This is the first in a two-part set of posts chronicling the boys' educational journey to-date. I had initially drafted this as one post but it was getting far too long so I've split it into two. You can find the second post here.
By way of preamble, as you read this please keep in mind the following:
- Despite the graphic, I have not yet met anyone at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) who remotely resembles Sauron, Saruman or even an orc. The people I have dealt with have been pleasant and well-meaning; not always as well-informed as I would like, but kind. Any difficulties I have had to-date have typically arisen from Board policies and procedures, not people.
- Our experience with the TDSB has only just begun. (Now I'm hearing Karen Carpenter in my head.) I'm hoping you find the information I have outlined helpful if you are in the process of trying to get your special needs child placed; if your child is already in the system then any advice I could give you would be purely theoretical and not based on experience.
- I'm sharing this information because I'm happy with my children's placement, and so what I did worked well for us. I can't guarantee that if you follow the same steps you will end up with the same outcome but it might increase your chances.
- I found lots of advice online that was applicable to the U.S. educational system but not much that was helpful for those of us in Ontario. There are general principles that are helpful regardless of where you live, but with respect to the regulations and policies that apply here, I largely had to do my own research. Given that the TDSB is the largest school board in Canada and the fourth largest in North America, I thought there might be a number of people out there who could find this information useful.
- I'm a parent who has a lot of experience reading statutes and regulations, but I'm not a lawyer so, caveat lector.
- The TDSB seems to change it's practices annually with respect to special education. What worked in one year might not be in line with Board policies the next.
- The Board is currently running an enormous financial deficit. Having already announced about $50 million in staffing cuts, the Trustees are looking to cut another $58 million from the budget. Their avowed intention is not to cut spending on special education services, although apparently $300,000 is to be saved from 'reducing administration' in relation to special education. Be prepared; lack of funding will likely be brought up in any discussions with personnel from the Board.
This first post provides some background information and will hopefully be useful to those parents whose child has recently received an autism diagnosis and who are looking for a roadmap that outlines what happens from now until the time they register their children for school. When Oliver and Owen transition into Grade 1 in the fall it will be the first time they enter the school system. Depending on your child's skill set and challenges, as well as the length of the IBI waitlist they may be on, your child could end up taking each of these steps in a different order.
When Owen and Oliver received their autism diagnoses they were screened by the Toronto Partnership for Autism Services (TPAS) who confirmed that they both qualified for Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI). During the 18 months that they were on the IBI wait-list they could have started Junior or Senior Kindergarten, but I made the decision to keep them in their daycare program because I felt that they just didn't have the skills to survive either JK or SK, and moving them would also increase the number of transitions they had to go through. If you live in the Toronto area and your child is on the IBI waitlist then you should be aware of the following:
- The City Kids program can help you find appropriate daycare.
- Make sure you have contacted Community Care Access – if your child is in daycare then they will arrange a consult that will help the daycare personnel respond appropriately in regards to any behavioural or communication challenges your child may have.
- If your child has a communication delay then contact Toronto PreSchool Speech and Language (TPSL). I highly recommend their 'More than Words' and 'It Takes Two to Talk' programs. If your child is on the IBI wait-list then you should still register with TPSL, but enquire about transferring your child into the Preschool Behaviour Communication (PBC) Program. As part of this program Oliver and Owen each received an OT consult to identify any motor and sensory issues and we attended the Geneva Centre for Autism once a week to consult with both an SLP and a behavioural therapist. These services aren't provided all the time; they are delivered in 8 week blocks with 8 week consolidation periods in-between. Your child can participate in this program until they start IBI or Grade 1, whichever comes first.
- Again, if your child is on the IBI wait-list, there is a program called Jumpstart which is a weekly consultation with a behavioural therapist who comes to your home. Jumpstart lasts for 8 weeks but cannot be provided at the same time that a child is receiving services as part of the PBC program. You can however schedule Jumpstart to be provided during a time you are in a consolidation period with respect to PBC services.
- I strongly recommend that you attend any parent workshops you can. The ones I attended at the Geneva Centre were invaluable.
Exhausted yet? Well here comes Karen again because “We've only just begun”
Nice yellow ruffled shirt Richard!
