A month ago, my husband and I requested a school autism assessment to be done on our son, Callie. It’s been awhile, and since Callie is going to high school next year, we wanted to see where he is now, especially in the areas of Reading, Math and English. This is a new school, new district and new year — why not enter in high school with updated results? The diagnostician organizes, carries out and supervises the testing. He or she is the one who analyzes and evaluates the learning difficulty of a student and recommends ways to help and support that child. Although this being true, the definition and this district’s current diagnostician should not be in the same sentence. She is definitely not a favorite and I’m pretty sure I’m not her first pick for parent of the year. Callie’s transition into the district was nothing short of being the worst and it has been a tidal wave ever since. The first IEP meeting we had, she wasn’t remotely prepared. She didn’t even have my son’s file from the district we came from. “I’ve sent over several requests and have not received a response,” she says, as if she had done her best. I made one phone call after the meeting to Callie’s previous school and received the file the very next day. This should have been a clear problematic sign and forecast for the rest of the year, but I walked hopeful, thinking this is just a drop in the bucket. The days ahead will be brighter than the sun. So mistaken… This is not by any means the worst year Callie’s has ever had, but it is ranked in the top 5.
The assessment process was about to begin when I realized that we hadn’t been informed of all involved. The last one done was explained in full detail – step by step. We were given much consideration by being told who was performing which test and their qualifications. We didn’t even have to ask. A matter of fact, any testing done, like the alternate Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, has always been discussed. I figured it would be no different here. But seeing how there was no prep, I kind of figured wrong. So, I emailed the diagnostician asking a few questions. How many assessments are being done? How long is each one? Who is performing the evaluation and what are their credentials? And when will we know the results? In return, I received an IEP meeting invite. Strange, but ok. I attended the meeting, and here was one of those moments where I felt like I was not just fighting for my son, but for every special needs child and their parents.
After finally expounding on what the assessment would entail, the diagnostician pauses and sighs. Silence fills the room. Everyone’s eyes were turned down. It’s like they were aware of something that had completely flew over my head. What had I missed? Was it my turn to speak or was this (what my gut was telling me) a sigh of discontentment? She looks at me as if to say – “Anything else you need to know?” Instead of guessing, I decided to take the floor and inquire about the professionals who would be administering the testing and their credentials. “I’ve never been asked about my credentials from any parent” she says. I could tell she was insulted. I was insulted that she indirectly questioned my wanting to know who would be around my son. She then commences to go down the line of her education and her work experience. She points out her degrees, and when the glasses came off, I knew she was not done. She begins to tell me the State policy and how the State would not have hired her if she was not qualified. My heart began racing and my face was flushed. I could feel a volcano erupting, but I was patient and remained astonishingly calm. What she was spitting out was indeed what I had asked for, but the posture behind it was something I could do without. This woman, who I have just met this year – knowing nothing about her background is going to be in a room with my son…and on many occasions, alone. He doesn’t know her and neither do I. We haven’t had the luxury of sitting down with her for coffee and learning about her history in Special Education. All we know is that she is a diagnostician – a mere title. So, we aren’t privileged to her credentials? Her experience? Her success rate? How does she handle pressure? What is her strategy in meeting with a student of special needs? Does she build a rapport before the observation, especially knowing many kids need to feel relaxed before doing any one on one communication? Has she familiarize herself with my son’s developmental steps throughout his time in previous districts and not just what he has accomplished this year and last? And does she know my son by record only or has she taken the time to meet the individual? I interrupted her when she said the State wouldn’t hire a person who wasn’t qualified. “Ma’am, “ my voice cracked. “The State hired a paraprofessional who bruised my son’s arm in Kindergarten. The State hired a 5th grade teacher who had my son write ‘I will have a closed mouth in Science’ and had him pen 13 times ‘I will be appropriate”, when he doesn’t know what that word means, even to this day. The State hired a behavioral specialist who did not know the difference between behavior problems and sensory issues or the difference between tantrums and meltdowns. So forgive me, if I don’t have a lot of confidence in the State. This is about my son and not about you.” What she didn’t seem to grasp also is that she has the power to write whatever she wants about my son, in this assessment, and that will go into his file. If he has a bad day or he’s distressed, his educational performance could be affected and further recorded. What’s written in my son’s file will go with him to high school and any other school he may attend afterwards. That file, unfortunately, represents him. People won’t look at the individual. They’ll only see the delays, the routines and the weaknesses. They will overlook the strengths, the perseverance, the accomplishments and the journey that got him here. So, if a special needs parent asks for their credentials, they should be more than willing to state their resume instead of making the parent feel they have just asked for something forbidden. They need to feel at ease that these school officials know what you’re doing. Parents need to feel comfortable and assured that their child is going to be ok.” By now, tears took me over. I said a lot that morning, but I finished by saying, “This, Ma’am, is not about you. It’s never about you. It’s always about the child….and as a parent, we have to make sure our child is in the best of care. And that’s all.” The room fell quiet again. She became apologetic and tried to explain her words. I faded out. Her words and actions were empty to me. Everything in me had shut down. I just wanted to leave. At the end, she said “Let’s hug it out. I really admire parents who advocate for their children. Don’t ever stop advocating.” I just looked her and simply said, “That’s was never in questioned.”
Many parents may accept the no-knowledge beforehand and the outcome unexplained, but this diagnostician met a parent who challenged her normal pattern of parent interaction. I was determined that she wan’t going to make me feel like my questions were dumb or off-limits. What she learned that day and I would venture to say, will forever remember is that this parent was standing up for her child. But I wasn’t just standing up for Callie. I was standing up for every special needs family whose voice and concerns deserved to be heard and taken seriously. No longer are our children and their educational welfare going to be a mystery. They need to know “This is not about you. This is always about the child.” We have a right to ask and guess what? We have a right to know.
Thanks for listening,