom, and I have been strongly encouraged by district personnel to consider placing him in this class. I don’t at all mind their making a pitch for the preschool: it’s part of their job.
Neither do I have any qualms about politely declining the offer. Deciding what’s best for him is part of MY job.
Here are the steps that led up to today’s meeting:
• Knowing Wonderboy qualified for speech therapy, I called the district special education office and requested an evaluation. (Even if you are only wondering whether your child qualifies for services, you can call and request an eval. The purpose of the eval is to assess whether there is indeed a qualifying need. For children over three, call the local school district’s special ed office. For children under three, call the Early Intervention office. Google your town’s name and "early intervention" and you’ll probably find the number easily.)
• The special ed office asked me to fax over his IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan). This is the equivalent of the IEP for three-and-unders. If we had not had an IFSP—that is, if I were seeking services for the first time—the special ed office might have asked to meet with us before setting up the eval, but not necessarily. The eval itself is what determines the child’s need for services. Certain medical information can be helpful, such as Wonderboy’s latest audiologist report.
• Special ed passed our name and number to the district speech pathologist (since I was asking for speech therapy). She called and set up the evaluation I wrote about in December. If I had wanted, a physical therapist could also have been present. (I opted to postpone his PT eval for a few months.)
• Also present at the evaluation was the district’s school psychologist. This is standard practice.
• The evaluation determined what we all already knew would be the case: Wonderboy does qualify for speech therapy through the district.
• Today’s IEP meeting was scheduled. This took some coordinating, as there is a rather large team of folks involved. This is why I think it’s important for parents to do their homework—especially homeschooling parents, but really it applies to all of us. It can be intimidating to walk into a roomful of school-system professionals. They are there to help, and as parent, you are the person in charge; but it can be hard for parents to remember that.
The "team" of people at Wonderboy’s meeting will be: speech pathologist, school psychologist, traveling deaf/HH teacher, dedicated deaf/HH classroom teacher, and district audiologist (yay!!). I think that’s it. And me, of course—on this team, I’m the coach!
• After the IEP meeting was scheduled, I got calls from most of the folks on this team. I had short preliminary meetings with the traveling deaf/HOH teacher and the school psychologist.
• Which brings us up to today. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Yesterday’s speech evaluation went very well. Wonderboy was obligingly talkative, so the speech/language pathologist (we’ll call her the SLP) was able to get a good idea of the range of sounds he can make. She was delighted, really excited, about the extent of his expressive and receptive language—his sentences seemed to thrill her as much as they do me. Of course, she could not understand much of what he says; his intelligibility to strangers is maybe 80%. But by the end of the session, she was catching a lot more of his words.
I had all the girls with me, of course, and they set up camp with their books and drawing materials at a table in the same room. They proved most useful in keeping the boy chatting; every time the SLP tried to get him talking about an object, he picked it up and trotted around to show his sisters, addressing them each by name.
"I can see you’re a big help with your brother’s therapy," said the SLP, which is absolutely correct. As we were leaving, she actually thanked the girls on Wonderboy’s behalf. It was a great moment. You always wonder what public school employees are going to think about your homeschooling brood, and it’s nice to leave feeling like you made a good impression. I really think she grasped the tremendous impact on Wonderboy’s progress (in both speech and motor skills) made by the constant interaction with his sisters.
All four of them! He considers the baby his special charge; he is always looking out for her welfare, bringing her toys, putting a pillow behind her when she is sitting on the floor. At the evaluation, some of his clearest words were about Rilla and the stroller.
We talked about the scheduling challenges, and as Peggy suggested in yesterday’s comments, the SLP is eager to accomodate our needs. There’s one 8 a.m. small-group session that currently has only two children in it; since my girls can come and hang out on the other side of the partitioned room, we should be able to make it work without too much disruption to our schedule (such as it is).
Next step: the Goals meeting. This is where the SLP and I will sit down with the district audiologist and the district psychologist to draw up the language for Wonderboy’s IEP. It’s scheduled for January, after the school break. Until then, we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing, which seems to be working!
Today my ClubMom topics, homeschooling and special-needs kids, come together. I’m taking Wonderboy to our local public school—yes! I said public school!—for a meeting and evaluation with the special education office, a speech therapist, and the district audiologist. Even though we plan to home-educate this child like all our others, we can and will avail ourselves of the special services made available to all children according to federal law.
From birth to age three, qualifying children can receive services such as speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy through Early Intervention programs. Wonderboy received all of the above, in our home, beginning at about four months of age. (For PT & OT, that is. When his hearing loss was diagnosed months later, we added speech & hearing therapies.) The first step in the Early Intervention process is an evaluation that leads to the writing of a big ole document called an IFSP—an Individualized Family Service Plan.
At age three, children age out of Early Intervention and from that point on, the special services they qualify for come through the local public school district. The IFSP gives way to a new document, the IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. The IEP spells out what services the child requires and how the district is to go about answering the need. The whole IEP process can be tricky to navigate, or so I’ve picked up from several friends (public-schoolers, not homeschoolers) whose older children were diagnosed with learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders. Those parents had to be sharp-witted advocates for their children to make sure that all their classroom needs were being met.
For us, it’s a bit simpler. Wonderboy "graduated" from PT before we left Virginia (amazing, amazing! miracle boy!), but he will almost certainly continue to need some speech therapy during the next several years. His verbal language skills are growing by leaps and bounds—really, it’s so exciting; he’s using long sentences now, like when I hollered "Ladies! Dinner’s ready in five minutes!" and he BOOKED down the hall shouting, "GIRLS! Time to eat! Dinner!" Excellent progress. But of course since he still lacks most consonants, it sounded more like "GUH! I oo ee! Ginnah!"
I want to make sure he has every advantage. I know his verbal skills will continue to improve naturally as he gets older. But he may need extra help to master certain sounds. And so after we got settled in here, I called the district spec ed office to see what kind of speech program they have. After a lot of faxing (his IFSP and audiology reports) and phone calls—just the normal process!—we set up an evaluation with the aforementioned folks.
Today we’ll be meeting to determine what goes into his IEP. I’m going to blog the process, because I haven’t found too much else out there about homeschoolers and IEPs. I might hold off on attending the speech therapy sessions until next fall, depending on how today’s eval goes. At Wonderboy’s age (he’ll be three this week!), speech therapy takes place in small parent-child sessions at the school up the road. That sounds great—but I can already see that timing will be tricky. I don’t know that I want to chop up a morning once a week with a jaunt to speech therapy. That’ll monkey with my older kids’ schedule.
But we can figure out the logistics later. Right now, step one: the speech evaluation.