DON’T BLINK!

Do me a favor.  While you are reading this, play a little game with me.  I am talking through the 3rd wall here, to you, the reader.  Pretend I am on a stage and you are just one of hundreds of folks in the audience.  This game is called “DON’T BLINK!”.  You have to really focus.

I’m on the stage talking about your least favorite subject, whatever that might be.

DON’T BLINK!

You have to focus on not blinking your eyes.  Easy, right?  We’ll see.

As I babble on and on about your least favorite subject, DON’T BLINK!  I want you to take out a piece of paper.  I’ll wait for you.  While you are getting it though, DON’T BLINK!  Don’t even think about it.  Keep those eyes open.  DON’T BLINK!  Did you get your paper yet?  Did you bother to get a pen?  DON’T BLINK!

Good, you have your paper and pen.  I want you to write a set of numbers.  It will be 13, 26, 39, and you have to write down the rest.  DON’T BLINK!  I need a set of 20 numbers.  DON’T BLINK!

How many numbers do you have down?  But wait, while you DON’T BLINK and you are writing down the numbers, I want you to yell out “VITAMINS”.  But DON’T BLINK while you yell out “VITAMINS” while you are writing down the numbers.  Don’t you dare!  And don’t be caught off guard from the people staring and laughing at you because you yelled “VITAMINS”.  Because you have an assignment you have to get done.  And DON’T BLINK!

While you are doing all this, I want you to capture whatever smell is in the room and focus solely on that smell.  Smell it with every fiber of your being while you DON’T BLINK!, write down your numbers, and deal with the stares you got from yelling “VITAMINS”.  How many numbers do you have down?  If you cheated, you probably have the 20 different numbers.  That is, if you blinked, didn’t focus on the smells in the room, didn’t yell “VITAMINS”, and only focused on the numbers.

For students with Tourette Syndrome, this is their life in the classroom.  It can happen in other areas of schools as well.  When they are younger, the tics come naturally.  But as they get older, and notice more and more the odd little stares or classmates asking them what they are doing, they begin to do everything they can to suppress those tics.  But those tics are neurological in nature.  Little signals go out from the brain that affect those with Tourette Syndrome and command the body to do those things.  Suppression can be done, but it is energy that can’t be destroyed.  It comes out in other ways.

In the “DON’T BLINK” game, that exercise was for those who don’t suffer from Tourette’s.  So they can possibly understand, at a very small and miniscule level, what those with tics go through every day.  For far too many of these special needs students, that energy does come out in some way when they are suppressing tics.  But the more stimuli they have around them, the harder it is to focus on that.  Add a few different things to that soup, and you can understand why those who exhibit motor or physical tics have a hard time keeping their cool.  It is almost like having a case of the hiccups, all day, every day.

Suppressing tics also has another side effect: exhaustion.  It can be physically tiring to attempt to stop your body what it naturally wants to do.  Most students with Tourette Syndrome do not suffer from just that disability.  They have what are known as co-morbidities.  We’ve all heard the alphabet disabilities: ADHD, OCD, and ODD.  But add anxiety, depression, sensory processing issues, and yes, at times, rage.  It can be a perfect storm.

There aren’t many students with Tourette Syndrome in Delaware.  I know of less than ten myself.  There could be more.  But for even this small population of students, we MUST get it right for them.  They are counting on us.  For far too many Tourette Syndrome students across the country, schools want to address the disability the same way they would ADHD.  It is a complex puzzle, but the pieces can be put together.  It takes time, and patience, and calm.  We have come very far with Autism but I believe if it wasn’t so prevalent, we would be just as in the dark as we are with Tourette Syndrome.

In my opinion, a student with Tourette Syndrome should be celebrated in schools.  They are just like you and I with intelligence.  Many TS students are wicked smart.  But their body and mind can send out a signal on a dime without them even being aware.  Or other times it is like when you know you are going to sneeze and you try to stop it.  But most times, it is like trying to stop a case of the hiccups.  I believe it is incumbent on our schools, from elementary to high school, to let everyone they can possibly tell in that building, exactly what those tics are and where they come from.  Because if a student with TS is ticcing, they can’t help it.  Let them tic.  We wouldn’t tell a blind person to see or a paralyzed person to walk, right?  It is the exact same thing.  Let students and staff know it isn’t weird.  Do the “DON’T BLINK!” game with the students.  Let them know and feel what it is like for the TS student.  Talking about tics is VERY different from experiencing them.

