The other side of the IEP table is a strange and scary place.
Da Squish (aka Weirdling Two, aka the 16 month old who lives in my house) has a small learning disorder. Or maybe we're calling it a developmental delay because he's so young. There's a lot of words that mean almost the same thing in education. It can get confusing.
It's nothing serious or scary, but it is concerning. I'm not even sure we would have caught it if we weren't teachers. I'm sure it helped, at the least.
My wife had been saying for a few weeks that she was worried about Da Squish. She didn't think he was hearing her. He wasn't responding to his name when she called, she didn't think he was following simple instructions like he ought to have been, and he had no words. None. He wouldn't say anything. He barely points and makes a noise when he wants something. She felt he wasn't trying to communicate in a developmentally appropriate way.
My wife is a special education teacher. Was, and will be again, to be more specific. When Weirdling One was born she left the classroom to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. This is one of the major reasons we live in Oregon now and not in Hawaii. You can barely survive in Hawaii on two teacher salaries. On one, with a baby, you get to make fun choices like should I pay rent or eat this month? And if the car breaks down can I get a bike off Craigslist to get to school on? We moved, she left the classroom, and we suddenly and a little hilariously had a Traditional American Family Situation. I work, she raises the children and cooks. I should make clear that's our choice together, I wouldn't have married someone I could have told, "You're staying home to raise our kids" and she wouldn't have married someone who would have tried that nonsense. (Related- How do dads have the guts to refuse to do diapers? It never even occurred to me to try and get out of diaper duty. That's a crap move*, dads who do that.) I should also make clear that while that's our choice we know that's not everyone's choice or option. We got lucky. She is also the cook because I can't. She will barely let me pour a bowl of cereal for myself. To be fair, I measure the water when I make Cup of Noodles because I'm pretty sure I'll screw them up.
I tell you all that to say that when it comes to our kids' development I 100% trust my wife. She's around them all day. She's smart and well-trained. But I think, and I have no evidence of this, that teachers are overly sensitive to possible education issues with their kids. I feel like I am. I know when they should be reading and what they should be reading and how much we should be counting with them and all that other stuff because I went to school for it and I see the echoes of those things in my classroom all the time. We, she especially as a special education teacher, are extremely keyed in. To the point of noticing every little thing and running it through our Teacher Brains (friends of ours- we do it to your kids too and don't tell you. Sorry. Force of habit).
So while I believed her when she'd tell me what she saw Da Squish doing through the day I also figured it was a combination of her Teacher Sense tingling, her Parent Sense throwing interference at her Teacher Sense, him only being one, and him being different from his older brother. No worries. He's fine, babe. We'll keep an eye on him.
Then I spent a full week at home over Spring Break.
|Can't hear you, vacuuming|
It's funny what you notice when you get to spend a bunch of time with your kids. But that's for the eventual He's the Weird Dad.
With the both of us in agreement we decided to take action. Maybe it's nothing, but better to check now than wait until his year and a half doctor's appointment. If we can catch a problem this early that gives us a jump on treating it. She had already done the research and had the proper number to call. She's on it.
Turns out the people you call when you're concerned about this kind of thing is your local school district, at least in Oregon. They are the people with the early childhood experts on staff. They're the ones who have the tests and give the help. And our local school district is the one I work in.
Which is how I ended up taking half a day off work to go to my district office as a parent for a child four years away from enrolling in kindergarten.
The meeting was as friendly as it could possibly be. It was a crowded room. My wife and I, both boys because where are we going to put Weirdling One for two hours, and three experts from the district. I'll be honest, I don't remember their titles. Early childhood intervention experts. One was a speech pathologist. All three were very nice.
Right away I did the whole, "It's ok, I'm a teacher too. I'm familiar with these kinds of meetings. Hit us with the acronyms. We're ready." Which was basically like a dentist telling his doctor he went to med school too.
Boy did they run with that. In the friendliest, most open, clearest way. But there's something about sitting in a chair when an Expert starts going over the laundry list of tests they're about to perform on your one year old. It's not a new thing to me. I've had these conversations. I've explained tests like this. But wow, to have to hit you is something else entirely.
They weren't trying to lose us. They answered every question we had. They smiled and joked and couldn't have been more personable and friendly. They gave Weirdling One toys to play with so he'd be happy and stay out of the way when they tested his brother. They did a smooth slight of hand where one was interviewing us about what we saw for an assessment, filling in endless bubbles on endless sheets, collecting data, while the other two played games with Da Squish, testing him in all kinds of ways I hadn't known were tests. How do you test a one year old for hearing? He doesn't seem to know his name, how you do say, "Raise your hand when you hear the beep." Turns out you don't, we live in the future now and the hearing tool goes in his ear, makes a noise, then measures how long it takes the noise to bounce back. Or it runs on magic. One of the two.
