Thursday, February 6, 2014

Communication Breakdown

I'm going to go out on a limb here. 

I'm going to talk about school.

Which I never do. 

Well, never about concerns with school.

Something about this school year is different.  Actually, lots of things about this school year are different, including new leadership and new teachers.

But something else has changed. 


I see posts all the time on Facebook and on blogs where people discuss the recommendations for good, clear, concise communication between parents and the child's teachers.  When you have a child with an intellectual disability who is unable to reliably discuss her day, having that window in to her day through her teachers is the only way we, as her parents, can feel comfortable and informed. 

For the last few years, ie. Kindergarten and 1st grade, we had a notebook which traveled back and forth to school in Samantha's backpack.  It was a 2-way communication vehicle, by which her long-time aide would recount triumphs and concerns and we could either rejoice with Sammi to reinforce her accomplishments, or have appropriate conversations with her to discuss any negative behaviors.  Also, for the last few years, ie. Kindergarten and 1st grade, we were able to walk her to and from class each day, thus able to observe her interactions with her peers and with her teacher, and have a few short words with the teacher and her aide, in passing.  It doesn't sound like much, but trust me, when you have that, there's a certain sense of reassurance you feel, knowing that your child is smiling as she goes into the room, knowing that the other children are smiling at her, greeting her, the teacher welcoming her.

But this year, the hatches have been battened down, eliminating that face-to-face from the walk to or from class, and the notebook is no more.

I get the new rule about parents not walking through the school - it created a fair amount of chaos, and is far more secure for our children this way.  The teachers and administrators have better knowledge of where each child is.  I get it.  But for a child with an intellectual disability, I think there should be some leeway.  Other kids can come home and tell their parents everything.  Ours can't.

And I don't get the notebook.

We had one at the beginning of the year, and it was, as before, a huge help in our understanding of Samantha's day.  But it was taken from us after a note written home contained some questionable references (nothing terrible, just a situation that was unclear that we requested clarification for), and suddenly the rug got pulled out, the notebook taken, and the promise of a better, more clear method of communication to be substituted.

That better, more clear method of communication turned out to be a few short, scrawly notes on the already pre-existing behavior chart that came home daily anyway. 

Less information.

Less detail.

About as clear as mud.

Let's just say that the communication we now receive, this better, more clear, method of communication, is sporadic, inconsistent in its messaging (don't put a happy sticker on the PE box and then write a note that says she wouldn't participate - what does that mean?), and, frankly, opaque.

And Samantha has been showing increasing resistance to things school-related.  Participation, which had been worked on so hard all through Kindy and 1st, which had been written into her IEP and then not included with as much import on the most recent iteration because she had essentially mastered that hurdle, is now non-existent, from what we can tell.  But who knows?  All I know is that Sammi has refused, on numerous occasions, to get in front of the class to present her projects, something she was excited and proud to do last year. 

She's been coming home talking about how her friends don't like her.  How they're allergic to her.  How someone has made her unhappy, but she refuses to elaborate.  I am pretty sure she's not playing with other kids on the playground.  How do I know?  She told me last night that she wants to be left alone, prefers to play by herself, doesn't want to play with the other kids.  At the playground on Sunday, one of her friends was out there with several other kids, and suggested a game of tag.  He asked Samantha to join them, but she dug her heels in and refused, despite his and my best efforts. 

This is really unlike her, or unlike what she would have done in the past. 

She's an only child - her interactions at school are critical to teaching her to function in society, to gain the confidence to participate in activities and social functions, in a job.

Is no one encouraging her or the other children to play together?  Is no one seeing her isolate herself?  Are other children saying mean things to her?  Does she have a problem with a teacher?

If not, we don't know about it.

Is she actually participating and having a great time, behaving appropriately, learning, feeling supported?  Is she just making some of this up (totally possible)? 

If she is, we sure don't know about it. 

Something has to give.

We can't live in the dark like this, and not know what's going on with our child.  She's so bright and has such a promising future, but in my mind, we're in a one step forward, two steps back cycle right now. 

I hope someone can prove me wrong.

I am pretty sure someone from her school will read this, and that's fine.  I haven't said anything bad.  I just feel that there's something here that is broken and needs to be fixed.  I'm just trying to figure out if we should call a meeting now, or just wait until her IEP meeting which will be some time in the next two months.  On Monday, I will put a fresh notebook in her backpack with a note requesting its use. 

We'll see...


Stephanie said...

This is not cool, not cool at all. Something must be going on to change Sammi like that. When I read the part about her saying that her friends were allergic to her.....someone HAD to have said that to her. I'll go out on a limb here and say this: I think some bullying might be going on. It just doesn't sound right at all.

I HATE that teachers/schools aren't providing us with the tools necessary to know what goes on with our children. We were told in August that the communication notebook from previous year would be a no-go this year. I had to actually have an IEP meeting last month to install communication--either with a sheet I made up or with an email--once a week. Even so, it's so vague, I might as well talk to my washing machine to get information. Frankly, I'm pissed. This is nuts! My kid literally doesn't talk, so if I don't ask someone else, I'll never know what happens at school and I don't understand how the "team" doesn't get that.

Sorry--I'm a little heated about all of this. And I can't wait until school is over and Owen gets a new team, one I've heard is excellent and communicates daily. I don't get it....I don't understand how something so similar and so necessary can change drastically from year to year.

Linda Nargi said...

I guess I don't understand why you aren't allowed to walk your daughter to class. In our school parents of children of all ages walk their kids to class. It's only chaotic for a few minutes. In the younger grades, the classes line up in the hallway outside their classrooms. We walk our kids to the line, kiss them goodbye and walk out of the school. You get "take the temperature", so to speak, as far as how your child is being received when they walk up and join their classmates. It works really, really well and gives parents and administrators/teachers and students a feeling of community. As far as the communication notebook ask for it to be written into the IEP. Communication is key. It helps everyone- the student, the parents and the teachers. Good luck! I hope you can find a workable solution and I hope that you can find it quickly.

