Math Tutoring to Support an IEP

Do you ever feel like your kids that are on IEPs aren’t getting enough attention or instruction in the classroom?  Even if you’ve had relatively positive experiences in elementary school or middle school, you may hit a point where things get pretty tough.

Math is often a subject where Autistic kids do well and may be closer to approaching grade level.  I know a family where this was the case for them and their Autistic 9th grade son.  But then they started seeing notifications from the online math program, IXL, coming home,

Bravo! You have achieved excellence in 40 third-grade skills on IXL!

Third grade?  Their 9th grader should at least be working on 7th grade level math.  They talked to their son so he would choose the 7th grade level.  With communication and comprehension challenges, trying to work directly with him was going nowhere.

They talked to their son’s math teacher.  The school was using IXL during classroom time.  They were having their son use it after school each day even though the teacher didn’t assign homework so he could get more math practice in.  They were making sure the grade level was correct at home.  They didn’t get much help from the teacher at school.  Things would be corrected when they called attention to it but it would quickly fall back to lower grade level certificates coming in.

There are not many options for private high schools for kids on the Autism spectrum.  And even if there were, the cost is prohibitive. This family decided to give 1 on 1 tutoring a try.  If they couldn’t get help from the school, they could at least turn math time at home into high quality time to try and keep progress in this area going.

They looked for tutors in their local area that had experience with kids with special needs.  Locally, there was nothing available.  They contacted Varsity Tutors and found one tutor near them who didn’t have this experience but was at least willing to try.

If they were open to tutoring online, there was a tutor who was also a special education middle school math teacher.  Perfect.  She happened to live in Hawaii.  (They live in Sacramento, CA.) They wanted a session after dinner one night a week.  This was after school for the tutor based on her time zone.  Also perfect.

They decided to try out both online and in person so they wouldn’t waste time seeing which one worked better.  They weren’t sure if online would work for their son.  Would he get distracted?  Could he understand and comprehend across a computer screen?


For the in person sessions, the mother sat at the top of the stairs that lead down into their basement family room so she could listen in on how the session was going.  She knew if she was in the same room she would distract her son.  It was hard to hear the conversation.  When she could, she didn’t know the context of the problem they were working on.  It was hard to assess if this was time well spent or not.  And she knew she wouldn’t get any details from her son, or his teacher, later.

For the online sessions, she had the option of actually watching the session without her son recognizing that she was in the session.  The tutor knew but she told her ahead of time that she was going to watch just to see if her son was giving the tutor any problems and she would not speak or let her son know she was watching.  She could see the problems they were working on via the online whiteboard.  She could see both of them.  She could see that her son was paying attention.  She could see where her son was having a hard time understanding the tutor’s questions.

After the in person session, she met with the tutor before she left, out of earshot from her son, and asked the tutor if there was anything that she was struggling with in terms of working with her son.  No feedback.  “It was fine.”  Based on what little the mom could hear, it didn’t sound that smooth but she didn’t want to push.

After the online session, the mother also met with the tutor after her son logged off the system.  She was able to talk with her face to face just like the in person tutor.  She called out that she noticed where her son wasn’t answering her questions and gave her a suggestion on how she can form her questions to get her son to answer.  She also encouraged her to just wait and let there be silence until he answered.

The following week, they had their next set of session.  She listened from the top of the stairs, still unable to really understand how it was going.  She watched the online session.  It was going much more smoothly.  This time, she just logged off so she could clean up things from dinner because it was going so well.

Over time, this family stopped the in person tutoring.  The online tutor was just connecting with their son more effectively.  (Or maybe the mom felt that way because she simply had so much more visibility into the sessions since she could spot check via sessions recordings.) She also appreciated just logging in right at 7pm, not needing to have her house presentable and not needing to put the barking dog away when the in person tutor arrived.

Not having a lot of options pushed this family to give 1 on 1 tutoring, and online tutoring, a try.  If you’re a parent with a child on the spectrum, this may be an option if you want to supplement what is going on, or NOT going on, in the classroom at school.

‘Cause I Want to Decide Between Survival and Bliss


Great lyrics from a great song* that has helped me through a pretty big decision about our daughter’s education.

‘Cause I want to decide between survival and bliss

And though I know who I’m not, I still don’t know who I am

But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

We’ve decided to pull our daughter out of public school and have her attend a private school that focuses on teaching children who are challenged with Dyslexia; children who are visual learners.

We’ve figured out who we are not.  She is not a verbal learner.  We’ve been limping along for the last 2 years.  Our daughter was put on a 504 plan in the 3rd grade.  This helped.  Extra time on tests and modified assignments seemed to get her through.  Her 5th grade year has been a lot tougher – and her grades reflected the reality that I was witnessing in the daily struggles of homework.

When that first report card came home, we decided to keep our daughter home from her own parent teacher conference so we could have a candid conversation about how poorly she was showing up on the report card.  This lead to evaluations and more evidence of her learning style and the impact it is having.  2 key data points popped out at me:

1. 99th percentile for math concepts such as geometry–anything truly conceptual, spacial or visual

2. 8th percentile for anything fluency related – reading, writing, math

If a concept is taught using visual aids, no problem.  But if a concept is taught with verbal instruction, which is exactly how a 5th grade classroom of 30 kids is set up, disaster.  As my daughter would work on assignments, the teacher HAD provided a checklist of the elements that needed to be covered or a worksheet with a written summary of the assignment.  But when asked about the details that had been explained in class about each element, all was hazy.  The devil is in the details and those details were being lost.

The impact on our daughter went well beyond the homework table or the classroom.  Her confidence was destroyed.  She withdrew more and more.  This resulted in problems with developing healthy friendships at school and the inability to ask her teachers or her peers for help when she needed it.  She was falling victim to a vicious cycle.

Evaluations brought us to the conclusion that an IEP would be required. I’ve been managing an IEP for my son for over 10 years.  Honestly, I didn’t have it in me to manage another one.  We’ve been able to make things work for him and he is thriving.  But as I looked at what this would mean for my daughter, it just didn’t make sense.

This bright, creative young lady who can make her own dolls clothes without a pattern and put a piece of furniture from IKEA together with little assistance is in a school system that treats her learning style as a problem.  They are not set up to understand or handle the fact that it’s just different.

And this is what the decision came down to.  Do we spend the next few years just “surviving” within the school system and feeling like a victim of it?  Or do we choose another path where she has the opportunity to potentially thrive, to find some “bliss” in her education?

Having BOTH of my children drop out of the typical school system is daunting, overwhelming.  But for the first time in a long time, I am optimistic for her and her future.

She had the opportunity to attend her new school before we made our final decision.  In the car ride home, I saw an optimism in her that I haven’t seen in a while.  She said the other kids “read out loud like her and struggled with a few words here and there like her”.  At her other school, as her turn would approach to read out loud, she said she would get very nervous, so nervous that she would start sweating.  Several other examples of the anxiety she experiences every day at school came pouring out of her.  And she believes she won’t experience this in her new school and that she will be able to learn a lot.

I’m grateful that I have the ability to work with my ex-husband to provide this opportunity for our daughter.  And I’m glad my husband and I have the ability to handle the expense and extra logistics involved.  We are lucky.  I hope other kids in this situation can be as lucky as we are.

*song: Precious Illusions by Alanis Morissette