Special Need Kids Or Kids With Special Needs?

alluI picked up the local newspaper this morning to find Special Education as the front page story (Toronto Star also wrote a thing or two here).   I’ll admit it — a smile crept across my youthful face and dark laughter roared loudly in my mind as I rode the subway to the downtown core. The school boards have finally been exposed! Truth be told!  Then the reality set in and the day went on…

“Special Needs Kids Often Told to Stay Home from School”, the title of the Toronto Star article read and I really had to scratch my head. It’s 2014 people – we have technology and knowledge at our fingertips, thousands and thousands of teachers out of work. Children with special needs are no longer locked up in homes across North America so why are children like A are just “Special Needs Kids” not “Kids with Special Needs? Are we really progressing as a society?

Will the average person remember this issue, do something about it today or bury it tomorrow and forget? What about the politicians? I read the same stories time and time again and the school boards crying, “No money.” The recent articles on this topic re-opened wounds I previously licked clean. The dejection of being wound tight in the red tape of our current educational system reared it’s ugly head again. Fighting to the death to ensure A had a Special Needs Assistant in his classroom.. only for him to be placed in a new school, “behavioural program” far from home. Ah well, remember — I pick my battles.

The article (and subsequent stories) leave us to pass the blame instead of working together to find a permanent solution. Children with special needs are casualties, one falling through the cracks every day. Parents on the front lines are left to fend for their families while others don’t even make it. Will anyone ever truly understand the challenges I face more than the average parent? Heck, most of the people I run into week after week don’t even know I have kids. I just don’t talk about how my day really was any more.  I’m so proud of my bright eyed boy – my driving force – but because no one I know can ever possibly relate, I keep quiet. “Good” is always the universal and simplest of answers. The constant whirlwind of doubt, perceived failure, anxiety, empowerment, success, sadness, anger, confusion, despair and more all directly related to the fight no one should ever have to fight.

I just want to know what the future holds for my family. Will my son be allowed to return to his neighbourhood school and learn in a regular classroom with support? Will he be able to hold down a job with the (lack) of support he receives today? Will he ever be treated as an equal? Am I doing enough? Will parents facing the same struggles be able to rise above? Most importantly – will change happen?



Yet another idea not received well..

A’s first day of school and subsequent days were fantastic. A stayed all morning on the first day with no behavioural mentions. And to believe that his principal wanted him to go home at 9am!! He proved them wrong again by doing well the following two days. I will be asking the teacher to write a log so that I can keep abreast of his morning in class. A was able to tell me what he did at school, what he had to eat each day and that he made new friends. He also divulged to me that he is bored in his classroom. What he is saying is not too surprising. His accomplishments are astounding.

He can count to 100, sing the entire alphabet, socialize well with peers his age and older and read many books by himself (the ones with lots of words). He is currently learning more about time, money, adding and subtracting. Daddy is a certified school teacher and thinks that A meets all the requirements for Grade 1. If he went to grade 1, he would be learning beyond socializing and block time. On the first day of school, I discussed this with J.L. but she wasn’t having it. She hasn’t got to know A yet and maybe a teacher to principal chat will get things moving. I feel the dreadful feeling again that any meeting with J.L will be a pain yet the nagging message in the back of my mind to try and get along as much as possible.

Today, I was told A had an excellent day but had difficulty cleaning up. Ms B’s response specifically was, “A had an excellent day but he struggled with clean up after circle time. I just let him stay there instead because I have 20 other kids to look after”. Her tone of voice and defensive response really cast a sour mood during the short conversation. She had two children left whose parents’ had not arrived yet she behaved as if she had a whole class left to dismiss. My response was to share A’s thoughts and to explore the idea of full day Grade 1 with an SNA/EA support. A meets many expectations of Ontario’s Kindergarten Curriculum such as;

