Thursday, April 14, 2016

IEP and Assessment Overload (recap)

I'm happy to report that I'm past the "assessment fog" that persisted for the past, what, two months?

Assessments are good. I mean, it's important to know 1) where one (Elena) is regarding her physical/academic/social progression, 2) what are the next logical areas for improvement, and 3) realistic preparations for the future. Better to know than get, in Elena's words, "the bad surprise".

But they can really be a downer. Assessments can show you how far behind the curve your child is, if/when they will need intervention, and shove it in your face how hard it is to integrate them into normal life.

In our case, it was just…a lot of information. I guess I've been doing this long enough that the setbacks/differences aren't upsetting as much as this whole process (preparing for middle school from elementary school) is overwhelming. So. Much. Information.

I'm going to break down this recap into private assessments vs. school (public) IEP notes.

Private Assessment.

This isn't necessarily to prepare Elena for middle school, but our PT stressed to me on multiple occasions that Elena should be evaluated for Occupational Therapy. I did this through the school earlier this year; E didn't qualify for services. Basically, she was in the lower to normal range of fine motor skills (finish the picture, trace a certain line, identify shapes in an array, pick up small items, etc.). It took her longer to do the tasks, but she still scored within "normal" range. There was a definite deficiency in visual (FIND SPECIFIC WORD) processing--where the question involved moving a shape in your mind to find the answer. Basically, if Elena had to involve a motor process--pen to paper, for instance--she was going to perform better than if she had to do it in her head. In itself, this is not highly unusual; lots of people perform better when using hand-eye-mind coordination than just one at a time.

I chewed on that for a while. Our PT strongly suggested I do a private evaluation--where they would look at things that would impact her life in general, not just her academic performance. Jason and I were definitely looking for some help in this area, mostly related to time management and self-care. We had an OT assessment performed last month. Elena qualified for services. Her greatest deficiency is called "executive function", which as far as I can tell, means "figure out what you need to do in a space efficiently, in order, so you can leave that space and do the next thing". As in, get dressed in your room,  and do other things in your room (deodorant, brush hair, put hair up) before coming downstairs (instead of going up the stairs because you didn't put on socks, or shoes, or leave the only hairbrush you'll use up there etc.) . Use the bathroom before sitting down to eat, etc. Our OT gave us this homework (which she has never done before, for various reasons): When Elena wakes up (not on a school day), tell her to make her own breakfast. (I told her there was a smaller container of milk in the fridge; there is plasticware in a lower cabinet). She had to figure out what to do, what to move, how she would carry, etc., and problem-solve through the task. (It took a long time--but she did it, very well. No disasters yet, but when they happen, it'll be a learning situation).

Other things to work on involve her arms not at her sides (washing her hair in the shower, for instance--she's doing well, but it's a work in progress), ordering, organizing (regarding homework, diligence in cleaning up (otherwise she'll lose work, or trip over her things, or forget them, etc.).

The OT assessment and IEP were basically done around the same time; I didn't talk to E about them because I didn't want her to feel like there were all these things "to fix". Really, these are things that a lot of kids work on--but for Elena, they pile up and up and up--I don't want her to be overwhelmed with therapy or improvement tasks. It's a new idea for me. AND all this was going on during the school play production--so, a lot was already going on, so I figured any OT work was going to have to wait until after Spring Break.

School IEP.

This was a huge one. We met FOR THREE HOURS. I wasn't apprehensive of this meeting--Elena's educational team is truly fantastic, and want the best for her. There was one rep from the middle school (Special Ed; the PT was not available), and some of her current educators. Overall, the meeting was positive--very eye-opening for me.

My only experience with middle school was mine. The short version is it was fine, mostly positive; technologically lacking and no one had ever heard of an IEP. Times have changed, and I feel like new parents of middle-schoolers feel like they must be going to some alien nation where the only familiar thing is their child.

The Cliff Notes: Elena will have a full-time aide. This will probably feel like a setback for her, b/c for the first time she doesn't have one this year--and she's doing well. The school is just so much bigger, the classes much further apart, the necessity to carry and be on time--she'll need one. She will get her homework in advance (apparently most kids get the week's work on Monday anyway), and will have extra time to complete tests and large projects. She will have two sets of books (one at school, one at home) so she does not need to carry them at school. The kids get laptops--I asked how heavy they were. They said "pretty light"--that doesn't mean she can carry them, though. We'll have to test whether or not she can manipulate it and put/carry it in her backpack and plan accordingly. They have stairs and an elevator (only on one side of the school), they'll need to figure how what's fast/safe/appropriate. She'll have adaptive PE (pull-out), on a schedule she wants; they will also let her work on skills that they don't necessarily work on at school (her choice! she could bring in her bike, for instance, or do trampoline work, or try to work on tennis). We're not sure about lunchroom yet. She will have a special chair for each class (they made one last year, looks just like everyone else's chair but has a clear footrest so she has her best posture). Since there are multiple classrooms, she will have to have multiple chairs (that will have to be moved when the classes exchange). The logistics are complicated. They have a science lab, where kids sit, or typically stand. They use flames, for instance (what will E do? She can't use her hands without leaning on a surface, not great for heating elements or knives, and she can't sit down or be in a stander--what if she spills something caustic or catches fire? Things to think about!).

