Know the Law: 504 vs IEP

When I first began to hear the terms “504” or “Individual Education Plan” (IEP), I found it difficult to distinguish the differences between these two types of school services. These services are designed to help your child with learning disabilities. I quickly became lost during critical conversations regarding my child’s education, and rightly so, as they both service children with physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, learning, or attention issues.

If you hear these terms and are trying to understand the benefits they will provide your child, you are also, possibly, experiencing an onslaught of all types of new terminology and diagnoses from your doctor or specialists. This moment in time is going to feel overwhelming with all the new information the doctors are giving you, which is imperative, to your child’s development and growth.

What I have for you here is a bare bone, boilerplate, easy to follow, explanation regarding the similarities and differences a 504 or an IEP will provide and service.

How the 504 and IEPs are Similar:

  • Both act as a “map” for a child’s education career.
  • Both are free of charge to families seeking the services the school will provide (i.e., counselor, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech therapist.)
  • Both will consist of a team of people – I like to call it “Team Ninja” – the parents, teachers, administrators and other child development experts (i.e., counselor, occupational, physical, and speech therapist).
  • “Team Ninja” will collaboratively create a plan and monitor progress. The rules about who must be involved are stricter for the IEPs.
  • Services cannot be provided without Parents consent first.

How they Differ:

504 Plans

  • Accommodations to make appropriate changes to classroom environment:
    1. “Sensory fidget” items – such as stress ball, Velcro to the desk, selection of sensory seating options, weighted items, etc.
    2. Be allowed to take a test orally vs. written.
    3. Supplementary aids to help support in the general classroom (i.e., audiobooks, or copy of a teacher’s notes the class would be required to copy)
  • Cover children with any learning disability, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD, ADHD), Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Asthma, etc.
  • The 504 does not require a formal evaluation by an outside expert. Your school district will not cover the cost should you choose to have an evaluation to determine under what disability your child will qualify for a 504.
  • States will not receive any additional funds for implementing a 504 plan. However, the government can withhold funds if the state is not in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Funding given from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may not be used to serve students with a 504 plan.
  • A 504 is not a formal document. “Team Ninja” will meet to discuss strategies and assess results and make adjustments accordingly. Meeting minutes may or may not be taken and signed at the end of a 504 meeting.
  • Schools do not have to give written notification to the parents should any “significant” change happen to the 504 placement. However, most schools do so anyway.
  • The rule will vary by state, but in general, a 504 plan will be reviewed at the beginning of each school year, and reevaluations are done every three years or as needed.
  • 504 process for dispute-resolution are as follows (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
    1. Mediation
    2. Alternative dispute resolution
    3. Impartial hearing
    4. Complaint to the Office of Civil Rights (ORC)
    5. Lawsuit

Individual Education Plan (IEP):

  • An IEP is an INDIVIDUAL map for each child. (curriculum accommodations)
  • Requires a formal evaluation to determine if and what services your child will receive.
    1. Parents can request the school to provide the series of evaluations known as an independent educational evaluation (IEE) given by an outside expert. The school district does not have to agree.
    2. Parents may elect to pay for a private evaluation from an expert.
  • To qualify for an IEP, you must have 1 or more of 13 specific disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder; Blindness; Deafness; Hearing Impairment, etc. (to view all 13 qualifying disabilities visit www.specialeducationguide.com)
  • There are strict legal requirements about who must participate on the IEP team – “Team Ninja.”
    1. Parents
    2. Teacher
    3. At least one special education teacher
    4. Schools psychologist or another individual who can interpret the evaluation results
    5. A district representative over the special education services
  • The State will receive additional funding for a child that is eligible for an IEP.
  • IEP’s are enforced by your state’s education department – for example, in Arizona, that is the Department of Education
  • The IEP is a very structured enforceable document that will contain a current academic assessment, track annual education goals and the length of time to achieve said goals
  • Should the school wish to make any changes to a child’s IEP or services that are provided they must inform parents in writing, known as a “ Prior Written Notice.”
  • List any accommodations—including class environment—along with who will provide the support and services your child will need.
  • The IEP Team – “Team Ninja” – will review the IEP at least once a year. Depending on the goals made for the IEP your Team may meet more often. All students with an IEP must be re-evaluated every three years. It will then be determined if and what services will continue to be provided.
  • Explains all modifications (taught curriculum) and accommodations (classroom environment) and how your child will participate in standardized tests.
  • Your IEP will state a plan that will show how your child will be included in school activities as well as in the classroom.
  • The IEP’s dispute-resolution consists of the following (for more detailed information visit https://www.understood.org)
    1. Mediation
    2. Due process complaint
    3. Resolution session
    4. Civil Lawsuit
    5. State complaint
    6. Lawsuit

