ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Caprice Gommoll is a wife and mother of two beautiful and bright children. She resides in NJ where she has worked as an accountant for over 20 years. Caprice has spent the past four and a half years advocating in the school district for her nine year old son Chase who has ADHD as well as a stuttering/cluttering disorder.


Advocating For My Child: Building the Right Team

by Caprice Gommoll
from New Jersey, USA

In the spring of 2005 my son Chase (then 5 years old) was tested and proved to be academically ready for kindergarten. At that time, I was concerned about Chase's fluency and requested that he be evaluated by the school's speech pathologist. It was her opinion that Chase's speech was age appropriate. I was a bit surprised by her findings, but figured she was the expert and left it at that.

About two months into the school year I began to worry about Chase's social interactions. He wasn't bonding with the other children and I noticed that they were having a hard time understanding him. Fortunately, Chase's kindergarten teacher picked up on this as well and requested a speech evaluation. Chase was granted an IEP based on fluency and was provided with twenty minutes of speech therapy per week. Soon after, he was diagnosed with ADHD by his pediatrician and began stimulant therapy.

Chase's speech sessions continued throughout kindergarten and the first grade and I noticed little improvement. He was doing fine academically, but his fluency disorder continued to affect him socially. He had a hard time speaking clearly and staying on topic when conversing with peers.

It was second grade during back to school night when things really seemed to go down hill. As I looked around the room, I saw parents admiring their children's work. I on the other hand had absolutely nothing to admire as most of my child's pages were blank. I opened book after book and all the pages were blank. When I questioned Chase's teacher about the situation, her response was that Chase simply chooses not to do the work. Bothered by the response I immediately set up an appointment with the Child Study Team. I expressed concern that my child was being allowed to sit in school and do absolutely nothing all day long. The child study team refused to evaluate my son. They told me that by law Chase would only qualify for an evaluation if he was one full grade level behind and that wasn't the case here as his teacher found him to be an average student.

A short time later, Chase's speech pathologist requested a conference. She wanted to meet with me to let me know that in her opinion Chase no longer required an IEP for speech. I was told that Chase didn't believe he had a speech problem and therefore he couldn't be helped. I expressed concern that my son couldn't say two sentences without stuttering, had great difficulty organizing his speech, was unable to stay on topic and that clarity was still a problem. In addition, it was nearly impossible for Chase to translate his thoughts into words on paper. She then went on to tell me that the program just didn't have the proper funding and that her case load was too large. I was infuriated and couldn't fathom how the school's funding or staffing issues were my son's problem. I reminded her that by law my son was entitled to a free appropriate public education and that he would indeed receive that free appropriate public education one way or another. It was quite clear to me at this point that the school district had no intent on helping my son and I vowed to do everything in my power to see to it that Chase got the help he needed and the help that he was entitled to by law.

The next step was to have Chase undergo a full psychological/educational evaluation. We chose a highly recommended Psychologist from Princeton who did a three day evaluation on our son. His findings proved what I had known in my heart to be true. Chase was of superior intelligence, but was performing at an average level. The doctor believed that Chase had an Auditory Processing Disorder and suggested that we seek a full evaluation. Then the doctor asked me to review a sheet that described characteristics of cluttering. As I read the paper, I was certain that he was on to something as Chase seemed to fit the mold. The Psychologist recommended a Speech Pathologist who specialized in cluttering.

Although I knew absolutely nothing about cluttering, I was determined to find out all I could. I immediately contacted the Speech Pathologist that our Psychologist recommended and expressed my concerns and uncertainties about my son. Chase was evaluated soon after and sure enough Chase was found to have a cluttering disorder. Chase has been seeing the same private Speech Pathologist for over a year now and with her help he continues to develop strategies for dealing with cluttering. These sessions are helping Chase address his fluency and organize his thoughts. As a result, I am seeing huge improvements in both verbal and written communication.

Finally, Chase was evaluated for an auditory processing disorder and the findings showed that he has a moderate to severe auditory processing disorder.

It was now a week before the start of the third grade. My husband and I scheduled a meeting with the Child Study Team and School Administration. I began the meeting by submitting the findings from the Psychological, Speech and Auditory Processing evaluations. I then stated that because the Child Study Team refused to evaluate my son, I was forced to seek my own professional evaluations to help identify the problem. I summarized the diagnosis and then provided a list of accommodations that were suggested by my specialists which included the following: one hour of speech/auditory therapy, basic skills language arts, occupational therapy and a revised 504 plan that included a host of other accommodations. The district agreed to all of the recommendations and the accommodations were integrated into Chase's 504 plan.

Soon after, I introduced myself to Chase's third grade teacher through a personal letter. Being the squeaky wheel, I knew I was probably on the radar now at school and didn't want her to get the wrong impression. I wanted her to know about the past problems, but that I was ready to move forward. I told her that even though I truly believed we had the right team in place to ensure Chase's success I thought it was important for her to get to know him. In the letter I described him as an iceberg floating at sea, and explained that because of his cluttering on the surface all you see is a very small piece that pales in comparison to what lies underneath. I promised her that if she took the time and went below the surface, he would amaze her - and he did. The partnership paid off and Chase flourished. Third grade ended with one last phone call to the school principal in June, thanking her and her staff for a fantastic year and lobbying for the best fourth grade teacher possible.

The perseverance paid off. Chase's fourth grade teacher is excellent. I began this year the same as the last with a letter introducing myself to his teacher and describing my iceberg floating at sea. I'm still using the same team approach I used last year and things are going great. Chase's teacher is working hard with him helping him to organize his thoughts and stay on topic. She provides him with suggestions and checklists to make sure that all he his thoughts are captured in an organized fashion. She also allows him to provide answers orally when testing. The same accommodations minus occupational therapy followed Chase this year to middle school. His school speech pathologist sees him both individually and in group.

It wasn't easy getting Chase the help he so desperately needed. It took a lot of time, effort and quite frankly a good deal of money too. I believed in my son; I saw something there that know one else could see. I knew that he was performing ordinary, but had the ability and desire to be extraordinary. I also know that my work doesn't end here. I'm still going to have to lobby for the right teachers. The ones who take the time to see that there's more inside and who welcome the challenge. As Chase grows older the accommodations will change, and chances are I'll have to fight for those accommodations. I also know that I can't do it alone. Having the right team in place will continue to ensure Chase's success, because above all I've learned that there's no one medicine, not one teacher, not one specialist, not one program and not one parent that can do it alone. You need a team, and above all you need a child who truly desires to be the best he can be.

I sit here now happy to say that I think things are really working out for Chase. He seems more comfortable in his skin. He really enjoys school and has a nice group of friends in the classroom. Family and friends both comment on how much his speech has improved. He has a wonderful support system at home, at school and through private speech therapy. Although the work is getting harder, Chase has managed to achieve straight A's this year. I'm so proud of him, because I know he has to work twice as hard as most children. It's that hard work and dedication that makes Chase the Most Valuable Player on my team.

SUBMITTED: March 14, 2010

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