Co-Blog – The following is a co-blog put together by myself and Ivy Scherbarth, a mother from CO and PPMD’s FACES Coordinator for CO/WY. This is a new project we have started where we will both write on similar topics from two different perspectives, but living in the same world of Duchenne.
By, Ivy Scherbarth
Being a parent of a child with Duchenne seems to be my big chance to face every one of my deep, dark, lurking fears. I am afraid of death. I am afraid of the gradual decay and loss of independence that awaits us all but comes to those living with Duchenne so much faster. I am afraid of failing my children. I am afraid of losing their respect and attention when they still need a parent’s help. I am afraid of doing it wrong. I am told that these feelings and doubts are normal and common, maybe even universal.
But now, as my son approaches school age, I find that I am also afraid of other things. I am afraid of IEPs (Individual Education Plans).
I vividly remember being six years old. I remember my first day of kindergarten. I remember wishing that my parents and teachers understood me better. I remember my inexpressible frustration when the adults around me just didn’t seem to get it – that I had no interest at all in reviewing my ABCs. Why couldn’t they understand that I just wanted to talk about the dietary preferences of Brachiosaurus versus other sauropods and whether the picture of Stegosaurus in my book showed the real placement of those mysterious boney plates? How can anyone concentrate on arithmetic in a classroom full of wiggly six year olds when there is the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex to contemplate instead?
I guess you could say that my early experiences with elementary school authority were less than glowingly positive. And now I have to do it all again, only with a kid whose special needs are much more special than my early passion for paleontology? And I have to convince a huge bureaucracy that they are required to accommodate my son when they may have never even heard of Duchenne? I have to understand a huge amount of information about something as opaque as education law? I think I’d rather face a real, live T. rex. At least I have a pretty good idea of what might happen to me with one of them. I don’t want to go to the principal’s office again! Oh, sorry, that really was too whiny.
Duchenne doesn’t let us parents stay whiny for very long before we have to pull ourselves together and take care of business. Duchenne requires commitment. Duchenne requires self education. Living with Duchenne requires us to face our worst fears and get over it because our children need us. Our boys with Duchenne need us to be unfailing advocates for their special needs.
So I’m working on it. I went to a lecture given by our local children’s hospital resident neuropsychologist on navigating the school system’s programs for kids with special needs. Dr. Kendra Bjoraker has been through this before. She has attended IEP meetings as a school psychologist and as a parent of a kid who needed an IEP. Her advice to us was pertinent, specific, and helpful. Kendra told us that working with the school administration is a kind of game and that if we play by the rules we are more likely to get what we want. She suggested these key points:
· Know the law
· Know the players
· Know what you want to achieve
· Take notes
· Dress and behave professionally
· Smile and shake hands
· Sit next to the highest ranking official in the room
· Liberally distribute copies of the new edition of PPMD’s “Education Matters”
· On the table in front of you, set out a notebook, a copy of “The Everyday Guide to Special Education Law” by Randy Chapman and your copy of “Education Matters”
· Bring donuts
This is the part where I freak out. OMG that’s a long list! I don’t have time to do all that work. I’m still trying to get those darn stretches done for him! I don’t know how to do this!! But parenting is all about overcoming our own feelings in order to serve the best interests of our children, right? You try not to laugh at the toddler throwing the hilarious stomping and dancing tantrum, you try not to swear in front of the kids even though you just hammered your thumb. So….
The IEP is a legal contract which has a lot of rules. It is binding. It must be reviewed and updated yearly. The IEP allows your child’s team to customize the curriculum to accommodate your child’s unique needs. Kids with Duchenne are eligible for an IEP under the IDEIA law “if their disability interferes with their education.” I’d say that pretty much counts for all the kids with Duchenne, even discounting the infamous “cognitive package,” since learning to write is all about repetitive physical exercise and getting up and down from the floor is part of the typical kindergarten curriculum.
A Section 504 Plan, on the other hand, is a part of the ADA, which covers the civil rights of people with disabilities. A 504 Plan is not legally binding and is not required to be reviewed or updated ever. These plans prohibit discrimination but do not confer the ability to alter the curriculum. Kendra suggested that the kids who are only using a 504 Plan tend to slip through the cracks educationally.