Knowing which laws do what was a huge part of helping me understand the difference between a 504 and an IEP. I found this chart super handy when I started on our journey. If you are still confused about your eligibility and rights, I strongly encourage you to contact your state’s Parent Information & Resource Center. Also, try meeting with your child’s teacher. They are a great resource as well as an additional set of eyes to help spot the struggles your child may be facing. Another excellent advocate to have on your side is your child’s primary care physician. They can give you referrals to a specialist to obtain any evaluations you feel your child may need.

Resources used to write this article can be found at the following sites:

http://www.idea.ed.gov

http://www.raisingspecialkids.org

http://www.azdisabilitylaw.org

http://www.understood.org

https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/section-504-2/

https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/

 

   

 

Do’s and Don’t’s: IEP and 504 Meeting Preprations

With my first 504  and Individual Education Plan (IEP) qualification meeting approaching, I did what any overly prepared, easily intimidated person would do, scour the internet for tips – after all, knowledge is power. I also braved a seminar our school district held to help parents understand the 504/IEP laws, it, unfortunately,  turned from an informational meeting to a platform for other parents to air grievances. Super frustrating for those of us who attended with the hope of learning something.

I wanted to share a few amazing DO’s and DO NOT’s I have found from research and having attended my own 504/IEP qualification meeting.

DO

  • Put together binders with all current information you have to date on your child. (Should your meeting be regarding possibly seeking evaluations I recommend having medical information such as birth weight, length, and term of pregnancy as well as the notes your Pediatrician has on their monthly, bi-monthly, and yearly growth milestones. You can request a copy of this information from your doctor’s office)

Make a MASTER copy for you, one for the teacher, principal, nurse, special education director, and school counselor.  Include a picture of your child doing an everyday task – it helps to put a face to the name plus it “humanizes” your child.

Every binder should have the same sections and information, i.e.,  Psych Evaluation; Occupational Therapy Evaluation; Physical Therapy Evaluation; Doctor Reports; Teacher Progress Report; Teacher Correspondence; Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) – for the official signed meeting notes); and Notes.

  • Have a firm understanding of the rights and resources that are available for your child.
  • Know the difference between a 504 vs. IEP and which you feel would best support your child.
  • Arrive at your meetings with well thought out ideas or strategies to help support your child and teachers.
  • Prepare to compromise and have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished during school hours vs. at home.
  • Dress appropriately for the meeting. (i.e., slacks and semi-casual top vs. workout clothes) You would think this is obvious, but many parents show up like they are going to the gym or have just rolled out of bed. Your 504 or IEP is an important meeting dress accordingly.

All of these things will help you to be prepared and ready to advocate with confidence!

DO NOT

  • Expect the others at your meeting to have all the answers.
  • Argue about unimportant details. As much as we want the 504/IEP to be the magic wand remember that nothing will be 100% perfect.
  • Expect the school to put in all the effort. It is a two-way street, and a lot of work and time will need to be given by you the parent.
  • Be argumentative. It is easy enough to do, trust me, I wanted to bang a few heads together a couple of times. Keep calm and remember everyone in the room is vying for a spot on “TEAM NINJA,” and working to find the best way to help your little Ninja to be successful.

I know that this time can be super stressful when all you want to do is help your child be as happy and successful as they can be. I promise that is everyone’s goal.

Keep in mind that the qualification meeting for a 504 or IEP is the first step in the process of continued meetings and goal setting. You will want to have lines of communication open between everyone.

