Photo by Zac Frith from Pexels

My son is our second child to have an IEP. Having gone through meetings and updates with my daughter, I thought I knew a great deal about the process. Not everything, mind you, but a good chunk of knowledge. Then came my son with his IEP for ADHD. This turns out to be so much more complicated than dealing with my daughter’s IEP. She mostly had communication difficulties, with a few behavior issues that were relatively easily dealt with. My son’s issues take more time and effort. And lately, they’ve amped up a bit.

Struggles at the end of the school year found us sitting down to come up with a new strategy to help him. I was worried there wouldn’t be much we could do about his behavior. I thought it would be just me trying to figure things out with his therapist and psychiatrist then implementing something to help him at school. It turns out the school was ready, willing, and able to step in to help. I didn’t realize this until his first colossal meltdown in quite some time near the beginning of the school year. That’s when we started talking about working on an FBA.

At the time I just nodded my head. I heard “we’re ready to help” and didn’t really think about what that acronym meant. Now that we’ve had our first meeting of the year to discuss his FBA and look into “provisions” that are available to him. (more on that word later) I decided to look into what these letters mean and how it applies to my son.

An FBA stands for Functional Behavior Assessment. An FBA is a process that gathers and analyzes information to figure out what is behind their behavior. When I first read about it, I was concerned that it was mostly for those with more severe disabilities like autism or an intellectual disability. Upon further reading, I realized this was exactly what we needed to do. The staff looks at his behavior, tries to figure out what triggers it, then comes up with a plan to fix it. This means we have to have a few meetings to talk about his disruptive behavior, what might be the triggers, what exacerbates the problem, and what will prevent it from happening or at least provide a procedure if the problem can’t be corrected or deescalated.

We looked at situations where my son experiences the most difficulty. He has trouble with situations that bring on too much chaos. He can have a meltdown if there is an extreme change in routine. He can get stuck in a neverending debilitating loop of indecision while trying to make a choice. He also challenges authority if discipline is heavy-handed. I always say he has an inflated sense of injustice. If he feels he’s being treated unfairly, he will resist.

I’ve noticed over the past few years that he has difficulty writing and often can’t get the words in his head onto the paper. He is brilliant but can’t get any of that brilliance onto the page. This triggers anxiety and frustration. Anxiety and frustration make homework like his weekly writing journal and showing his work in math assignments challenging. Trying to get him to write more than a sentence in his weekly journal, or any writing assignment, is like trying to get blood from a stone. In math, he prefers to do calculations in his head rather than writing it down. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if he can do complicated math equations without pencil ever touching paper. His work will get marked down as wrong if they ask to show the work and he doesn’t.

This block between the words and numbers in his head and the page makes classwork and homework so much more difficult. It’s also unpredictable how difficult it’s going to be for him. Homework can go quickly, or it can be a plane of hell with lots of tears and yelling from both of us. The math homework that took him minutes to do one day will take hours as he stares into space and scribbles on the page. He will eventually get so frustrated because he can’t figure out the problem or know what to write that he starts getting angry and upset.

This also happens in class if there isn’t someone who can sit with him to help him through a challenging assignment or help him make a decision. It’s made worse if the teacher or substitute decides to push him or motivate him by being stern. When this happens, all bets are off, and it will most likely end badly.

We had a lengthy roundtable discussion about several key issues and worked on a plan that would help him. Everything from keeping him home more days if he has a cold (he has more meltdowns when he’s not feeling well), providing a safe space away from stimuli, or just making sure a snack is always on hand just in case his meltdown is due to a sugar crash. New domains will need to be reviewed, and they will check to see what provisions are available to him.

To clarify if you are unfamiliar, domains are areas that need to be assessed like academic performance, motor skills, communications skills, hearing and vision status, cognitive functioning, social-emotional status, and overall health. Every IEP starts with a domain review to figure out which evaluations the team needs to perform to gather the information they need about the student. Provisions are everything that is providing a service or accommodation to the student.

It’s a relief to hear that the school is willing to keep working on this. They were happy that I was looking at the FBA as a positive procedure, as opposed to feeling stigmatized. It’s scary to find your child in a situation where they can’t control themselves. It’s even more frightening for the child. My son often doesn’t understand while he is under the influence of the moment that people are trying to help him. He becomes defiant and resistant. It’s like trying to bite someone who is extending a hand while you are drowning.

Rather than just trying to figure out how to teach him the hand is helping, we’re also trying to figure out how to keep him from getting into a situation where he might drown. Not by preventing him from swimming or keeping him away from water, but by learning why he makes choices that put him in danger or what he is not seeing that puts him into those situations. It’s going to be an interesting journey this year.