Developmental Disabilities, Special Ed, and Retention: Q and A Part II

By on February 26, 2016

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your input. I am the one who wants Tyler retained, not the school. I really think he is not ready to be in the 5th grade, so it could be advantageous for him to stay in 4th grade. He was on grade level in 3rd grade math but has fallen behind this year. If he repeats 4th grade math with a calculator he might actually excel and end up motivated. If he was in the 5th grade, he would be taken out for math instruction.

Tyler has had speech therapy in school. He can pronounce all his words but has some lingering problems with “l” and “r” sounds. They tell me his language skills are ok because they can communicate with him but I, his mother, have a hard time understanding him. His stories are hard to follow and his sentence structure is jumbled. His pitch is high and his volume is low. Fifth graders are expected to have better communication skills. He doesn’t qualify for school OT or PT. He “graduated” from private PT services, although he has increased muscle tone in his heel cords and runs more like a young child, on his toes. He was taught how to run in PT but will only do it when instructed. His handwriting is perfect when an OT is by his side. He can manipulate any building/transforming toy…etc. They say he could just work at it at home.

Tyler is in a social group and he is doing well, although he really doesn’t seek out social interaction. We just had a Functional Behavioral Assessment. He is hard to motivate and his performance is hit or miss. He can get anywhere from 100% to 0 on his daily performance sheet. Today he got a 0%., which means, no effort. The team feels that they have tried everything. Basically we all are at our wits end. For example, he just happily handed me the sheet that shows “no work done today” and went right upstairs to play. I yelled to him “it’s homework time” and he gave me a sweet, “ok Mom” and took his notebook upstairs. He will get his work done, usually just one page of math and maybe a language arts work sheet. Sometimes he does it quickly and sometimes not. Sometime neatly, sometimes not. He is all over the place. If it is his day he will do it. They say it is the same at school.

Does this explain Tyler better? If you met him you would think he is an outgoing, polite, sweet, compassionate and happy 7 year old…..only he is 10! I may be the problem. He is happy. I do not want to ride him all the time. It doesn’t work. It just makes us both miserable. I have had long talks with him explaining to him the importance of an education and that he must try in school. I know he can do the work. I am just waiting for him to want to. I hope that along with everything else, maturing will help. Do you still feel that retention is a bad idea? I sincerely would like your opinion.

ANSWER: You’re a wonderful advocate for Tyler – and a mother who understands his strengths and weaknesses. He’s lucky to have you on his side. It also sounds like his teachers care about him and the school has done what they’re supposed to do.

Tyler’s difficulties in school really do come from his disabilities. Autistic kids generally have problems with achievement motivation, communication, and social maturity. Inconsistent performance is a hallmark of both autism and ADHD. Keeping him back in fourth grade won’t change that. I would not recommend retaining him, particularly since he has already been retained once. Tyler will always be autistic, so the goal is to help him be as successful as possible given the challenges he has.

If the teachers are at their wit’s end, it would be wonderful if somebody from the Autism Society would come out to observe him and give suggestions about his educational program. Again, this isn’t adversarial or ugly. You’re just asking for some ideas from autism experts, not making a complaint or getting anyone in trouble. It would also be a great thing for you to have a parent support group to share ideas and worries.

My concerns would be 1) does he have a written schedule that he uses at school and at home, 2) does he continue to need therapy to improve his pragmatic language, and 3) what kind of work system is used for him at school. Structured teaching would probably work quite well for Tyler.

Again, these are general suggestions based on your descriptions of Tyler. Ask his special ed teacher if the school could arrange a consultation with an autism expert.

Good luck! Your most pressing question is whether or not to retain Tyler, and I would not recommend that.


Copyright 2016 Alice Wellborn