I remember the first 504/IEP meeting I felt like I was sitting in front of a firing squad pleading our case. The hoops you have to jump through to obtain a 504 or IEP are intense. Once the meeting concluded, I felt utterly drained. It is tedious, emotional, and demanding. The best news is, you will be one step closer to creating a successful school career for your Ninja. Now that is worth celebrating. Eat some chocolate; you’ve earned it!  

Sensory Triggers and Halloween

Fall is in the air! Which means, if your Ninja’s are like mine, Halloween costume debates are in full swing. My children’s enthusiasm for any holiday comes from their mama. I love to celebrate any and everything–because life is worth celebrating! So far–and this can change–we will have a Pumpkin, a Star Wars Stormtrooper, and Link from the Legend of Zelda.

Sensory Triggers

Halloween is a night of fun, friends, and candy. But for children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), it can be uncomfortable. From constricting costumes, loud (sometimes spooky) noises, and crowded spaces, a child’s sensory triggers can happen at any moment.

With a little creativity, planning, and awareness of what your Ninja’s triggers are you can take back the Halloween fun and avoid potential sensory problems.

Unfamiliar Sensations:

Things like fake cobwebs, the mist from fog machines, pumpkin “guts” and bowls filled with mystery goo are not a tactile-sensitive child’s best friend.

  • Before the big night, try taking your Ninja out to your local store and let them explore the decor. Let them try pushing buttons on things that move or light up. If you feel your Ninja can properly handle touching items, then let them get hands-on. Take the mysterious talking skull off the shelf and let them hold it. Tactile seekers learn by touching. Hands act like an extra set of eyes.
  • Decorate your home! Not only is it a fun family-engaging activity, but it will also help your Ninja feel more comfortable and confident with all the unknown spooky sights. Let them help you hang the fake spider webs around the yard. It is an excellent way to let them get involved, touching, and overcoming a potential sensory trigger.
  • If you Ninja is completely turned off by the sight and smell of a pumpkins insides, try alternative pumpkin crafting. In the past, we have used paint or permanent marker to color and decorate our picked pumpkins. We have also opted for fake pumpkins to carve. These are a great option because you can reuse them for years to come and help your Ninja remember the past Halloween fun.

Costumes:

From the smelly, slipper, static causing material, silly or scary,  costumes can be a nightmare for some Sensory Ninjas. When helping my Ninja come up with a perfect disguise, I like to steer him away from the costume aisle at Target altogether. Sometimes we pull inspiration from there, but for him, I rarely buy the one size fits all items.

For example one year my Ninja wanted to be Batman. Instead of buying the Batman suit in the Halloween section, I found a cotton Batman t-shirt with an attached cape and black sweatpants. I then purchased an accessory kit that had Batman’s mask and gloves. He was the best Batman at the party because he was comfortable and happy! Plus he could wear to school, minus the cape.

Here are some other ideas to help make dressing up easy and fun:

  • Have your Ninja touch the costumes in the store. They will naturally avoid any fabric that is uncomfortable to them.
  • Wash any new costumes a few times to help soften the fabric.
  • Avoid paint if your child has a sensitivity to smells.
  • Avoid masks if your child has a sensitivity to sound. The sound of their breathing inside of their mask might cause issues. If they want to wear a mask, have them try on for a few minutes before buying it.
  • Let them run around and play in their new costume at home. It can help them be more comfortable for the big night. If they are unsure about the costume encourage them to wear it for increasing lengths of time leading up to Halloween.
  • If you do opt for a one piece costume,  have your child wear a lightweight shirt, or PJ’s under it to keep the costume seams from rubbing against their skin.

Trick-or-Treating

Trick-or-Treating can be hard for kids with SPD. It’s noisy and crowded. Decoration will be flashing or moving, and people are rushing from place to place. It is a perfect storm for a sensory meltdown.

It will take time to learn what the warning signs are for your Ninjas triggers, and even knowing them; you still might miss them. You might want to try a word or signal your child can use when they start to feel overwhelmed. Plan and have a safe space for your child to take breaks as needed.

Halloween is a contradiction to all our “stranger-danger” lessons. Encouraging interaction with strangers is a tricky situation for children with SPD that struggle to understand social rules. My Ninja is a super-social kid and will engage with everyone, which is fantastic that he is friendly and kind to others, not so much when it comes to his safety.

