Wednesday, November 21, 2012

504 Plan Meeting

Today, Joel and I had a 504 plan meeting at Xander's school. The meeting was initiated by us after Xander's handwriting issues came to light and the fact that he's starting to get socially ostracized at school again and his teachers reported that he falls apart crying repeatedly during the day as a result of his social anxiety.

At the meeting were his two classroom teachers, the school special education director, the school psychologist, a speech therapist, a special education curriculum coordinator, the assistant principal, another first grade teacher and us. The school team had done several observations of Xander looking at different areas of development. Everyone was in agreement that Xander has developmental delay issues that cause social issues, handwriting issues, spatial issues and fidgeting/sensory issues.

His constant fidgeting, nose picking, biting on his fingers, picking at his clothes, etc., are getting worse. He no longer uses his purple fidget appropriately in class, so we are looking for other options for him, like putting velcro under his desk so he can touch that, and putting bands on his chair so he can push his feet against them (he has a habit of constantly tipping his chair back). They'll also be creating boundaries (like a square section where he sits on the carpet) and giving him a flexible stool so that he can still move, but will know where all of his body parts will need to be contained. This might also alleviate all of his picking at his socks and shoes if they're on the floor and he's sitting up.

These aren't discipline issues. He appears to lack the executive function ability in his brain to stop these habits or regulate his intensity of emotions. Thinking that you can use discipline to cure him of his issues is pretty much the equivalent of thinking you can cure someone of being gay or beat someone into being developmentally normal. Xander is not neurotypical for his age. The anxiety he feels has begun to manifest itself in some sensory defensiveness according to his occupational therapy evaluation. So, we have been purchasing special seamless socks and cutting tags out of clothing items, when needed. It's not all the time, but usually he's kind of amped up before school, so that's when shoes suddenly feel too tight and underwear tags pain him, etc.

One of the social workers will be going into his classroom to talk about how children are different. The teachers have identified that for the most part, kids are pretty sympathetic, but that doesn't mean any of them want to make X-man their friend. They avoid him. But the teachers do say that there are children in their class that will try to provoke him when the teachers are not looking to get him to react/cry because they know he's different. The teachers have tried to have him work with 22 of the 23 children in the class as a partner in learning (reading activities/math activities) and they have identified only one child that he is able to be consistently successful with. On the playground, he will sometimes play in a small group (if they play tag) and he does follow directions, but he does get easily overwhelmed by group activity or by his emotions when he wants to play something that the group doesn't want to play. His communications and relations with adults, however, are very clear.

He'll be going to the social thinking/Zones of Regulation group twice a week and will continue with the handwriting group once a week, in addition to his behavioral therapy with April and his handwriting with Kim (our Occupational Therapist) out of school. 

We meet again, as a group, on Jan. 22. If things aren't responding to the 504 plan, we'll probably try to develop an IEP, which is tricky because there are specific parameters for a child to fit in to get one and the "educational" consideration to get one with his issues would be under "autism." X-man's difficulties, according to my reading, mirror three different developmental disorder possibilities: autism/asperger's, PPD-NOS and Gifted. The school label does not mean anything in a clinical setting. It's just the best way to get him the services he needs, and right now, it's often difficult to be labeled "Gifted with a learning disability" in a public school setting anywhere. In fact, often children who perform at grade level standards don't get selected for services, because technically, despite whatever learning disability or disorder they have they are seen as functioning within normal perimeters on a cognitive level.

The handbook for doctors that determine these diagnosis and the requirements are changing in May 2013. Asperger's and most of the kids identified as PDD-NOS will no longer be on the spectrum because they usually usually have normal cognitive abilities. Instead, they'll have to be rediagnosed as having a social/communication disorder (which we won't know the specifics of until it is released).

So what's the difference between a 504 plan and an Individual Educational Plan (IEP)? Both plans are supported by the federal government and must be acknowledged in every state. However, a 504 plan is for individuals who have less issues than someone with an IEP. The idea is that with the appropriate minimal accommodations and interventions the child will be able to be successful in the classroom with a 504 plan. With an IEP, it's recognized as a much longer road. If we move to California both plans will move with him, the difference is that with a 504 plan, the new school district will implement Illinois' plan but will immediately initiate a 60-day review and may make changes and revisions as they see fit. With an IEP, they have to follow the goals exactly as in the plan. From what I've read last night, the plan is usually in place for about 3 years.

If in January, we don't think there's been enough beneficial movement forward, we'll be working on an IEP, which means the school district will need another 60 days to complete their reviews/observations. In that regard, we'll be putting the house up for sale more at the end of March than the beginning to make sure we have everything ready and in hand in case we sell early.

But that's how the meeting went. There were no surprises, and everyone was very supportive and on the same page. His teachers are amazing. They're very honest about his needs and open to helping him any way they can. We are very thankful for them. 

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