Reinventing the Wheel

Published on August 16, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

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I have to confess, I thoroughly enjoy watching infomercials.  I just love how they can take a basic, every-day task which is generally not that problematic, and hyperbolize the scenario so much that it becomes, to me anyway, incredibly funny.  You know the ones:  A woman tries to put on a blanket as she sits on the couch, but this is just so onerous.  What should she do?  Unfold it?  Which end first?  Or. Just. Sort. Of. FLAIL IT ALL ABOUT IN FRUSTRATION!!   Thank goodness there is a blanket-ish thing that can also serve as a jacket-ish thing.

Or a man becomes overwhelmed by the burden of a wallet…which let’s face it, IS really hard to open without those bills flying out into the wind.   Plus, I just can’t drive over my wallet without some damage occurring.  Don’t know why, but every single time, something breaks.  AH-HA!  There is a clip for sale, one that you can place in your pocket, and which neatly holds dollar bills, AND which you can drive over!  How this is touted as a new invention, I don’t know; haven’t bill clips been around forever?

My favorite might be the couple on the beach who is just flabbergasted by the struggle of alternating sunglasses and eyeglasses.  Do I put my eyeglasses on first and THEN the sunglasses?  Or should I put on the sunglasses and hold the reading glasses up to them?  Oh no, that won’t work, the sand is flying everywhere!  There must be some way to address this need which is not covered by the very obvious answer.  Right?

Okay, so now that you’re wondering what the heck any of this has to do with special education, let me tie it all in here.

It’s the beginning of another school year, and for many kids with disabilities, this means entering an entirely new program, or perhaps even a new school.  Which, unfortunately, means that a whole lot of parents are about to become very frustrated.  Transitioning from elementary to middle, or from middle to high school can be tough for virtually all students, but for those with special education needs, the adjustment can be disastrous.  Yet, these tend to be the exact times when many IEP Teams suggest reducing special education support.

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Sadly, some school district staff then appear mystified by a student’s sudden regression when their services have changed.

After all of these years practicing special education law in Connecticut, it still amazes me.  I’ll be contacted in the Fall by a parent who is extremely concerned, because ever since school started they have seen their child deteriorate.  So, I’ll start asking questions, and usually they will point out some major change in the student’s special education program:  new school; fewer services; withdrawal of a paraprofessional.

With some districts, when the answer for why a student is failing is the removal of services that were previously working, they simply will not acknowledge the obvious.

This is especially true if the reduction in support was something which the parents objected to at the last IEP meeting.  And it’s just so frustrating to look around the table and hear the staff saying that they are just stumped as to why things are going so poorly when it couldn’t be more clear.  Let’s see, you’ve removed the child’s paraprofessional, OT, PT, and given him a new speech pathologist…why could he be reacting so badly?  I just don’t get it!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  the world would be a much better place if people could just admit it when they made a mistake.

Look, I get it, we can’t have kids stuck in the same school, program, or IEP model indefinitely.  There are lots of good, pedagogically sound reasons to change a student’s programs, even if it’s going well.  We want to foster independence, and increase our expectations of children with special needs.  And, sometimes it takes a while for a student to adjust, and we probably shouldn’t go around giving up on programs just when they’re getting started.  But when we try something new, and the kid really and truly tanks, do we really need to do a lot of investigating to figure out what is going on?

Do we really need to reinvent the wheel?

Or prescription sunglasses?

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