At the end of an hour of interviews and tests-disguised-as-play the three ladies left the room to confab and do their data alchemy. We hung out, the baby nursed, and Weirdling One played on his tablet. He has this space dog game where you can fly a dog around outer space and when you park it by things a little animation happens. It's cute. There's a farting planet that farts for as long as you leave the dog near it. It's the funniest thing in the world to him. And his parents.
I figured the problem stemmed from Da Squish's hearing. I knew he could hear some things. He likes to dance to music, Shake It Off and Uptown Funk are particular favorites around our house, but that was my Occam's Razor for the whole problem. His language seems delayed. He doesn't respond to his name. Must be a hearing issue. Probably fluid in his ears. Trust me, I'm a teacher, I can tell these things.
Nope. Hearing is great. Their magic Hearometer** detected no problems.
They did confirm what we were seeing, though. That was nice to hear. I'd never compare my child to my car, but you know how sometimes your car*** makes a weird noise so you decide to take it into the shop and as soon as you get there it stops making the noise and the mechanic thinks you're just a tattooed, blue-haired dope who doesn't know anything about cars and is wasting his time for fun? Doesn't that feeling suck? So it was good to hear that they saw what we saw.
According to their data alchemy our concerns were justified. He is below the normal range, dipping into the range of concern, for both receptive and expressive language.
One of his scores was right on the line of what he needed to score to qualify for early intervention and the other was just below. Not as far below as it felt to us, but parents probably almost always make it worse than it is. Together the scores qualified him to receive interventions. The lady in charge of the meeting even said, "He's right on the edge, but I'm allowed to use my professional judgement in these cases and I say that if we did this test five times he'd for sure qualify four of those times." Hey, someone who knows that what a kid is like today might not be what he's exactly like tomorrow! As a teacher it was pretty cool to see another teacher-like person be allowed to take data and add her own observation and judgement to it to make a decision. I've been in IEPs where we've had to turn a kid down because the numbers didn't shake out, no matter what we thought.
So now we're being referred somewhere else, and those people have already called us to set up a meeting so we can plan as a team the best days and times to get Da Squish the help he needs. Hopefully by catching this as early as we did he won't fall too far behind and by the time he's two he'll be hitting all the benchmarks he needs to be.
I think about this entire process and it strikes me that, as friendly as it was, it still wasn't the easiest thing. Not the the district made it difficult, far from. But think about the steps-
- We had to notice that he was behind (and I give my wife all the credit for making the right call so quickly), which means we needed to be aware of where he should have been. Lots of parents have the books but we had the extra advantage of her being a pre-school special education teacher. And even then she didn't fully trust her judgement because what if she's just being an over-reactive parent?
|We read! I swear!|
- Then we have to go to a meeting and sit in a room with Experts who, as friendly as they seem, are really smart. And smart is scary, Look at all those forms they have. And so many questions. What if I answer the questions wrong? That's a lot of tests. Tests with weird names. What are they looking for? Are they trying to find something wrong with my kid? I work in this business and there was a lot of words being tossed around I wasn't sure I knew. I spent half the meeting thinking about what it would be like for a non-native English speaker. Even if they had a great translator, that adds one more layer of removal, one more barrier to understanding.
- And now someone else, another Expert, is going to come to our house to help our kid. A stranger in our home. It's nice that we don't have to come to them, but our house is kind of an explosion. We try, but we have two insane children and four sets of grandparents who love giving toys. Don't judge me.
The process reminded me of taking the Oregon tests which transferred my teaching license from Hawaii to Oregon. That experience, which you can read about here, completely changed how I give tests in my class. I gained a level of empathy with my students I hadn't previously had. This experience taught me a similar lesson. I knew, intellectually, that it must be hard for the parent on the other side of the desk. The only time I'd actually been on that side was when I was in school. It was for speech- For years I talked like Elmer Fudd, all my Rs were Ws. Still happens sometimes. But I can't remember specifics of the meeting other than struggling to stifle a yawn. Now I've been the parent. Now I have the specific experience, an empathy that can only be gained one way. This doesn't mean that I used to be a heartless jerk to the parents in my IEP meetings. I understood what they were going through. But I didn't know.
But now I know that fear and intimidation in a much more real way. I know how it felt as a native English speaker, college graduate, and professional educator. How must it feel to the parents in my class? How can I make it easier?
**probably not the official title
***didn't say anything about comparing him to your car
I wrote a Update to the post.