IEPs, 504s... help? Sweeby? SeekingAdvice?

spacificMay 23, 2008

For the past year+, I have been reading the Special Needs thread. DS went through psych testing at age 6 for suspected ADHD... basically lots of daydreaming, lots of boredom at school, but very little of the signs at home.

The testing was inconclusive, showed some off the chart high scores on some things, and really weird processing speed issues on other tests... But on top of everything, we really felt he was not in the right school environment.

Fast forward one year, he is now finishing 2nd grade in a math/science magnet. His grades are at the highest level (4s) in everything except writing. His teacher wants him to be tested for gifted. But also, she is quite sure that DS needs to have a 504 plan in place because he really tunes out at times at school, doesn't produce the quantity of work in the classroom, needs to walk around to think, etc. (i.e. he does really well at homework if he's standing up while he does it).

Any tips and suggestions to how I proceed with this, I'd really appreciate. Today, I'm meeting with his teacher. As a start, I told her I'd provide her a copy of the psychologist's summary and recommendations from 18 months ago, as it has some concrete suggestions about how to help him in the classroom.

Thanks in advance,


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Interesting!... And kudos to your son's teacher for her observations that movement helps him keep his brain focused. A 504 might be just the ticket -- if the school is willing to give him one.

At this point, (and at every point really), you're just trying to figure out how best to help him learn and succeed in school. So you know a few things for sure:

- He's very bright (Is his performance 'level' or are their significant strong and weak areas that hint at learning disabilities?)

- He has attention difficulties (When? Why? When not? and Why not then?)

- Motion helps him stay focused (What can we do with that knowledge? Aside from letting him walk around the classroom, could 'fidget balls' help? What about sports? Occupational therapy?)

If I recall correctly, psychoeducational testing is supposed to be quite a bit more reliable at age 7 than at age 6, and it seems you have much more information to go on now than you did then. Is having the testing repeated an option? (I know how expensive it is...) And have you FULLY explored all of the results and implications of the tests and subtests?

By that I mean that I think there's a natural inclination for parents to go into the post-test meeting with a "OK - So what's the diagnosis?" mentality. Not that there's anything wrong with the question -- it's just that the answers simply aren't that clear-cut! "Does he have ADHD?" "Maybe..." ARGH! What are you supposed to do with that information? After the non-diagnosis, the tester probably spent some time talking about the test results, but it's unlikely that a whole lot sank in if you had the "is he or isn't he?" question in your mind. What other little tidbits are contained in those test results? What other helpful information can you get when you combine the test results with your new classroom function insight? I'm suggesting it might be worth scheduling a follow-up appointment with the person who did the testing to spend more time interpreting the results. That should really be a two-hour conversation and should focus specifically on the classroom implications of DS's test patterns. For example:

- If he has relatively weak short-term memory, this means he is likely to forget the end of multi-step directions before completing them all, and have trouble copying things from the blackboard because his 'memory chunks' will be small.

- If he has poor spatial relationship skills, this could make handwriting very difficult and laborious for him, with the result being that he can either 'write it' or 'learn it' but not both at the same time.

- If his processing speed is slow, he may need information presented to him in smaller chunks so he can 'digest' it as he goes.

I'm wandering...

But for your meeting with the teacher, I'd focus on "With what you know now, after having DS in your class all year, what would you tell his teacher next year."

- What classroom situations does he excel at?
- Where does he have trouble?
- What behavior management strategies have been effective? Which not?
- What can New Teacher do to set him up for success?
- What should she try to avoid?

Good luck to you --

    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 1:10PM
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You're so intuitive in all this. Thank you for your really quick response... I'm on my way to school now and will write more tonight... I'm printing out your note to take with me.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2008 at 1:31PM
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Ann, it sounds as though you are really lucky to have a teacher who understands your child well. Sweeby has given some great suggestions, and there's really only one thing I'd like to add. For a child with your son's needs, the "solutions" are less of a set of prescribed recommendations and more an issue of how well the teacher is tuned in to the child. Some teachers are simply more skilled at effectively accommodating kids who don't learn in typical ways. Your son's current teacher seems like one of these, since it sounds like she is OK with him moving about and so forth and since she recognizes his gifts despite his shortcomings.

