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/

 

   

 

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

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