Yesterday we had another IEP meeting for Jake. This one was to discuss the findings in the behaviorist’s Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). She also had a Behavior Improvement Plan (BIP) proposal for him. We also discussed how much more he can rely upon the assistive technology in the classroom to assist in learning and accomplishing his goals. The meeting went fairly well. For the first time in a while, I feel hopeful about the rest of Jake’s 4th grade experience.
Essentially, Jake avoids tasks that are difficult…or that he perceives to be difficult. His preferred method of escape is to engage in a pretend play where he either uses small objects as his characters in his story, or he’ll draw his characters/animals and let them live in this fantasy story that he spins during instructional time. The behavior occurs 100%…yes, 100% of the time during large group instruction in the regular education setting. The problem? While he’s not disruptive to the class, he is disrupting and sabotaging his own learning. He misses the general lesson and explanation and then is lost when it comes time to do an in-class assignment. Case in point, last week he was observed during Social Studies. He engaged in his little play thing during the 20 minute discussion, lecture, only pausing when he was directly called upon by the teacher. Then, they had a worksheet to fill out, and he had no idea how to do it. He broke down in tears and ultimately ended up failing the worksheet. *sigh*
Another issue that was discovered is that he finds silent reading time to be very difficult. The behaviorist thinks it is that it is partially his sensory needs that get in the way, and that he just finds reading too exhausting. So, he’ll go through multiple books, flipping through them to look at pages. He never reads any of the books. (We see this at home at night when we do reading before bed. He just looks at pictures, and never reads the words.) One thing at home that has helped is to have him use his Read2go app on his iPad. With that app, books are read to him and highlight each word as they are read, so he isn’t missing anything or getting tripped up on more difficult words. He is engaged and has enjoyed a few books that way.
So, starting today at school, we sent in his home iPad with the app and his headphones. While we wait for the district to provide him with his own dedicated iPad, we will send his back and forth to home and school. He will be able to actually make productive use of his reading time. Also, he’ll be able to go in the reading corner and read in a sensory-friendly position. At home, he likes to be upside down or dangle his feet over the edge of the chair or bed. But he is reading and getting exposure to literature, so we’ll take it.
On the assistive technology front, the consultant is going to request that Jake gets his own iPad from the district. Then he’ll have access to his books from home on the Read2go app, and he’ll be able to use Paper Port Notes, Learning Ally, and a few other apps to help him with school assignments. A huge benefit is that his textbooks are available on the Learning Ally app, as long as an authorized educator downloads them for him. It would be huge for him to have all of his books available to listen to, rather than just read them on his own. The apps help him track during reading much more successfully than when he does it with his finger.
To address his pretend play during instruction time, we are going to try to have him doodle on some bubble letters. He can color them in, make some designs, scribble, etc, but he will have to have his hands on his desk during the class instruction. He has to engage in the doodling for 5 minute intervals. If he does that without issue, the teacher will increase it incrementally to see how long he can go over the next few weeks. The behaviorist discussed how doodling (like vines, or letters, or scribbles or flowers) can actually be functional and help any of us attend during a lecture or discussion. Jake’s drawings don’t serve the same purpose, because he enters his own world and taps into that pleasure source where it is comforting and overrides all the “hard” aspects of school. If he can learn to just doodle to help him pay attention during class, it would help. He can draw his pictures and do his little pretend play during his free time.
The upside to this whole process is that we found out how much Jake is capable of doing. He is actually quite smart, and even when he escapes the hard part of learning, he is still achieving B’s and C’s with accommodations and modifications. He has capitalized on these learned behaviors to escape the difficulty of new material and topics. Learning new material is hard. It is challenging. And because he’s been allowed to just quietly go about his merry way for the past 4 years, he has learned that he can avoid the difficulty by quietly engaging in his own world. But that isn’t going to help him learn and be prepared for educational settings as he gets older.
Imagine how much closer to grade-level he’d be if he were more present during the instruction part of the day. Imagine how much more he’d learn if he were able to successfully participate in the class activities and discussions in his general education classroom! Surprisingly, when he’s in his resource room, he is much more on topic and engaged. He is able to be a part of the group discussions and keep up with the instruction. The behaviorist only saw the avoidance behaviors during individual work time, when he should be working on a worksheet or reading a chapter on his own.
Our goal, here, is to get him more engaged in the classroom, and get him more functionally participatory in the setting. If this proves to be too challenging for him, we have our answer that he does belong in a more restricted environment. But, for now, we are going to try to help him learn how to be successful in a regular education setting…which is where Hubz and I, and a few others, think he belongs!