We navigate that sort of situation by participating in our church’s Trunk-or-Treat event, and the “stranger-danger” rules are still the same. However, It’s a community that we know well, and feel comfortable having our Ninja engaged socially.

Some other suggestions to help manage Trick-or-Treating:

  • Walk the Trick-or-Treating rout with your Ninja ahead of time, so it is familiar to them, and you.
  • Go out at dusk. There will be more light for your child to navigate with, and the streets will be less crowded.
  • Bring glowsticks or a flashlight. I will have each of my children wear a glow bracelet on their ankle should they run ahead of me; I can quickly locate them in a group.
  • If your Ninja can still fit comfortably, have them ride in a wagon.

New Traditions

If Trick-or-Treating is too much for your Ninja, make your own Halloween traditions instead of the norm! Maybe your tradition could be whole family dressing up and sitting on the porch to pass out the candy to fellow kids. Or you might consider hosting a small costume BBQ with family and friends. If all that still seems too much for your Ninja, a quiet costume move night with all their favorite treats might be just the ticket!

Whatever your Halloween traditions are, old or new, remember to be safe! And have fun!

*feel free to share your costume ideas in a comment below!!*

photo credit: Julia Raasch

Sensory Saturday: DIY Halloween Childrens Costumes

Fall is in the air, which means all things spooky and pumpkin themed are being rolled out across box stores everywhere. With this in mind, it only seemed fitting our Sensory Saturday be dedicated to some great DIY Halloween costumes for the sensory sensitive Ninja’s out there! No funny smells, itchy-scratchy fabric, or uncomfortable fits here. Just everyday wear made over to be spooktacular fun.

For your Sensory Ninja- try out this quick and easy no-sew Ninja costume from Paging Supermom

DIY No-Sew Ninja | Sensory Ninja

Maybe your Ninja would like to be an Elephant? Better Homes & Gardens has put together an adorable, sensory friendly and no-sew costume + patterns!

DIY No-Sew Elephant | Sensory Ninja

Superhero’s more your Ninja’s speed? Twin Dragonfly Designs has a whole lineup of you guessed it, no-sew Superhero costumes! PLUS a mask and gauntlets! Sensory and budget friendly!

DIY No-Sew Superhero | Sensory Ninja

Check out three sensory perfect no-sew DIY costumes at Primary! You can buy their clothing items or pop into your local store and pick out custom Dragon or Unicorn colors.

DIY No-Sew Dragon | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Dragon How To

DIY No-Sew Unicorn | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Unicorn How To

DIY No-Sew Wonder Woman | Sensory Ninja

No-Sew Wonder Woman How To

You really can’t go wrong with any of these sensory friendly, easy to do, no-sew costumes. I love how simple it can be to add or take away props or makeup depending on what your Ninja likes.

I would love to see what you and your Ninja come up with for Halloween! Add an image in the comments to share your inspiration!

photo credit: Tanalee Youngblood

I Saw the Sign: Visual Processing Disorder Symptoms

We use visual processing to read, write, and tell the body where it is concerning objects or people.  Unfortunately, for young children with Vision Process Disorders (VPD), their first vision exam (at age five) will not typically detect any indication of VPD.

Children who are most at risk to have a visual processing issue are those who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Parents and teachers may attribute specific visual issues behaviors to SPD and are unaware that it could indicate a VPD.

Academic Signs

  • Poor tracking when reading *
  • Loss of place or needing a finger/marker when reading
  • Difficulty with handwriting (visual-motor planning) *
  • Difficulty with copying notes from the board or other sources *
  • Difficulty identifying words or letters
  • Confuses letters, numbers, and shapes.
  • Displays poor visual memory
    • (i.e., phone number, words, letters, and notes) *
  • Becomes overwhelmed with large amounts of information on a page
    • (i.e., math paper with several rows of problems) *

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches in the forehead or temple *
  • Closing or covering an eye
  • Turning or tilting the head to seen an object *
  • Having an unnatural posture when reading or performing sustained visual tasks *
  • Difficulty with movement or sports
    • poor balance and coordination *
    • poor eye-hand coordination
  • Looking out of the corner of the eye *
  • Poor eye contact *
  • Squinting
  • Stares into space *
  • Poor Spatial awareness *
  • Light sensitivity
  • Fixation on light patterns (including windows or blinds)
  • Gaze aversion
  • Does not follow where someone else is looking

* I’ve stared symptoms my Ninja struggles with

It is important to understand that glasses or medication will not correct a visual processing issue. Children who have a VPD will often show improvement with Vision and or Occupational Therapy to help strengthen visual processing and visual-motor planning.