  • identify and use social skills in play and other contexts
  • demonstrate an ability to use problem-solving skills in a variety of social contexts
  • demonstrate a beginning understanding of the diversity in individuals, families, schools, and the wider community (empathy)
  • demonstrate a sense of identity and a positive self-image
  • demonstrate independence, self-regulation, and a willingness to take responsibility in learning and other activities
  • demonstrate an awareness of their surroundings (A can tell you almost every store, most subway stations and street names with ease!)
  • demonstrate understanding and critical awareness of a variety of written materials that are read by and with the EL–K team (I like the Clifford book because I really like dogs)
  • communicate in writing, using strategies that are appropriate for beginners (he likes to write e-mails to Grandma – I’m sure that’s beyond appropriate)
  • demonstrate a beginning understanding and critical awareness of media texts

Ms B immediately dismissed this – again I heard its not age appropriate AND, read this, “I have many JK students who can read by themselves”. I’m beyond awe – what did the last school say about us?? Who is this woman?  I ask myself why is no one considering that A possibly has enough potential to try Grade 1. He would require an SNA most likely for transitional periods and the SNA is already available for children in Grade 1 and up according to J.L. So what is the harm? A has plenty of time spent socializing with older children and also again surpassing curriculum expectations for SK and JK alike. How is A hanging out with 3 year olds  for half the day any more beneficial than placing him with children who can model proper social norms (e.g. sitting at a desk) or talk about interests A’s actually interested in? It continues to amaze me how A’s teacher knows so much about the rest the class but hasn’t really commented on anything positive about his day other than he was “excellent”. Any word can become far from music to the ears after a while.

Furthermore, A shared that in today’s class that Ms B yelled too loud at William****** (changed to protect identity) and covered his ears while explaining. He went on to say that he wants to be in Mrs F’s class because she doesn’t yell at her class and he was told “writing is not allowed” and that he must draw dots instead. I believe that while children tell the occasional white lie, A is very much able to articulate his feelings. I asked him about his last teacher, Ms A, and her classroom etiquette. “I like Ms A, she doesn’t yell.. why can’t we go to Q.V? Ms B makes me feel nervous.” The more days A goes to school, the more he shares his feelings of sadness, nervousness and fear. Is all the progress A has made and the hard work we do at home all in vain??

Our first step is to draft a letter formally requesting another IPRC meeting for the ‘review’ component of said acronym. It should not be an issue since I have offered A’s principal copies of IPRC, SST and Safety Plan notes (and she refused). We have contacted our lawyer in the interim and will be also drafting our own letter in a few weeks. P and I felt it was best to naturally give the school a few weeks before sending our first legal letter. In the meantime, hubby and I have some work to do of our own.

Strategies For Parents Seeking Support in the Classroom

Navigating through the public school system can be overwhelming for many parents trying to obtain and develop educational support in the classroom. For parents of early school age children, the journey in getting special needs support immediately is even more difficult. Your child may have just received a diagnosis or have an older child in the public school system and need more information. While there are many wonderful community agencies out there, many are stuck outside of the school doors due to Toronto District School Board policies. TDSB school administration may not be as forthcoming with information as parents would expect.  What can parents of special needs children do this year and in the future to get support in the classroom now? In this post, I will be using Toronto District School Board as an example, based on my personal experience. Other School Boards may have different policies. Here are some strategies that have been successful in our journey to building a support system quickly.


