When Something’s Not Quite Right
Some meaningful questions include: “Is my kid comfortable in class?” “Can they stand still or wait in line?” “Do you see growth?” “Are there separation issues?”
By Victoria Goldman
Just because your child experiences a blip in development doesn’t necessarily mean he or she needs special education. “Take baby steps,” one early childhood teacher advised. “But, trust your instincts. If there’s consistent trouble, talk to your teacher.”
According to this teacher, starting at square one is a big thing and asking teachers good questions is the right way to begin. Some meaningful questions include: “Is my kid comfortable in class?” “Can they stand still or wait in line?” “Do you see growth?” “Are there separation issues?”
The extent of trouble depends — and there’s a wide spectrum. Among the problems: behavioral, neurological, academic, developmental, and more. With the help of experts, Junior Ivy League offers some guidance for parents who suspect that their child may be in need of services for special education.
The good news is that most children can be helped; the bad is the heartbreak that parents keenly feel, and that often remediation takes tons of time, work, and a toll on the family.
Karen Quinn, author of “The Ivy Chronicles,” a hysterical, yet charming take on the city’s private school admissions scene, found her son’s speech delays at three-and-a-half were the result of reoccurring ear infections and the subsequent fluid that built up. He couldn’t hear, so speech delays naturally ensued. Quinn found the solution by having tubes inserted into her son’s ears. But, by that time Sam had bombed his ERB, and was in need of special ed services.
Luckily, Quinn a savvy parent knew to take Sam’s evaluations to the city, “We received funding for a SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher), who followed him around his preschool several days a week.” She also received money for speech therapy and occupational therapy.
“Beyond that,” recalled Quinn. “I worked with Sam every night for about half an hour…I made it my business to find out what we could do together that would help him grow developmentally.”
She said, “To him, it was playing, but I knew we were augmenting all the special support he was already getting through his preschool and city services.”
A year later, Sam took the ERB again and scored the highest in his preschool class. His delays were gone, even his teachers couldn’t tell.
But, results vary. Not every child is as lucky as Sam.
Some parents just can’t work with their children, because either the child is resistant or the parent isn’t up to the job. Nanci Brody, a special educator for 18 years and parent of a son who required additional services. He’s now a graduating high school senior. Brody spearheads advocacy groups, like SPIN (Students & Parents Information Network Support), and the first Annual Spring Resource Fair. The fair will be from 3:30 to 7 p.m. at the JCC of Manhattan (the email is: firstname.lastname@example.org).
There was no way Brody was going to tackle the task of working with her son, Matt, so she hired tutors for reasonable fees to do the job. “When children are tutored by their parents,” she said, “it can be an emotionally charged experience.” Brody points out that too often children will worry too much about disappointing mom and dad, and miss out on what’s being taught.
In their new book, “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education in New York City and the Metropolitan Area,”(Teachers College Press, June 2006), co-authors, Laurie DuBos and Jana Fromer offer help to parents, who are often too overwhelmed by emotion and bureaucracy to be effective advocates for their children in need. DuBos is a 30-year veteran in the field special education and an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School at The College of New Rochelle, and co-founder of the Gillen Brewer School. Fromer is the mother of an 11-year-old son, currently enrolled at the Mary McDowell Center for Learning.
Early signs are often the most telling, “My first clue was his speech delay and three-and a half,” recounted Fromer.
“Basically,” she said, “he appeared to be in his own world. He was a sunny, little blond bundle of happiness. But when you looked further, you expected to hear speech developing and it wasn’t. He maybe used 100 words.” It took her a little while before she could figure it all out. Now when she walks onto a playground. she can tell who may have issues just by who will allow their space to be invaded by another child and who won’t.
Fromer rolled up her sleeves, spending hours upon hours of testing —first for speech, then onto occupational therapy for motor skills, and physical adaptiveness. Then, filling out form after form, she talks about her challenges, barely finding enough time to mention her son’s myriad of good qualities.
“A big thing is filling out forms,” Fromer said. “Your social history and an in-depth family history, which you realize you’ll probably be doing for the rest of your life.”
Obviously, each child is different, but with a yeoman’s effort, a child with special needs can be mainstreamed and do exceptionally well, like Sam who is thriving at his top private school. With other children there may be less success, but they can still make it with their self esteem intact with ample effort and support.
DuBos offers two scenarios. The best: “The young child who receives early intervention programs and services who is able to remain in an inclusive setting. Or, for the slightly older child who receives intervention and services as soon as possible so they can learn to compensate for learning difficulties and gain self-confidence in their skills.” And the worst: “No intervention that often leads to failure in school, poor self-esteem, dropping out of school with limited skills for work and life.”