Girl Child has a legally valid document that states clearly what accommodations she is entitled to at school because of her unilateral hearing loss. This document is called a 504. It’s a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is different than an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan.
Coming to terms with the fact that she needed one was long and slow for me. You see, her so-called disability (a word I really hate) is not something you would notice immediately, but it’s there. Our reasoning was always, “well, she lives in the world, and the world isn’t going to bend to her or coddle her along. We’ll help her get through it and she’ll be armed with the skills she needs when she grows up.”
This is the part of this post where I call myself an idiot for thinking that way. Feel free to do so as well.
The truth is, she needs it. She’s in a classroom full of kids who are noisy, and part of having unilateral hearing loss is difficulty localizing sound. If you are a person with bilateral hearing – try this experiment. The next time you are in a noisy public place, put one finger in one of your ears. Or the next time you drive down the road with your radio on, direct the sound to one side of the car. It’s harder to hear the whole thing, trust me. Your brain starts to work a little harder to catch everything. You may even find that you get tired and start to kind of tune out.
That is my daughter’s reality 24/7. You hear in FM. She hears in AM.
After our experiences in first and second grade at a private school, we realized that in order to really have her needs addressed and understood, she needed a public school setting. Trying to get what you need for your child with a smile and a handshake wasn’t effective at all in our particular private school setting. Case in point – Girl Child’s first grade teacher decided that she didn’t see a difference in her attentiveness based on where she sat in the room, so she moved her around to a position in the classroom that wasn’t optimal. I didn’t have a legal leg to say, “No, she has to be HERE. Not THERE.” To their credit, though, they did some things very well with Girl Child, just not enough for our comfort.
Public schools are (supposed to be) well-versed in drawing a straight line between your child, the law, what they must provide. I’ve affectionately deemed them The Village Of School Professionals. I wish desperately that we had figured that out sooner. Of the many mistakes that we’ve made since becoming parents, this was a big one.
So, last year Girl Child got all the testing she needed, and while it was scary, it was necessary. By the middle of the school year the 504 plan was ready to implement, based on the results of her tests.
This is what her 504 entails:
This is what I do over and above her 504:
1) Talk to the current teacher – the first one to be involved in the implementation of the plan – about classroom options for the following year. Ask if there is a teacher he or she believes would be a good fit for your child in the next grade.
2) Find out if the school has any special equipment available that would assist your child AND the school comply with the 504. It may not occur to them that such equipment, being used in one classroom, might be shared or moved to another classroom. I’m speaking in our case specifically about a Sound Field system. Girl Child will be in a classroom this year that comes equipped with one.
3) BEFORE the start of the school year, go introduce yourself to your child’s new teacher. This is a BIG ONE. They are scrambling to get their classrooms ready, etc. In other words, they’re busy. Go in, say hello, and let them know that your child is on a 504 plan, and that if they have any questions about your child’s plan, how they can reach you. Establishing a friendly, open, and accessible relationship with them early is key. The teacher will likely ask you questions about your child’s plan, make it a point to check it out, and be prepared in advance of school starting for how they can get your child off on the right foot.
4) Check in with the regional Educational Services District case worker if your child was assigned one. This is the website for our local district: http://www.nwresd.k12.or.us/. This will obviously vary by region and state, so a big caveat to that piece of advice is: check with the school if this is an unfamiliar entity for you.
Be noisy, but nice. Whipping through the school doors, fists up, guns-a-blazin’ isn’t a good way to unblock road blocks. Save the heavy ammunition for when you really need it. That being said, don’t stop until you get the services your child needs. They are legally entitled to it.
Please – if you are a person who is familiar with the ins-and-outs of educational accommodations, add your advice in the comments. (I love comments, especially if discussion helps pay something forward.)