Wednesday, September 25, 2013

IEP Meetings, Third Grade, Autism and OCD... an update on Thomas

I'm happy to report I have a very positive update on my Thomas to give! Thomas had his annual IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting a few days ago. I have attended IEP meetings that have been less than encouraging in the past, such as the spring 2009 4-year-old preschool meeting for Thomas. It was there that I was told Thomas scored around the 4th percentile for every kind of communication skill. Ugh. That day was so discouraging, I left the school wanting to cry.

Thomas made HUGE strides academically during the school year 2012-2013. He started 3rd grade last fall (2012) and he was subsequently tested on his math and reading proficiency levels. Both scores came in at an end of Kindergarten level. Fast forward to January 2013. Test scores for reading and math just 4 months later were at a 2.5! (Middle of 2nd grade levels! This was about the same time that he was overcoming his horrible case of eczema.)

We moved our family to a very small community in March 2013. Thomas was used to being pulled out of his regular education classroom to attend his special education class to work in small groups for around 3 hours each day. The school that we moved to has a special education teacher that serves in two schools and was not able to offer Thomas as many hours of special education time. He had some adjustments to make, which can be extra difficult for children with autism and Asperger's tendencies to make. Thomas was struggling with refraining from teasing or laughing at his classmates when they were having difficulties. I visited his classroom when Thomas started school to warn tell his teachers and classmates about how Thomas may tend to laugh at someone when they get hurt or get in trouble, etc. It proved to be a trial to his regular education teacher as she tried to teach a classroom of children, plus try to manage the misbehavior of this new student with autism.
The wonderful special education teacher at his new school recommended and recruited the assistance of an autism specialist who normally works in the Cedar City Utah area. His name is Bob Wasden and his advice when he met Thomas proved to be a valuable gift. He talked with Thomas and asked him what he liked to do at home. Thomas told him that he liked to play the Wii. Bob suggested that this was the reward to be taken away when he misbehaved at school. The special education teacher called me with the idea. The teachers at school would keep track of Thomas' behavior at school with a stamp chart. If Thomas earned all his stamps, he would get an hour of Wii time at home after school. If Thomas missed out on stamps due to teasing or misbehaving, he would lose 15 minutes of Wii time at home. He could also earn extra Wii time at home if he had an extra great day at school. I have to be honest, when I first heard about their plan to take away his technology time at home, my pride was telling me that THEY couldn't tell me what to do with Thomas' time at home! However, I agreed to the plan over the phone and we started implementing it the next day. I could not believe the difference in Thomas' behavior. It was almost immediate.

I also used our techniques from the 1-2-3 Magic discipline book and told Thomas that if he was counted to a "3" for using potty words, yelling, disobedience, etc. that he would also miss out on 15 minutes of Wii time the next day. The potty words... disappeared. The teasing.... took some time to overcome, but he started trying really hard to be kind to his friends at school when they were crying or upset. Fast forward again to the start of this school year in August 2013.

We had decided to have Thomas repeat the 3rd grade. He was less than excited about it and told me many times last summer that he wanted to move onto the 4th grade. He brought this up with me one day while we driving home and I finally had an idea about what to tell him. "Thomas, we looked at the time when you started Kindergarten when you were five and Dad and I realized that you started school too early." Thomas thought for a minute or so in the back seat. Then he replied, "Okay. But the NEXT year, I'm doing fourth grade. And I'm not going to do it again! And the NEXT year, I'm going into 5th grade. And I'm not going to do it again!" And on and on.... until I told him that was fine.

So Thomas started this school year, 2013-2014, as a third grader. He has the same classroom teacher, new friends, AND he also has his own classroom aide to assist him throughout the day. Thomas was once again observed by Bob Wasden, the autism specialist, just last week. Bob told his teachers that he couldn't believe this was the same child that he had observed last spring. His behavior has improved so much! His classroom teacher told us that the teasing behavior is GONE! Bob also worked with his new aide and helped her to understand some of Thomas' behaviors. Something that was suggested (and very new to us) is that Thomas has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I guess we knew he has OCD, but we had never put a label on the behaviors. For example, Thomas was playing outside during lunch recess and decided that he'd like to climb the tether ball pole. He climbed the pole with all his strength, and could almost reach the very top of the pole. His aide told me that he needed just a little more leg strength to reach to very top of the pole that day. Thomas was so, so close to touching the top of the tether ball pole.... and then the bell rang. Thomas' aide told him it was time to go back inside for his math work. Thomas was obedient and went inside the school with her, but he was feeling so disappointed that he was unable to reach to very top of the pole. Thomas shut down for the rest of the day. He couldn't complete his work or math problems because he was so disappointed about coming so close to reaching to top of the pole and not being able to finish.

Mr. Wasden explained to Thomas' aide that his refusing to work after the pole incident was due to his OCD. When I talked to Mr. Wasden later that same day, he told me that he believes his OCD symptoms are stronger than his autism symptoms at this point. He also said that the OCD problems could really hamper his education. His suggestion to solve these complications is to offer Thomas accommodations in order to appeal to his OCD, yet also achieve his educational goals at the same time. He suggested that if Thomas is obsessing over climbing the pole at school (or any other task not completed) and it's time to work on math problems, that his aide can ask him to work on the first half of the math problems... then go outside to climb the pole before finishing the last half of the math assignment! Brilliant! His aide was excited to have some new options, ideas, and liberties open up to her. She tried the 1/2 math, climb the pole, 1/2 math idea the next day and it worked great!

Thomas will also be working on communication skills, such as a "ping-pong" conversation, where Thomas is able to ask other people and friends about their day and activities. He tends to stay in his own world and think and talk only about the subjects that he is interested in.

And now... for the HAPPY NEWS! Thomas is completely ON GRADE LEVEL in both math and reading for the 3rd grade! I can't tell you what wonderful news this is for us. I wanted to cry.... but this time, it was tears of JOY when his teacher told us! We met with Thomas' teachers and principal during his IEP meeting for around 1 1/2 hours. We all shared a lot of "Thomas stories" that are marking his progress since last spring. After the special education teacher completed his IEP documents, I read over them and realized that most of his goals are focused on his social and communication goals, not his academic ones. WOW.

After 2 1/2 years of diet changes, a few months of a cleanse diet, brain balance therapy used at home and multiple visits with doctors, supplementation, and endless hours of help with special education teachers and aides, our Thomas is ON GRADE LEVEL in both math and reading! This is really a miracle. There's no others way to put it. We love that so many of our family and friends are happy for us and the changes we have witnessed in Thomas. :)
  thomas double

And, to top off all that brain power, look at how adorable he was during his photo session last month. :)

 *Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am a mother helping my son overcome the huge obstacles of autism and OCD with the use of diet, supplementation, brain balance therapy, and lots of love. For more information on Thomas' healing brain, I suggest reading this post on the gut, brain, eczema connection. (Or Google it, there are many articles and studies made on these connections.) His legs that healed are a reflection of his gut, which is a reflection of his brain... no wonder he's showing such remarkable progress in school.

  John Heather PS Edited 26
Photos by Jill Collier Photography

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