If that wasn't enough, the biggest issue I see for Elena is time. Things take her longer--walking, writing (they want us to use talk-to-text, I have mixed thoughts), self-care, moving things, eating. I tried to find something that could be done to save her some time…she needs more rest than her peers, so staying up late isn't a source of more time. Here middle school starts later than elementary--which means they get home later, and have more homework, making the after school-before bedtime squeeze even worse. After school they have cool activities (non-sport) that I think E would love; I don't want her to feel like she can't participate, or has to spend all her time with tutors. My best quick fix is to drive her to/from school. I figure that saves 20-30 minutes on each side of the day. I've been trying that lately, and it makes a huge difference (more on that in another post) in terms of fitting in fun, homework, and good rest.

There's more, but it's a jumble in my brain and I've put all the paperwork to rest for a while because I don't want to look at it right now.

Overall--I think we are in good hands. Her team want what is best for her, they want to work with me, and more importantly--they want Elena to have control over what she thinks is important. Elena is nervous about middle school; a lot of kids are. Jason thinks it'll be great (eternal optimist!). Elena tends to pleasantly surprise me in situations like this, so I'm crossing my fingers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


I don't have a lot of time and I've been putting this off for a while...

We're going on quite a few adventures this year. My knee isn't 100% yet, but I can move around and carry pretty well. Elena's knees are in a "holding pattern" of sorts, so it seems like we can put off surgery for this year (keeping fingers crossed!).

I could really use your help, Doodlers in blogland!

In no particular order, we will be visiting Atlanta, GA; , Berlin and Munich, Germany; New York, possibly Chicago, IL and maybe one other trip this year in addition to typical family occasions.

The domestic trips will most likely be by car or train; Elena has never navigated a big city (like NYC) so I'm not sure what to expect in terms of how many blocks is too many vs. cab rides. I feel like the kids would love the NYC subway experience but I'm worried about navigating the crowd and steps with so many people. How do you get around so many curbs/bad sidewalks with a wheelchair/stroller/crutches? Do I bother bringing her wheelchair (not to much of an issue if we drive) or do we just use taxis? Are there certain events that are great for kids--and should I be concerned about crowds?

The overseas trip is a huge deal; we've never traveled as a family overseas, and the last time we went anywhere as a family on a plane Elena could still fit into a stroller. We are not planning on bringing her wheelchair or stroller (I figure we can rent one?) and I'm not sure how much walking is involved, or what sort of transport we will need. If you have any advice for plane/train travel, or Berlin/Munich attractions/mobility advice I would *really* appreciate your comments! Feel free to comment below or email me at cpmom2009 AT yahoo DOT com.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Dark Cloud

Well, it's been a while.

Elena knows (and approves) everything I write here, so I've thought long and hard about what I should post.

The reality is, I'm having a rough time.

Rather than go into detail about every mundane thing, I'll wrap it up like this. We spend a lot of time trying to teach Elena concepts, skills, self-care, etc. We give her opportunities, and try to help her make some of her own. But...they don't stick. She's like...a sieve.

Math concepts we worked on, and scored well on, vanish. She repeats everyday tasks four times because she didn't pay attention to get it done the first time--or second, or third, even when she's in a good mood and has no outside distractions. She doesn't seem to care that her actions (or lack thereof) hurt other people. Her idea of problem solving is nearly nonexistent.

She's had at least two new assessments (OT, which I should probably elaborate on in another post) and they have been helpful. Right now we don't have time for any new appointments (extra therapy, tutoring, sports, or other enrichment) b/c she has Drama club 3x/week (not all rosy there, either, as her involvement with the play and her castmates is lacking) and fitting homework and home life is time-consuming enough.

I wouldn't say these observations are new. I would say I am extremely discouraged that they have persisted so long, with very little improvement.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Late December Post

Somehow December came and went.

I had a goal of finishing (the majority of) Christmas shopping and decorating the house by the first weekend of December, so we could spend family time enjoying our time and celebrating the holiday season. And I did it! But...I didn't feel like I had a break until three days before the New Year. For those three days, I did almost nothing. And it was pretty great.

We ran into Santa while picking a Christmas Tree!

We went to tree lightings, Christmas caroling, and (free!) carriage rides!


We spent the day in Richmond with some family friends. There was a Christmas festival going on at Maymont, so we stopped by for live music, period costumes, ponies, beautiful scenery (and great company!) and a tour of the mansion.

Lots of great trees to climb!

E and her little helper

We hit the Botanical Garden at night, finally! I've been wanting to go for a long time. It made for a pretty late evening, and it was COLD. Still fun, though.

Viv loved the Rainbow Tunnel

We made ornaments and cookies. We played games and decorated the tree (again, with Elena doing all her own walking and hanging!). We watched The Nutcracker and played with friends. We played our favorite holiday tunes (A Christmas Together (John Denver and the Muppets) is our favorite next to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker). We saw lots of Christmas lights. The weather was unusually warm...we joked about sunbathing for Christmas.