The best way to support your child academically is work with your school and get an IEP plan in place. Specific accommodations for a child with VPD can include items like a printed copy of the teacher’s notes for your child to highlight or fill in information during lectures.

Children will not grow out of VPD. There are, however, many tools and resources available to improve their skills. Children with VPD may still struggle with this issue into adulthood.

Things to keep in mind: VPD is not dyslexia, ADHD or SPD. Although many children with VPD struggle with attention and focus, it’s can be attributed to the fact that their brains cannot process the information they are seeing. If you think your child may have VPD you can go to this www.covd.org to find a developmental optometrist in your area.

photo credit: www.AssistedSeniorLiving.net

Life Under the Microscope

When you start out on this path of discovery, be prepared to have your life put under the preverbal microscope. Everyone and I mean everyone will be looking down the eyepiece lens adjusting that “fine tuner knob” to judge every single aspect of your life. How do you live, where do you live, what is your diet like, what do you watch and when? How much physical activity is in place? You’ll be asked about socialization patterns for the adults and children. It will be all of your life, every moment of every day, being accounted for the: “ON AVERAGE…?”.

For me, it has been a dishearting, frustrating, and exhausting three years of paperwork. A few times in total annoyance I would just huff and mutter loudly “I DON’T KNOW!” To which some well-meaning front office staff member would respond “It’s O.K., any questions you have just ask the doctor.”

I had to know my health history all the way back to the great-grandparents, my husband’s medical history, my Ninja’s medical history…even the bits before he was born. I had to remember how many weeks along I was when he was born, his birth weight, length, and what time he was born.

How did they expect me to even remember that?

I have three! THREE! boys. I’m lucky if I get their name and birthday correct. I felt like I was in front of a firing squad and one wrong answer would send me to my grave!!  To top it all off, I had to contend with what one specialist thought was important vs. what another did not. The paperwork Q&A was never-ending. Don’t even get me started on the nurse/doctor conversations. It was like being a broken record. I still don’t know why the doctor will walk in and ask the same questions I just had spent a half hour answering on my medical forms. Did they think I lied?

At one point in our process, I seriously started to have second thoughts and doubt! It was the dreaded reality that maybe I was overreacting? Maybe he was just being a boy. Maybe my Ninja doesn’t fit into that perfect little box the school likes to call “normal.” Let’s be honest, our public school system is set up for well-behaved, rule following, overachieving girls. I am not saying that boys can’t be all those things. I’m well acquainted with several bright, well-behaved, little guys. But overall, if you look at it objectively, for whom is the classroom structure modeling more? In my humble opinion, girls.

I remember I was sitting in the Neurologists waiting room filling out what felt like my hundredth medical form and I absolutely dreaded the possibility that I could be chasing my own shadow. At that point in our journey, no one had been able to pinpoint the underlining cause of the symptoms the Physiologist had noted. Each specialist said that “things were a bit off,” but they couldn’t say what or why.

It was the longest year for me. Every new specialist appointment was months out for new patients, and each doctor would end our twenty-minute exam with, “we recommend that you follow up with…”

So, we would follow up with one specialist after another, chasing the “perfect” explanation of what is the cause and how to treat it. We rounded out with a total of seven different physicians and specialists. Our Ninja was examined by his Primary Care Physician, a Physiologist, an Opthomologist, a Neurologist, and a Pediatric Behavioral Specialist. He also was evaluated by an Occupational Therapist (OT), and Physical Therapist (PT).

It was a lot of paperwork, followed by a lot of questions. No words can describe the feelings I had when family, friends, and the school staff wanted answers that I didn’t have, which only added to my self-doubt. Nobody could give me definitive answers. Once we had the OT and PT evaluations, we had direction and a “this is what we can work on” but no firm diagnosis.

