Saturday, February 27, 2010

This is Just a "Snapshot View" : IEP of an Asperger's Student

"This is just a snapshot view." The school psychologist's words rang out in the tense IEP meeting. The "so-called experts" were giving their opinions based on brief observations and testing sessions that gave them glimpses into the capabilities, challenges and growth of my student, a lively 5 yr. old girl, Susie (not her real name)whose diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder seems to explain some but not all of her quirky behaviors.
Not one question was asked of me, the teacher, during the first 60 minutes of the meeting. The speech therapist was the first to speak after introductions were made. She began discussing, in painful detail, every test she administered to a group who seemed to already know that Susie would not qualify for speech and language services.
The scene clearly depicted my role as a teacher/advocate for Susie: I sat closest to my student's parents, who were on my right, followed by an advocate, then Susie's grandfather, a retired administrator. To my left was my student teacher/ intern, followed by the Special Ed brigade: the resource teacher, the Special Ed Director and her fast-typing, tape recording assistant, and finally, the school psychologist who had sat with me for many of my lunch hours, asking me questions and rephrasing my answers to fit the "district lens."  All of the detailed information and accounts of emotional breakdowns and social-emotional challenges were somehow omitted from the psychological report.
At one point, after the speech therapist had rambled on, painfully reviewing each test she had administered, I jotted down my thoughts on the psych report so that my intern could see. Was I going crazy or were my observations carefully neglected and absent from the report? "These were not my words," I scribbled furiously on the page. Although the report stated, "The teacher reports..." the words that followed were not mine. They did not even come close.
As the school psychologist discussed how my student did not qualify for any special ed services, the advocate and the parents asked questions. Her father began to speak first, "If Susie does not require an "aide", then why does she have one?" Every single person in that room knew that Susie had help so that the children in the classroom would not be injured by one of her impulsive pencil poking episodes or so that Susie would not run into the parking lot and into the street if she chose to run away. Silence was followed by some clever sidestepping. The resource teacher spoke," Well, she doesn't have an aide. The teacher has a classroom support person to help her." Technically, I suppose they were right. The person helping Susie was a yard duty and grandma of another kindergarten student at my school. No training, no real support, but merely a warm body placed in my class to help ensure the safety of Susie and her peers. Not one person voiced this fact as the recording device monitored the awkward silence.
I was so proud when Susie's dad raised the question," So, if Ms. D. is a classroom support person, as you say, is she there when Susie is absent? Complete and utter silence was broken when the resource teacher began her sidestepping song and dance once more. "Well, uh, I'm not really in a position to say," she stammered. He interrupted her babbling and looked at my intern and I. "Well, there are at least two people in this room who know the answer."  Finally, after an hour of b.s. I was invited to speak. "No, Ms. D. is not in the classroom when Susie is absent." Victory, I thought as the district folks buried themselves in their own lies.
After the school psychologist finished her "much too long" explanation of how the district could not qualify Susie for any special services, I was invited to speak but only after the advocate and the district staff bantered back and forth about a request for an outside evaluation. The scene felt combative and hostile; I struggled to find the right words as I was keenly aware that I was being recorded.  I felt a lump in my throat, tears well up in my eyes, and began babbling about how Susie was so much more than a "snapshot view" of test sessions. I told them how I worried about her transition to first grade as transitions are very challenging for her. I thanked the parents for our teamwork and celebrated how far Susie has come this year. She does not poke people in the eyes any more though she does stomp on teachers' feet, put her head up my shirt, try to pull down my skirt, and just 2 weeks ago tried to choke a little girl who is her "best friend." Susie has made progress due to the unrelenting positive beliefs and hard work by her parents, my intern and I. Because of her progress, the special ed director had the nerve to say," If Susie were truly impaired enough to qualify, she wouldn't have made such great progress."  So I suppose if I had done a half ass job, Susie might not have made progress and she would qualify? The logic baffles me. The whole thing simply makes me angry as well as sad.
Currently the parents are demanding an outside evaluation to make sure that the district has been correct in their evaluation. I hope that Susie gets her needs met and sets a precedent for the many others who fall through the cracks every day.
If you have stories, comments you would like to share, please feel free. Together we can advocate for children who need us most.


