Saturday, June 13, 2009

Iron Mom: Battle "Least Restrictive Setting"

Now and again we watch The Food Network's Iron Chef America, a game show that features a celebrity master chef like Mario Batali or Bobby Flay battling a challenger in "Kitchen Stadium." Their task: to make the best five-course meal in just under an hour using a featured "secret ingredient" such as trout, or flank steak, or parmigiano reggiano. The secret ingredient must be featured in each course. A panel of food experts judges "Battle Trout" or "Battle Flank Steak" or Battle Parmigiano" based on criteria such as flavor, originality, and presentation. The Iron Chef secret ingredient can result in some strange dessert outcomes -- beef-infused ice cream, beer meringue, and sea urchin custard are just a few.

Sometimes I feel as though autism parenting is a lot like the timed kitchen stadium battle. Your kid will only be this age -- whatever the age is -- once. So the time limits are clear and the pressure is on. You know the clock is ticking. The master chefs you're up against can be renowned experts, school personnel, or board of education officials. The stadium is the school district, the Department of Education, or for some fierce contenders, federal court.

Right now I'm appearing in Iron Mom: Battle "Least Restrictive Setting." One or two people at Sweet M's school have long believed that she should be in a more restrictive setting -- a 6:1:1.

Sweet M attends a state-approved (and therefore partially publicly-funded) private school for children with learning disabilities. Some school administrators believe that she (and/or the school) would be better served if she were elsewhere: at a school where all or almost all the children are on the spectrum.

Those of you who've been following this blog know that this has been an ongoing issue: every other year for the past six years we have looked -- in earnest and with open minds -- at other settings and determined that they would not be appropriate.

We find ourselves in the odd position of making a mainstreaming argument even though she is in an LD school. Because the school has a much greater variety of children than a school for kids on the spectrum would have, it more closely approximates a mainstream setting than other places do. Maybe it's not mainstream, but it's a much larger tributary than the stream they'd like to send her to.

The rules of this special education game -- the secret ingredient of "least restrictive setting" -- have left us with an outcome for Sweet M that seems a lot like flank-steak infused ice cream or urchin custard. This is not exactly what you'd choose to make for dessert if you weren't working within a narrowly defined structure with very specific rules.

But, of course, the differences are clear: in Iron Mom America the battle isn't just an hour, but year in and year out, and the real stakes are much higher than just a tasty meal and haute cuisine bragging rights.


Beth Layne said...

I enjoyed your article! This is the exact reason that myself and other parents in our area are trying to create an appropriate environment for them! Hang in there!

Love & Light

Ridwen said...

Dear Mothersvox, your article echoes my feelings now (though I have not expressed it with the kitchen metaphor). I am in a similar position with my 9yo AS son - he is in a mainstream classroom with a teacher´s aide and there are some voices within the school persuaded that he (and the school) would be better off somewhere else. I know perfectly well why he should stay here (he is coping, he knows the school, has friends there, he should be used to the mainstream norms and conditions) but I have a problem to make the school see that his stayin there is good for them too. What kind of arguments do you use with Sweet M´s school? How do you play your Iron Mom role? We have a conference scheduled for the next week at the school and as I was actually crying during the last one, I am preparing for this one with a lot of apprehension. Ridwen (sorry for my faulty English, I am from Czech Republic)

farmwifetwo said...

Ridwen - the number 1 way to win is to have an advocate. Preferably someone that knows the system and the education laws in your area.

If you can't find one through your local disability people or autism society - they should be able to direct you - you need to bring someone. Someone, that knows the issues, someone that will help you present your views to the school, and keep you from signing before you are ready to.

Also, you need proof. At the end of the day if you cannot prove that the child's development has improved with great leaps they will probably move him. So have the proof, the reports, the Dr's letters that say the child should remain in that school. Here an AS child would be lucky to get quarter time support... I know b/c my NLD one finally got quarter time support in Gr 4 and will be gone next year just as fast. You may have to agree to less support to keep him there... which is more important, the support or the school??

