Leo Zanchettin, Prosecuting Attorney

VinnyWell, it’s that time of the year again—the beginning of school and its attendant Rite of Introduction. That’s when you get to meet your kids’ teachers and size them up. Are they the type who live solely by the rules and standardized tests? Are they the kind who have high expectations for their students (a good thing), but don’t know how to help their exceptional students meet those expectations (a not so good thing)? Are they the kind who will look at you like you have two heads when you tell them that your child has an autism spectrum disorder? Will they be quick to respond to your e-mails and questions? Or will you have to pry it out of them?

It’s also the season for IEP meetings. Those wonderful exercises in diplomacy, tact, and tongue-biting. Those opportunities to do penance for your past sins and to try mightily to avoid any future sins.

A Successful Pre-Trial Hearing.

I’ve been thinking about IEP meetings a lot recently, because we have a big one coming up in a couple of weeks. It’s for our fourth child, who is entering third grade this year. Last February, we had a pretty tense gathering with his IEP team at school, when we requested that he be tested and formally recognized as being on the autism spectrum. After a ninety-minute “discussion” on the issue, Katie and I prevailed, and the process of testing him was put into motion.

To this day, I don’t know what turned the tables. For the first hour, I was sure we were going to be denied. But then out of nowhere, the assistant principal began passing out consent forms. Katie thinks it had something to do with the fact that I used the word “irresponsible” in describing the administration’s response to my son’s needs, but I’m still not convinced.

Anyway, the school took all the time it could in conducting the tests, so we couldn’t meet before the end of the school year to discuss the test results. So now we are gearing up for the very important get together, when the school will either agree with us and formally designate him as needing ASD services, or they will give some new variation on the standard line: “he seems fine to us.”

I’m not too worried this time. We’ve got enough evidence from the school’s own testing as well as diagnoses from our therapists to win the day. Granted, schools can be pretty clever when it comes to finding a way out of these things. But we’re getting familiar with the tactics and are learning how to counter them. This is, after all, the third time we’ve been down this road.

I Hate It.

But here’s the thing. I hate these meetings. And not primarily because I have to deal with a skeptical, reluctant team of educators and administrators. What I hate more is the fact that I have to convince them. I have to take them by the hand and walk them through our all the aspects of our son’s ASD.

I have to rehearse every “academically relevant” way in which his disorder manifests itself—including the melt downs over homework and the inability to read social cues and the sometimes tragic, sometimes comical things that come from this inability.

I have to become something of an NSA agent taping his conversations and culling through them to find the evidence of his uneven pragmatic language skills.

I have to pore over all of his testing data, highlighting every deficit so that I can show how it relates to his ASD and how it will affect his ability to move through the curriculum.

I have to give special emphasis to his challenges and deficits and defects (God, I hate that word). When a teacher says something like, “But he’s so cute and charming,” I get to agree, but I can’t dwell on his good qualities for too long. I have to get right back to his needs.

In other words, I have to build a case against my own son, sort of like the way a prosecuting attorney would build a case against a criminal. Because the school will hang on to any positive inkling about him and use it to deny him the services he needs.

That’s what I hate.

Because he’s such a good kid. He’s smart. He’s sensitive. He’s energetic. He’s loving and kind. He’s got the brightest light in his eyes and the liveliest spring to his step I’ve ever seen (yes, he’s a toe-walker). Here he is, my own flesh and blood, and I have the singular privilege of telling a group of low-level bureaucrats everything that’s “wrong” with him.

A Smile on My Face and a Pit in My Stomach.

What’s not to hate?

But we do it, as we’ve done for two of our other children. As we’ll likely have to do for two more. We do it because we want them to get the “free and appropriate public education” that is their right by law. We do it because we want them to be given a fair chance to learn and grow and develop and make a positive contribution in a world that can seem so alien to them. We do it because we love them too much to let them or their school think that just squeaking by is good enough.

So there I’ll be in a couple of weeks, patiently and carefully building a case against my own son. I’ll do it with a smile on my face and a pit in my stomach. And I’ll be praying the whole time that I not lose my cool. Because I want what any parent wants: the best for my kid.

2 thoughts on “Leo Zanchettin, Prosecuting Attorney

  1. So well said! You play prosecutor at times, but everyone knows you are primarily the defense attorney for your wonderful kids!

  2. Pingback: Dissecting a Victory | autismblues

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