This isn’t just about special education.  It’s about doing what is right.  We want to educate the “whole” student.  We want “compassionate” schools.  But we need to practice what we preach.  All schools need to do a better job with understanding manifestation of disabilities.  So many want to treat things as a behavior.  Unless you are 100% sure, assume it isn’t.  If you are a teacher or staff member in a school that doesn’t teach a TS student, let me make a recommendation for you.  You might be generally aware a student has disabilities but you may not be sure what the manifestations are.  Ask your building leader or special education coordinator if you can see their IEP.  I’m pretty sure most parents wouldn’t object to any adult in a school wanting to know more about their child with Tourette Syndrome.  As parents, we can only educate so many.  We have restrictions the school might not have.  We don’t have access to every single teacher or staff member.

Students with Tourette Syndrome go through things daily you and I can’t imagine.  At the end of the day, they want what we all want- to be loved and accepted.  That’s all.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The Smyrna School District Zero Tolerance Pipeline Part 7: The Trial, The Tootsie Roll, & Patrik Williams Loses It

The story of J and his battle with the Smyrna School District continued.  After J was expelled, his mom filed an appeal with the State Board of Education.  She also had J’s criminal trial to contend with as well.  The trial was set for November 14th. Continue reading

Smiley The Terrible

One friend.  Just one.  Sometimes that’s all we need.  Just one, in a lifetime of people that pass through.

In 1981, I moved from Roanoke, VA to South Salem, NY.  Entering 6th grade, I was scared and nervous.  I was an okay student, but I had some minor disabilities in the form of attention deficit with a touch of hyperactivity.  When we moved that May, our new house wasn’t finished yet, but we sold the prior house so we had to rent a home for about three months.  For a month and a half, I went to an elementary school in Chappaqua, NY.  For about three weeks in July, we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle in Brookfield, CT, on the shores of Candlewood Lake.  Finally, in the beginning of August we moved to our new home in a small residential neighborhood in the bottom southwest corner of NY state.  If you walked through the woods about 1/2 a mile, you would be in Connecticut.

Within days of moving in, I met the Eds.  Two boys, my age and in the same grade, both named Ed.  All three of us had a love of comic books, so the first day we met, we were trading comics left and right.  Both of them played soccer, but I wasn’t interested in the game having done horrible a year prior.

I had a very difficult time making friends at my new school.  I had a southern accent, and it quickly became apparent I was a little different.  As well, I stupidly asked a question in 6th grade math when talking about rocks.  “Are rocks alive?” branded me for a few months as the village idiot.  And a month into school, when we could run for town positions, I decided to run for town clerk.  I had to give a speech at an assembly, and after uttering the words “My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I’m running for town clerk”, most of the school was heard repeating these words when I would walk by.  My reaction was fierce!  I started talking back to those who taunted and teased me, and threats of “kicking my ass” soon followed.  It became a vicious cycle of taunt & tease, react, threats, and then me backing down and often crying or running away from the situation.

The two Eds though, they never joined the crowd.  After school, I would often hang out with them, usually exploring the vast amount of woods behind our houses.  Sometimes a bunch of neighborhood kids would play football or baseball, or in the summer, very large games of Flashlight Tag at night.  We would ride our bikes, go to new houses being built, or throw rocks on a frozen pond in the winter.  Eddie and I would walk to the bus stop almost every day.

As sixth grade led to junior high school, things got progressively worse for me.  Instead of battling one school, it was now four rolled into one.  More enemies.  Fights happened, usually with my “ass getting kicked”, but I still reacted without thinking.  Before too long, I was the one starting things.  But through it all, every day, I would sit at lunch eating with the two Eds and some other kids.  After school, more of the same.

During 7th and 8th grade, with my obnoxious big mouth and instigating tactics, I was often told to sit at the front of the bus.  Usually one of the Eds would sit with me.  He was called Eddie by most.  Eddie was the tallest of the three of us.  He was a gentle soul, always smiling.  He could be quiet and reserved at times, but for the most part we would talk and joke around.  I nicknamed him Smiley the Terrible.  I can’t for the life of me remember the context of the nickname, but terrible is the last adjective I would ever use to think of Eddie.

In 9th grade, still in Junior High School in our district, Eddie would share stories he wrote.  For a 14-15 year old, he wrote some very intelligent, well thought-out stories.  It was better than a lot of the stuff I had to read at school!  His imagination knew no bounds, even getting into some physics stuff before our time.

