As his parents, when D was experiencing extreme rage and aggression, we had to make some very difficult choices. He had been in the hospital several times in a 2 month period and nothing was changing. With D’s mental health team, we decided to place him in a Residential Treatment Center (RTC). Since he had always been well behaved in school and did not have an IEP, we chose not to involve them.
At the beginning of this school year, upon his return from RTC, we began the evaluation process for special education. Before the process began, school system representatives were predetermining that he should be in a self-contained classroom for students with emotional disabilities away from his home-based school. I stood, rallying against the forces, for him to be allowed to stay in the regular classroom. I felt it was unfair for us to pull him from his happy place.
Once the evaluation process was complete, the IEP team agreed that the regular classroom was an appropriate placement. However, he was exhibiting extreme school anxiety and school refusal. We were only successful in getting him to school 1-2 days a week, the other days we had intense battles. Many of the mornings he would hide under his bed or under the seats of the van, crying, begging to stay home, screaming that he just can’t go. The entire situation was traumatic to us (his parents) and his siblings, but mostly it was traumatic for D. I spent hours scouring the internet for ideas to get him to school. When those ideas did not work, I began spending hours investigating online academies and options for homeschooling him. I was essentially biding my time until the evaluation was complete, the team met in order to determine his eligibility for special education, and the IEP was written. I wanted to give the school system a chance to help us meet his needs.
The principal and his teachers had several great ideas. His teachers bought Star Wars books, of his choice, for him to read in the classroom. The principal, in an attempt to make mornings appealing, reserved one of the e-readers and downloaded Star Wars books for him in the library. She also made arrangements with the PE teacher for him to shoot basketball or other physical activity if he chose not to read in the library. She even bought an awesome Darth Vader mask that he could earn by coming to school 15 days.
Unfortunately, even the best incentives can not override intense school anxiety on a long term basis. The absences continued, the anxiety intensified, and the days that we were able to coerce him he was beginning to show anxiety induced inappropriate behaviors.
It was unnerving when our phone rang at 8pm on a Sunday night. The principal identified herself, apologized for calling so late on a Sunday night, and explained that she was calling to set up a meeting. We, as a team, needed to come back together and brainstorm some ideas to get D to school. We decided to meet later in the week, and my mind went crazy. With previous news from D’s counselor that the school system was trying to find someone to sign a medical homebound release form, my own anxiety was taking over. While I have been considering homeschool, I wanted to do it on my terms, not theirs.
When the IEP team came together, we wrote a beautiful plan for D. We took away some of the choices he had available to him. Choices, like many students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, cause him intense anxiety. We created a time early in the morning for a social story to plan his school day, and a time in the afternoon to decompress and attend to any problems that may have come up during the day. He has an early morning, school routine that should alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from sitting in the hall with other students before class. We agreed to implement a picture schedule. He is an excellent reader, but when his anxiety is high he is unable to focus on the meaning of the words in a written schedule. We also decided to implement a system to help him self monitor his anxiety. Overall, this plan should be perfect, minus one small problem…
A great plan does not create a magical transformation in a student with extreme anxiety.
Our first morning since the IEP meeting we had one of the biggest battles we have had this year. He was embarrassed because of something that happened the previous school morning. We were not successful in getting him to school, we were successful in raising his anxiety level to a point from which he could not return.
Clearly the regular classroom without support was not the proper educational placement for him. He is doing great academically, but at this point, he has not been socially successful. His social failure has intensified his anxiety, making it less likely for him to be socially successful. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish we had chosen to homeschool or use an online academy when he first returned from RTC.
What is the answer? Where is the right educational placement for him?
I’m only his Mama, I don’t know.
What I do know, is that I will continue to advocate for D until we help him reach success — academic and social.
*Note: This post is an update to The Loaded Question: Least Restrictive Environment?
About Lena Herrington
With the help of a wonderful husband, I am raising 4 wonderful kids. D (9) has High Functioning Autism, SPD, & possible mood disorder (though this is being ruled out by his pdoc). He is transitioning home from a residential treatment center where he spent 4.5 months receiving intense therapy. Spike (4) has a speech articulation delay and PTSD from dealing with her brother’s reactive/aggressive behaviors. Pouty (3) has seizure disorder, possible PTSD, and will rule the world with her determination. Samoo (18m) is the cuddliest, sweetest baby with amazing ability to understand language, but severely delayed expressive language. He is quite possibly the most comical, expressive kid I have, even without his words. My M.A.Ed in Special Education may not have taken me back into the classroom, but it sure helps me to “Embrace the Crazy” at home!