Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Help We Don't Want

            “Jeremy doesn’t want to get help from the Learning Center any more.  He says it’s embarrassing and makes him feel dumb.  Is there any way we can get him off of his IEP?”

            I could have predicted this request from Mrs. Watkins the second week of school, so I wasn’t surprised to hear it come up at Jeremy’s IEP meeting.  I paused a minute and nodded my head.  I wanted Mrs. Watkins to know I really did understand the struggle she was going through. 

            “I know this isn’t new information for you,” I softly explained.  “But Jeremy really does struggle decoding the text he’s reading.  Once he’s got it decoded, his comprehension is great.  But his fluency decoding the words is very low.  It takes him three times longer than a typical sixth grade student to read material in class.”

            “I know his reading is really slow.  That’s the main thing he’s always been working on, but it’s taking so long for him to get faster.  I just don’t know what to tell him.  He said he wanted me to get him off his IEP today.  He says the other kids think he’s dumb when he comes into your room.”

            How many times have I had this conversation with a parent? This is the most common problem parents and students with Learning Disabilities must work through in Middle School – identifying strengths and weaknesses and learning how to use one to pull up the other.

            “Mrs. Watkins, we both know Jeremy is not dumb.  In fact, he’s got to be pretty bright to be getting the grades he has considering how hard it is for him to access any reading material.”

            Jeremy’s mom sadly nodded her agreement.  “If there was only some way his tests could just be over the material he’s heard in school.  If he just wouldn’t have to read anything.  I know he’d get good grades and he wouldn’t have to be on an IEP.”

            That’s how he’s surviving right now, I thought.

            “Listening and remembering what he’s heard is his strength,” I agreed.  “The problem is, there’s going to be a ton of material in the years ahead that’s going to be in written form that Jeremy has to get hold of.  He needs to continue working on his fluency.  He’s going to need some strategies and help accessing all that material.”

            The room was quiet.  Mrs. Watkins was quiet.  The clock on the wall was making a clicking sound. 

            Then, “I know.” 

            We continued sitting in the quiet room listening to the clock click.  Mrs. Watkins stared down at the IEP sitting on the table.  She knew her son hated it, but she also knew he desperately needed it.  She picked up her pen, checked the box that said “I give my consent,” and sadly signed her name.  

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