Things started to change when we entered high school.  Our interests changed.  The two Eds were heavily involved in soccer or other sports, and our four years of shared CCD classes ended after we were all confirmed.  I was still into comic books, even working at a comic book store over the border in Connecticut on Saturdays.  As friends tend to do at different points in our lives, we drifted apart.  I was very involved in youth groups and church activities, but that was in Connecticut.  We still talked, all three of us, but the conversations were more about what was going on or what girls we liked.

When I was in 11th grade, in 1987, I participated in a large church retreat called Emmaus.  For first-time participants, we were called candidates.  Emmaus was essentially an unconditional love fest retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening.  Prior attendees, both teenagers and adults, would work the retreat.  As part of Emmaus, parents were encouraged to reach out to their teenager’s friends to write letters  to the candidates.  I received letters from the two Eds.  Eddie wrote the following:

Many people used to ask me why I was your friend.  “Why not?” was my usual response.  Perhaps they understood, perhaps they didn’t.

Eddie went on to write about some other things, but he concluded with this:

I’m glad you are my friend just because you are.

I received many letters from friends and family that weekend, but this was one of the ones that touched me the most.  No matter what, even if I embarrassed him with my actions, Eddie was committed to being my friend.  I had other friends, but it’s rare to have a friend that goes back years as a kid with disabilities.

Towards the end of our Senior year, Eddie and I talked a bit more.  Perhaps it was nostalgia creeping in as we prepared to embark on the next chapter of our sheltered lives, or maybe we found common ground.  Whatever it was, it culminated at a party at my house a month after graduation.  My parents were away, and my two older brothers and I had a huge party.  The two Eds came, and I remember the three of us talking in my backyard.  We made a toast to the past and to the future.  To my recollection, it was the last time all three of us were together.

After a year of trying to “find myself”, I moved to Pennsylvania with my parents and attended community college.  The first few years there were very rough for me.  Transition and I have never been good friends.  In the Fall of 1992 I would transfer to Cabrini College in Radnor, PA as a junior.  The summer before, I had the coolest job ever.  I was an editor for a magazine called Comics Values Monthly.  The owner of the comic book store I worked for back in 1985 started this magazine a year later after he closed the shop.  I continued to work for him throughout high school.  In 1991, his magazine was really taking off, and I offered to help.  Once a month, I would go up to Connecticut and New York during weekends and submit freelance work I did for the magazine throughout the month.  I went over to Eddie’s house one night during the summer, and we chatted a bit.  He was attending Washington College in Chestertown, MD.

On October 16th, 1992, a friend was driving me to a party.  A wicked storm came in, thunder and lightning all over the place.  As we were driving, I felt something.  I knew something happened.  My heart felt a sudden emptiness, a vacancy.  I didn’t know what it was, and it scared the hell out of me.  All I knew was that someone, somewhere, that I was once close to died.  I knew it in my conscious mind and I was sad.  By the time we got to the party, I put it out of my mind and had the kind of fun you can only have in college!

The next day, I felt a need to go home.  I was at Cabrini for a month and a half, and it was a whirlwind of studies, partying, working on the school newspaper, and working for the magazine.  I needed a break.  My parents had gone away that weekend, so I had the house to myself.  Early that Sunday morning, I received a phone call.  It was the other Ed’s mother.  I will never forget the words.  “I hate to tell you this, Eddie died Friday night.”

Eddie became involved in theater at Washington College.  While working on lighting for an upcoming play, he was electrocuted.  He died instantly.  The horrible loss I felt that Friday evening, over 100 miles away from Chestertown, MD, was Eddie passing away.  I found out later it was the exact same time of his death.

The next few days were a blur.  The following Wednesday was Eddie’s funeral.  I was unable to attend the wake the night before.  In Pennsylvania, it was raining non-stop.  I left very early, at 5:30am in the morning.  As I drove along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, I put a tape on of U2’s Unforgettable Fire.  The title track of the album was playing and I felt Eddie’s loss more than I had at any other moment.  After the song finished, I put on a tape by a singer called Michael W. Smith.  He is a Christian singer who had some moderate mainstream success in the early 1990s.  He had just come out with a new album, and one of the songs was called “Friends”.  Another singer released this song years prior, and the first time I heard it was on my Emmaus weekend back in 1987.  As the song played driving up to Eddie’s funeral, I thought of his letter and the words he wrote.

Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you.  Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted, means a chapter in your life is through.  But we’ll keep you close as always.  It won’t even seem you’ve gone.  Cause our hearts, in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong.  And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them.  And a friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end.  Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”

While the words gave me comfort, I was also angry.  How could God strike someone down in the prime of his youth.  22 years old.  He had a whole lifetime ahead of him.  I regretted losing touch with him over the years.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he inspired me to write.  He got me to take a journalism class in high school, and his many stories spurred my own creativity.  But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted between us.  When I was in high school, I was very involved in theater, whether it was bit parts in plays, or helping to be stage manager during our high school’s variety shows.  This extended into community college for many years as well.  Even after college, I still got parts at my old community college.  But this evolved into writing.  Eddie went from writing to theater.  He was one of those guys who really didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.

As I was writing this, I decided to Google Eddie and Washington College.  I knew he had been electrocuted while working on lighting.  But I didn’t realize he was working on a particular chandelier in the auditorium as part of his drama thesis.  Something about this gnawed at me.  Being the packrat I am, I tend to keep everything.  When I pulled out Eddie’s old Emmaus letter, I remembered he wrote me a letter when he was at Washington College.  There was something about a light in the letter.  I pulled it out of the dusty bin, and read it…

There’s a neat light in the theater that I was shown my freshman year here, it’s kinda like a night light, but it isn’t.  It’s really peaceful though and if you ever get a chance to get down here, I’ll show you it.

I wish I would have taken him up on his offer.  It’s been 23 years since Eddie died.  Whenever I used to go up to our old town, I would always make it a point to visit him at his grave.  In the year after he passed, sometimes I would spend hours there, talking to him, or just thinking, or praying.  I haven’t been up in that area in a long, long time.  The last time I was there, I was married and had my son for quite a while.  Gone were the days of my youth.  This was before I knew of my son’s disabilities and the battles ahead.  Before a blog even entered my mind.  I was just a dad, struggling with myself during those transition years.

A couple years after I moved to Delaware, I played hookie from work one day.  I went for a long drive, not sure where I was going.  I just went where my car took me.  I found myself in Maryland, in a place called Chestertown.  I drove past an old college, but I didn’t make the connection.  This was where Eddie breathed his last.  Even after I left this town and the beautiful river that went into the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t know.  It wasn’t until years later when Facebook took off and I reconnected with old friends, that I found out.  Someone said Washington College when talking about Eddie, and my answer about why I found myself at Washington College was answered.  I suppose my subconscious knew.

I think about Eddie from time to time.  If I hear mention of Chestertown or Washington College, his smiling face appears in my mind.  Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how her daughter goes to Washington College, and I started thinking about Eddie again.  I wanted to write about him, and honor my friend.  My friend who was there for me when so many others weren’t.  When peers were saying why and he didn’t care.  Everyone needs a friend like that.  Everyone needs that one person they can turn to, no matter how bad it is, and just knowing they care makes all the difference.

Sometimes I wonder about how I find the things I do with this blog.  How I find the strength to keep going, to put something up on here every day.  The little things, like looking for an answer to a question, never finding it, but the seeking opens up a door to something else.  I’ve written before about how another person in my life gave me inspiration when I first started this journey.  We have no idea how much the departed can impact us, how they push us in certain directions if we are open to it.  If we listen.  Sometimes, when I write, I go back and read it months later and wonder where I got those words.  I like to think Eddie, and others gone before and since, are guiding me under the watchful eye of God, who I have never given enough credit for the wonderful things in my life: my wife, my son, my friends, my family.  The sunset that stretches across the sky at night on my way home from work.  The moments of absolute stillness when you feel like you are one with the world.  The nights when you are alone with nothing but the stars and you get lost in the vastness of it all.  That’s all God.  Something I need to remember.

It was so long ago, when my friend was in my life.  But he is still here, in my heart and even in my words.  He reminds me that God is still a part of my life, even when I don’t think He is there.  Part of the reason I stand up for children with disabilities is because long ago, Eddie stood up for me.  Eddie may be gone from this world, but he still burns brightly in my mind.  A light that he found, an unforgettable fire.

Flashback: September, 1986.  The three of us go to a movie in New Canaan, CT.  It’s a movie about a group of friends who have a moment in their lives when they have to make a journey to find a dead body.  But like most things in life, it doesn’t go the way they planned.