  • Always remember you are your child’s best advocate. There will be no one else who can speak better for your child’s needs than you!
  • Understand the roles of those who work with your child at school. Teachers educate, observe your child in the classroom and can provide useful insight into your child’s strengths, weaknesses and identify goals in the classroom. Principals have the authority to make requests for Special Needs Assistants and teachers. Superintendents can override Principal decisions, suspensions and are your recourse should you not be making head way with the Principal. Trustees are publicly appointed individuals who are the final contact should you be unsuccessful with the teacher, principal or superintendent.
  • View the teacher and principal as part of the team, not the enemy. It’s easy to allow emotion to cloud the big picture and to take negativity personally.  Make friendly with the principal, however, do not be afraid to ask questions or speak up for your child’s needs. Make every attempt to sustain a relationship between your child’s teachers and principal.
  • Identify issues and information required to overcome it. Why does your child need support in the classroom? Is your child identified or gifted? How do you have your child formally identified? Do you want your child to be in a regular classroom with support or in a smaller classroom with other special needs children? These are all things parents should think about and KNOW when advocating for their children.
  • Ask your child’s teacher to write in a log. Sometimes, teachers do not have the time immediately after dismissal to talk about the day. Stay updated during these times by having your child’s teacher, EA or whomever is working closest with your child write about your child’s day.
  • Familiarize yourself with education acronyms, their meanings and purpose. It is crucial to know the different between an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and an IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee), for example. (Click herefor a list)
  • Familiarize yourself with applicable special education and human rights law. When you understand the law, you understand what is required of schools. If you feel your child’s rights are being violated, it may be time to consult a lawyer. (Check hereif you live in Ontario, on a budget and need legal help in educational matters)
  • Educate yourself about the school board’s Special Education program and ask around. TDSB shares very limited information on their Special Education program and the steps needed to get support in the classroom is not so clear. You will learn more by researching on the web, talking with different parents, teachers and more. I learned from a Trustee that SNA’s are appointed to a school based on student numbers in June BUT the Principal can request additional support staff any time.
  • Keep a binder or file folder for documents.  Go to the local dollar store and purchase a binder to keep letters, reports and more ready on hand. If you have enough time, you may even consider colour coding sections for easy access during school meetings.
  • Ensure your child sees his or her family doctor, pediatrician and specialists (if any) regularly; obtain any documentation for your records as you may need them to prove any diagnoses. Your child’s health care provider may also write letters supporting your children in receiving special equipment such as computers, learning tools from the Special Equipment Amount.
  • Document every conversation. As in our experience, it may prove useful to do so in your own. If necessary, quote dates, times and names of individuals you spoke with in your letters.
  • Make every request in writing. Want input into your child’s Individual Education Plan? Has your child’s school given you a date for a meeting? Not seeing results?  Sometimes schools do not honour promises that are made through a phone or in-person conversation. Therefore, it is in your child’s best interest to push the school a bit more and hold them accountable.
  • When writing letters, do not blame or belittle staff. Again, parents on this journey will often experience unacceptable discrimination or face situations that bother them immensely. Whether wrong or right, write about your concerns and feelings but avoid name-calling. Those who conduct themselves in such a manner will find their child is the one who loses out the most!
  • CC (Carbon Copy) every request letter to the area superintendent, your child’s doctor, specialists, special education department and if necessary, the media. The more people informed, the more likely there will be increased accountability. This strategy can push schools to meet deadlines and get what you want done.
  • Learn the types of meetings there are and other opportunities to speak for your child. There are opportunities available during School Support Teams (SST) meetings, one on one meetings, Parent / Teacher interviews, etc,. Always request a meeting, in writing, if possible.
  • Be involved. Parents are permitted to provide input for the SST, IEP, Safety Plan and IPRC. You may use your position as the parent to submit letters from professionals providing recommendations, techniques and overall support. If you cannot make the meeting, ensure someone suitable and well knowledgeable of your family is there or reschedule.
  • Bring a photo of your child to school meetings. This is an amazing strategy to remind everyone (including you) who they are at the meeting to discuss. Often, members of the School Support Team meet with a lot of parents and do not have an opportunity to put a name to a face. I find this tip to be extremely helpful at keeping parents calm and encourages positive opportunities to share with others a memorable story about your child.
  • Your child’s school has phoned you at work and asked you to pick up your child because they are unable to manage behaviour. What do you do? When you give into the school’s demands, you allow TDSB staff to create a negative environment for your child and an angry you. By enabling this behaviour, TDSB staff will call left, right and center and your child will lose critical learning time. The solution requires deep thinking on the staff’s part to find ways to managing the issue(s) at hand – stay put at work. TDSB phoned our family every day for three weeks straight – I did not give in once.
  • Provide the school techniques that work for you at home. While schools may or may not implement them, at least they remain knowledgeable and do have a new avenue to try should old Board techniques become ineffective (which often they do).
  • Consider involving a Social Worker, Behavioural Therapist, or more from a local community agency. A Behavioural Therapist may write a list of techniques that the school can use in its capacity and or may recommend that a special needs assistant be brought in to carry them out. TDSB and other school boards may try to discourage you from doing this, however, both Board hired specialists and those employed elsewhere have the same qualifications. Your child’s specialists may be readily available whereas Board ones have a lengthy wait list.(Remember: Schools do not have to allow third party agencies into the school unless the Board already has a connection with their agency which is why letter writing is recommended)
  • Learn to negotiate and pick your battles wisely. Very rarely will your child receive one Special Needs Assistant for their entire day or even everyday. While the infamous line, “1 SNA for every 600 students” is far from the truth, your child will have to share their support assistant with other students. The support you receive may not be in the form of a Special Needs Teacher or Assistant but rather a co-op placement or volunteer. The school and board are obligated to provide an individual who is experienced and educated in the area of your child’s specific needs.

