Wednesday, 11 May 2011
I sit down at Alex’s tri-annual IEP meeting expecting it will last about 15 minutes. I almost didn’t come at all, thinking I’d just send the letter from his doctor saying Alex didn’t need a nurse in the classroom.
That’s odd: When did we request that? And if we did request it, how come he hasn’t had a nurse in his classroom for all the years he’s been in New York’s public schools?
This question doesn’t really get answered as I squeeze into the minuscule seats with Alex’s teacher and OT, his PT and speech therapist, and a nice guy from the DOE who seems to run the show. We talk about Alex.
First, we go over familiar territory on Alex’s IEP. His progression on language, his ability to do simple addition. He delivers the newspapers to classrooms every morning with a staffer, a vocational training will they hope Alex will continue using fewer and fewer prompts in the months ahead. “But sometimes he doesn’t understand that he has to deliver the paper and leave the classroom,” his teacher reports. “He wants to say hi to everyone and examine everything in the class…” He’s also bolted from his occupational therapist and tried to make for the school playground.
“We’ve been discussing,” says his unit teacher, “that Alex could benefit from a one-to-one para. I think with hormones and puberty and everything going on, it’s becoming a little too much for him to focus.”
My kid will truly, really, never – as the shriveling budgets and the fiscal years pass one by one – ever live independently. (As they said back in the NICU when he was born, I just don’t want you to think you’ve ever going to have a normal baby.)
I bring my own suitcase of Alex stuff, too. Can they help him understand that he shouldn’t leave our apartment and bust in on neighbors? Stop biting his arm when frustrated, stop unraveling and ripping his own T shirts? Can they help him understand the dangers of traffic? Can anyone?
“I can’t have him run across the street when I have five kids back here on this corner,” his teacher says. She adds that sometimes Alex will also listen only to her, and not to the class paras and other staffers. Familiarity breeds authority with Alex.
Disruptive? Disturbing? “I wouldn’t say ‘disruptive’ and I wouldn’t say ‘disturbing,’ either,” the unit teacher replies. She’s discussed the para idea with others, and believes Alex would benefit in focusing and transitions “just for one or two years. We don’t ever want him to become dependent on one person.”
Including dad, I’m afraid I realize. They called to remind me of this appointment a couple of times. How come they never mentioned the para discussions?
We move to Alex’s other potential vocational work, based on his interests: janitorial, laundry. He loves Laundromats. “He mopped the kitchen floor the other day,” I say, feeling kind of like a defendant. “Of course, we do have a Swiffer, and I think he just likes to press the button on the handle.”
“We use erasable markers, and have him wipe up the marks,” his teacher says.
“We don’t need to create extra spills in our house,” I say.
“Well see, we have a class that goes out to do laundry every Thursday,” the unit teacher adds. “It isn’t Alex’s class, but if he had a one-to-one para, he could go with them.”
They want it, they say he needs it, and for now all they have to do is write it on the IEP and the City of New York, for some reason I still don’t understand amid my growing cynicism, must come to up with the para. In another timeline, Alex might get booted from public school now. How much longer will that apparent right of mine continue? “You could write that Alex needs a ride on the space shuttle and the city has to produce it,” I said. “Put down that he needs a BMW, will you?” No sense abandoning humor yet.