A sassy, crafty mama bird from Los Angeles
raising a very sweet little girl with Autism
and a new baby boy in the Midwest... and other stuff, too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another Day, Another Special Education Evaluation

Previously on the Little Bird School Sucks Saga...

If you haven't been following along for the past six months, here's the shortest version I can come up with. This is our first year in public school. Little Bird is in a mildly cognitively impaired classroom despite not having a C.I. label because it seemed like the least restrictive environment (LRE: that's legal special ed speak for the best fit). However, in September (6 months ago!!) I reached out to the special services administration, voicing my concerns that she was, in fact, in the wrong program and would benefit from an ASD program where the teachers and support staff understand the things that come along with a kid on the spectrum- sensory needs, behaviors, speech and communication issues, along with social interaction struggles. While Bird's teacher has been willing to learn A LOT about ASD, she's not an ASD teacher and doesn't have any previous experience teaching a kiddo on the spectrum. I was told they really thought she was in the right place. I trusted them and gave them a little time. By November, I was done giving time. I knew this wasn't right.

In December, I called for an IEP where I on the record discussed my concerns about her placement. There it was decided that she would be reevaluated and her placement would be reconsidered. Of course, we had to hold another meeting (hellooooo bureaucracy). In the meantime, Ben and I visited an ASD class in the district and I can see that she wouldn't fit in just right to that program. Still, she'd get the teachers/therapists/staff who just get it.

So, here we are in March. Freaking March!! She's been going through lots of evaluations. I have, too, actually. The team needs to meet with me to go through all these questionnaires and also be there with the girl for some of the observations, etc. So, we've been busy.

Little Bird has always been a tough kid to put a checkmark next to- hard to categorize. There are so many screening tools that the school district uses. As I went through the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), I found myself answering the questions with, "well, sometimes. I mean, she sort of does that. I've seen her do that, but not consistently," etc. That test uses 15 questions to rate skills based on parental observation from 1 to 4 (1 being normal and 4 being severely abnormal). I also did the Autism Diagnostic Interview - Revised (ADI-R) with a social worker. Ditto. I was answering things with such confusion. In some lights Bird looks really low, but in others, she almost doesn't seem to fit the bill for Autism. That's the thing with this disorder- it's such a spectrum that it's possible to be both clearly on the spectrum and to also do things that are very typical. That's why it's such a spectrum and diagnosis is actually pretty objective at times.

This week, we did the big one. The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) is the gold standard observational test for screening and diagnosing Autism. It was developed by Catherine Lord who ran the University of Michigan's Autism and Communication Disorders Clinic. That's where Little Bird was originally diagnosed with Autistic Disorder when she was 3 1/2. When you get the diagnosis from the person who invented the ADOS, you can't dispute it. But here we are almost 5 years late and this girl is NOT the same kid. She looked so different this time around. She was so engaged and interactive. She walked right up to the pile of toys, grabbed the baby doll and started in with, "It's a baby! Awww, baby, why you so sad? You want your mommy?" And there I was- jaw on the floor- wondering who is this kid with the pretend play skills?! I mean, I've been seeing some of this emerging at home for some time now, but not like this. She was actually really great. The psychologist, SLP, and MSW were all pretty surprised to hear her talk so much because they'd all observed her in her classroom and just figured she was largely nonverbal since she doesn't freaking talk at school.

When it was all said and done, I told her, "hey, we're done early enough so you can go to school today!" Her response?? "No school! No school today! I want to be sick!" My heart sank. I mean, I love her problem solving skills and how quickly she reasoned out how to get out of going to school, but still... I looked up to shocked faces. I told them she doesn't like it there. So sad.

So, while she was a completely different kid in a completely different setting, these school professionals from the evaluation team were able to see that in the right environment, Bird has a ton of potential, looks a lot more functional, is very verbal, and very interactive. Not at all what she's like in her current placement. You know, exactly what I've been saying for the past six months!!!

When will they start listening to the parents??!!

Next steps: more evaluations. Then the big meeting where the results of these evals will be revealed. And then I will sit back and listen to them suggest proper placement. I hope it's something more reasonable and better suited for her needs and, just as importantly, for her strengths. If not, I'm already looking at housing in another district!

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