I remember working with a teacher once to help her with a particular child with ADHD. No matter how hard this child tried, he could not process new visual and auditory information at the same time. If the teacher was showing him something new, he could look at it and take in visual information, but as he did this, he would tune out whatever she was saying to him. If she was talking to the class about something, he couldn't look at her while he was listening. He would usually fiddle with his shoelaces. These behaviors infuriated her until she understood them. She learned to give him time to process new visual information with minimal auditory interference. She learned to see it as a good thing if he were fiddling with his shoelaces while she was talking because that meant he was listening to her. I know other teachers who would have easily figured these things out on their own. I know still others who would have insisted that this child look at them while they were speaking because failing to do so is "disrespectful" and because having different expectations for different kids is "unfair." A teacher's intuition around these things is tough to measure, but it's likely that your son's current teacher knows enough about the third grade teachers at his school to identify those who would be a good match and those who would not.

All this is to say that I think it is critically important to have this year's teacher involved in the decision for placing your son with a third grade teacher. Schools make placement decisions in a wide variety of ways, sometimes randomly, sometimes methodically, and sometimes based on criteria that would be irrelevant in your son's situation. His match with his next year's teacher is probably more critical for his continued success in school than for most kids. Ask your son's current teacher for advice on how to get him placed with the third grade teacher who is best prepared to meet his needs.


    Bookmark   May 24, 2008 at 8:01AM
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"No matter how hard this child tried, he could not process new visual and auditory information at the same time. If the teacher was showing him something new, he could look at it and take in visual information, but as he did this, he would tune out whatever she was saying to him. If she was talking to the class about something, he couldn't look at her while he was listening. "

That is such a fabulous insight Holly!

And I think my son is very much that way. He picks up so much more from 'books on tape' than from 'videos' and I think this is why. I'll need to be sure to mention this in my "Notes to the New Teacher" letter that I send out near the beginning of each year.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2008 at 11:42AM
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Great advice from both Sweeby and Holligator. One additional thought is that "504s" are part of the federal rehabilitation act- the student must have a disability (i.e. diagnosis from doctor) in order to be eligible for any modifications or accommodations.

I would echo Sweeby's comments and questions about day to day functioning and how findings on tests and subtests might impact school performance.

Ok, I would also echo Holligator and hope for many more teachers like his current one who recognizes what works well and (presumable) makes appropriate accommodations without the 504 in place. I guess this post is just full of nods to the bright people who previously posted!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2008 at 1:43PM
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I'm very much that way, and I saw that with DD2. She had a very hard time following oral instructions at school. The teacher would point at (the students') eyes, then at hers, saying, "Look, and listen."

She's complient and obedient, and she'd look straight at the teacher and every word would go in one ear and out the other.

My mother was a teacher and in retrospect, very intuitive. She would tell me, "Do one thing at a time.' It served me very well, but needless to say, I don't multitask worth a flip, and never will.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 9:29AM
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Argh!! So sorry to be late posting!! We just got back from an out-of-town trip and I'm on my way to the twins' preschool "graduation" picnic dinner, but I will post back later. Just to let you know, though, that the experts have already posted! Their advice is wonderfully valuable whereas I don't really have advice because I'm on your end--the one with the questions! Maybe paige will chime in, too. She's another that always has great advice and experience to share.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 6:53PM
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Im sorry I got back to everyone so late. I was sick through the weekend. Thank you all for the responses. So hereÂs how the meeting went. I thought it was just going to be me meeting with the teacher, more of a planning session. But then she took me over to talk with the principal right away. I wasnÂt really prepared for it and neither was the teacher, so when the principal asked for specific points, we both were much too vague.

The bottom line was that the principal said that unless there is a specific diagnosis, we canÂt actually have a 504 in place, as merrygardener said. She did also offer that at their elementary school, it might not be necessary to have one anyway. It is a math/science magnet and so many kids are so bright, but have wildly different strengths and weaknesses and they seem to accommodate them as a normal course of events. Also, if he tests as gifted, he will be eligible for alternative classes, work, etc.

The principal then offered that a number of students in the school go forward with pursuing 504 plans for middle school because the environment there is much different.
Sweeby, DH and I did have a really long meeting with the psychologist after all the testing was done. And we have all the detailed test results, but I really got the feeling that she was trying to only build a case for ADHD, and really ignored, or only casually mentioned other possibilities. For example, one of the minor suggestions at the end was that DS be examined for possibly needing vision therapy. He was not reading well and had lots of dyslexic tendencies. Well, he had really bad focusing/teeming/tracking problems, and after 6 months of work, he went from being below grade level in reading to now testing highest in the class, well over 6th grade level. So now, IÂm taking more time with each section in the report and trying to gleam any more clues.

The "write it or learn it but not both" is really spot on with him. Repetitive work is worse than useless. Once he "gets it" if he has to drill over and over, he makes more and more mistakes. Also, as was consistent with the testing, his response time is slow (both visual and auditory), but heÂs highly accurate. He just doesnÂt seem to need to go fast on anything. And the more you tell him hurry, the more flustered he gets and the less that he can do, but yet, put a timer on sometimes, and play beat the clock and he can fly through any task for short bursts of time.

