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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

504 Meetings

Today I had Jonah and Ben's 504 Plan meetings with their school. I was pretty nervous because although some years I know how the meetings will go, this year I wasn't sure. I felt like there were a lot of areas we needed to cover, and a lot of areas I needed to fight for on the boys' behalf. 

This morning as I was getting ready after my shower, wondering as usual if I was dressed ok, Ella turned to me from where she was sitting on my bedroom floor and exclaimed "Mama! You look wonderful! That means you look beautiful!" 

Wow. I took that as a sign that I must look decent at least, if I had made an impression on my toddler. I was so grateful for her in that moment. I needed a little support and my 3 year old was there for me.
Ben's meeting was first, and since the boys will transfer to the middle school next year in 6th grade, the principals from both schools were at the meeting, along with a 6th grade teacher, the current teacher, the math teacher, the social worker, and psychologist. I was a little intimidated at first by the crowd of people, but then I remembered I used to run these meetings as a school social worker, and all the people gathered around the table were there to help my boys. So I decided not to be nervous about that at least.

It has been a very frustrating year for us this year at school. It started off with a mixup, and the boys' teachers were not made aware that they had 504 Plans. We got that all worked out eventually, but I feel like there has been a lot of miscommunication and inconsistencies throughout the year with the accommodations the boys are entitled to receive. Ben's teacher spoke about how much progress he has made this year, how he has gained maturity. All wonderful things, and I'm so proud of him. I had to put my foot down on a couple of modifications the team wanted to make to Ben's plan to eliminate some accommodations that I feel he still needs next year. But we came to an agreement and I feel like Ben will have the support he needs as he enters middle school next year.
Then it was time for Jonah's meeting. Jonah's teacher is now on maternity leave, so he has a long-term substitute. She is still catching up on what is going on with Jonah, and didn't know much about his 504 Plan. It surprises me that these important plans don't get passed directly to the substitute teacher in these instances so that there can be some continuity. Like last week, the teacher wrote on Jonah's spelling test that she would start marking it wrong if he wrote a capital 'B' or 'D' where it was not supposed to be capital. His previous teacher this year had let that slide because it's part of his ADHD and Dysgraphia diagnoses. It also happens to be in his 504 Plan that small mistakes like that are not to be penalized. But the sub hadn't gotten a copy of the 504, so didn't know that, so Jonah was freaking out about all this and his anxiety was even higher. For no good reason. So we ironed that out today. Among other things like that.

I'm so proud- I only cried twice during the meeting. A new record! We started talking about Jonah's extreme anxiety, and I was telling the team how I see him hurting so badly and we're trying everything we can think of to help him and it's just not working and he's a mess. He's just falling apart, and has been all year. I asked if the team can evaluate him for an IEP so he can have more support, and they agreed he may qualify under the "Emotional Disability" portion of the IEP. They don't have time to evaluate him this year, so he'll be at the top of the list next year. 

The social worker really advocated for Jonah having an IEP also, which I so appreciate. She sees him weekly, and talked about how much school he has missed and how his anxiety is causing him such distress, it's just very hard to watch. Everyone agreed that Jonah is such a sweet boy it's very difficult to see him hurting so deeply and suffering with anxiety like he does.

We worked out a plan for Jonah next year that involves more support from the behavior specialist, quiet rooms for him to take tests in, the ability to use computer programs that enable Jonah to speak and the computer writes what he says...things like that. I feel like we have a plan that will hopefully help eliminate at least some of Jonah's extreme anxiety. 

The psychiatrist had wanted to know from the school also whether they felt Jonah was focusing well or not, wondering if we need to increase his ADHD medication. I asked the teachers and they said Jonah often gets "stuck" zoning off and can't get back on task. So no, they don't feel like his focus is where it should be at this point. Man, it's a bummer to hear things like that, when all you want is for life to be easy for your kid and for them not to be hurting and to be successful at most things they try. It's enough to make you want to cry. So I did. I cry every year, the team is used to it by now. We've been doing this since the boys were in Kindergarten. They have tissues ready when they see my name on the calendar. I just feel so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the boys' struggles at school, and by the compassion that I feel radiating from the people who share the table with me at those meetings. It just all makes me feel vulnerable, as much as I hate to cry in front of people.

Today was our Therapy Afternoon. Gotta love Wednesdays! All my kids get tune ups. Tonight Ben is getting a massage that incorporates different oils to release toxins from his body and center his energy. So Alex picked up Jonah, Aidan, and Ella after therapy, and Ben had requested a date with me at KFC. We have never gone there but he's been stuck on this KFC idea for days now, so he asked his counselor and PT if there was a restaurant in the area, which luckily for him there was. 

So Ben and I went off in search of fried chicken. It was so refreshing to have some time to focus just on Ben. He is absolutely hilarious, he totally cracks me up. After eating some of his chicken, Ben leaned back in our small booth, sighed a deep sigh, and stated "This restaurant is remarkable."

Yes. KFC is remarkable. This from the boy who asks Grandpa if we're flying first class to our Spring Break destination, and whether a stretch limo will drive us to the airport. I'm glad my kids are still bowled over by the simple things in life.

Ben and I had great conversation tonight over our "remarkable" dinner. Among other things, he reiterated to me how he doesn't 'get' sarcasm. His friends think this is hilarious about him, and he sees the humor in it too. He asked me whether I was being sarcastic after I made a comment, then proceeded -without waiting for my answer- to tell me that when people "do" sarcasm he just doesn't understand it. He tells me this about four times a week. We also talked at great length about his favorite show, "The Big Bang Theory." He thinks Sheldon's character is hilarious and now has even more of the quirks of this guy than he did before he started watching the show. Silly boy.

Today was a hard day. 504 Days are always hard for me. But I guess you have to mull it all over, put it in perspective, and plug along. It'll take me a few days of stewing to get to the point of acceptance, but I know I'll get there. In the Grand Scheme of Life, I think it's just as important to be able to find joy in the small things, make your Mama laugh, and love your own quirky sense of humor, as it is what math class you're placed in in 6th grade. We'll get through 5th grade, then 6th. We'll give the boys everything we can every day of every year to help them be happy and successful. We're lucky to live in a country where a big group of people gather at a table every year to talk about how they can help our boys cope with the challenges of school.

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