As most of you know, I’ve been working with our school to determine if we should pursue an IEP for my son before he enters into middle school so that we can get the Study Skills class for him to do his homework at school. This seemed like a reasonable solution to a major trigger for my son. My concern is that if homework battles continue to escalate, his rages may jeopardize his future.
On Thursday, the principal informed me that due to his current state test scores being average, he wouldn’t qualify for the IEP. And even if they did test him, they wouldn’t run all the tests, instead they would only evaluate his academic skills and ignore all other testing, including those that test for executive and motor functions (areas that can be a deficit for bipolar children).
So the following day, I did just that. My call was placed with the head of the 504/IEP plans at the middle school. She shared with me that we absolutely could not get into the Study Skills class without an IEP. Then she told me, “And you can go back to your principal to tell him he is wrong!” When I asked why the elementary principal and school psychologist told me it was a possibility, she responded that it was because of all the politics and the cutbacks. She then went on to share how she lost her job for next year due to these cutbacks. I respond, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Then we went on to discuss other options for his homework, such as reduced problems and longer deadlines, but she followed that with, “but none of these options work, the kids still fall behind in the end.” The other option presented was an exploration class that comes with additional math homework.
When I asked her if she could tell me more about the Study Skills class in case we were able to get an IEP, she became very inpatient with me. She then demanded to know what illness my son had and why he needed these accommodations. I explained that he had a working diagnosis of bipolar, but we started our 504 plan with the diagnosis of mood disorder, depression, anxiety and impulse control disorder a few years back.
Then her tone changed and she became very skeptical. She asked me what type of bipolar diagnosis he had, if it was 1 or 2. I explained that the last 2 psychiatrists and 2 therapists think it may be bipolar 1. I then explained that getting the Study Skills class can be a huge help to him because he’s able to hold it together at school, but once home, he can’t hold it in anymore and goes into rages over the stress of homework.
In a very condescending tone she said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing! If he was bipolar, he wouldn’t be able to hold it together.”
Her words felt like a slap in the face. Another person who knows nothing about my son or his symptoms, doubting what is painfully our reality. She might as well have called me a liar.
In response, I felt a desperate need to convince her. I started by citing all the resources that support that bipolar kids can hold it together in public and further explained that they weren’t free of symptoms, rather they were just using restraint to avoid a public rage. As she continued to question the validity of my son’s illness, I began explaining all of his symptoms and episodes. This I deeply regret because it was none of her business.
She then went on to trash our former HMO saying that they were horrible at making proper diagnoses. I tired to explain that our new HMO supports this same working diagnosis and that our current psychiatrist suggested that we get an IEP before middle school starts.
The conversation ended with her telling me that, “If his grades are good at the yearly review the middle school could decide to take away his current 504.”
When I tried to ask her more questions about this, she said that she refused to answer any more questions. Her exact words were, “I have spent 30 minutes answering your questions, I am done talking with you!”
I then asked, “Who then do I ask these questions? You’re the head of the 504 plans!”
She respond, “Call the district and they can answer all of your questions.”
Don’t ask me why I said this, I was confused and completely devastated that I was put into a position to defend my son’s diagnosis, but also, because I was still trying to be polite.
So there I am in the principal’s office asking to speak to him about this call, when the first thing he tells me is, “ I just received a call from the middle school principal who was told by his staff that I had called to demand that my son be placed into the Study Skills class.” He then went on to lecture me on how I need to approach the middle school gently and not be pushy and demanding because this will lead to them not wanting to work with me.
Then the tears started to fall as I explained that I didn’t make any demands but instead was devastated that I had to defend my son’s diagnosis.
Mental illness is painful in many unexpected ways.
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My experience ends with an email from the middle school principal asking that I not contact the district but would really appreciate the chance to talk with me after the break. As for me, I regret crying.