I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?

I cry every time I see the end of Stand By Me now.  Every single time.  I think of Eddie, and what he meant to me, and still does.  Thank you Stephen King, for writing those words in your original short story called “The Body”, adapted into Stand By Me.  Just seventeen words to encapsulate a time when one person made a difference.

Mother of Child With Autism Stands Up For Her Son At Academy of Dover Public Hearing

Yesterday, at the Delaware Department of Education, a public hearing was held for Academy of Dover, a charter school in Dover now under formal review.  The only members of the public to show up were a Miss Sabine Neal and myself.  Representing the school were Principal Cheri Marshall, Board member Nancy Wagner, and a member of the administrative staff.  The purpose of this public hearing was for any member of the public to give comment about Academy of Dover.  Neal gave public comment, and what she said is disturbing, but necessary for parents and members of the community to know.  Miss Neal gave me permission to tell this story, and it is very similar to what so many parents in Delaware have gone through at the hands of our schools.

Hi, my name is Sabine Neal.  I’m a parent at Academy of Dover.  My two children, two of my children go there.  I’m here today, sorry I’m kind of nervous.  I’m here today to stand up for my son.  He was the child that was abused at the Academy of Dover.  He is a six-year old kindergarten special needs student who I asked for an evaluation for in August from the school.  I did not receive any evaluations until November, and I was not notified he was going to be evaluated.  I found out because he came home nervous.  I submitted an Autism diagnosis, I submitted an ADHD diagnosis.  I was told they could not do anything with the ADHD diagnosis until he had been in the school six months.  The Autism diagnosis, I was told since he was only two and a half, it was too old and I needed a new one.  They knew he had issues, I asked for help, and problems escalated throughout the year.  He’s autistic, he doesn’t deal well with change.  Issues occurred and arose throughout the year.  He’s been suspended multiple times, but he’s not a bad child.  He is six.  I tried everything with the school.  I set up to get him reevaluated.  Getting into a neurologist takes a lot of time.  I went to a neurologist, my insurance dropped that neurologist, so I had to go to Delaware Autism Program as the school suggested.  I got him re-diagnosed again, again, he’s not eligible.  I never had a meeting, they never said anything.  I was just told by the Behavior Interventionist he is not eligible.  Continue reading

The Tipping Point

A year ago today I made a resolution to myself that I would write about my son’s experiences with education in Delaware and do everything I could to educate others about the pitfalls and dangers in Delaware education.  While I didn’t start writing at this point, my mind was made up.  It wasn’t a question of what, it was just a matter of when.  To this end I started researching everything education related.

I came across a blog called Kilroy’s Delaware.  I had seen it once before, something about a meeting that was supposed to be open to the public, but they kept it closed.  But at this point in time, Kilroy was talking about all these charters up in Wilmington and which ones would close and which ones would never open.  There was a huge state board meeting in the coming week where tons of charter applications would be decided on.  I figured if anyone one knew the secrets of Delaware education, it would be him.

I emailed Kilroy and asked tons of questions.  I didn’t trust anyone at this point, and I knew asking questions would generate unwanted attention my way.  So I came up with a fake alias when I emailed Kilroy.  I started commenting on his blog as “Mage”.  Within a couple weeks, I got the general thrust of what was going on in Delaware education.  This company called the Rodel Foundation was pretty much running the show.  Their goal was to get as many charter schools into Delaware as possible.  And I learned a lot of it was linked to all these standardized tests the students had to take.

I set some goals for myself for the next year:

1) Tell my son’s story.

2) Find out all I could about Rodel.

3) Find out what the hell was wrong with special education in Delaware.

4) Find out who I could trust in the General Assembly.

5) Find the charters weak links and expose them.

6) Find out why Markell and Murphy were so hell-bent on ruining students lives with standardized testing.

7) Get as many parents as possible to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

So here I am now, a year later.  My name has become synonomous with the words opt out.  I write this blog on a daily basis.  I found the answers but don’t have a clue how to effectively change the entire education system in Delaware.  I have made many friends and twice as many enemies.  My son is not better off than he was a year ago.  If anything, his situation is worse.  It’s time for change, for everyone.  Including myself.

Over the past year, I’ve let life slip by.  My mind has been consumed by all things Delaware education, and I lost focus on what makes me, well, me.  This happens often in all our lives.  We get caught up in something, and it becomes the central point of our lives.  But for me, and several folks like me, this can pose a considerable danger.

