Thursday, December 8, 2011
Welp. We don't learn everything in graduate school.

Not even remotely.

One thing I wasn't really prepared for was the fact that school systems, the government, even teachers/support staff... may not have your kiddo's best interest in mind. As an outsider, (and someone completely inexperienced with needing services), I always figured that if a child needed therapy, they got therapy. If a child needed some kind of AAC device, walker, writing tools, they got them. The reality is so far from this...

A lot of it stems from the core issue of money. Isn't money always the problem? You cut services here and there for X, Y, and Z, trying to save money for salaries, supplies, etc. Kids end up in group therapy sessions, 30 minutes weekly, with severe language impairments. One SLP may serve several schools in a county with over 100 kids on his/her caseload. I really marvel at the fact that any progress is actually achieved in the school setting.

Recent changes have brought a new system implemented in Florida classrooms called "RTI." You can read more about RTI on Wikipedia. They give a decent overview.

On the surface, RTI appears absolutely fabulous. We don't want children stuck receiving special education services when really all they needed was a little extra smaller tutoring sessions. We want to look at all children to identify potential learning disabilities/areas of difficulty so that we can implement appropriate services. RTI is supposed to be a structured way to go about this.

In reality, it is ... a beast. A nasty, paperwork filled, service delaying beast. I am incredibly happy that I do not work in a school system.

As you know, I haven't been practicing for very long. Despite my short stint so far as an SLP, I've seen several children get stuck going through the different tiers, for weeks at a time (!) making no progress and struggling. I see these kids come in to me upset, frustrated, and just wanting to give up on reading/language materials because they aren't receiving the true intensive services they need. In order to receive the highest tier of services -- or the most intensive service available -- a child must progress through the different tiers. The less intensive interventions must first be tried before a child can be moved to more intensive programs. Now what I didn't tell you is that the FIRST step in the RTI process is teacher observations and data collection. This alone could go on for a few weeks. Then you have smaller groups within the classroom... then perhaps tutoring of some sort... then maybe pull out into a resource class... I mean this goes on and on. You end up having a child struggle for an entire school year, failing miserably while they progress through the RTI tiers. And it starts all over again the next school year if an IEP is not put in place.


Let me add here that this is not always the case I'm sure. I'm sure there are school systems and areas that implement RTI wonderfully, and children receive services as needed, and there aren't frustrated parents and outside SLPs pulling out their hair.

Since I have digressed, let me get back on topic! The idea of this post is to NEVER GIVE UP THE FIGHT! And yes, my friends, you will be fighting.

It is not an uncommon situation for me to see a child that is just simply not being served well within the school system they attend. Parents must really become proactive at this point and become their child's advocate. It is our job as SLPs to support and educate parents to the best of our abilities so that they are able to successfully advocate for services. It can be a true fight to get the services that you know your child needs. But... never give up the fight.

I have had a recent case that I have been sending letters and e-mails back-and-forth regarding a child not receiving the services I believe she requires. We finally have an IEP meeting set up to discuss this matter. I cannot even begin to explain the weird crazy "We-made-progress!" dance I did when I got the e-mail. This matter has been going on for months, and the folks in charge did the best they could to brush us (the parent and I) to the side. We did not give up. We gathered data. We presented clear arguments. We cited IDEA (oh yes, we went there). We fought for our child! And hopefully, I will report back that it was successful.

Fighting for services is an unfortunate reality for parents and caregivers of special needs children. Again, I will state, as the parent/caregiver, you are your child's advocate. SLPs out there -- help to empower the families you see by providing them with information and support. Help them to be successful advocates to provide the BEST services possible. 

Hoping to report back that this particular "fight" was worth it... until then, adios!

Have a good "fight the system" story? Share it to encourage the good fighting mojo in others!


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