Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Mother Refuses

Here's a highlight from my second conference at Younger Daughter's public school, Fragrant Hills.  I'll describe the conference in detail in another post, but I wanted to describe this moment first.

Some background:  in her previous school, Natural Friends, YD had been a big behavior problem.  We brought in a psychologist who observed her freaking out in the classroom, ran a few tests, and wrote up a report, ending with recommendations that YD should be tested for any number of possible medical issues (partly to justify the state paying for a 1:1 aide to follow YD around and keep her out of trouble.)

In our previous conference at the public school, Fragrant Hills, the district psychologist, who had said nothing up to that point, asked me whether I had followed the recommendations in the report.  It actually took me a moment to remember what the recommendations were, because the situation had changed so much (in particular, YD is no longer exhibiting the panicky, freaked-out behavior that the psychologist based her recommendations on.)

I said that I hadn't followed the recommendations on the report because I now believe that YD's problem was a mismatch between her needs and the teaching methods used at her previous school.  I said that I don't think YD has a medical problem, and that I was skeptical of the recommendations.  At the time, the psychologist nodded and didn't say anything, so I figured the conversation was over.

So, fast-forward to the second conference, last Thursday:

The conference was humming along quite well when the principal turned to the district psychologist and asked her (she had previously been mute) if she had any recommendations.  The psychologist, who was turning over the pages of the old psychologist's report, said (and I wish I could convey the snotty, patronizing tones she used!):

"Well, the mother has made it clear that she has no intention of following recommendations."

Me (stunned):  "what recommendations?"

Psychologist:  "for more testing and a diagnosis."

Me:  "what kind of diagnosis?"

Psychologist:  "a disability."

Me:  "like what?"

Psychologist:  "... ADHD."

So ... the more I think about this, the more I think I need to call the psychologist on her outrageous, insulting behavior.  It's almost as if she forgot I was in the room, and gave the principal the answer she would have given privately:  "the mother is a deluded b*tch, who doesn't do what we tell her."

Readers -- what do you think?  Any ideas about what to say in my e-mail to the principal?  Stay tuned for our next thrilling adventure!


  1. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 12, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    I think the smart thing to do is always remember and act on what's in your daughter's best interest. Weigh the pros and cons of addressing this insult. If there's nothing positive in it for your daughter, it may be prudent to let it slide.
    Now on the other hand, you may want it in the record what you've done or not done as far as previous school psychologist's recommendations. If that's the case, be professional, lay out the reasons- I'd use the opinion of professionals (cite them) within the field for instance that testing at a young age can be wildly inaccurate and therefore better put off at this time. You might write, "I was taken aback by psychologist X's adversarial tone during our conference but would like you to understand my reasoning at the time and the progress I've seen daughter make these last weeks."
    A reason to respond is if they are building a case for retention for your daughter. They'll also be documenting other "blame the mom first" factors too- So it's good to mindful of things like good student attendance.

  2. SCF, thanks, that's a very good point. I should try to stay focused on what's best for Younger Daughter.

    Of course, I'm not entirely sure what that is!

    I don't know whether they're trying to build a particular case against my daughter. From the dynamics in the room, it seemed like the psychologist was a bit of an outlier. The principal isn't insisting on more tests -- she seems more interested in coming up with a plan to improve YD's reading, which sounds appropriate to me.

    Hmm ... lots to think about ...

  3. Talk to the principal privately. You can be polite but just be direct. Tell her what you just told us. Be firm but cordial. You know, don't bow and scrape but you can be pleasant. Again, tell her what you told us. Find a way not to back down or be intimidated. I learned that confidence equals POWER!!!!

    I've seen my share of "psychologist" nitwits. Madame Psych wasn't contributing to the meeting, realized she's better perk up so they don't think she's brain dead and only got in the way. She's a waste of money and hopefully your principal is smart enough to catch that. You could get lucky and just maybe you'll get the principal on your side here.

    Tell the principal more tests are not necessary; costly and superfluous. Then sum up your case neatly, respectfully and succinctly. Have a good day! Wave goodbye.

  4. HWB, school psychologists, ugh. I haven't met one I like. I *do* like the school counselor at Fragrant Hills, though.

  5. There have been some counselors along the way I've liked too. I especially was fond of the one at our private school. Until she left, they got a replacement, he didn't work out (he was quite the jerk anyway) and then they just didn't bother.

    But public school psychologists? Don't get me started. What is it with this lot? And there's something I don't get. They aren't really psychologists. They don't have Ph.D's, are they really certified? The term "psychologist" is used very loosely at school and I really have to wonder about their credentials and training.

    My experience is that they often seem against you. In our case, in each case, they tried to thwart accommodations. Convincing us she didn't need any, despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

    I don't understand these school psychologists, in my own experience, more often hostile than not. Whose side are they on anyway? Well, clearly not the child's! Then who needs them? Why waste our taxpayer dollars? I have yet to see a case in which they were helpful. I'd rather see their salaries go to hiring better teachers and paying them more.

  6. HWB, I'm with you. Why are school psychologists such fountains of hostility?

    Whose side is she on? Maybe she's on the side of all the psychologists and specialists who can stay in business diagnosing kids.

