Your Child’s IEP: Focusing on What They Can Do

parent-teacher-conferences-frustratedIt’s IEP review season, at least in New York State, and that means it’s time to sit down and listen to the educators and therapists who work with your child to discuss his progress, or lack thereof. Depending upon the relationship between the members of your child’s teaching team the meeting will either be a positive event where you can walk away and feel assured that he is on the right path, or it can be an exercise in frustration as you leave feeling that his needs are not being met.

During this time there is a tendency by all involved (parents, educators, and therapists) to focus on the learning and behavior problems that your child has, and little time is spent discussing the strengths that she brings to the classroom. If goals are not being met on an IEP and there are still areas of weakness, then the solution is often to increase time spent on these areas. Is your child struggling with writing? Then let’s make her spend more time on isolated writing exercises. Is your child having problems following multi-step directions? Then lets pull him out of the classroom and make him practice this skill.

While I am not against providing children with opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge through practice (Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a specific task to become successful.) I do think that we often focus on the weaknesses of our children at the expense of their strengths.

Stanley Greenspan, in his book Playground Politics: Understanding the Emotional Life of Your School-Age Child, asks us to imagine how we would feel if we were made to spend 90 percent of our time doing tasks that were difficult. One example he uses is what if you were right handed, but made to write with your left hand several hours a day. The results would be frustrating and would not make you develop enjoyment of the task. Dr. Greenspan’s suggestion is to “spend no more than 50 percent of practice time on a child’s weakness,” the other 50 percent of the time should be spent on developing your child’s natural strengths.

Think of ways to help your child use their strengths to develop their weaknesses. By working together with your child’s IEP team you should be able to arrive at some creative solutions, rather than simply writing down the same old frustrating exercises.


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Why is it a Deaf Thing?

see_what_sayingDespite the fact that my cable carrier provides me with a ridiculous number of channels it can be difficult finding anything of interest to watch. Flipping through the channels the other night I was fortunate enough to come across the documentary See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainer’s Documentary. I don’t remember hearing about it when it was first released, but I sure am glad I found it.

Directed and produced by Hilari Scarl, the film follows four deaf entertainers, Robert DeMayo (actor), Bob Hiltermann (drummer), CJ Jones (comic), and TL Forsberg (singer), as they work towards finding their way in the entertainment industry.

Despite their obvious talents and success in the “Deaf world” the entertainers are virtually unknown in the hearing world. The documentary is not preachy, but instead it highlights the divides and separations between two cultures, and what it might take to break down barriers.

One of the most powerful moments for me came when Ms. Forsberg, who is not “Deaf” but rather hard of hearing, describes how her hearing loss leaves her trying to fit into both the hearing and the deaf world, and in some sense being rejected by both. I get that. That is exactly where my son and I fit in, or don’t fit in.

This lack of fitting in is one of the parts of the Deaf community that I don’t understand. Many of the complaints I hear from the Deaf community are about the barriers that the hearing world sets up, what I don’t hear though is that the Deaf community puts up just as many barriers to those with different degrees of hearing loss who want to enter the Deaf community. I get the pain, frustration, and discrimination that the deaf community has gone through, but I also get that there is strength in numbers and that it’s important to allow new members into a community. Erecting barriers won’t lead to greater acceptance, but instead to further isolation.

I used to be hearing, now I have hearing loss. I know others who used to have hearing loss, and are now deaf. Hearing, hearing loss, and deafness are all just different points on the same continuum. Realities that can shift seemingly overnight.



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