In this episode of Parents Prevailed, we’ll be looking at a very unusual case resulting in an outcome that you don’t see every day in terms of special education IEP programs. 

My client’s parents hired me when the student was in grade school, however, we’ll be focusing on the outcome we achieved during high school, which supported her to be able to graduate early with a high school diploma. 

The student lived in the Corona/Norco Unified School District in California and was found eligible for an IEP under Autism. She was also found eligible under ED (Emotional Disturbance) due to her social/emotional and anxiety challenges. She had an IQ of 134, which is in the gifted range. However, she was unable to understand how to socialize with peers or be successful in developing friendships. Due to her gifted intelligence, which gave her an understanding and awareness of her differences in comparison to typical peers, she presented with high levels of anxiety and depression. A student who presents with an above-average IQ but also has been found eligible for special education is called “Twice Exceptional.”  

Although she was highly intelligent and could complete academic curriculum far beyond grade level, her life centered around her mom and dad, and it took a great amount of energy for her to try and get to school and pass her classes. She was what you could call your textbook “Asperger” kid, one who was highly intelligent with maximum deficits in socialization. I’m going to call this student Kellie (name changed for confidentiality). 

When Kellie entered high school, she wasn’t able to attend a typical high school campus due to her extreme anxiety around the social demands placed upon her in order to navigate peer relationships. So, Kellie attended a public high school where there were other students who needed a campus that primarily focused on obtaining the credits needed to graduate without the distractions of a typical high school setting. It was fortunate that this particular district offered a very small high school campus with most of the students being academically strong while many of the students were also neurodivergent. 

Sadly, although this unusual campus was sufficient to meet the needs of many other students, it wasn’t enough for Kellie, and just getting up in the morning and getting to school on time was a struggle. Her school refusal continued to escalate, and absences were causing her to fall behind in credits. 

Kellie needed a very individual setting that was uniquely created to meet her individual needs. A non-public school wasn’t an option because Kellie was so hyper-focused on not “being different” that she wouldn’t dream of going to a high school that consisted of only students on an IEP.  She wanted nothing to do with other students that were labeled “special needs” or “special education.” 

My typical “go to” advocacy process is to obtain IEE’s in order to develop the IEP to meet the needs of my client. This posed a real challenge for me and for many years I was unable to use this process because Kellie adamantly refused to be assessed. In her younger years, she was assessed multiple times by the school district and also reassessed through IEEs. Every time she was assessed, her mental health status would decline, perseverating on how much she didn’t want to “be different” and obsessing on finding the answer to “what was wrong with her”. No matter how hard her parents supported and loved her through these bouts of mental health setbacks, Kellie’s self-esteem would crumble, and her life would be thrown into a downward spiral causing her to miss massive amounts of school attendance. 

Because the last district psychoeducational assessment was many years prior, we had to find a way to have Kellie agree to assessment. This was very difficult for Kellie and we did see her escalate in her OCD behavior and hyperfocus on her differences, but we were successful in having Kellie complete a district psycho-educational assessment and then an IEE by a highly reputable provider of our choice.

I proposed a plan to the IEP team to have Kellie attend campus but be taught by a credentialed teacher one-on-one outside of the classroom.  It was necessary for her to be pulled to a separate class due to Kellie’s obsessive-compulsive behavior which caused her to be unwilling to have an aide support her in a general education class with her peers. She just could not tolerate the thought of looking different in comparison to any other student, thus the need to be pulled outside the classroom. 

This model of classroom setting would allow Kellie to still attend high school while meeting her needs in terms of one-on-one support for academics. Due to her Executive Functioning deficits, she was unable to organize her work or prioritize what to do first. She needed support to begin a task and take the necessary steps to complete an assignment. Although she was highly intelligent and able to complete work above grade level, she still required one-on-one academic support. 

On the other hand, when Kellie was in the 10th grade, she was writing at the college level. Her ability to produce an essay was highly unusual for her age and she held aspirations of becoming an author. Kellie also was an excellent artist and painting provided her a way to express herself as well as served as a form of therapy for her mental health. 

When we began implementation of this plan, Kellie was only attending school for a few hours on an average of 1-2 days a week. Even on the days she attended class, she would get through one or maybe two classes before she called her mom to come pick her up early.  

Parents and I, along with the rest of the IEP team, started Kellie on a Home and Hospital plan to provide her with a credentialed teacher for fifteen hours a week, one-on-one in her home. Now, the typical Home and Hospital hours that a district allows would be five hours a week. However, due to Kellie’s extreme needs, I was able to have the district award fifteen hours per week. 

Our plan was to stabilize her mental health status and slowly integrate her back onto the school campus to the point where she was successful in attending school five days a week but on a shortened day. After she was able to attend school five days a week, we would slowly increase her school day hours to hopefully reach having Kelly attend a full school day.

Over the next three years, we implemented this plan, which was highly successful but not without very difficult challenges and many setbacks. Kellie was able to go back to the high school campus but rarely was able to attend a full school day. She was also able to attend some typical classes and really tried to socialize with her peers in very specific environments that allowed her to feel safe and comfortable. She was also successful in making a few friends and really improved her social skills, although she continued to struggle with understanding the nuances of social communication. 

Because I was successful in having the district agree to continue to provide Kellie with the same Home and Hospital individual credentialed teacher at 1,440 minutes a week and was pulled for one-on-one academic support, she was able to pass her classes with flying colors to the point of graduating high school in December instead of June. 

As I stated in the beginning, this is a highly unusual case. Graduating early was like a dream come true for Kellie. Going to school was very difficult for her and all she wanted to do was complete the credits she needed to get her high school diploma so she could move on to life after high school. 

Our educational system can either destroy the possibilities of life after high school for our students or create opportunities for success. But it’s up to parents to ensure that the needs of their child are addressed and that the IEP is sufficient, accurate, and lawful. 

Today, Kellie works at a preschool and loves it!  She is great with teaching and enjoys working with young children. She attends college virtually, majoring in English due to her excellent writing ability. She also continues to pursue her painting and enjoys art classes.

It is so important for us to understand the needs of neurodivergent students like Kellie. Imagine if Kellie’s mother did not fight for her to receive the kind of supports, services, and classroom setting she needed to graduate. In closing, our very happy ending to this Parents Prevailed Episode #5 ~ because of our advocacy, Kellie lived her dream to graduate early with her high school diploma and is enjoying her life after high school. 

Cheering you on always! 

Valerie Aprahamian

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“Thank you for sharing these pearls of wisdom. It’s an incredible service for us parents!” -Christina

“I can assure you and everyone here that I have learned more on your page than I have from my school district. I appreciate you and applaud you for what you do as it is NOT easy! You give us guidance and you have a place in the heavens for your selfless work and service to our special needs children and their families. Thank you, Valerie!” -Reyna

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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