While many children frolicked off to school for their first day…

ImageMy son sat on the couch at home with puppy dog eyes and his brand new Super Mario backpack. The questions for us were endless this morning; “Why am I not going to school today?” “When am I going to school, Mommy?”. While I could think of a million distasteful responses directed towards the Toronto District School Board, I simply explained that his new school are still figuring out what classroom he will be in. When A asked me the same questions again in a few short minutes, it became harder to lie. I hate lying to kids.

From my last post, A finally received a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) in the afternoon for the remainder of the school year. To accommodate our growing family, we have since moved into a larger house in a different ward, so alas, are at step 1 again. Atleast it feels like it. In May, I went to meet with A’s new principal who did not seemed to thrilled to meet me. I’m sure D.F. (A’s old principal) may have passed on the word that I am very persistent and in not so nice words. During that visit in May, S did not hesitate to make me feel unwelcome. She began by refusing all forms of proof of address because they were not from an utility company or had my spouse’s name on it. Afterwards, immunization was an issue. A is fully immunized, however, being that we moved and already provided this information twice last year – you’d think we’d get cut a break. Nope. Then when I mentioned that we would like A to start SK in September, she put on a big, fake smile and told us to come back then. Today, I dreaded the idea of having to go back and deal with S. To my surprise, I was introduced to a new principal, J.L.

Our conversation seemed positive at first as she asked questions that gave the illusion that she was truly interested in A, his learning and even boasted that she had her Spec. Ed qualifications. Gradually, the illusion was just that – an illusion. One teacher was permitted to persistently interrupt what I consider to be important learning time between parents and school administration. Not only did I feel like my time wasn’t valued, I was hit with the nauseating line, “We have 500 students whom all need access to our SNA”. Then came the double whammy – “A may not be able to start until next week”. J.L mentioned that A’s OSR was still at his previous school despite my efforts to get the ball rolling back in May. She also expressed concern regarding when and at what length A should start school although A has already been through full-day Kindergarten – many months without support at school. Among all that was mentioned, I was expected to pick up A from school if the school could not “handle” him. While the short conversation was blood boiling to say the least, I learned a lot. A’s new class, whatever one that will be, won’t have more than 20 students and will be a half-day SK class. J.L. stated she would contact me at the end of the day to let me know where they plan on placing A.

I went about my errands for the day was eager to return home to locate new contact information for the new Superintendent and Trustee for our ward. Just before I headed home, I received a phone call from J.L stating that A can start school tomorrow for an hour, progressing eventually to the full half-day. Once I got home, I shared the great news with A and our family. By then, it seemed like the thrill was gone for him as he probably could sense that it was going to be the second day of school not the first. We looked up J.L. on the Ontario College of Teachers, only to discover that the illusive feeling I picked up was right. J.L has no qualifications for Spec. Ed, in fact, has very little teaching experience in the classroom period.

Despite all that has happened today, the one thing that stands out is the look on A’s face when he couldn’t be at school like all the other little boys and girls in our community. No child should be excluded or sent home from their very first day at school due to lazy, incompetent school administration and staff.

