Dear Dr. Debbie,
We are foster parents anticipating a child moving in with us in a few weeks or so whom we hope to eventually adopt. He’s had sporadic interactions with his biological parents, including a retracted promise of a visit with his mother and his two siblings at Christmas. She has been likewise indecisive about clearing the way for him to be adopted. From what we gather after a few pickups and drop offs at the current foster parents’ home, he’s not having happy times with them either. He seems to be greatly in need of stable parent figures who are on his side.
He has had several outings and a few overnights with us and he is looking forward to being added to our family, as are we.
We have begun the process of registering him in our local elementary school since a permanent transition to our home seems imminent. He has been in a few different schools already, with ADHD and “mood disorder” identified for his IEP (Individualized Education Plan). We were informed that yesterday he “angrily pushed a chair” when told that because he didn’t finish an assignment, he would stay in from recess and not get a prize from the prize box on Friday.
The current school has invited my husband and me to an IEP meeting next week. What can we expect from this meeting? What should we be asking about?
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Dear Open Arms,
An IEP meeting is a formal gathering of key personnel – primary teacher, guidance counselor and or school psychologist, and any other specialists who work closely with a student. Parents or guardians review a spreadsheet of skills and or behaviors that are of concern. The appropriate staff person will have noted the student’s progress toward specific goals, including any modifications that have been agreed upon previously. For example, a student with attention issues may get 2 verbal reminders to stay on task during assignments before it can be counted as incomplete. At the conclusion of the meeting everyone signs off on the continued, discontinued, or modified plans for accommodations.
Your situation is somewhat unique in that this may be the first time you are made aware of the specifics of his academic and behavioral challenges, as well as the strategies that have been employed. And you will not likely meet with this team again.
Therefore, I suggest that you use this meeting to learn as much as you can about his abilities and challenges, both academic and social-emotional. You are stepping into the role of advocate for a child who clearly needs one.
- What are his interests and strengths academically? In which subjects does he excel, and with what kinds of assignments or group activities?
- What are his strengths behaviorally? Does he have a best time of day? Does he behave better doing activities in which there is movement? Does he respond positively to one-on-one with an adult, and if so, which one(s) and for what reasons?
- How has he been successful in various teachers’ eyes? Ask the team to draw from any of the above examples.
- What are his successes with his peers? What makes him appealing as a friend? Or, specifically, who befriended him and why? Encourage them to guess if they don’t have a ready answer.
- What I.E.P. accommodations have been made in the past, to what effect, and what are they recommending for his new school?
- Get more information about his diagnosis of having a mood disorder. What have been some particularly difficult scenarios that he has experienced? I doubt if angrily pushing a chair is the worst! Dig for patterns in his frustrations and outbursts. There could be a worst time of day for him due to hunger and or fatigue. There may be certain academic subjects that are harder for him or teaching styles that miss the mark with him. He may be acting out from psychological reactions to things going on in his “family” life, including not seeing Mom and his siblings when he was expecting to. If he has bipolar disorder, then outbursts are totally unpredictable due to chemical changes inside him. If he has an attachment disorder, an experience or thought can trigger emotions related to being disappointed by someone or feeling abandoned. If he has oppositional defiance, a rage could be prompted by an adult’s use of authority over him.
The last thing a child with ADHD and a mood disorder needs is to have his recess taken away. Rather than challenge the current school about the counter-productivity of denying him a chance for some fresh air and running around, keep patient as the clock runs out with his current living situation.
Ask for an IEP meeting with the new school as soon as possible. In the meantime, bone up on tried and true tips from parents
whose children’s behavior improved with such tactics as scheduled movement breaks and easily accessed “fidget” objects in their desks to help them concentrate. Modifications to ask for to help with a mood disorder include creating a “calming corner” in the classroom for when a student starts to feel emotional.
Best to start off on the right foot. Hopefully the new school will have more supportive tactics up their sleeves.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.