If you've had a year of behavioural issues you need to find a way to lessen them. Last year we got slapped by the school about behaviour issues 3 days before school was out... nothing was said for 10mths... and then... WHAMMO. So, I fought back. Fast. Made calls to the board, sent emails.... it was dealt with within 2 weeks of the first day back at school - token system, OT sensory support - and the changes were astounding within less than 2 weeks. They didn't want a behaviour assessment anymore than I did of that class, but they knew I was having it done, and I'd already set it up.

You have to show why you're in the right and they aren't. You can't just go in and say "because I say so". You have to prove why. My eldest nearly didn't get his psychometric assessment b/c he doing well in class. Yet, I had a letter from the Child Psych saying it needed to be done. But I told the psychometrist "this isn't right, that's not right, he learns this way...." and he did it for me.

The system will run over you if you let it. Know how it works and use it to your advantage, not theirs. Remember, 1 part lemon, 3 parts sugar and make them think it's their idea.

Best of luck.


VAB said...

I will be making this argument next Thursday. In our case the argument is a bit more abstract. We got full inclusion for the past two years after being denied it in the previous year in that particular school. We are now leaving (off to high school) so I am going in to see the principal and make the argument that in the future kids coming in should benefit from the full inclusion our guy got as a matter of policy rather than a combination of Iron Dad fighting and luck (the individual teachers from the last two years were great).

I will argue that diversity is good for all kids as the real world includes a diverse mix of people. I will also argue that inclusive teaching styles accommodate not only the kids with specific diagnostic labels, but other kids whose learning styles happen to be similar. But my main argument will be that inclusion is much better for the included minorities themselves and, in if the schools goal is to achieve good outcomes for the largest number of people, that is enough of an argument by itself.

Ridwen said...

Dear S. and VAB, this is actually very helpful, thank you. My main argument is that there are more and more of AS children so if the school gets rid of my son, they will probably have the same challenges sooner or later again. My son has ADHD too so the full-time aide is necessary and yes, the main problem is disruptive behavior in class. We were also hit with the issues without warning - everything was ok and then, at the conference we were told that he is very disruptive and we should move him in a smaller, specialized classroom. The problem is that such schools are not numerous and have a long waiting list so even if we were willing to move him, it is difficult to find another placement. The aide as such is not a problem for the school as she is paid by the government, not the school, based on the diagnosis. But the laws here are such that a mainstream school is not obliged to accept a developmentally handicapped child if it is not willing, so they have upper hand in this. We have an advocate - but from a nongonvermental no-profit organization, so they can only recommend - but they are very helpful. The school management actually listens better when the problems are explained by somebody who has a degree in special pedagogics than to an "emotional" mother. The only way for us, as I see it, is to be very open and friendly, but stick to our guns - the school would look bad if they expelled him against our will. And S. thanks for the "progress" angle - I did not realized that the developmental leaps (he is able to eat in the canteen, he participates in all the lessons, including PE, he participates in the out-of-school activities) could be a part of our argument. I feel much better now, thank you both.

MothersVox said...

Beth, Ridwin, FarmWife2 and VAB -- Many thanks for these ideas . . . I sometimes forget to focus on the benefit to the school community of including my daughter . . . that she is an asset to the community, helping kids learn to deal with neurological diversity.

I will post more in the next couple of days on inclusion and least restrictive setting . . . and on our strategies.

Navi said...

My son's school is moving him from an ASD specific class in a traditional school (the intention was for the kids to spend at least an hour each in a traditional classroom. Tristan was lucky if he got 15 minutes in).

However, do to his inability to complete assignments, and his severe sensory issues, the move to a more restrictive setting is probably better for him. There's an on site music therapist, and more sensory supports. There is also a pool in the school so he can swim up to 2 days a week, if I want him to. He does better on days he swims, so you bet your bottom dollar I'm going to ask for as much swimming as possible.

Navi said...

um, due, not do, in the first sentence.

Also I forgot to note that my ADHD 'emotional impaired' (IE her primary issues are behavioral - she's academically advanced) daughter's school has always considered her an asset. but maybe that has to do with those high test scores when she gets extra time and a small group setting.

m said...

i, for one, have a favorite picked out in the Iron Mom contest. i am openly biased in favor of one participant who shall remain unnamed. (it's you, though. i am definitely pulling for you. i can't even imagine how difficult it must be...not just the battle, but the fact that it renews, year after year. you rock).