And the Tooth Fairy was pretty busy during December too.


We had a wonderful time celebrating with family. Jason and I spent a lot of time cooking, so most of my pictures have an apron. Here's me trying a jelly bean in our Jelly Belly Flavor Challenge game. 

"Baby Wipe" flavor. Not good.

And since I spent all Christmas Day making it, here's my Bûche de Noël. How does it look, mes amis?

Recipe from Bon Appétit. Yum! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rainy Family Day

The University presented a Family Day during the Film Festival. There were lots of events in which to participate, but the day was very rainy and it was crowded inside the building.

I wanted to take the kids especially for the instrument Petting Zoo--where kids could get up close and personal with different instruments and students that play them. Vivian tried almost every one, and got a sound out of everything she attempted except the trumpet. Elena didn't have as much luck; her mouth muscles and breath support are not as strong. She still enjoyed trying, and especially liked the cello.

Testing the Cello

Playing the Trombone!

Playing in the rain

A blog reader recently commented on what we do in rain, given Elena only has one pair of shoes, really. I found a pair of "overshoes" on and they work beautifully in rain! There are several styles available, but the sizing is questionable. Elena wears a size 2.5 New Balance shoe, and the size overshoe we bought is a size "S/M". The overshoes are not high quality, and they are hard to get on/off but they do work well for our purposes. This has been the first time E could really stomp/splash in a puddle!

Her umbrella hat continues to be of good use also. The attachments on the head band are a little uncomfortable, so I think I"ll be making some changes by sewing on a sweatband of sorts.

Rain Ensemble

Another change of note: look at her crutch tips. These are called Flexy Foot crutch tips, and they are awesome! For some reason, Elena has been wearing through her regular crutch tips--about 3 pair per month. She's been growing, and I hadn't realized this wear and tear with her last pair of crutches, but it is what it is. These Flexy Foot crutch tips have lasted over a month, are still in great shape, and have helped ease her fatigue while getting around on crutches. They are expensive; I bought them for $35.00 per tip (they do have replaceable end caps, which I haven't had to buy yet) but right now, I think it's worth the cost.

Pre-Thanksgiving Round-Up

Life has been good here. Girls are busy with school (Elena is working hard, and getting great grades!) and Vivian has her own activities--gymnastics and violin. I knew she was getting weary of "going to all Elena's appointments", so I've managed to carve out some time by picking the kids up from school and by fitting in a few activities for Viv during E's therapy time. It's a constant but rewarding juggle.

Here is what we've been up to in the last month!

Graves Mountain Lodge

We met up with Grandma and Grandpa at Graves Mountain. It's a beautiful place, nestled in a beautiful valley that's absolutely breathtaking during Fall Foliage season. We missed the dazzling colors by a week--but it was still fun.

With Grandma at the booths

Dad and his girls

Models after chase in the grass

Hay Maze was great fun!

The best parts were the apples and the Hay Maze--it was the first maze the kids have been in that we didn't have to be with them. Most parents (not me) could see over the bales well and find their kids if they were gone for too long. The maze was challenging, the kids loved it, and they both eventually escaped!

Vivian's 7th Birthday

Vivian chose "Interstellar Cinderella" as her birthday party theme this year. It's a space-age, tinkering, empowered-girl spin on a Cinderella story. Her friends had lots of dress up options--princess, fairy, with some space-steampunk accessories to jazz things up. (I spent a lot of time making the Space Goggles...a lot of time.) They were tasked to work together to make a robot, then program the robot (Jason in the designed robot "suit") to rescue cupcakes abducted by rogue space aliens in their spacecraft (cardboard spaceship outside). Then it was fort-making, running around playtime. Elena did a fantastic job as a guide--she really helped the younger kids work collectively without giving them too much instruction--a very mature role that she did very well.

Assembling the Dad-Bot

Spaceship on the move!

Vivian enjoyed her party. Her big present, now that she is SEVEN, was she got her ears pierced! She loves them. She did have to get one ear re-peirced, as she ripped out an earring (just ripped the post off, did not rip her earlobe) while taking off a bike helmet. The other big deal about being seven is she has a mouthful of loose teeth...I expect most of them to be out by the end of the year!


Viv's party was actually celebrated on Halloween, so it ended up being a pretty busy day. After the party we put together the kids' costumes. Vivian wanted to be "regular" Cinderella (using a dress-up we had) and Elena originally wanted to be Inspector Gadget, but I didn't have the time to put that together. Instead, she chose a minion--which was great, b/c we put a pair of Space Goggles to good use!

E as Minion

Bubble Adventure

I had an idea of making huge bubbles for a long while now, but haven't been able to walk well enough to try it. Now that I can, we set out on a Big Bubble Experiment before the weather turned really cold. We set out at a nearby park, mixed our ingredients, and voila!

Photo credit: Elena

Photo credit: Vivian

It was a little too windy for making huge bubbles--they could have been the size of cars, but I couldn't close the bubble in time. My arms/hands were exhausted after making bubbles for over an hour (the wands are huge poles)...I'll have to make some changes next time to try to conserve energy and lighten the weight. The kid not chasing bubbles was the photographer--Elena really enjoyed it!