Holly, I will request next yearÂs teacher based on the current teacherÂs recommendation. I really respect her judgment. But I wonÂt have any final say in the matter, or will she.

Good idea on the "notes to the new teacher." This year, his teacher specifically requested them and I really appreciated it. Somehow I think that and regular contact with the teacher is more important than a diagnosis at this time.

So after this really long response, I guess my next really long series of questions areÂ

Should I have him retested by a psychologist? After the first testing, the therapist was almost trying scare tactics, telling us that if we donÂt pursue ADHD treatment, heÂs going to end up with awful self-esteem and will be a drug addict. I definitely wonÂt go back to her as there were other issues (i.e., she calculated all the results on his age when he took the last test (age 6-1/2), but he took most of the tests just before age 6.)

Is it reasonable for me to take these results to another specialist to help interpret and perhaps retake portions that seem inconsistent with other observations?

I strongly put him in the Gifted/Visual-Spatial/with Learning Disabilities category so what? What do I do with this information? Everything I read says this category doesnÂt typically do well in regular school Ok, I know that, and he's now in about the best environment I could find for him. Is that enough?

The point is, thereÂs a lot we know about DS intuitively.
Is it enough to keep things informal and undiagnosed as long as heÂs a well-adjusted child and doing reasonably well in school, or is it a problem waiting to happen down the road in junior high?

I appreciate everyoneÂs insights as you travel your own paths and I continue to learn from all the responses on the other threads as well. TIA.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 8:55PM
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Having him retested could be helpful. Finding a really good psychologist is sometimes difficult, but a good one would be interested in seeing the results of previous testing, so that is absolutely reasonable. Too many psychologists these days have cookie cutter responses to issues, and all their reports look the same. Talk to the LD teacher or other parents at your school for recommendations of good psychologists.

As for knowing whether it's worth pursuing the testing now or later, that's tough to judge without knowing your son. Perhaps, wait and see how things go with his third grade teacher. If you have him tested now, he'll have to go through it again before middle school anyway (every three years). If you wait until some time next year, the results will still be in effect when he reaches middle school.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 8:39PM
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"Is it enough to keep things informal and undiagnosed as long as hes a well-adjusted child and doing reasonably well in school, or is it a problem waiting to happen down the road in junior high?"
If things are going well at school and his needs are being met and he is feeling good about life I'd say "yes!" But while he (and you) are on the journey of discovering how he learns best ("what works for me" and "what doesn't work for me"), it might be helpful to continue to take notes so you have these for the eventual evaluation. They might include strategies that you have tried that did/did not work, what supports are helpful (environmental, visual, timing, pacing, presentation strategies that teachers use, peer work, etc...) When the time comes that you feel you want more evaluative information (and hopefully a supportive practitioner who will support over time- not just offer a diagnosis and a bill!), I would suggest a neuropsychological evaluation. A large children's hospital might be one place to see a professional experienced in doing neuropsychological exams, but many are available in larger metropolitan areas. A neuropsych eval will address both his learning strengths and strategies as well as how they work with memory, language and perceptual skills. Around the age of 9 or 10 may be ideal, but again, earlier if you feel the need.
While it is true that people with ADD/ADHD will sometimes turn to non-prescribed drugs to "self-medicate" to "feel right," or make themselves more functional, I don't think it's likely you will be seeing this at the age of 7 or 8! There are so many ways to help children as they age, including: a supportive family and school team, knowledge about self, prescribed meds, exercise, good diet, fish oil and a myriad of other management strategies. I am not suggesting that some multivitamins and a good daily jog should suffice to manage anyone's learning difficulties... but for many individuals it really helps. (Like my DS who needs all that... and some meds!)

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 2:06AM
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"I strongly put him in the Gifted/Visual-Spatial/with Learning Disabilities category so what? What do I do with this information? Everything I read says this category doesnt typically do well in regular school "

My older son (now 17) fits into this category -- gifted/V-S with LDs (dyslexic and mild ADHD), and indeed, he has struggled to some extent in regular school. His giftedness was recognized early (pre-K), LDs later (2nd grade), and he's always been placed in the tough GT classes, yet had a harder time with them than all of his friends. We did some remedial reading work to help with his dyslexia until his dad (my Ex) intervened to put a stop to it. (Can you imagine?! Didn't want his son stigmatized...) And without a label, and with his parents disagreeing, the schools would not do ANYTHING to help my son. It's a very competitive school system, and any 'extra help' would have been noticed and resented by the other parents.

