Rice demonstration at the IEP; tempers flared

We had our daughter’s IEP today; the one where the school made their offer of FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education).

We got to a point in the IEP where I started to feel like we weren’t going to be able to collaborate because the school’s attorney was pressing the issue that we can’t agree on how many hours of what services to provide.

I spent the last few minutes of my input explaining all the features of what an appropriate setting would be for Jillian: that she needs half the school day (4 hours) in intensive, distraction-free one-on-one tutoring with multi-modal (read: affecting many senses, like hearing, visual and kinesthetic) forms of delivering information and the other half of her day in a small (up to 4 kids) language-based class. On top of that, she should have daily one-on-one speech therapy, physical therapy for 2 hours a week, and occupational therapy for at least 2 hours a week, also one-on-one. There are other features of an appropriate program which I will not get into here, for the purpose of brevity.

The school offer was half way between what she has now and what she needs, according to her assessments and specialists.

But I insisted that her program as it is now is not acceptable, and that we need to move Jill into an appropriate program right away, no time to waste.

So I decided it might be the time to bring out the visual aids to help the IEP team all be on the same page about how Jillian learns. I brought rice and some containers: a bucket, a one-cup measuring cup and a tiny plastic cup holding no more than 2 Tablespoons’ worth.

The rice represents information, like everything from the alphabet all the way up to curriculum information.

The bucket represents our long-term memory: everything we hold in our brain in an organized fashion.

The cup measure is a typical kid’s RAM: the short term memory that we use when learning something new.

The tiny cup is Jill’s RAM, which can easily overflow if we try to pour too much rice into it.

But the part that’s the most important to illustrate is that when we have a typical kid, we put the cup measure next to the bucket and we dump the rice from one to the other speedily.

Whereas when we illustrate Jillian’s process, we have to put the bucket all the way across the room and take that tiny plastic cup, fill it just a little at a time so as not to overwhelm her, and she has to carry it across a convoluted pathway of neurons, taking a lot of time, to get to the bucket just to dump in what little she can carry. If there are any distractions, that little cup may spill the information before it ever gets to the bucket.

What’s most important of all, is that she needs to learn strategies to organize what’s being dumped into her brain, because without the strategies, those pieces of information get stored haphazardly.

I think I went a little overboard when I gave an example of Jillian’s mind getting distracted by spilling rice all over the room. Granted, it was only two tablespoons’ worth, but if you know how rice gets all over the place, you can just imagine the impact of my visual aid presentation.

The attorney for the school, Adam, got up from his chair and said “I think this meeting’s over! This is completely inappropriate!” Which made me feel really bad, because I’m kind of a neat freak and I was wishing I had a sweeper or a vacuum at that point.

But I think that it wouldn’t have made any difference how well we made our points, or how much we tried to explain what Jill’s difficulties are. I think the school had decided what they were going to offer, and that was that.

So we notified the school at the IEP meeting, with everyone present, that we were enrolling Jillian in Lindamood Bell on Tuesday, after the long weekend. I’m relieved that we don’t have to wait any longer to get her started on an appropriate education.

More to come…

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