Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Michael’s IEP Meeting

“Annie’s Coming Out,” an autobiography, was written by Annie McDonald with the help of her facilitator, Rosemary Crossley.  It tells of Annie’s struggle to be allowed to leave a mental retardation institution.  She has cerebral palsy and couldn’t speak nor could she coordinate her body to point – let alone point to letters to spell words – until Rosemary Crossley, a speech therapist, believed in her.  In fact, when Rosemary first met Annie, she was barely responsive.  The staff assumed Annie would die within 6 months.

Even after she began to express herself with support from Rosemary and made it clear to those who believed she was the one spelling her own words (not Rosemary), Annie had to prove herself.  She had to pass several validation tests before she was permitted to leave the mental retardation institution.  Annie went on to receive a Humanities degree in 1993. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_McDonald

“Unless someone makes a jump outside the handicapped person’s previous stage of communication, there is no way the speechless person can do so.  Failure is no crime.  Failure to give someone the benefit of the doubt is.”

I met Michael’s mom and grandmother at his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting last Tuesday.  Michael wanted me to advocate for him to be able to bring his iPad to school so his aide, Tony, could facilitate his typing.  Michael typed that he wanted to talk at school many times during our sessions together.  This IEP meeting was going to determine if that would be possible. 

This IEP was significant to the school system, too.  It was the last one before Michael leaves public school at age 21. The meeting was creating a document that described Michael’s strengths and abilities, and the document would follow him into the adult programs available in the state of Maryland. 

It came time for Michael’s teacher to report what she’s learned about him over the years, and she came to the topic of Michael’s communication skills.  Essentially she said, “Michael uses picture symbols to communication and he will follow voice commands.”  So that was the official story according to his IEP.

I raised my hand and asked if I could add more about Michael’s ability to communicate, and his teacher agreed to hear what I had to say.  I read a few of Michael’s typed transcripts about how he told us his lungs weren’t clear (blog entry called: He can now tell us when he’s ill.) and how his astute understanding of evil (blog entry: I want to have a full life.).  I never used the words Facilitated Communication.  I just said he described how Michael needs varying degrees of support to type words and sentences to communicate his thoughts and feelings.  I told the IEP team that Michael was able to type a few words independent of my support, too.

Surprisingly and without question or confrontation, Michael’s teacher agreed that Michael should bring his iPad to school and that she expected Michael to use it to communicate with her and Michael’s aide, Tony.

Tony, who was seated next to Michael at the IEP table, also happens to work part time afterschool with Michael as one of the employees of The Whole Self Center.  Tony works with Michael at Michael’s home and he is aware of Michael’s progress with typing.  Tony is still in the process of learning how to gauge the amount of support to give Michael as a facilitator.  Tony has never received consistent training in the process, but he does know the principles of FC.

Michael’s teacher asked Michael to type with Tony help.  I didn’t step in because I didn’t want the meeting to be about Michael proving himself or to lead the team to suspect that Michael could only type with me… and that therefore, I might be guiding Michael’s wrist.  And it turned out that Michael did okay with Tony’s level of support.  Michael was able to type that Tony was his friend and he asked for some candy from the bowl in the middle of the table. 
The process of assuring Michael could bring and use his iPad to school to communicate was effortless.  None of the IEP members present objected.  Moreover, a representative from one of the adult services encouraged us to see to it that Michael’s staff be trained in helping Michael type to communicate once he became part of an adult program.

My next step is to spend some time at Michael’s current school to give Tony training in how to support Michael to type more effectively. 

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