Tiffany Spoor said...

This makes me sad. We are just getting into our transition stage and these are all my fears. I hope there is something that can be resolved. Isn't it about what's best for the child? It doesn't seem like this is her best environment. Hugs momma.

Alicia Llanas said...

in our school we cant walk the kids to their classrooms, but i talked to the principal, and they know is different, i used to walk Elias to his class, but now at 3rd he goes alone, now i walk Eva to hers, and i will do it until i know she can goes directly to his classroom by herself
i think you should talk to someone who can give you this permission, should be like part of the modifications on the daily basis for her?

Linda said...

I have three nieces in a Loudon County elementary school. Just a little older than Sammie, and not special needs, per se, but some lesser issues. I think part of the problem is that the whole mean girl thing seems to start really early now, maybe even to some extent in 2nd grade. I know the oldest, who is just in 4th grade, but very tiny, has been suffering from this for a number of years. She is very social and has a large group of friends from dancing, but doesn't seem to fit in as well in the classroom setting. The school population is very ethnically diverse, and while not economically struggling at all, it seems that groups are sticking to themselves and have no place for the tiny dancer. Her twin sisters, in 3rd grade face many of the same issues. Given her changes, I would push for an exception to allow you inside the school whenever you want to be there. I know the IEP process isn't always great - my oldest had one and every time I thought we had something worked out, one or more teachers would balk and refuse to cooperate. Best of luck to you and Sammie. I enjoy reading about your experiences.

Lisa said...

We are in a similar boat as usual. I thought kindy was a black box but 2cd grade is a new level of not knowing what is going on. The only time we get notes about Cate is when she a behavior black mark then it is vague at best and somehow Cate never know why she got it. I've been in for meetings a couple times but I really believe our teacher this year are just too overworked and busy to deal with extra communication. It is sad - unlike previous years I have no idea when tests are, no idea the names of other kids in the class, or any concept of how she is really doing except to feel that she is getting in trouble a lot more than last year and not wanting to go to school pretty much every day. I hate the change and that more independence and less communication for our girls.

Denisemomof4 said...

This makes me sad as well. Everything I dread about elementary school! Keep us posted... I surely hope it gets better!
P.s. I love the picture of you two!

Krista said...

We're not there yet, but we will be soon and I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated this post. <3

The Holt's said...

This post made me cry- at work. These are my fear for Izzy when she starts school. When I ask Izzy how her day was, I know her current response is always- Yeah. I love when we are able to get additional information from her teachers. I hope you see changes and get some answers.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher of both regular and special needs children, this concerns me. Having followed your blog from time to time, I think you are saying this because you want her teachers to see it and read it. But I have to ask what you have done to ask for better communication? If the daily notes were not enough, have you said something? I know that if my parents need communication, it is given to them. If I need to communicate with a parent, I get it done. But I have had situations with both regular and SPED children where the parent waits until they are so frustrated before they speak up. You need to remember that your child is not the only one in the class, nor, according to your blog is she the only special needs child in the class. It can be difficult to really "keep up" with a daily journal. IT IS A LOT OF WORK! Didn't you say that someone walks her out every day? Why can't you talk or ask questions then? I can't believe her case manager or teacher would ignore your request for more info if you asked. Is the teacher ignoring your requests? That is another story.

Becca said...

Anonymous - thank you for your comment! Actually, to be honest, I'd prefer if her teachers *didn't* read this post. I wrote it because I've been becoming increasingly concerned about things Samantha has said lately. What she says is unreliable at best, but sometimes I can't help if it might be coming from somewhere real. And, coupled with the decreased communication we've had over the last 4 months, I feel like there's a bit of a void, just *something* missing for us. Her aide was always able to keep great reports in her notebook. When the notebook was taken away, we were promised a better, more efficient method of communication. What we got was an anorexic adaptation of what we'd had before, and nothing else. I also think the aide is no longer writing much of the notes - I think it's primarily the resource teacher. We've requested that the notebook be brought back, although admittedly without too much urgency at the time. The request went ignored, or forgotten, or something. We weren't too bothered yet, but when it became increasingly clear that it wasn't coming back, we decided that we would push harder. I wrote this post before we took further action to get it. My husband picks Samantha up from school, and does have a few words with whomever walks her out, but it could be any number of people that comes out with her, and usually the conversation has to be very brief because of the chaos of all the parents standing around waiting to gather their children from the side door of the school. I'm certain that nobody would ignore our questions or requests if we asked - I have written this post directly after some concerns came to light, and before we have made any additional requests. I hope that all makes sense! I will certainly write a follow up once I get more information. :-)

Rochelle said...

I so hope the communication lapse gets cleaned up for you. We too love to see a glimpse into the girls day. Good luck, let us know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple thoughts on this.

1) yes, the teacher should be responsive to this issue for you and I don't see how they are not responsive if you have asked them

2) as a teacher, I can tell you that there is no time to write a paragraph. There is time to write a quick sentence

3) I have used these notebooks and sometimes the one sentence does not get done

4) BUT USUALLY the one sentence/two sentences DOES get done

5) it does provide a stepping stone for parents of kids like yours, who don't dialogue much with offered info, to start the conversation

6) I hope this gets better :)

7) Re: the term bullying. . . .sometimes a child will say, I hate your shoes, to another child. Then a parent will say, THAT IS BULLYING. . .well, no, not really. It's kids being kids. It is also unkind. But the word bullying gets thrown around a lot. It needs to be saved for the true meaning of the word.

8) I love your blog. Thanks for sharing your heart.

9) Happy Valentine's Day!