Stay tuned for my next post on A’s ‘first’ day of Senior Kindergarten and  strategies to get a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) in the classroom for your child


ImageWe are expecting our newest addition to our family on Tuesday, February 21st. Therefore, I will be updating on our journey afterwards. We have a lot of information to share since my last post and I’ve been jotting down all the juicy details!

Stay tuned!





**This photo may not be used, copied or reproduced without written consent from the author of this blog or her business**

Please Excuse Us While We Think Of Some More Excuses..

The Principal might as well have said that today when I went to ask some hard questions. As you may or may not recall, A came home from school yesterday with cup hook screws. It was difficult to sleep last night let alone maintain my cool this Morning when I spoke with school administration about my concerns. While I will never send A to school in bubble-wrap, it all boiled down to lack of supervision in the classroom of which I maintained I felt was unacceptable. I toured the classroom again looking for the fire alarm A spoke of and found that it was within a child’s reach. Said fire alarm was also on a wall beside the door.

The principal, D.F., was quick to sympathize but the notorious “there are over 30 students in A’s classroom” line reared its ugly head. It was irritating to hear but better than the “we have 1.5 Special Needs Assistants for 800 students” line we usually hear from E.S., Vice Principal. I maintained that while I sympathize that teachers have to pay attention to every student, it is imperative  that children with Special Needs get adequate amount of supervision and an inclusive education – there was no excuse for A to come home with scratches from other students with no written explanation or even worse, coming home with dangerous objects he found in the classroom.

“We will look into it when N.A., teacher, returns on Monday and I will contact you sometime next week.”  It was the response I expected. I hate to sound pessimistic but I have a feeling the school will blame A rather than placing the blame where it truly belongs:

  1. At Board level (TDSB) for knowingly delaying families from receiving the supports that they deserve and are mandated by Provincial and Federal law – support that can enable the teacher with more skills to truly reach A and take pressure off
  2. At the Provincial level for failing to invest more in hiring qualified teachers to reduce class sizes and truly ensure that every child is reached

Children are our future; education and keeping them safe at our schools should be our priority.

Has Your Child Returned From School With………

Cup Hook Screws in their hand? Mine did this afternoon. We recently hired a walking buddy for A so that I can rest for the two weeks remaining in my pregnancy. His walking buddy dropped A off as usual and handed me two screws. By that time, A’s behavioural therapist had arrived for a scheduled block therapy appointment. I thanked his walking friend profusely and we said our goodbyes.

A told BT and I that he found them on the fire alarm and that N. A. (teacher) asked him not to touch the fire alarm but didn’t take it away. I asked him if he pulled them from the wall and he said no. Observing the thread area of the screw, I could not see any evidence that he did either. I rephrased all my questions and asked new ones to see if his answers would change. They had not.

This is not the first instance where A has not been supervised. On Feb 1st, 2012, N.A. asked me where he got the scratch under his eye. I responded and stated firmly that A did not leave the house with any scratches and did not enter the classroom with them either. A told me that a specific classmate scratched him and stated that they were both being mean to each other.

Other instances occurred in January as I personally observed A outside his classroom door. I made a few unannounced visits and peeked through the window to see A playing with a green train or other objects near the bookshelves while the other children sat in the circle. I noted that the teacher had not been using ideas given to her by us such as giving A a special place with his name on it, a cushion or having the EA redirect and sit on the carpet with him. In fact, the EA was not in sight for most of my viewings. A’s gym teacher Mr. O also admitted in the Behavioural Logs that he gave A a train to play with on several occasions so that he can teach Phys Ed to the rest of the children.

Class sizes in our province need to be reduced so that teachers have more time to focus on our children and reach every child. Parents should not have to fight to get Special Education supports that will assist their children in receiving an equal education. Nor should they have their children bringing home screws that could have harmed them or other children.

JK Classrooms Initiatives & Practices Equal For All?

