They say the third time is a charm for almost anything and I’m beginning to think that may be true. The first day of school has been agonizing for the past two years for my son Jacob. The lack of preparation gradually gained momentum and in each year resulted in a sequence of events nothing short of a catastrophe! The campus he was assigned to truly believed they were prepared with appropriately trained personnel to carry out his learning objectives but they quickly found they were gravely mistaken. Many of you know from my past posts just how devastating the circumstances were; melt downs, improper restraints, bruises and so on. I’m sure many of you were holding your breath as this school year began, wondering how the cards you and your child were dealt would play out as well.
After years of fighting with and for the public education system and the children it serves I had come so close to losing hope that my efforts would ever yield some semblance of a program that was not the Cadillac but a good running Toyota Corolla. Well, miracles do happen and Hell hasn’t frozen over, so what changed? Our school district took the lessons learned from the past few years and they made the changes necessary to not repeat the mistakes from the past. I did my part as well this summer by reassessing Jacob’s medications and supplements and how they could be contributing to his responses. Removing the Adderall from his medication and supplement plan made a significant difference in how quickly he responded to frustrating circumstances. Once the medication was removed he regained the ability to process and filter his response which has seemed to go out the window over the previous months.
What is the secret formula for the third time around? It is the same formula you would use when focusing on improving any relationship or growing a business.
1. Identify your primary objectives.
2. Identify what hasn’t worked.
3. Have the right tool for the right job. We all know you can’t use a hammer to when the job calls for a Phillips screw driver. People and experience make a difference!
4. Ensure that all parties know and understand goals, terminology and what it looks like when procedures are being implemented in real time.
5. Have a transition plan in place that is actually carried over. Having a designated professional responsible for this is critical.
6. Communicate with all parties involved from the top down prior to the beginning of school. I met with the campus principal, classroom teacher, special ed contact and BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).
So, here’s what the school district did different… They hired a BCBA(Board Certified Behavior Analyst) the middle of last year. We assessed the areas that were identified as having the greatest difficulties like behavior and communication and did a functional assessment. This showed what behaviors were displayed at the highest rate and frequency, why and what Jacob was trying to accomplish by responding the way he was. We then looked at what the team had tried that wasn’t working and together brain stormed new ways to introduce demands and materials along with different ways the teachers were to respond to his responses. As cliché as it sounds, the quickest way to get someone to change their behavior is to change yours. Next, the most critical component was a detailed account of what “methods”, yes, I said that dirty word, methods, that the teacher from last year had used that were and weren’t successful that would be passed on to Jacob’s teacher and team for this school year. I know that would seem like an obvious step that all school districts would already have in place considering it is required and the purpose of the ARD meeting but, it’s not. Last, they hired a teacher that has had hands on experience in working with children who have autism in a clinical, respite and an education setting. This is HUGE!!! The conventional teaching strategies that our special education teachers are taught at this time are so inadequate in preparing them or the children they teach. There are far more effective teaching methods that can set the teacher and student up for success than what they are empowered with in traditional teaching courses.
Like Cinderella, I am beginning to think that happy endings really do happen and while I know that there will be bumps ahead I feel like I’m no longer kissing frog after frog in the far, far away land of special education services. For all of the dedicated parents and educators who take to heart the difference you can make in a child’s life, don’t lose heart because the third time may just be a charm for you. Don’t dismiss anything and review everything including, teaching procedures and methods, the current health of the child, prescribed medications and possible side effects, nutritional supplements, diet and current therapies.
I want to thank the Keller ISD, Director of Special Education Heather Hughes, Special Education Coordinator Cindy Peavey, BCBA Kecia Adams-Wright, Special Education Teacher Mart Chavez, Mo Fritz and Jen Jones, Para Professional Casey, Principal Carrie Jackson, David Hinson and Vice-Principal Sherri Hinson and the ARD team that persevered through 6 long and tedious ARD meetings last year! This year is proof that with perseverance and collaboration we can make a difference together!