When I was a child, I was diagnosed as attention-deficit hyperactive disorder.  I remember always being hyper as a child, but I never understood why.  Then, one day in high school, it just stopped.  The hyperactivity just disappeared.  I remember thinking, I don’t have to be like that, and I wasn’t.  But just because the hyperactivity was gone, it didn’t mean the attention deficit wasn’t.

I am a person who easily loses focus.  If I concentrate on one thing, I’m good.  But everyone has “other” things they have to do.  For folks with ADD, this can be a big problem.  It takes an extreme amount of hard work and dedication to get everything straight, and that’s what I need to do.

I’m not done blogging, but you just might not see as much of it is as you are used to.  I need to get other stuff straightened out, and fast.  This is also why I understand my son’s struggles, as well as others.  It’s not always just about the most extreme disabilities.  The “smaller” ones can cause just as much stress and confusion.

Which Famous People Have ADHD?

Video

ADHD is not a lifetime sentence. Which celebrities and historical figures used their uniqueness to catapult themselves into the limelight? This short video will show you many faces you will surely recognize!

IDEA: What Disabilities, Disorders or Conditions Qualify for an IEP? Find out here, along with the key rule!

The following are listed as qualifying conditions, disabilities, or disorders for an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.  The important thing to remember for any IEP is that the condition MUST affect a child’s educational outcome.  If they are brilliant and have no problems whatsoever with learning or adapting to a classroom environment affecting the ability to learn, chances are they may not qualify.  This is a very important thing for parents to remember.  Evaluations will be done to help determine disabilities, but parents should always find out ahead of time which ones are being done, and should also do some research to make sure they are the appropriate evaluations.

The federal criteria indicates a child must be impacted in the following areas to the point where they cannot perform at grade level when given instruction at that grade level. The term the federal government gives is “adversely affected”.  The following are the educational areas where a child must be adversely affected: Oral Expression, Listening Comprehension, Written Expression, Basic Reading Skills, Reading Fluency Skills, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Calculation, and Mathematics Problem Solving.  The key to determining all of these criteria is is a history of assessments showing what areas a child may have struggled in, as well as a guarantee of appropriate professional instruction by an educator.  Once again, educational outcome must be affected!

The following are disabilities that can qualify a child for an IEP as long as they are adversely affected educationally:

Autism: A developmental disability that overwhelmingly affects a child’s verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as the ability to socially interact appropriately or at the child’s age level.  Autism typically needs to be diagnosed before the age of 3.  If the primary diagnosis that affects the ability to have a good educational outcome is an emotional disturbance it is not considered autism.

Deafness: A child would need to be completely deaf or the hearing must be so bad that they cannot function at an educational level appropriate to their age, with or without technical assistance or amplification.

Deaf-Blindness: A child with both of these afflictions must be in a position where they cannot reasonably be educated in classrooms with students who are just deaf or just blind.

Developmental Delay: This would be a delay in one or more of these disadvantages- physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, or behavior development.

Emotional Disturbance: The following must be present over a long period of time and to the extent that the educational outcome is affected.  These include an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual or sensory or health factors, not being able to create or maintain social relationships with peers and teachers, behavior that is not normal under usual circumstances, a continuing depression or feeling of unhappiness, and an ability to create symptoms or fears in regards to school and social life.  Schizophrenia would be covered under this.

Hearing Impairment: The child is not deaf, but their ability to hear impacts them to such a degree that an educational outcome is affected.

Intellectual Disability: Not being able to significantly function intellectually at an age appropriate level.  This has to co-exist with an inability to show signs of adaptive behavior.  Another key factor is this must be shown while a child is still in development.  This used to be called mental retardation, but a law in 2010 changed the terminology.

Orthopedic Impairment: These must be conditions that stem from disease such as tuberculosis or polio, an amputation, the permanent shortening of a muscle or joint (this would include those caused by burns or fractures), and cerebral palsy.

Other-Health Impaired: This is easily the most controversial category involved in identifying whether a child qualifies for an IEP because the following do not have their own category.  It is not a one-size fits all listing though where any condition must occur, but it MUST be looked at by anyone determining a qualification for an IEP.  Disabilities or Conditions listed in this category are: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Asthma, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Heart conditions, Hemophilia, Lead Poisoning, Leukemia, Nephritis (A kidney inflammation disorder), Rheumatic Fever, Sickle Cell Anemia and Tourette’s Syndrome.  With any of these, there must be clear signs that educational outcome is affected.

