Saturday, June 22, 2013

Things Not to Say to a Mother Whose Child is Being Evaluated for Educational Services

LO is getting to the point wherein he will outgrow First Steps. He will no longer be eligible to receive speech therapy through them once he hits his third birthday at the end of August. That means he is now eligible for services through our local school district.

First Steps and the local district set up an evaluation of LO's language abilities for this past Friday. Naively, I assumed that we would finally be receiving an evaluation that would actually give me an idea of whether LO truly has an underlying issue, or if he's just the stubborn cuss child of two stubborn cuss parents.

Now I can look back on that assumption and laugh.

Because just like the First Steps evaluation, the school district's evaluation did not truly test my child. That's because my young man decided he was having none of this "testing" bullshit and did his own thing for most of the hour we were there.
"You want me to point at the picture of the dog? Ha! Ain't gonna happen."
Based on this experience, I have come up with a list of five things that an evaluator should probably avoid saying to a mother. (I'd like to point out that our evaluator was a lovely and warm professional with 40 years of experience. But she still managed to put my back up.)

1. "Because he was uncooperative on the test, we have to regard him as being behind on receptive language."

Huh? Because he was uncooperative, you have no results. That doesn't mean he's lacking in receptive language; it means he didn't want to play that particular game. I recognize that school districts are bureaucratic animals and that the scientific method does not fit anywhere into that worldview, but no results does not equal negative results.

I get that the evaluator can only use the tools she's given, and that she's required to provide a result, so I'm not really blaming her for this. I just wish there were more options than pass/fail (particularly when the evaluator observed LO's receptive language skills when he wasn't being asked to take part in a test).

2. "I think we can assume he has normal intelligence."

Okay, this one's on me. I recognize that every parent thinks her little snowflake is the smartest, most wonderful creature ever birthed on this planet, and that any suggestion to the contrary can result in bared teeth and crazy eyes. I've seen the phenomenon on the other side of the desk when I was not necessarily delicate with my wording when having a parent-teacher conference. (Just to be clear--I never questioned a kid's intelligence to Mom and Dad, but I might have said things that weren't completely judicious about Junior's behavior or other less than wonderful attributes).

But come on! I think this statement was intended to be comforting. And it most certainly was not. No, I never thought my kid was anything less than normally intelligent. I don't expect him to be Einstein or even Jon Stewart. But I know the kid has some mad smart skillz, and telling me that we can assume he has normal intelligence is not the way to this mama bear's heart.

3. "Keep doing what you're doing. You're clearly providing him with a language-rich environment. But make him talk when he wants something so he learns that language is powerful."



Bigger sigh.

I'm sick and tired of being told directly or indirectly that LO doesn't talk because I do too much for him.

I'm sick of the suggestion that LO just doesn't comprehend that talking more will get him what he wants.

I'm sick of feeling guilty for being attuned to my child and being a busy mom who can't afford to make every. single. interaction. with my child an exercise in frustration even though I know exactly what he wants and he and I could happily go back to what we both need to be doing (playing and writing, respectively) if I just respect the methods of communication he is using.

Most kids don't need this from their parents. Frankly, I don't think my kid needs this from me. No one has ever been able to tell me scientifically and definitively that LO doesn't understand that talking=power. As far as I can tell, he is choosing not to speak.

4. "I've seen children arrive at Kindergarten with LO's current language abilities. It takes them all of elementary school to catch up."

Um. Yeah. So Kindergarten is over two years from now. Do you really think I'm going to do nothing between now and then just because I balked at the suggestion of FIVE HOURS a week of full language instruction (rather than just the phonemic instruction that he appears to need) plus an additional 90 minutes per week with a specialist, all based upon an evaluation that could not actually be completed because my kid is a stubborn cuss?

Added to that, the assumption that LO will make no strides between now and then (because I doubt those poor Kindergartners with LO's current ability level were at this level at age 2 and 3/4) is frankly a little off-putting. It kind of belies the "comforting" suggestion that we can assume he has normal intelligence. And if you really think there's something that wrong, then why has NO ONE referred us to a specialist?

I know that the evaluator said this because she understands the incredible importance of early intervention. And I get that. But as I said to her, I'm the expert in my kid, and I'm having to talk to people who are ultimately experts in statistics. Statistics are meaningless to the individual.

And absolutely no one has mentioned/heard of/discussed things like The Einstein Syndrome, which seems to describe my kid to a T. (Okay, with the exception of musical ability. That would have to have been a gift from the good fairies because neither J nor I have any to pass on.)

Just like with the First Steps Evaluation, I got the impression that my child and our experience was being lumped in with the general experiences most evaluators see.

5. "You're due in September? You're so tiny! I thought you were only about four months along."

This was what our evaluator said right at the end of the session, when I mentioned that the logistics of getting LO to five days and six and a half hours of in-school instruction per week was going to be somewhat difficult with a newborn.

I will say that my body while pregnant is a lot of things. Tiny is NOT one of them. Nor could anyone mistake the size of my belly as anything less than "Holy cow is that woman pregnant!" (And this evaluator was one of those women who might hit 100 pounds soaking wet, so it was not just a perspective thing). I think she was trying to be nice because she could tell I was upset. It just felt weird.

After discussing all of this with J, he suggested that we ask at our next meeting (wherein we'll get their official recommendation for the full language instruction) to have LO re-tested in the fall. As my resident engineer pointed out, there are plenty of times when scientific tests give no results, and it's necessary to re-test to find out where you stand.

I guess this will be LO's first introduction to the scientific method. I just wish we could have held off on that until he was old enough to be dropping eggs from roofs and making baking soda volcanos.


  1. It always drove me nuts when people told me to "make" my child talk when they wanted something. I'm sorry if it makes me lazy, but I did not want to have an epic screaming struggle just because my daughter wanted some milk but wouldn't say milk.

  2. This was a good reminder to read for me - I'm a prek special ed teacher - and although I don't think I've said most of these (although I have said the one about normal intelligence), it's good to read about it from a parent's perspective!

    That said, I'm pretty sure I would NEVER say most of these. But then again, we do play-based evaluations.