  7. I've often wondered why they are so hostile. Ostensibly they are hired to help kids. But they act more like gatekeepers, between you and formal help.

  8. HWB, that's the funny thing. It sounds like you got a psychologist who wanted to keep your daughter away from extra testing and diagnosis, when you thought it would help. I've got a psychologist who's trying to pressure me INTO extra testing and diagnosis, when I think it won't help.

    Do they just look at what the mother wants, assume the mother's a jerk, and go for the opposite?

  9. To be clear on one thing,Fed Up. NO, I didn't want testing or diagnosis! No, not from the school! I did that privately. I would never allow the school to test my child.

    I wanted very simple things. Extra time on tests and extended time for long homework assignments. That was it. Psych denied it because my daughter is very highly gifted. You're not supposed to do that, deny accommodations for a gifted kid, but they do and did. I gave up which I shouldn't have but years later, in high school, I brought in a highly priced consultant because that gets them to sit up straight.

  10. HWB, thanks for clarifying.

    I have mixed feelings about private testing. On the one hand, I get your point that it's useful to get an opinion from outside the school system. On the other hand, from our experience last year, I am fed up to the back teeth with running around to expensive private specialists.

  11. Suburban Chicken FarmerNovember 17, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Yeah, you guys are losing me here. The school psychologists at my kids' school are qualified, certified; give appropriate and thorough testing yet are mindful all tests have margins of error.
    So FedUp's recent experience wasn't ideal, I get that.
    What if the rude tone came out of frustration because he really believes your kid has a treatable disorder?
    Isn't possible people can really care about your kid yet have a different opinion than yours?
    HomeworkBlues, I'm probably just not understanding you- but why would a +145IQ in and of itself, cause one to need extra time for tests?

  12. SCF, if she thinks YD has a treatable disorder, she should say so, and she should work with me instead of being rude and hostile. Really, how could that possibly help?

  13. As far as I know this school psychologist hasn't even met my daughter. She has nothing to say from direct experience. She just reads the report from the previous school and scolds me for not following the recommendations.

  14. Twice exceptional.

  15. FedUp, the private testing is not just for the schools. We wanted to rule out a hidden learning disability. Which we did.

    I am also VERY particular and there are only four people in this country that I will allow to test my child. Not because she is so uniquely wonderful (well, she is, because she's my daughter! But that's not what I mean). I need people with expertise in giftedness and dual exceptionality. The risk of misdiagnoses from people who don't understand this population is far too great. Been there done that.

    Giftedness is not some elitist construct. Oh, it has that element but that's not its origin. It cuts across racial and socio-economic lines. Accommodating highly gifted children is not a prize but special education for those kids at the other end of the spectrum. These children learn differently and need appropriate interventions. Sadly not very popular in the Land of No Child Left Behind.

  16. I'm pretty sure school psychologists are not supposed to diagnose your child with ADHD. I think they can asses your child for a learning disability, but not a medical condition like ADHD. I would check into the ethics of this and file a complaint with your Department of Education if you're so inclined.

    My son is on a very effective medication for a fairly severe disability, and we had a special education teacher in a meeting say, "You might want to consider giving him a second dose of [his medication] in the afternoon. That's when he seems to be having the most trouble in the classroom." My jaw dropped at the time, but I never did anything about it. I wish I could go back in time and file an official complaint against that teacher. Teachers (and school psychologists) are not MDs and are not allowed to diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medication, or recommend dosages.

    Having said that, I see nothing wrong with having a child evaluated for a disability that may be interfering with her learning. A lot of parents hate "labels," but a label can often help pinpoint the child's needs and better provide her with assistance. An evaluation doesn't have to make a child think there is something wrong with her. Some kids are relieved to find out that the difficulties they're having are caused by something beyond their control. Are you afraid the evaluation will reveal a disability you're not prepared to accept, or are you afraid the evaluation will reveal a "disability' you don't think your child really has? I had both of those things running through my mind when my kids were evaluated.

    I struggled all through elementary school and nobody bothered to find out why. So I spent my school days panicked, hiding, and copying off the next kid's paper. If only someone had taken the time to say, "Gee, you seem to be struggling with math and reading comprehension. Let's see what might be causing this and maybe we can help you." Something like this would have changed my life. Instead, I skated by, getting mediocre grades and feeling greater and greater anxiety about math and reading comprehension with each passing year. This is why I'm a big supporter of evaluations for things like ADD/ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or giftedness. If a gifted kid is never evaluated, she'll be bored in school, possibly begin acting out, etc. So the evaluation and subsequent "label" of giftedness is critical. I feel the same way about evaluations for ASD and ADD/ADHD. I do, however, despise the public schools (at least in our area) and how they handle kids with labels (including giftedness). So there's no easy answer to any of this.

  17. Anonymous, there are absolutely no easy answers here.

    I think I answered a lot of your questions in a subsequent post, My e-mail to Fragrant Hills.

    So far, YD has taken several tests looking for a disability, and she always scores in the average range (for reading, etc) and once even above-average for "ability to follow directions!" No one has found evidence of any disability.

