Thursday, May 27, 2010

Evil exists in the world - knowledge can help you overcome it

June 1st is coming - and it reminded me of a particularly sad CSE meeting that I attended a few years ago. There are rules and regulations governing special education in NYS and to some degree there is room for interpretation of those rules and regulations. Parents and districts sometimes disagree on what those rules and regulations mean, and sometimes districts can 'bend' the regulations to accommodate student needs.

In the sad meeting I referenced I sat in amazement as the CSE chairperson approved every single service for a child - and I was surprised because this particular chairperson had a reputation among the parents for being somewhat recalcitrant to parent requests and unfriendly in general. I really didn't expect the meeting to go so smoothly because it was the parent's intent to enroll their child in a private school but they were still asking for special education supports from the school district. There are legal parameters for what a district has to do in these situations and in general it is a complicated process to wade through.

I am infrequently silent in CSE meetings but I sat quietly and wondered if the chairperson had some religious conversion or other change of heart that would lead to such a different attitude. Every service that the parent requested was approved.

As the meeting was about to close and as the parent had a broad smile on her face and sincere thankfulness that their child was going to get everything that she perceived he needed - the chairperson looked at his watch and said, "Oh how unfortunate. Your plan is to send your child to a private school next year, and the deadline for completing the dual enrollment forms was June 1st- and it is now June 15th. I guess we won't be able to provide these services after all because you haven't signed the dual enrollment forms by the specified deadline."

My jaw hit the table at the absolute evil this chairperson just unleashed. "Come back next year," he smirked. "And don't forget to fill out your dual enrollment forms before the June 1st deadline."

So June 1st is coming quickly and parents need to be aware of the date. Enough time has passed that I am able to type this without hurling obscenities - but here is the specific rule that pertains to this issue that all parents need to be aware of:


NYS Law:
Students with disabilities who are residents of the State attending nonpublic schools located in the State are dually enrolled in the public schools for purposes of special education and receive services pursuant to an individualized education service program (IESP) developed by the CSE of the school district of location in the same manner and with the same contents as an IEP. Special education services provided to parentally placed students with disabilities must be provided on an equitable basis. Parents must request special education services before June 1 preceding the school year for which the request is made subject to certain exceptions. Parents of students attending nonpublic schools may bring an impartial hearing to challenge their IESP. Requires regulations for procedures for the district of location to recover costs for non-resident New York State (NYS) students.

Federal Law:
Federal law requires that the school district in which the nonpublic school is located use a proportionate share of its Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds to provide services to nonpublic school students, based on consultation with nonpublic school representatives. Districts develop a Services Plan (SP) for a student that does not create an individual right to services. Nonpublic school students do not have an individual right to services under IDEA and therefore are not entitled to a due process hearing. There are no federal procedures for the recovery of tuition costs incurred by the school district in which the nonpublic school is located for nonresident students, where the services required under state law exceed the federal minimum and require a substantial state and local contribution.


Each state has different guidelines and requirements that can exceed but not be less than the federal requirement. I encourage families and providers to be aware of the laws that govern this issue in their own states.


New York State Education Department (2010). New York State Law, Regulations and Policy Not Required by Federal Law/Regulation/Policy Revised January 2010 Retrieved May 27, 2010 from

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maple seeds and putting your face into the wind

The clock was ticking past the 10am appointment time, adding much to the level of stress that Michael's mom was feeling. Michael had more important plans than therapy and did not want to come inside the building for his appointment. Over the weekend several thousand maple seeds fell from the trees, covering the parking lot and creating a rather large distraction for any child who had to make their way from their car to our front door.

I watched Michael as he grabbed handfuls of the seeds, stood on top of a stone in the yard (as if this somehow added significantly to his actual elevation!), and launched the helicopters up so he could see them twirl whimsically to the ground.

It was such a simple childhood occupation but it was so much fun, and it caused me to pause this morning because I was a little surprised at how simple the play was and how apparently meaningful it was. Playing with the helicopters evoked happy feelings for Michael - and for me - but not for his poor mom, who for a moment thought that the appointment time was more important than the play! What person who has ever been exposed to maple seeds doesn't have a happy memory of playing with the helicopters?

Among other things, childhood play creates competency precursors for adult functioning. Even though I believe this to be true, I find myself a little taken aback sometimes at the power of childhood play lessons. I told mom it was ok and to let Michael play for a few minutes. He was creating some memories, and I thought that it was important to let the moment happen.

Vortex forces are created at the leading edge of the maple 'helicopter' wing, and this is what causes the lift that carries the seed such a far distance. What seems like a whimsical twirl actually generates a force that carries the seed to a distant destination.

Childhood play does the same thing, actually. I watched Michael launch the seeds, and then I watched him twirl himself in imitation of the flight. Then I thought that he was still so young, and that there were so many places that he would go to in his life. I watched his mom smile as she watched him play.