Specific Learning Disability: This is another one that can be easily missed that includes dyslexia, perceptual disabilities, brain injury (including those that cause minimal brain dysfunction), and developmental aphasia (also known as word blindness).

Speech or Language Impairment: These would be listed as a communication disorder with the following types of conditions- stuttering, a voice or language impairment, or an impaired articulation.  Once again, educational outcome must be affected.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Put simply, this means any brain injury cause by an “outside physical force”.  It must cause total or part dysfunction, and affect abilities such as language, reasoning, memory, cognition, judgment, problem solving, or attention.  It could also cause problems with your motor, sensory, or perceptual abilities.  Other factors could include problems with physical functions, information processing, and social behavior.

Visual Impairment (including Blindness): This covers any impairment with a child’s vision whether it can be corrected or not that also affects a child’s educational outcome.

Multiple Disabilities: Having more than one disability, disorder or condition on this list, with the exception of deaf-blindness (as that is already a multiple disability), that would cause additional special education to cover the multiple disabilities.

It is very important for any parent to know that their child does not have to be failing to have their educational outcome in trouble.  Federal law states that any child with one or more disabilities must have a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that requires “special education or related services”.

In the world of special education, teachers, special education departments and administrators live by acronyms.  They will refer to FAPE, IEP, IDEA, and other terms all the time.  If you aren’t familiar with these terms, it can get very confusing for a parent.  So it is worth it to brush up on these prior to any IEP meeting.

For a lot of parents who have already been thrust into the special education world, most of this is familiar to us.  For new parents introduced to these terms, I hope this provided some insight and clarification for you.

A Plea To Delaware Parents Of Children With Special Needs And Disabilities #netde #edude

I’ve been doing this blog for less than a week, and I am amazed at how many people have looked at it, and how diverse the audience is.  I am very proud of this.  I’m still new at this, and I have a lot to learn.  When I started this blog journey by telling my son’s special education story from a Delaware Charter school, I promised I had no political agenda.  That has changed.  The only way things can change for these kids is through legislation and hammering the points home to those who need to listen the most.  I am not running for any type of office, but I believe new legislation needs to be passed so children with special needs and disabilities have more rights in the state of Delaware.  I have talked to many parents from different states, and when they hear about the types of things that go on in Delaware in terms of special education, they are shocked.

All special needs parents need to stand united.  We need to stand up to the schools and let them know they are not doing the best they can.  Some teachers do, some special education specialists do, but not nearly enough.  No one knows our children better than we do.  So why must we fight so hard to get our children what they deserve?  Why do we have to go to endless meetings and fight for even the most basic of accommodations?  Is it a funding issue?  Is it that the schools are so arrogant to truly believe they know what is best for OUR children?

Things need to change, and they need to change as soon as possible.  I go to a support group for special needs parents.  Tonight was our last meeting until September, but I know we will all be there to support each other over the summer.  Every town should have one of these groups if they don’t already.  It has helped me, and I know it has helped others.  The biggest thing for these types of groups is confidentiality.  I promised everyone I wouldn’t blog about their experiences!

As parents, we see what our children go through.  We see their daily struggles at school and home.  We know immediately when they need us more than the school.  We know why they do certain things that the schools just don’t seem to understand.  We understand that all their behavior is not intentional.  What we don’t know is why the schools don’t want to get this.

The Delaware Department of Education is having their monthly school board meeting tomorrow in Dover at 1pm in the Townshend Building, across from the new library.  On their agenda is to go over the IDEA Annual Performance Report.  I am very interested to hear what is in this report.  I can guarantee not every single special education matter is in that report.  Many parents who have gone beyond the DOE know this.  The DOE knows this.  So what happens to all of those children who are not accounted for in that report?  According to the DOE website, there are very few due process hearings in Delaware.  Those that don’t go to a due process tend to get resolved through a mediation of some sort.