My point—because I do have one—is that after three and a half years, we still don’t know how what or why. My Ninja has been described as an enigma. So, for now, we have two “working” diagnoses. One so he can receive the OT and PT he needs. The other so he can qualify for an IEP at school—which required evaluations by two separate Speech Therapist, and another Phycologist.

Our journey started out bleak, the light at the end of the tunnel was not even visible. Now it is a tiny pinprick, but halleluiah! It’s a light! Don’t doubt. Don’t give up. Do whatever you need to do for your Ninja! Even if that involves closet crying and screaming into a pillow—I’ve done both—but don’t you ever let the doubt win! Why? Becuase like my Ninja, your’s is just a brilliant, empathetic, brave, hardworking, loving child, who just wants belong and needs your help to overcome their individual challenges. It’s worth all the paperwork, and it’s priceless when you see that glimmer of light in their eyes!

photo credit: Bruce Guenter

Can you see that: A Closer Look at Vision Processing (part 2)

Vision has a very complex sensory job to do. It helps our brain to remember, identify, and judge where our physical body is within our surroundings. If our visual processing is flawed or taken away entirely life will become challenging very quickly.

If you missed the first half, I recommend you read part one and then come back. Because Vision Processing Disorder (VPD) is an involved topic I broke it down into two parts and today am finishing the review of the remaining four issues:

What are visual processing issues?

  • Long or Short-Term Visual Memory Issues: Children with either long-term or short-term memory issues can struggle to remember what they’ve seen. Reading and spelling will be challenging as well as using keyboards, calculators or even recalling what they have read.

What would you say is the one word that would cause you nightmares? Mine is, SPELLING! Why? Because studying spelling words each week is a living nightmare. The one thing that has helped most is a free app called “Spelling Bee.” He is far from perfect, but 8/20 is an incredible achievement! Also, one of the games he plays on the app has sliding letters across the screen from the left and right. After working with this app for a little over a year, my Ninja can successfully track and pick out the letters he needs to spell a word. HUGE deal!

  • Visual-Spatial Issues: Children with visual-spatial difficulty will struggle with judging where objects are in space, i.e., how far things are from them or each other, and where characters or objects are located in a descriptive narrative. Some children may also find telling time or reading maps difficult.

After our full evaluation came back, it was SHOCKING to see in black and white my child described as “floating in space.” Visual-Spatial Processing is a huge roadblock for our Ninja. It was also relieving to finally understand why he had to touch everything around him all the time, or why when we would be out for a walk, he would stop in the middle of the road and not at the corner as instructed.

Honest moment here: I truly thought he was just a boundary-pushing punk. Yes. I called my child a punk because that’s the best way I can describe his behavior before I understood. Obstinant and defiant. It turns out that he couldn’t judge where he was in his space. I felt about 1″ tall for a month, but now I have perspective, understanding, and knowledge, which has empowered me to advocate for my “seeking” child!

  • Visual Closure Issues: is when a child is unable to identify an object that is missing part or parts of it. i.e., a bike without wheels, or a drawing with missing details such as a bird without its beak.

When given an evaluation for Occupational Therapy (OT) my Ninja was asked to complete the look of a shape. He sat very studiously (well for him that is) which means he was bouncing here there and everywhere while attempting to complete the other side of a triangle with a square in its center. It was a mess. I am happy to report with a lot of hard work on his part and a fantastic occupational therapist that he can now complete the other half. Not neatly, but with better accuracy than on his first trial.

  • Letter and Symbol Reversal Issues: Children that switch and substitute letters or numbers when writing is age-appropriate until age 7. If they continue to struggle with correct letter formation, it will begin to affect reading, writing and math skills.

Children with VPD may not know that they see the world around them differently. In fact, many VPD issues get misdiagnosed as Dyslexia and ADHD. Because a child will exhibits classic ADHD or Dyslexia symptoms such as the struggle to maintain attention, reading, tracking and sustained focus.

To avoid being misdiagnosed, I would encourage you to research and understand VPD. I would also urge you to find a Developmental Othomologist to evaluate your child. (Check out www.covd.org to find one in your area) Be sure to express any concerns you have when making an appointment.