I guess that today's lesson is that there is something to be said for putting your face into the wind and twirling.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Left and right

The other day five year old Melissa came stumbling into my office, feet intertwined as she made the final leap over the threshold and into the waiting room. Her arms flailed about her in a desperate attempt to regain her balance, she fell into a chair and held her cheek against the back of the seat as she breathed heavily and said, 'Wow! I almost fell!”

It amused me, mostly because her definition of 'almost falling' is probably the same as anyone else's definition of 'definitely falling.' Her mom followed into the room behind her, rolling her eyes, and undoubtedly wishing that Melissa would be less clumsy or more attentive or perhaps both.

Parents have a unique way of perceiving current problems by projecting them into the future and worrying terribly about whether or not their child will be able to meet the demands of the world and of course meet their greater aspirations. This puts parents into points of conflict with teachers or other school personnel who tend to perceive problems measured against current situational and contextual demands, based on a more relaxed sense of normative functioning and broader tolerance for a range of performance. Measuring performance with a present-based normative model vs. a future-based criterion model creates a situation where schools and parents are often speaking different languages.

The point of this is that the school tends to have little interest in Melissa's tripping around the classroom because even though she is clumsy she can function despite the difficulty, whereas the parent frets and worries that Melissa might forever lack competence and what if in the future she trips and drops an important architectural model for some new project, which of course will cause the firm to lose the contract, and will cause her to lose her job.

Truth almost always exists somewhere between the extremity of these two perspectives. It is true that there are very few architects who are so clumsy that they are jeopardizing their jobs because of their motor incompetence. However, it is also true that if Melissa is so clumsy as a child that it may impact her self confidence and school performance to the degree that it might have an impact on her occupational trajectory.

This is why I create room in my practice for children like Melissa. I have understood for a long time that although the criterion of parents that triggers their pursuit for intervention may fall within the tolerance range of school districts, this should not restrict the freedom of moms or dads to do the things that they want to do as parents for their children. I suppose that I have developed my own set of criteria as well so that I can help parents understand if their own expectations are out of whack, but it is rare that I need to pull parents back from a brink of unhealthy expectations.

The end result is that I am a partner with families, often working along with them to try to solve complex problems that impact children's function and performance. Sometimes the pursuit of answers to problems takes me to funny places. Other parents understand this well, often nodding their heads in agreement or understanding or both when I try to describe what I do. Other times I find myself trying to explain these complexities to people who struggle to understand the point.

Anyway, Melissa is a good example – she can't figure out what shoes go on what feet and this is all related to her impaired perceptual motor skills. However her language skills are significantly advanced, to the point where she can entertain and engage an adult in conversations that are far beyond her chronological age. In school she can read but not write, but at this age there is little expectation for writing, and so her performance falls within the broad range of tolerance. There is no therapy in school for her based on his overall performance and this is why the parent is bringing her in for private therapy.

Melissa seems 'smart' and 'competent' to most people because her language is so advanced, but the parent is concerned that she can't hold a pencil and she can't walk without tripping. The initial goal is to get her to wear shoes on the correct feet, but she is smart and she resists intervention – perhaps because she is already developing a sense of not liking to be incorrect. This is a natural compensatory response for a bright child – why would she want to be told she is wrong – so she uses her language skill to try to walk circles around people when they try to engage her in conversations about learning left from right.

I have tried nearly every trick I know, but she remains resistant. Last week I made up a tall tale and told her that even I mixed up left and right so I have to put a piece of tape in my shoe to remind me which is which. I taught her how to look at her hands and how her LEFT hand makes a natural 'L' shape when she holds her thumbs away from her hands and looks at them. Of course she didn't believe me, but I planned it well before the session so I took off my shoe and proudly showed her the large piece of tape with the letter 'L' on the insole of my left shoe. I showed her how I check to see which hand is my LEFT and how that helps me know that I have to put the shoe with the 'L' on my LEFT foot. She was intrigued, and promised to think about it.

I kind of forgot about the whole thing as I went about my weekend activities, up until a serious looking TSA employee at a midwest airport held up my shoe in front of a line of a few dozen people and loudly asked, “What's this tape inside your shoe with an 'L' on it – do you need reminders to know which is your left foot or something?”

I paused for a moment, wanting to explain about normative vs. criterion based expectations, about the worries and fears of parents, about the intransigence of highly verbal children who have mild perceptual motor delays, about my own willingness to tell tall tales in order to help families get their children where they want them to be, and so much more.

A few dozen people stood in silence – hanging in expectation of a response that wasn't happening. There was too much to explain, and not enough time, and I began thinking that this was going to turn into a blog story.

I don't think any of the people who were at the airport will read this, but if they do, now they will understand why the middle aged guy in the security line has to label the insides of his shoes so he knows what feet they go on.