So now, going into his senior year at our city's top-rated public high school, in his tough academic classes he's getting mostly B's with a few C's sprinkled in. His self-esteem's a bit shaky because his friends are scoring 2200's on the SATs and looking at MIT, Yale, Stanford etc., and he's simply not able to compete in that league. (though the raw brain-power is there, IMO) But he's got really nice friends, has not gotten into any trouble with drinking or drugs, and is a nice, responsible young man. Reading is still his weak spot, and he doesn't know for sure if he's dyslexic or not. (Experts and Mom all say "Yes, definitely", Dad says "NO!" -- and Dad is louder about it.) And while he certainly CAN read (tests at the 51% for raw reading), it is harder for him and he frequently misreads test questions, or misses the finer shades of meaning. NOT good for SATs, and NOT good for college-level work.

I guess my bottom line here is this:
- If you can get him the right kind of help without a specific diagnosis or 'label', then fine.
- But generally, the schools won't do much of anything *without* a diagnosis and label, and NOT getting help will very probably cause difficulties down the line. They might be mild (like ours), or they might be more serious (like self-medicating).

But if I had a do-over with older DS, I'd have taken Ex all the way to court (instead of just to mediation, which I won but Ex ignored) to get DS more of the help he really needed.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 11:33AM
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spacific, I wish I could give you answers, but my experience has been that the more we try to find them, the more apparent it becomes that for most of us there really aren't many concrete answers. Dh and I have continued to have our dd tested for various things and we continue to seek "expert" opinions/advice from multiple sources, but we seem to wind up with more questions, more possibilities, and a lot less money :) There is always this feeling that someone, maybe the next expert, will nod knowingly and declare exactly what has been going on all these years and give us tools to deal with it. So far that person has eluded us, though. We have a lot of near misses but we never fit anything correctly all the way through.

HOWEVER, and this is huge for us, our perseverence and obvious concern has paid off with the school. They have really begun working with us to help our dd, often in behind-the-scenes ways. It wouldn't have happened had we taken their advice originally and given up on an IEP (or 504).

Your son's school sounds outstanding and I'm so happy for you that you have such a great situation for him. As to whether or not it is ok to keep things "informal and undiagnosed," I really don't know. I believe if it were me I would see another psychologist, for my own peace of mind as much as anything. See if the second concurs at all with the first or if anything else might be going on. You should be able to get a good enough diagnosis for school help (anxiety disorder is a favorite catchall). I do not personally find these diagnoses too meaningful, to be honest. You can go to 5 different "experts" and come away with 5 different diagnoses. The truth is, they don't know, they can only guess based on their observations and your input/recollections about your ds. It's not like you can go in and get a blood test to get a definitive answer. But you can start to piece together the bigger picture and learn about many different theories and practices aimed at helping.

And finally, it is possible that a change in administrative policy, a different teacher, a new school will bring an end to the informal assistance you have gotten so far. That is where an IEP or 504 gives you (in my opinion) something of a safety net.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 3:52PM
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Thank you all again for your thoughtful response. I realize that there will not be a definitive answer, but it's all shades of grey. So I think the answer may be in something less than a concrete diagnosis and 504 at this point.

DS has the gifted testing on the 11th. It's my understanding that if he tests gifted, he will also be eligible for more "out of the box" solutions. Also, through a visual-spatial/gifted organization, I found a psych willing to do a "needs assessment" -- basically review the previous battery of tests, interview us, observe DS, and give further insight and concrete ideas for how to help him thrive.

I've met all 3 third grade teachers. My gut says any of the teachers will work with us.

So I think that's how we'll proceed. If the psychologist thinks something more drastic is necessary, or he starts to have a change in attitude at school, we'll rethink it.

Sweeby, I've found to be a good site for ideas, but if you've found anything else in your work with your son, let me know.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 9:06PM
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Good luck with the education process Ann...I'll keeep you all in my prayers. Maureen

    Bookmark   June 7, 2008 at 2:54PM
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Just an update here...
It's good to go back and reread what everyone wrote. Time adds perspective. We decided to only go with the school gifted testing, and hold off on any other private evaluation unless further problems showed up in the future. DS did test as gifted, so in the gifted magnet school he's in, he's now eligible for further individualized programs, small cluster group classes, accelerated programs, etc. And we, as parents, now have more clout in the district if his needs change (or the situation changes) in the future. So I think we're in good shape for elementary school anyway.

As an interesting side note, the test this school used for evaluation was the Ravens Matrices test. I didn't know much about it, but have learned that is is really suited toward visual-spatial kids like mine... Maybe that is one indication as to why this school seems like a good fit for DS...

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 6:47PM
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