I’m not sure.  I wrote back in A’s Behavioural log tonight for the third time about the class’  Borrow a Book program. Essentially, your child chooses three books and gets to read them at home for two days. Afterwards, they return them and receive three new books from the classroom. It’s a great way to get kids reading alone and with parents as well as an excellent way to teach responsibility (that they can grasp).

A has not received his books or the book bag since the Holiday Break.  Our family has been borrowing books from the Public Library and consulting our own library to compensate for the lack of books. Friday night, I inquired about the program and why A was not receiving any books. I had to ask my spouse to read the notes sent home today because it was illegible and clearly written in a rush. We gathered that he had a “bad” day according to the School but no mention of the Book bag.

From the Behavioural Logs being filled out minutes prior to dismissal (and backpack being completely open) to A not being a part of the book program, I can’t help but feel like A is being left out.

Elected School Trustees Providing More Solutions Than School Administration..

I contacted our Ward Trustee’s office this morning. I can’t say I was expecting an answer straight away; I ended up having to leave a message. Called the Area Superintendent’s office to request an Interview and wondered if I had the wrong number. The Receptionist who answered made it sound like it was her office, not quoting the actual name of the office. Again, not much professionalism.. When we had clarified whose office I was really calling, I asked to have a phone or in-person interview with the Superintendent. After sharing the juicy details – name, child’s name, school and reason for calling, she finally told me that C was out of the office for the week. Delightful. The Receptionist also asked for my phone number and said she would have C call me back directly. OK.. that’s something. Let’s see where it goes.

As soon as I hung up, the phone rang. It was the Trustee’s office returning my phone call. I began by thanking the individual I spoke with for returning my call so promptly. We talked for approximately 25 minutes where I shared some of my major concerns while she listened and paraphrased. Her statements to my concerns sounded authentic. She came up with objective solutions such as having the Special Education department call me personally and detail where A is on the list and the date of IPRC meeting. She also said that she would have the Trustee directly deal with E.S., VP and D.F. about their conduct. For the first time in months, I felt like I was heard!  While this was not what I expected, I welcomed the progress.

I will be asking for any dates, times or quotes on places on wait list in writing. TDSB violated Ontario Legislation by not providing certain documentation related to IPRC and continue to violate A’s human rights.

Toronto District School Board Website – a Parent’s Navigational Nightmare..

And there it is.. the Toronto District School Board website. What is supposed to be a tool for parents, students, members of the community and media is a maze even for the most resourced individual. I spent approximately an hour and a half trying to find where I could file a complaint about School Administration (VP, Principal, Area Superintendent).  After spending quite a bit of time this weekend putting my thoughts to paper, I decided to file a complaint through the appropriate channels before taking A’s story to the media.

I found their website to be difficult to navigate and not forthcoming. The search engine on their site has kept me waiting to no avail for the last three days. I eventually came across the Human Rights Complaint process for students which seemed to be more detailed than the Special Education section of their website. However, it did not discuss filing a complaint at Board level but rather provincial level. After spending 50 minutes at this point reading and navigating, I viewed the Ontario College of Teachers website for their complaint process but am referred to talk to a Board official. Who is the official to speak with if you have talked to the School’s Principal and Area Superintendent? (TIP: You can file a complaint not just against teachers but principals, including vice principals).

Nevertheless, I returned back to the TDSB to find more pertinent information. According to TDSB’s Steps to Address Your Questions & Concerns, my concerns are not listed under the general umbrella of issues. However, the Board’s website does state that a Trustee (elected official) can be contacted as a third step in any issues. Very vague for a concerned parent who already is frustrated with the lack of information made available to the public. After some more digging under our Ward’s Trustee page, I found a slightly more informative version of Steps to Address Your Questions & Concerns.  Trustee’s role may include facilitating a resolution between myself and the School Administration. I feel somewhat apprehensive to that idea after being so open to everything and getting nowhere. The media option seems to be a sure fire way of ensuring that the School Administration pulls up their socks (and exposes what may be happening to other parents)

Thoughts? Ideas?