Should your child have Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) it may present some challenges during your exam. However, with time, a patient and kind Othomolgist, they will be able to obtain the visual information they will need to make a proper diagnosis.

Never forget to advocate for your child’s healthcare needs. I took our Ninja to a well respected and noted Othomolgist in his community. After our first follow-up appointment to discuss results from testing (that he did not even perform), I didn’t agree with his assessment and course of suggested treatment. So, I took my Ninja to get a second opinion. I’m very thankful I listened to that “mom voice”! I found another well-respected Othomolgist, waited on her new patient list for a month, and had an entirely different experience. She was hands-on and worked with us at each appointment. We were able to put in place a treatment that has helped my Ninja.

Don’t be afraid of that shine plaquet on their walls. Speak up (respectfully), and ask questions. Doctors are human too and capable of error. Being a voice for your child never wrong!

photo credit: Dmitry Ratushny

Did you see that: A Closer Look at Vision Processing (part 1)

Vision is a sensory that goes far beyond the concepts of how well one can see. The information from the world around us is utilized and processed by our brain, not eyes. We all knew that, right? Of course! It was a well-taught fact when we learned about the five senses in grammar school.

Logic would lead us to the next question: how does our brain use the information it is receiving every second, of every waking moment, of every single day? Well, we use vision in everyday life for things such as visual motor skills and visual planning, visual memory, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

WOW! Our eyes and brain do this all on their own, without us having to do a thing (other than look at the world around us). Sounds like another thing we “just do”, like breathing. We don’t think about how we see; our body just does it.

What are visual processing issues?

Understood.org breaks it down beautifully for us. I’ve summarized it here…with tidbits from my Ninja’s experiences with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and visual processing issues.

There are a total of eight possible visual processing issues. No one is limited to just one, in fact, my Ninja has a few. Because this is a huge chunk of valuable information I’ve decided to cover the first four now and the remainder in a follow-up post. They are as follows:

  • Visual Discrimination Issues: This means that a child will mix up letters or shapes, and the orientation of objects, i.e., “d” for “b”, left from right, and top from bottom. So a child might write a letter “d” in place of the letter “p”.

While Visual Discrimination appears to be dyslexia it is in fact not. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, that cannot be reversed. While Visual Discrimination can be greatly improved with vision therapy based exercises to help strengthen eye control and movement as well as visual processing.

  • Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination Issues: Kids with this specific issue will have difficulty finding shapes or items on a page of information or maybe a specific toy from a large pile, as well as being able to pull a shape or character from its background.  The “Where’s Waldo” books might cause more frustration than joy, and Waldo will probably remain lost.

Thankfully, this is not a big stumbling block for my Ninja. He will at times struggle, but that happens more often when he is tired. It’s also one of his sensory triggers that we have learned to avoid or work through.

  • Visual Sequencing Issues: Children with this type of issue will have a difficult time seeing the order of symbols, words or images. They may skip lines when reading or writing and struggle to copy information from one source to another. They may also reverse or misread letters, numbers, and words.
  • Visual-Motor Processing Issues: Children with this issue will struggle with writing, and their ability to coordinate the movement of other parts of their body. They may be clumsy and have difficulty copying text.

Before my Ninja received physical and occupational therapy he was very clumsy. As an infant, he crawled or walked right into walls and furniture. Sometimes, he would bump his head or hand on the object again before moving to the side to avoid his stationary roadblock. Can you even begin to imagine what a crowded room would do to him visually? It caused frequent toddler meltdowns.

Conclusion

Even though I’ve only covered four visual processing topics, we already get a clearer picture of how essential it is for our eyes and brain to work in tandem. The struggle for children with SPD and or any Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) is a compounded daily struggle.

I would like to encourage you,  the next time you notice a parent struggling with a child, not to jump to conclusions. Please, keep in mind they might be facing challenges such as SPD or VPD.  No matter how good a parent might be, children can express themselves in ways which present as “acting out”. It could be a coping mechanism; with parent and child doing the best they can.