I spent hours last night going through these reports from the Delaware DOE on their website: http://www.doe.k12.de.us/infosuites/students_family/specialed/cont_improv/default.shtml

The reality is very different than what is depicted in these reports and many of us know this.  The DOE stated in 2010 that all Delaware schools would have a special education audit every three years, broken down into thirds for each year amongst the Delaware schools.  Where are those audit reports?  Why doesn’t the public have access to them?  They have plenty of reports on how the special education students are doing with the “reform” of Delaware schools, whether it is through standardized testing or how they do towards reaching targets for the state performance plan.  Our students are more than just numbers and statistics.  Special education needs to change in this state.  We need to know what is going on in our schools.  The audits are for existing IEPs.  Why aren’t their audits being done on DENIALS?

In 2012, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), a Federal education department, announced they are suspending compliance visits to schools around the country and they are allowing states and school districts to be more accountable for  “positive adult outcomes”.  How is that going to help a 5 year old? A 10 year old?  These are children.  They aren’t going to college or entering the workforce for many years.  This was a huge federal mistake.  This is allowing the schools to be less compliant with special education.

Parents of ADHD, Sensory Processing, Autism, Deaf, Blind, OCD, Tourette’s, and more know this.  But what are we doing about it?  We need to stand as one.  Stand together as a group.  We can’t be heard by ourselves.  Some of us have gone to District House reps or Senators about issues, but nothing ever really changes.  We need to demand change, we need to be loud, we need to be large, and we need to be public.

Our children are the most precious thing we have in our lives.  We all want them to have a better life.  But if the school’s aren’t doing it, then we need to make them change.  The schools and the state government can form all the councils, committees and task forces they want, but at the end of the day we need to be the group that facilitates change.  We need to demand transparency from the schools.  We need to know how many IEPS and 504 plans they have.  It needs to be visible on EACH school’s website.  Not just the DOE website, or hidden away on some Office Of Civil Rights webpage.  I also believe schools should report the number of IEP and 504 denials they have each month.  We owe it to our children to fight for them, to advocate for them.  And the only way we can make the schools change is to force them to be compliant.  We need to do this now more than ever.

Smarter Balanced Assessments are, unfortunately, the wave of the future.  But that future is coming up, and before we know it, teachers will be so wound up in preparing students for these tests because their jobs will depend on it.  There is already legislation coming up that could dramatically affect how teachers are measured in the future.  Everything is tied into Common Core and standardized testing now in Delaware. The implementation began in 2012, but it is in full swing this coming fiscal year.  My fear is this will be horrible for children with disabilities.  Schools will have so much pressure to be the best.  Teachers will feel like their job is on the line if their students don’t do well.  On a test done once a year.  The frustration level for the schools and teachers will be at an all-time high.  If students currently on IEPs or 504s are not fully accommodated, they will resort back to what prompted the IEPs and 504s to begin with.  There is already a zero-tolerance culture in our schools on many types of behavior.  Which can be a good thing, but for special needs students, it’s all about the communication.  Teachers will be so stressed out to begin with, how can we hope they will be able to give 100% to our students with special needs?  Child Find will not be a top priority for our educators.  Behavior issues need to be dealt with immediately is something I am hearing more and more from schools and teachers around the state.  Do not let our children get caught in the crossfire between State demands and stressed-out teachers.

We can not let the Delaware DOE, our schools, and our teachers drop the ball on special education.  Our children do not need to suffer more than they already have because of events beyond our control.  If we let this happen, then we are failing as parents.  I won’t have that kind of weight on my shoulders, nor should any of you want that.  It is time, past time, for us to take control and demand change.  It starts now.

Tomorrow, at the Delaware Board of Education meeting, public commenters are given three minutes to speak.  Come out if you can and talk about the changes you want to see.  I can’t guarantee anything will come of it, but if enough people speak, they can’t ignore us forever.  Go to your district House rep or Senator, and let them know what your issues are.  A lot of them are up for reelection in November, so it would be in their best interest to listen to you.  If not, I would have to assume they don’t want your vote.  Reach out to other candidates running for office.  See what their stance is on special education and Common Core.  In November, make an informed decision based on what is best for OUR children and the state of Delaware.  The way things are set up in Dover right now, party lines are being crossed constantly.  It isn’t just Democrats vs Republicans.  Things are being decided on that have NO public vote, and some that the vast majority of the people don’t want.  Make your vote count in November.

I will be writing more about how we can ALL come together on this.  Whether your child goes to a public, charter, vocational, or alternate school, ALL our children count.  Don’t let your child be stuck on the bottom in the race to the top.  Please contact me at Exceptionaldelaware14@yahoo.com if you have any questions, concerns, or want your story to be told.  We are all in this together!