    At the moment, I'm following my gut instinct, which tells me that YD needs to be taught more than anything else. We are working hard on teaching her reading and math at home, and seeing a lot of progress. My hope is that as she finds herself successful at school, she will settle down and her behavior will improve. Her behavior is already WAY better than last year.

  18. Tests with scores are not usually used to identify a child's disability--that's the kind of thing they use to find LD. Not all kids with a disability have LD, so that kind of testing would not identify certain disabilities. If something like ADHD or Asperger Syndrome is possible, it's an interdisciplinary team that does the work, and often they have such teams in child development clinics associated with universities. This kind of team would have, say, a child psychologist, a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, etc. A child can have a disability and be an average to above-average student. My son certainly is well above average academically, but he also has a disability. He is so-called "twice identified" (ASD and giftedness).

    I have to go back and read your whole story. I just found this blog. I think you're right that being successful in school leads to improved behavior. We had to leave our public school because there was no way to be successful there. There was way too much focus on behavior (color charts, marble jars, behavior logs to be signed by me every day) and this created intense stress in both my children, which made one of them behave worse (due to anxiety over the pressure to behave) and one of them behave better (out of fear). Since I don't want anxiety and fear to be an integral part of my children's education, I pulled them out.

    As for needing to be "taught more," I agree. We found that our public school was doing very little teaching, mainly due to the fact that their main focus was managing behavior (in a school where the kids are actually very well behaved, i.e., it's a standard "good" suburban school). Nearly everything academic my kids learned they learned at home. Much of what was being done in school, especially kindergarten, was not age appropriate. They were having my son write his name, for example, before he'd been taught how to form all of the letters in his name. He'd done some of that in preschool, but kids have to develop fine motor skills before they can be pushed to write with a pencil, so only so much can be done at the preschool level. I expected writing would be taught compassionately in kindergarten, but instead it was forced, my child failed, I got notes home. Where is the "teaching"?!

    In our school, when a student is struggling, they punish the child--the first assumption is that he's messing up on purpose, out of naughtiness--then tell the parents to work with him at home to get him up to speed on whatever academic thing they're supposed to be teaching him but aren't. I'm not sure what they were doing with my kids for 6 hours a day, to be honest.

  19. Anonymous, I hope you'll check out A Blog About School. Chris writes about the same kind of constant behavior management that you describe.

    As for the lack of teaching, one of my neighbors says "They don't teach, they just evaluate", and there's a lot of truth to that. I feel another post coming on ...

  20. Anonymous, by the way, if you pulled your kids out of public school, how are you educating them now?

  21. "I'm pretty sure school psychologists are not supposed to diagnose your child with ADHD. I think they can asses your child for a learning disability, but not a medical condition like ADHD."

    Anonymous, you're absolutely right. FedUp, that reference in your post jumped out at me too. The psychologist may not diagnose. She isn't even supposed to HINT at ADHD. In many states, that is downright illegal. That ruling came about because parents felt pressured by the schools. Your child appears to have ADHD, they'd say. Which then sent the unspoken message that you'd better medicate or we won't do anything for you. There is that subtle pressure and it has no place in diagnosing a child properly. That goes double when teachers suggest it because of the unspoken pressure that you'd better medicate or there will be consequences.

    I agree with Anonymous. Research that, FedUp. Your so-called psych WAY overstepped her bounds there. Just nailing her on this one transgression is enough to discredit her and get her off your back. Once you do that, you don't even have to answer or defend.

    Anonymous,good points. Yet I'd stop short of calling ADHD a medical condition. A psychologist can officially diagnose ADD or ADHD (I refuse to lump this all together under the ADHD label, I don't care what CHADD advocates, preferring the more acceptable ADD inattentive type, to differentiate the Hyperactive angle) and your pediatrician can prescribe medication if that's warranted or desired. ADHD is not an illness. I needed a diagnosis and explanation for an overseas program my daughter was applying to and I wouldn't even allow our practitioner to call it a DISORDER, instructing her to refer to it as a CONDITION instead. For us, language matters, how this is perceived. I even hate the Attention Deficit Disorder label. My child does not have a deficit of attention nor does she have a disorder. It does complete unjustice to many children and sends the message these kids are losers and scattered. My daughter wrote a brilliant paper on ADD in 10th grade and she told me her teacher just stared at her. As if to say, I could never have imagined anything this could coming from a person with Attention DEFICITS. Anyone ever heard of Einstein or Edison, for example?

    But I'm getting off track to make a point :). As for assessing a learning disability, that comes from diagnostic testing. This psychologist has done neither and judging from her ineptness, I would do everything to keep this nitwit away from my child. I really mean that. FedUp, don't let her anywhere NEAR your kid. At best, she's a complete incompetent, at worse and far more likely, downright harmful. CAUTION...

  22. ** INJUSTICE ** not ** UNJUSTICE **. Ouch. Typo.

  23. ** anything this good ** Not ** anything this could ** .It's Typo City here. I'd better quit while I'm still ahead.

  24. Anonymous directly above, I just read more of your posts. I like what you wrote! Insightful stuff.