I don’t have perfect children—all kids have bad moments. Either way, having perspective, and knowledge is a powerful set of glasses to help us all be a little more patient and kind to those around us.

photo credit: frank mckenna

Finding Joy in our Sensory Journey

The other morning I had brunch with a new friend whose child, like mine, has some Sensory Processing Disorders. We were chatting about the school our kids attended and I shared with her some of the struggles we had with my son’s second-grade teacher and the school’s principal. It was the time in our process of attempting to “diagnose” a cause for the behavioral struggles, and find ways to support him. He would get up and leave the classroom without permission, avoid bring home his work folder, and obstinately refuse to do certain class assignments. He would essentially just shut down.

These behaviors resulted in trips to see the principal and losing recess privileges. There were many pre-conclusions about what was wrong with my son. Most of those circled around behavior correction, compliance, and comparing him to a “normal student” with an expectation that he should be able to behave more like his peers.

It wasn’t pleasant and left a very bitter taste. I remember feeling that he was misunderstood, and I felt sad and alone in the fight for my child’s success. Unkind words were said by both teacher and administrator. I experienced a huge low.

As I relived some of those moments with my friend, I was shocked to realize how much my son and I have grown and overcome together the past couple years. While the sting of days past is still felt, I also have peace for them as well.

The struggle to understand, sleepless nights, frustrated tears, exhausting worry, anger and my resentment at unkindness, have shaped a hope I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Oh, believe me, I can for sure muster up some of those old friendly feelings, but I also feel so much accomplishment and freedom from it. Maybe I’ve learned to let go a bit, to shrug off the annoyed looks or words; we get them often from people who just don’t know or care to be patient. But for me, I have chosen to seek joy in our successes.

We have difficult days ahead, but more and more often they are 100% filled with fantastic bliss. That feeling is priceless, I hope you can build on that, and cherish it. When those bad days come-because they will most certainly come-take a moment to remember the victories you and your child have won. That’s what will make all the difference in how you face new challenges. 

photo credit: © Terri Moore 2017

What is Sensory Processing?

The human body is amazing! From the moment we are born it automatically kicks into a full functioning multifaceted working machine. It’s astounding how everything comes together and just works! Well for some of us anyway. 

Sensory Processing:

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.

Now that we have a textbook definition of what sensory processing is let’s play a game. Question: How many senses make up our sensory processing?

Did you think 5?

I’m sorry but the answer is 7! 7! and if just one isn’t working correctly…well if you’re exploring what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) means, then you’ll start to have an idea of the impact.

Internal and external environment is processed through the following

  1. Vision (ocular)*
  2. Hearing (auditory)*
  3. Taste (gustatory)
  4. Smell (olfactory)
  5. Touch (tactile)*
  6. Movement (Vestibular)*
  7. Joint and Muscle Awareness (Proprioceptive)*

The stars next to each of the senses are areas in which my child struggles; some areas more than others, but they all interrelate.

SPD can affect people in only one area or-like my child-in multiple. While no child will experience SPD the same as another, they are put into two groups, and in some cases, they can overlap. There are the Sensory Seekers and Sensory Avoiders. For example, my child does not like loud, noisy environments-avoider, where on the other hand he seeks deep pressure-like hugs or tightly fitted clothing-seeker.

What causes SPD?

The STAR Institue for Sensory Processing Disorder and their collaborators have been studying this very question. And so far their research suggests that it is inherited. So all you parents out there asking “was it something I did?” the answer is no. It is a DNA thing. Other factors are complications with a pregnancy or birth, as well as some environmental factors. (for more information check out spdstar.org it’s fantastic!)

Bottom line

It is unfortunate that children-like my own, suffering from SPD, are often times misdiagnosed – and therefore often inappropriately medicated- for ADHD. SPD can look like Autism Spectrum Disorders or even ADHD. I was told by two teachers that my child could have ASD or ADHD (good thing they aren’t doctors.) Remember, YOU- the parent! not Grandma, or Auntie or even the teacher knows your child better. If you feel like your child could have any kind of sensory delay speak with your child’s doctor. Be prepared to hear that it is “normal.” My pediatrician is an expert when it comes to diagnosing ear infections, not so much when it came to SPD-he totally missed it. We actually avoided our doctor altogether and took our child to get full evaluations from a psychologist. Whatever you decide to do, know that you are the only one that can/will advocate for you child.

photo credit: Johannes Plenio