by Marcia Hinds – Megan and Ryan’s Mom
Teacher selection was not allowed in our school district, but I did it anyway. Before the end of each school year I observed and decided on who I thought would be the best teacher for the next grade. Then I wrote a letter to the principal describing the kind of teacher Ryan needed to “best meet his educational needs.” Remember those words and use them. That phrase is a signal to the principal that you are aware of the law that mandates the IEP team create a learning environment where your child learns best. It is also a subtle reminder not to mess with my kid, if they don’t want to take on Ryan’s mother.
The only year Ryan didn’t make significant progress was when the IEP team switched the second grade teacher choice at the last minute. When his first grade teacher decided to move up to second grade for the next school year, I assumed Ryan would continue with Ms. Olsen and his aide for another amazing year. I was thrilled I wouldn’t have to explain to a new teacher, the puzzling way my son worked.
That’s what I thought, but that’s not what happened. Without informing me, Ryan was reassigned to Ms. Johnson’s class for his second grade placement. Ms. Olsen and his aide Amy didn’t want to continue as Ryan’s dynamic duo for another year. I don’t think Ryan was the reason this happened. They loved him and even liked his quirky ways of doing things.
What I suspect happened was they didn’t want to deal with Ryan’s mother for another year. My intense focus to help Ryan sometimes made me less than sensitive to the needs the teachers had that were not centered on my son. My world revolved around recovering my son, and I assumed they shared my passion. They did, only not as much.
Ms. Johnson, his newly assigned second grade teacher, had a special needs kid of her own. She had been a special education teacher, but wanted a change and was moving to a regular classroom. Her credentials were impeccable. But, she knew way too much about autism and what my kid shouldn’t be able to do. As a result, she never set the bar high enough for Ryan. She was much too nice to my son and let him get away with things because of his “disability.”
Ryan was in a mainstream classroom with an aide throughout his entire elementary school years. In the early grades he wasn’t really ready for that. It was not until fifth grade that he could actually handle most things in the classroom on his own. We often
made life hard on him by putting him in difficult situations with hopes of him rising to the occasion. And most times he did.
Ryan’s diagnosis and having an aide helped all the children in his class. One particular child, Evan, was placed in my son’s classroom every year. He needed more help than Ryan, but didn’t have the right diagnosis to qualify for an aide or extra help. The principal used Ryan’s diagnosis to make sure Evan got what he needed.
Every year, Ryan’s aide was introduced as the aide for the class and she helped all the kids. Part of the reason for doing this was so my son wouldn’t become too dependent. I didn’t want the aide sitting next to him, holding his hand, and doing everything for him.
A teacher having high expectations and not knowing much about autism was essential for Ryan’s success. Those teachers never limited Ryan. In first and second grade, his teachers also needed to speak slowly and clearly, because of his limited language. And for all grades, the teacher had to be positive, yet strict enough to set clear limits. Ryan had to be treated the same as the “typical” kids and with the same consequences when he did something wrong. That wasn’t always an easy combination to find.
Ryan’s aide was my eyes and ears at school. She communicated to me what he didn’t know how to do there, so I could teach it at home. His aide helped him with the complicated social skills our kids so desperately need to learn. These skills have to be taught immediately when a social situation happens. For Ryan and most of our children, this is the hardest thing to teach and last thing to come. Ryan was still learning complex social skills in college.
Before every IEP, I sent everyone who attended an email about what I hoped we could put into place for the next year. I never asked for more than we needed, and only asked for the things we couldn’t do ourselves. Sometimes I sent the case manager a separate email with written IEP goals. Doing that, saved her time. That was hard to do for one kid, I can’t imagine doing it for all that were assigned to her.
It was essential to put everything in writing and used a friendly approach. I used the “we’re all in this together” tone when I wrote these emails. Everyone who was going to be at the IEP got my email ahead of time. That way, there were no surprises. The entire team knew what we needed and what would be discussed at the meeting.
Since we sometimes did things outside the box, approval was often needed for the things we asked for. By sending the email, his team had time to check out our requests and had answers when we met. This saved time and helped lower my stress level. When you put things in writing, nothing is forgotten and things are done according to the laws.
Luckily, I never had to challenge the decisions the IEP team made for Ryan. Probably because they knew I would. But if that had become necessary, I had the needed paper trail. After the IEP, I always sent a thank you note that once again documented the final decisions decided by the team at the IEP. All of these things were key to Ryan’s recovery.
NOTE FROM MARCIA HINDS – Megan and Ryan’s mom:
Ryan became an aerospace engineer, because he received proper medical treatment combined with behavioral, and educational interventions. To preview my book, “I Know You’re In There – winning our war against autism”go to Amazon or my website www.autism-and-treatment.com
Contact info for Marcia: