Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The secret language of parents: IEPs and 504s

Have you met my boy Max?

He's as brilliant as those enormous blue eyes of his.

Although, at times, you wonder if he is ever going to stop being such a goofball.

No, really. He's amazing. Even when he is being goofy.

He can create anything with his hands.

He is polite. Chivalrous to the point that you think it's a joke.
But he's completely sincere.

He is kind and gentle, and excellent with babies.

He loves, and is loved.

And he especially loves school.

Which is great. I never thought it would be that way. From the time that he was very small, I could tell his brain worked differently. He was so easily frustrated. So impatient with himself and with others. So oblivious of consequence. Of cause and effect. He would talk endlessly, but I could not understand a thing he was saying. Not because his words were garbled, but because they were apropos of nothing. Conversations began mid-stream, without context. He was slow to read. Slow to write. His handwriting illegible, his spelling atrocious. School has always, always been hard for him. But we found the perfect school for a kid like Max, and everything has been manageable with just a few emails back and forth between teachers, some minor adjustments, and a lot of patience and understanding.

When he needs to stand up and walk around, he can.
If he needs to excuse himself because someone or something is just making him nuts, he can do that too.
The times when he gets emotional, terribly sad or bitterly angry, have gotten fewer and further between.
And they don't give standardized tests, so he has had a reprieve from hours of bubble-filling.

But this reverie had to come to an end sometime. After all, the whole world relies on bubbles that need filling. And you don't always get to stand up and walk away when someone is distracting you. I get it. There is a great big planet out there, and it's going to be sink or swim time eventually.

Now that he is older, we have to start thinking about high school. Max is going to attend a public high school, and because of this, we are switching him to a public school for his last year of middle school, hoping to ease the transition. He already has some friends there, and he is really excited to make the switch. However, he has absolutely no idea what to expect.

I, on the other hand, have a pretty good idea. I think that, overall, the change is going to be a positive one. And I truly believe it is better to make the move now when he will be the oldest kid in the school, rather than high school, when he will be one of the youngest. But I also need to make sure that he doesn't get lost in the crowd.

Literally. These are pretty big schools we are talking about.

I was told by his doctor that we can set up a 504 plan, and then if we need to, we can request an IEP.
I didn't know what that meant. So I looked it up. And while it hurt my heart to read the descriptions, and apply them to my child, my beautiful boy, I also understood, fully and completely, that it was the right thing to do. It was going to make this entire public school experience a lot more manageable.

So I went right ahead and started pulling together all of the paperwork I will need to request an IEP.

We have the diagnosis from a doctor.
We have assessments from specialists.
We have a letter from his current teacher.
We have samples of his work.

And now we begin the slow and meticulous and red-tape laden process.

I never, ever thought I would have a child that needed special accommodations. School has never been hard for me. What has been hard, has been adjusting my expectations to meet the parameters set by Max. I've made huge strides in this department. I no longer feel sick to my stomach when I see his writing filled with mis-spellings and grammatical inaccuracies. I no longer get frustrated when it takes hours for him to complete a work sheet because he is playing with his pencil or staring out the window. I no longer feel disappointed when he doesn't get 100% on his spelling tests.

But I expect him to get 100% out of his education.
And so, we are requesting an IEP.

Because Max. My sweet boy. He is special in the best possible way.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Ball: notes from Cinderella herownself

This weekend was the Imua Ball.

I know I have talked about it kind of exhaustively, but there are 2 reasons for that:

1. Imua does good work and this is a cause worth supporting if you have any interest in supporting Early Childhood Development initiatives.

2. I went for it, man. I really went all the way. You say "ball", I say "gown".


Now that I have typed it and said it out loud a few times, I have an announcement:
Gown is a funny word.

So before I get to the pictures, I just want to once again say a few words about Imua. They provide services for the children of Maui County that are somehow, in some way, struggling to keep up. They are missing milestones - for a myriad of reasons, whether it is autism, a birth defect, maternal drug and alcohol use, or for some unexplained reason that needs to be addressed regardless of diagnosis.

Imua (eeMOOah) in Hawaiian means first; front; ahead; forward; number one. This organization is about putting children's needs before our own, investing in the success of our future by helping children succeed from the beginning. They offer many different types of therapy, and their staff come to the family's home to work with the kids one on one. And that is why I insist that each of our foster children are assessed by Imua - I want to know that, even after they leave our family, they will continue to receive support and care, and that adults I know and trust will be checking on them regularly in their new home. It gives me no small amount of peace, honestly. It can be months between social worker visits, but Imua arrives like clockwork on a monthly, weekly, sometimes DAILY schedule.

They are my guardian angels, in real life.

And now for the photos.
Oh, the photos.

First I want to clarify something: I decided long in advance that if we were going to the ball, we were going to spend the night at the hotel - the drive is long, and sometimes dangerous, and there is only one road that leads to that part of the island - a road that can be closed for hours due to a car accident or fire - both of which happen on a semi-regular basis, unfortunately. The last thing I wanted to do was worry about being stranded overnight far from home. And then, of course, there was the fact that it was a hotel. With a pool and a hot tub and room services and a breakfast buffet. So, yeah. We spent the night.

And early check in - HOLLAH.

The staff at the hotel just couldn't have been nicer - not only did they find a room ready for us when we arrived at noon instead of 3 or 4pm, they sent up a roll-away and a huge dessert platter that was inhaled by the kids during the evening. I was nervous about splurging on a hotel room right now, but in the end it was totally worth it. It all worked out very well. Very well indeed.

The hallway outside the event, during set-up.
I would have offered to help but PALM TREES

Early check-in meant a few hours by the pool 
before I drove back to town for hair and makeup. 
I would like to thank the Hyatt for coordinating 
their towels to my bathing suit. Very accommodating.

The hair was less accommodating. 
A bit of a project, actually.

But in the end, it really came together.

A feat of engineering, in my opinion.

When I attempted to return to the hotel to get ready, 
there was an enormous traffic jam due to 
numerous formal events that evening.
I was not the only one on the highway with an updo 
who was applying makeup in my rearview mirror en route. 
I had a moment to do some touchups 
before I headed downstairs, but some stuff just didn't happen.

Ironing my dress, for example, was not in the cards.

Due to the traffic, the event started a bit slowly.
People were sharing panicked texts from attendees
who were seriously delayed and not pleased about it.

I was relieved, actually.
The quiet beginning gave me a chance to rock Ella to sleep.
Sam took her up to the room with the other kids, 
and then he came back down to join me for dinner 
while she slept. Perfect timing. 

As people took their seats, there were dancers 
scattered around the ballroom.

There were some announcements, words of thanks, 
and a live auction. 

Dinner was a glorious affair.
Delicious and beautiful and lots of it.

Sephora had makeup artists in the lobby 
to touch up everyone's makeup after dinner.

And then there was a fashion show.
Student and professional designs were modeled.
And then the after party began in the next room.

I got a text that Ella was awake and needed me.
So I jumped in the elevator and headed upstairs.

Real life was calling. 
But it was such a lovely dream to wake up from.

If you are interested in learning more or making a donation to 
Imua Family Services, you can click HERE