For some reason known only to them, Nik’s IEP team at school thought we were bluffing. When we mentioned that we wondered if school was the best place for Nik right now due to health concerns, I think they imagined we were trying to bluff our way into more or better services for Nik. While I will not deny that we want far more than school is willing to provide –in fact, we truly believe that Nik needs far more than school thinks he needs—we truly are extremely concerned for his overall health and well being. I mentioned this in a previous post here.
I think we need to remind school that Nik is not a “typically healthy” preschooler who just happens to have significant developmental delays. No, Nik is a child who has, in the worst of times, had a tenuous hold on life and, in the best of times, been able to remain healthy for as long as 2 consecutive months. His immune system is very weak. Perhaps his system is not as weak as a child fighting a life-threatening cancer, still Nik’s little body has been subjected to more antibiotics and surgical interventions and mechanical assistance than most of us will ever experience in our family lifespan. When Nik gets ill it takes him down hard and keeps him down. It takes Nik several weeks to regain his strength and return to balance, if you will. When he is in school and has maximum exposure to things that wouldn’t ordinarily level your average three or four year old, Nik barely seems to get his health back into balance when something else fells him.
We are fortunate that our pediatrician agrees with us and is in the process of crafting a thorough letter of medical necessity to support our removing Nik from school. We should have that sometime early next week. The good news is that it will allow us to remove Nik from an environment where he is exposed to every illness that comes along. It is also where he is bombarded with such intensely overwhelming sensory input that he shuts down after a short time each day. By the time he comes home from school, Nik is overloaded and out of control.
But, this new development also has a down side. Because we are not in a financial position to be able to take Nik out of school and pay for services on our own, and because Medicaid refuses now to pay for services that they say school is obligated to provide, we are going to be forced to deal with the school district after all. By law, if a child identified as needing an IEP is removed from school for medical reasons –versus simple personal choice– regardless of compulsory attendance laws (age 5 and over required to attend school; under 5 is optional) school is legally obliged to provide services to the child. This means that we will still need to agree upon an IEP which will dictate the level of services, etcetera which Nik will receive. The only difference is that he will not have to go to the school to receive them.
So, here we are again. Still frustrated and angry at the way the last IEP meeting went and having to crank it up all over again to find something we can agree upon. It is challenging, to say the least, as Niksdad would like nothing better than to cut Bobo (and therefore all of the school community) off at the knees; I mean that quite literally. Now, Niksdad is not normally a man prone to violent expressions of emotion or frustration so I know he’s beyond P.O.’d. Truth is so am I, but I know that we have to maintain some semblance of a working relationship with school as long as they are legally in the picture. If we thought moving to another school district was financially feasible right now, we’d begin packing our boxes!
So I’ve been mulling all this over for the past week – gathering data, evaluating the importance of certain goals and objectives, talking to our private therapists (whom we still have access to through November, I think), and so on and so forth. I’ve gotten names and contact information for people with the state autism society and the parent information center who might be able to assist us with wording of some letters of complaint and goals and objectives which will be put forth at our next IEP meeting –whenever that may be. I suppose in some ways, I am getting a great opportunity for a “do over” and a crash course in splitting hairs and balancing on the legal edge. It’s exhausting and confusing. And yes, our next step is actually to contact a lawyer from legal aid who can guide us through the process and, hopefully, avoid any need for serious legal intervention.
There are so many fine points I could enumerate about all the things wrong with Nik’s IEP, but it will just get me more riled up –to the point where I will not be able to function effectively. So I won’t go there today. Besides which, I have “gone there” so many times this week it’s not pretty. Of course, as Nik has gotten me up at 4:00 a.m. the last few days, I’ve had plenty of extra time for the journey!
I will say though that it amazes, and depresses, me to see how ridiculously low school staff sets the bar for our kids with disabilities. When “Johnny” is known to be a gifted student the expectations are stringent and sometimes set too high –I know from personal experience as “Jane” in grade school. Yet, when the child is identified as having any sort of challenge the expectations are so low as to be nearly insulting. (Point of fact here: Nik’s PT at school suggested it should take a year for him to learn to stand independently without pulling up on anything. Guess what Mr. Independent started doing all by himself this week? You betcha!) The goals are set so low and then school gets to be righteous in proclaiming, “What great progress your child has made! He met his objectives and, therefore doesn’t need increased services at all! In fact…” I guess it all boils down to who, in the eyes of school, has to do the greater portion of the hard work –the student or school? Seems like when school is expected to put forth a little extra effort, well…
So, I don’t know what it’s going to look like as we move forward –at least not in terms of therapies and educational supports for Nik. I do know that Niksdad and I have to weigh all choices in terms of what supports Nik in the longer term. Our greatest responsibility is, first and foremost, to ensure his physical health, safety, and well being. Without that, no amount of learning will ever be enough. I imagine it’s no more than any other parent would choose. But the very fact that we are forced to choose, well, as the Bard put it best. “Ay, there’s the rub.”