Once your child starts IBI you can relax a bit as far as school is concerned, right? Wrong – I would recommend that you start planning their transition into school at this point. At the start of the IBI program your child's skill level will be measured by their therapists, most likely using the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills criteria, usually referred to as ABLLS (pronounced Ables). When that assessment is complete, then the therapists will estimate your child's likely IBI discharge date. Unless something drastic happens, this date will probably not change. Six months prior to your child's discharge date, their formal transition to school will begin and it's this that you should start planning for.
Tip #1: Find your child's 'home school'
If your child hasn't started school yet or if you don't know the home school for where you live then you can find it on the TDSB website.
Tip #2: Arrange a meeting with your child's home school Principal at least 18 months before their transition to school will begin
This meeting proved useful for two main reasons. Firstly, the Principal wasn't sure what the IBI program actually was, so I was able to explain to her my understanding of how it worked. After this meeting she understood that, while the boys were in the program, the Board would be sent written documentation every six months confirming whether they were ready to start their transition into school or not. Secondly, she and I got to know each other. Don't underestimate the importance of this, your home school principal can be an extremely powerful ally in advocating for your child and I'm going to return to this in Part II,
Tip #3: Contact the home school Principal again in the year the transition to school will begin
The boys will start Grade 1 in September 2012, so I spoke with the Principal in February of this year and we arranged to meet in March.
Tip #4: Take someone with you to important meetings
The boys' supervising therapist from their IBI program agreed to come with me to meet the principal. A therapist who knows both the boys and the system was ideal, but you could take a spouse, a friend, an advocate, another parent – anyone who can provide some input and take notes is invaluable. We brought the boys with us and we all met with the Principal and the Special Education advisor for the school so we could exchange information and determine next steps. The Special Education advisor was certain that the boys would have to undergo a psycho-educational assessment in order to be placed, which brings me to my next point…
Tip #5: Don't believe everything the experts tell you
The TDSB used to put exceptional children in primary diagnostic classrooms where they would typically stay until age 7 or 8. At that point a psycho-educational assessment would help determine the best placement for the child. The TDSB is closing all their primary diagnostic classrooms and so a lot of Board personnel aren't clear on exactly how they should determine the correct placements for exceptional children. This SpEd advisor had come out of retirement to return to work and had not been provided with accurate information. We confirmed after the meeting that the board does not require a psych-ed assessment in order to determine the appropriate placement for exceptional students.
Tip #6: Do your homework and ask questions
One document I recommend that you read and keep on hand at all times is Ontario Regulation 181/98 Identification and Placement of Exceptional Pupils. These are the rules that govern a number of things in relation to special education, but the one that's particularly relevant at this stage is the Identification, Placement and Review Committee, or IPRC. One thing I had been frequently told during this preparatory period was that the IPRC would not be arranged until the boys were already in school. This confused me greatly, especially given the fact that one of the key components of the IPRC is to determine placement! I was also keen to ensure that an IPRC was convened because it is the only way to ensure that services, supports and accommodations that the boys need are protected by statute.
At this point I first heard about a “SEPRC” . From what I could gather this is something that the TDSB has just started using in order to determine the placement needs of exceptional pupils who have not yet started school. I did some research and as far as I can tell, this is authorized by Ontario Regulation 306.
Tip #7: Register your child with their home school early
Before the SEPRC could take place the boys needed to be registered with their home school. This involves completion of forms (naturally) and in addition you are required to provide a copy of your child's birth certificate, health card and immunization record. They will also ask to see proof of address (bank statement, utility bill) to ensure your child is registering with the correct school.
This is the end of Part I; join me for Part II where I will discuss the SEPRC meetings and school visit. For now, given your head is probably reeling from all the acronyms and legalese, I'm thinking we should end with dessert. Given the TDSB's symbol is an apple, I'm thinking apple pie and custard is a good choice.
If you enjoyed dessert then you have my friend Cynthia to thank. Special Education Advisor published a guest post from her which is an hilarious reminder of how painful this whole process can be for us parents. I'm hoping dessert will have somewhat eased the pain of this post.