  1. I worked with a child with both an Asperger's and ODD diagnosis made outside of school a few years ago in grade 3 who experienced the same outbursts when things became overwhelming for him. He would kick, punch, throw books, and it didn't matter whether it was a desk, the teacher, or another student who was on the receiving end of these physical episodes. One of the major causes of his outbursts was related to his sensory aversion to the feel of paper. We asked for an aide to act as a scribe for him and we were told that we could have a half-time aide for him (because he only has Asperger's half the day, right?!?). This family eventually left our school to find better support for their child. Truly unfortunate, but I see this student once in a while (he's in grade 5 now) and I'm happy to report that he is doing much much better!

    Good luck, and keep up the great fight for your students. Send my well wishes to this family as well.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am glad to hear that your former student is doing much better now. I have very high hopes for this little girl; she is amazing in so many ways despite her struggles to regulate. Your comment about the "half-time" aide was funny; I have help for 2 hours of the day as I suppose my principal hopes that she will only have a dangerous outburst during that time. It's draining and frustrating but I do what I can to make every day a positive one. Thanks again.

  3. A Twitter friend of mind pointed me to your blog. First, let me say that I am a special ed teacher; but;, more importantly, I am a parent of an Asperger's son who is not a sophomore in college. I can attest that without special education services, he would not have been there today. Chris sounds a lot like this girl at that age. When the world became overwhelming, he would act out. I was lucky that I live in an upper-middle class district that was used to being sued, so I didn't have to fight too hard. With that said, if he had attended school in the district I teach in, I would of had to fight to get services.

    He didn't qualify for Speech Services until HS. His IQ is over 120 most days (depending on his mode, the day of the week, and the IQ test given.) Academically, he achieved at or above grade expectations. However, his coordination, sensory integration difficulties, emotional out-bursts, and social skills were all areas that weren't tested but had been observed by teachers, parents, and his psychiatrist.

    We were able to manage is disability until 5th grade. When he began receiving services, he received Occupational Therapy, School-based Social Work, need to move around, and Resource Room Support. He mainly went to the RR when the world became overwhelming or he needed silence to complete his work. His school district certified him as Autism Impaired (AI) or Austim Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

    I had my school psychologist review the initial evaluation. He said that based on the difference between he his IQ and achievement, he might have certified him as LD in written expression (even though he was above grade level) or based on classroom observations Emotionally Impaired (EI) or AI based on the medical diagnosis from his doctor. So there might be multiple paths to get her services.

    I suggest that the parents consider getting an advocate from your state's Autism Society. If you want more information and ideas please contact me by email @

    Good luck.

  4. I just discussed this with my husband. He reminded me of a couple of more things. First, never refer to her disability as Asperger's, call it an Autism Spectrum Disorder. More punch that way (tell her parents this too.) Also, she might qualify as Other Health Impaired based on a medical diagnosis. Finally, talk to the parents about getting a lawyer to threaten legal action. If the district thinks that it might cost them a lot of cash, they might be more willing to provide services.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. I believe that my student's parents are well aware of resources and are pursuing advocacy and legal services as well. I think that eventually there will be a more documented need for her to receive services but since we have successfully managed many situations this year there is the "impression" that she can function in a regular ed setting. It's a daily rollercoaster and I feel like I know her well enough to make it through this year, but I worry about her as she transitions to a new situation with a new teacher next year. Thanks so much. Your story inspires me.

  6. Thank you for being an advocate for this child. I, too, am a special education teacher and I agree with all the advice Karen gave you. I would also advise you, if you are not already doing this, to document everything you did with this child to help her make the progress she made, and all the behavioral issues, as specifically as possible, that interfered with her learning and/or the learning of classmates, and all the ways she put herself, her classmates or you at risk of injury.

    If you are secure enough to do this, write a letter to the parents saying all the things you said to the psychologist that were distorted or did not get into his report. Suggest to the parents that they introduce this letter as part of the record of the IEP meeting and, if that is not possible, as part of the girl's permanent record.

