My son will graduate from high school in a month. And today I attended his last IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. As a speech language pathologist, I have attended many IEPs for other students, but the IEP of your own child is a matter of personal commitment, personal joys and sorrows and personal hope for the future for a child you love more than life itself!
Over the years his IEP meetings have been stress-inducing, time-consuming, at times adversarial, and other times cooperative and productive. Together my husband and I have weathered meetings where important staff did not show up, as well as when the special ed. director and 2 school district lawyers showed up unannounced. And when services were unilaterally withdrawn by the school, we requested and got an outside independent assessment and got our son’s services reinstated. With the help of Parent Helping Parents, and the California Department of Education educational safeguards office we kept our meetings on track. We advocated for adaptive equipment, lobbied teachers and the special ed. staff to our side, and strove to maintain an open relationship (as open as we could) with our school district. For 12 years I’ve saved reports, catalogued meetings, collected resources and recorded helpful phone numbers. The organization skill is deeply ingrained as evidenced by my IEP notebooks.
It was advice a parent gave me when I was just getting started down this road called “Special Ed.”. Denise said “…finding the right help can be a daunting task when you have an Asperger child. We went to (Social Thinking) sessions with Michelle Garcia Winner for 2 years. I wasn’t sure that the program was helping him in the real world, but over the years, I can see that the lessons had been absorbed and he was slowly using what he had learned in the classes. Some kids need tutoring in math, some need the operating manual for social interaction! Middle school is very difficult, but not that my son is a freshman in high school, I can see things coming together. He is becoming a wonderful human being, and I have to tell you there were a few years I had my doubts. It is really important to make good connections with people at schools and keep your interactions as positive as possible. Giving them the chance to have empathy and understanding of your child’s condition is key. They are the people who will make a difference in your son’s daily social life.”
Her advice made a big difference when our family and the school has our disagreements! No year was perfect, but each year had positive elements, successful programs and effective teachers. I spoke up when things worked well. I said thank you, and showed the adminstration and teachers my gratitude for their efforts.
I have to confess that today’s meeting, our last IEP meeting of my son’s school career, marks a bittersweet end to this stage in our lives as high school comes to an end in June and college starts in September. My son will graduate with a high school diploma. The IEP services that have been a part of our lives for so many years will come to an end. It is cause for both celebration and anxiety. I find myself in unfamiliar territory. The community college has a Disability and Educational Support Program. However it functions in a very different way from our old IEP. Some supports will be available, but class content cannot be modified. Academic counseling tailored to students with special needs will be available. More things will come into view when he begins there in September. It is both scary and exciting. In this, our experience is like any teenager’s and parent’s.