OK, breathe. What I've learned over the years is that the most important things to remember in life also tend to be the most obvious once you stop to think about them. Applying that here, basically sums it up to 1. know your kid, and 2. know what you're up against. It seems that the IEP experience for most folks is a confrontational one. In my case, however, I am just //naive// //foolish// sanguine enough to believe that my son's IEP doesn't have to be. I know that our elementary school is one of four "focus schools" in town that has the full spectrum of special ed services. Our school has lots of kids with IEPs. I know that our principal is an intelligent and caring education professional. After all, if the principal is good, the principles of the school will surely follow. And I happen to know that the gym teacher at our school is the kind of guy who wakes up each morning and says to himself, "I am so lucky! I get to help all kinds of kids participate today!" I've actually seen kids who need wheelchairs in regular activities ascend the school's climbing wall with their peers (a great harness system and a supportive environment can do amazing things).
The bottom line is that we have chosen the best school available to us. These are nice people who want to see success from all of the kids in their care. These are professionals who are used to kids with disabilities. And I have the good advice and good examples of the folks whose boys with Duchenne have already been through the process. I know that no matter how tight funding may be, or how limited resources may seem, the law is there to make sure that my son gets everything he needs; if necessary, I can insist that the school provide services that work for him. So I shouldn't be worried. Pass the donuts.
Ivy Scherbarth is a Colorado/Wyoming FACES Coordinator for PPMD. Follow Ivy at her blog, My Son, My Rain: A personal, biased account of one family living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.http://www.livingduchenne.blogspot.com/
By Pat Furlong
Fall: School Days
The day each of my children started kindergarten I cried because life changed for them and for me. In my head, there was a protective bubble around Jenny, around Michelle, around Chris, around Patrick and with each school year, small windows appeared in that protective bubble, some good and some (for me) worrisome. For this reason, my love/hate relationship about school began to evolve.
I love education, the more the better in my book. Education expands our world, helps mature the way we think about things, entices us to imagine the impossible and enhances our creativity. And while I smile when someone mentions the ‘perennial student’, I am secretly one of them. My children loved school, for the scholastics, for the competition, for the sheer enjoyment of learning, for the friends, for the anticipation and, to be honest, for the hustle and bustle of the school schedule.
My love/hate relationship crystalized on that June day, when the word Duchenne accompanied every sentence. I loved school because of what it held for Jenny, Michelle, Chris and Patrick. They thrived. They were engaged in their studies, all except Patrick who, much like his mom, found reading textbooks and spending time on homework to be less of a priority than his social strategy. Within the first weeks of school, it was not a surprise to receive a call from the principal to alert me to the fact that Patrick and his friends were playing poker in the cafeteria with their lunch money. And I was never shocked to learn that Patrick called Pizza Hut and had pizza delivered to the principal’s office, just to make everyone smile. Jenny, Michelle and Chris consistently lead their class in academics. Patrick explained that 3 out of 4 children in one family with 4.0 was actually sufficient, that he would cruise in with ‘B’s’, leading his class as the ‘most fun and most loved’. Indeed, he was.
I loved everything about school in terms of learning, growing, developing and maturing. The hate part rolled in with the diagnosis. At that time, there were no formalized systems (at least in the parochial school system) for discussing individual students, their needs and how to insure a successful school experience. I found that I had to reach out one-by-one, to teachers, to administrative staff, to parents, to students – to talk about Duchenne, what to expect, what might be required, how to help. I found myself in the principal’s office (at times apologizing while smiling about Patrick’s behavior) requesting a meeting with all of the teachers. In tears, I explained what I knew at that time, describing an unpredictable future and finding the word DUCHENNE so big, that it was nearly impossible to explain or comprehend.
I loved and hated the school schedule, waking early, often rushing through breakfast, running through the checklist – books, homework, lunch – and in so many ways wishing for weekends, when we had extra time – time to play, time to laugh, time to spend together.
And each year, as we all found ourselves in the rhythm of school, I hated the part where every one of the students could run, up the stairs and into the classroom and my sons struggled. It was so easy for them and each day I wished for my sons to have that experience.
As the years flew (and they flew!), I learned to navigate the system. I learned about word and the impact of those words. I learned to find champions. I learned to smile and I learned to bribe – giving thanks, sending notes, happy to explain to anyone and everyone. I learned to ask for what we needed and I learned to expect results. I learned that dark chocolate and doughnuts are entry points.
Patrick had to write a book review and to this day, I cannot recall the title of the book, but I remember the last line of his book review. It is painted on the inside of my brain “people are good, you just have to believe that, ask them to help and expect they will. CARPE DIEM”.
Pat Furlong is the Founder and President of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. Follow Pat at her blog. http://community.parentprojectmd.org/profiles/blog/list?user=syv5r1...