First of All, Do No Harm

Aleczander, age 7,  had been getting speech therapy for the entire school year  when this language sample was done. Noelle, the therapist who had been seeing Aleczander in a small group for 30 minutes a week and 1-1 for 15 minutes a week toward the end of the school year, continued to reassure parents that Aleczander was making excellent progress. “He has all the sounds he needs,” Noelle trumpeted loud and long. “He can talk just fine when he slows down and uses his words.” The fact that Aleczander never displayed this skill to parents at home or to others in the community appeared completely irrelevant to school staff. The fact that he’d started stuttering was concerning.

It isn’t as if parents had been doing nothing. During Aleczander’s first grade year, they requested and received additional evaluations in the areas of specific learning disabilities (including dyslexia), gross and fine motor functioning, and speech and language development. The Full Individual Evaluation conducted by the school district had stated that Aleczander had no cognitive processing weaknesses, severe academic deficiencies in all areas assessed, and severe behavior problems caused by attention deficit disorder. Parents knew the ADHD thing wasn’t right, but had no idea what was wrong!

During all of first grade, Aleczander’s teachers reported that he was making excellent progress in reading, writing, and math and that when he wanted to he could do the work just like the other children were doing! When asked for work samples to document these statements, teachers pointed to a computer-assisted literacy program known as Istation. Istation results, teachers stated, indicated that Aleczander was ‘making more than a year’s worth of growth’ and ‘was well on his way toward mastering all of the special education goals set for him.’ When parents asked for dyslexia instruction, their school’s special education director told them that it was district policy not to put dyslexia into special education paperwork. In April 2016, the school finally assessed Aleczander for dyslexia. That report stated that Aleczander had no cognitive strengths and thus did not qualify for dyslexia instruction under 504.

May 2016

Aleczander had been receiving special education services for his first grade school year and it was time for his annual review. His school had been giving him minimal speech therapy, and sending special education teachers into the classroom to help Aleczander master the general education curriculum. At this point in his educational career, the only people who thought that Aleczander was doing well were his special education teachers, who vehemently insisted that Aleczander had mastered his goals, made more than a year’s worth of progress, and was well on the way to mastering grade level curriculum. Dad and Mom kept telling teachers and therapists that they just didn’t see the progress school officials were touting, however they were dismissed as being overly indulgent (Dad), and overprotective (Mom).

Sadly, Aleczander, who has congenital developmental dyspraxia, had become school phobic and was unable to walk into the school building each morning without his parents accompanying him into the classroom. He’d taken to saying, “Don’t look at me” to adults and children whenever he felt their gaze upon him, and screamed “I can’t read!” every time anyone tried to engage him in academic activities. During the course of Aleczander’s one year of Free Appropriate Public Education for children with learning disabilities, Aleczander developed such alarming symptoms that the professionals who saw him over the course of the Summer and Fall of 2016 (most of them Pro Bono) feared medical conditions such as brain tumors or epilepsy.

On 9.20.16, Dr. Jerry Tomasovic, pediatric neurologist, said, “Aleczander doesn’t have a brain tumor or epilepsy. I can order a lot of medical tests if you want, but they’re not needed. He has developmental dyspraxia and the symptoms you’re seeing are the result of stress. He needs speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, and most of all, he needs a new school!

The good news was that Aleczander’s parents had unilaterally enrolled him in a private school for his second grade year. His special education services were now a thing of the past and he was out of harm’s way. The bad news, was he needed academic and speech therapy worse than ever! The new school didn’t have that.

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