Thursday, September 1, 2011

The 504 Meeting: Every Child's Right to an Education

We had our first 504* meeting of the school year yesterday. In August! Yay! Jack started school two weeks ago, and normally they like to wait a few weeks for a new teacher to get to know the student, but I really pushed for a meeting as early as possible so we could establish some ground rules before things have the chance to go downhill. Better to get some agreements in place early, than having to do damage control later.

Charlie and I spent a lot of the summer reading and preparing for the school year, deciding which issues were most important to address this year. PE will continue along the same path we established last year: he'll participate in everything he's able to, but the PE teacher will allow him to be a coach or her helper during any activities which are too competitive (ie. liable to provoke meltdown-inducing frustration). Aside from PE, our biggest issue is with the dreaded H-word: homework!

Almost exactly a month ago, I read this fabulous article by Elise Ronan, posted on the Special Education Advisor web site: Homework for Children with a Disability. Referring to any child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD, Ronan says,
"After keeping it together all day in a very challenging environment the child then comes home to hours of extra work . . .
"They walk in the door and absolutely let loose. It can be a fit about anything. It's not really the object of their ire but rather the releasing of all that pent up tension that they have felt all day." 
I like to use the expression "Lightbulb Moment." Reading this article was one of those, maybe even a giant Spotlight Moment, with a dash of thunder and lightening thrown in for effect. This explains the tears, the tantrums, the whining! From the moment Jack gets into the car at the end of the day, he's already stressing about how much homework he has to do. "I'll never get it done! I'll be working on it for hours! Mrs. X is torturing me!"

As much as I try to convince him that it'll be okay--we'll look at it and figure out what needs to be done, I'm certainly not going to make him do homework till midnight and no, Mrs. X is not determined to torture him--he's simply overwhelmed by the thought of having to do more schoolwork after having been in class for seven hours already, as well as by the volume of work required. The policy at Jack's school is 10 minutes of homework per grade level. This year he's in 6th grade and expected to be able to complete 60 minutes of homework per night. There's the problem. He's just not.

After having talked to Jack's doctor about the homework issue at his last appointment, I sent him an email and asked for his support before going to our 504 meeting yesterday. He very kindly sent this response:
"I am in support of a modified homework plan for Jack based  on his disabilities of Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.  I recommend this be part of the discussion for his IEP. Jack is currently able to complete only 20-30 minutes of homework nightly."
With doctor's note in hand, we went into our meeting yesterday morning. A doctor's note is a very powerful thing to have. I highly recommend it. It's like Kryptonite. After handing over a copy of Dr. M's email, both the Vice Principal (the administrator in charge of children with special needs at our school) and Jack's teacher agreed to negotiate a modified homework schedule for Jack.

As of now, Jack is only required to do half of the assigned math problems (focusing especially on the word problems). We will still do our best to get through his vocabulary and grammar assignments, which are easier for him, but we sit at the computer and read the questions together. He gives me the answers, and I type them up and print them out. Part of what was overwhelming him was the amount of writing required to complete his work. Writing twenty sentences out by hand seems like a lot of work to him. It's so much faster and easier for me to type it for him. He's still learning and coming up with the answer, but he doesn't have to do the tedious (to him), time-consuming writing by hand.

Whew! What a relief for all of us! No more meltdowns. No more tears and tantrums. No more losing my temper with him. He's still learning and completing his coursework, but with much less frustration and stress for everyone. We're hoping this plan will help him to better cope with his assignments and make for a more successful year.

*For those not familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, it refers to the rights granted by Federal Law to students with disabilities. Section 504 bars discrimination on the basis of a disability and guarantees a child's right to an education, despite their disability.


  1. What a relief for you and Jack.

  2. Much less stressful in the afternoons. Now about those special projects like book reports, etc . . .