    It is sad when the special education and associated services staff of a school do not do their job of providing what is best for the student, not what is best for the school administration.

  7. Thank you so much for the advice and support Deven. I do need to do some more thorough documentation. I have kept track of the interventions and the behavioral challenges but probably need to do some more detailed documentation. The parents are aware that my perspective was not accurately reflected in the report although I have not put that into writing. I am concerned about the security of my job if I write how clearly I disagree with the report, although ethically I know that the record must stand corrected. I truly appreciate your time and expertise in this situation. I just want to do what is right for this little girl.

  8. As a school psychologist, I find the actions of the psych in your post unconscionable; they seem to violate pretty much every ethical code we have regarding advocacy for the rights of students with disabilities and the provision of services thereto.

    I can't add a whole lot that the other commenters haven't already said, but just know that we're not all out to deny services to students who clearly need them. Some (I'd like to believe most, but I may be naive) of us genuinely do try to do the right thing by our students.

  9. My heart goes out to you, this child, and this little girl. We all know that if she gets the appropriate services, she can and will improve. Unfortunately, schools try to save money at the expense of hurting children's lives and futures. I tend to agree that these parents need to threaten a lawsuit. Sometimes just a letter from a lawyer can make a difference. I would also look for a private school that offers better support. The school can sometimes pay for a placement in a better setting cheaper than they can pay for a legal defense of their stance. Is there such a placement in your area?

  10. Thank you Damian, for your reply. I do not believe that all school psychologists are this way, don't worry! I worked in a district prior to where I work now where the school psychologist had to work under the same parameters but was able to work ethically and justify her decisions in a sound manner. I also understand that sometimes students are "over-referred" or that due to laws they don't fit into the criteria for special ed, but it's up to us as a team to support every child in his/her growth. Thanks so much!

  11. Livia,
    Thank you also for your comments. I think the parents are taking legal action and that there might be a more suitable private school or even situation in a nearby school district where her needs might be better met. This little girl has so many strengths and abilities that if she is given the right help now will be able to blossom! Thanks again for your support and encouragement.

  12. Did Susie get the outside eval? Your story is so frustrating and you know that I am with you 100% here. I've gone to battle myself this year,after being denied services.(.but luckily I had that outside eval) and it's just the beginning. It's people like you who support, educate and create a community of resources that helped me through my initial meeting. What "karen"? said above about OHI /ASD is really good. Would they give a 504? This must be hard b/c this is your school wronging someone, is there friction with you and the faculty now? They need an advocate and either support in classroom or hopefully the district will pay for her to go to a special school where she can get help.

  13. Thanks so much Susie for your comment and your support through this! We are still in process of fighting for what is right for this little girl..ugh! The parents have requested that the district pay for an outside evaluation and they are in the process of arranging that. I don't know about a 504 but I would imagine that they will end up doing that if they conclude she doesn't "officially" qualify. It is very difficult for me, being in the middle; the school psychologist barely looks me in the eye anymore. Basically, this week, we have a yard duty thrown in the classroom for 2 hours a day just so there aren't any safety I hope that with the right intervention, via a trained aide, she can stay in a mainstream class because I do think she benefits from being with positive peer models. She has come a long way this year, but she still has days when her difficulties with self regulation make her unpredictable and unsafe with herself and others. Thanks again for your kind support. I hope things are going well for you.

  14. I'm coming in to the conversation much too late, but this really is a story that needs to be told much louder. The teacher and parents at one end of the table and the SPED/Case Manager people at the other end. I've been in meetings where truly the child needs more and somehow we get argued or guided out of it because of what the school wants to provide.

    Teachers (and parents!) need better education on their rights and how to phrase things so they are listened to!!

  15. Thank you for your comment. I agree that this story is one that needs a larger audience and actually will have one in the future as I plan to write more about it once I am out of this school district. I am changing schools next year and will be more able to talk openly.
    Even with education about rights, those IEP meetings are truly a political dance! We (both parents and teachers) all need more opportunities to ensure we are doing the dance the best we can to provide children the help and services they deserve.