Up until this very morning, the preparation for an IEP involved many different emotions. I usually was angry, defiant, disappointed, unhappy and a host of other negative emotions. Already this year, my daughter is struggling with her new school. Sixth grade is stressful for many kids as a rule, as the beginning of middle school is filled with change and all manner of new things. For a child with Autism, this can be very overwhelming. She is already struggling and I was ready for the meeting to start today with a strained tone. I was pleasantly surprised.
For those unfamiliar with the IEP (the Individualized Education Program), it is a comprehensive document that follows your child throughout their education, as long as it is needed. It is not required for every child, but in my children’s case, it was needed and quite extensively. For my daughter, the past several years’ IEP meetings were like being in a war room, with hard battle lines drawn and a person overseeing the IEP who made mistakes so profound that I had to go over her head and have her reprimanded for her mistakes. Talk about AWKWARD TENSION.
Today, the new IEP chair reminded me that he was there for two of those IEPs and he suggested that I “never lose the fire of my advocacy for my daughter” and I literally was stunned into silence. He said that he totally gets where I’m coming from and they presented me with a well thought out list of goals and adaptations they would like to try and an approach that wiped out the old IEP and introduced fresh, constructive ideas designed to help her succeed. Gone was the rigidity of the old IEP torture sessions and I felt like I was involved with an actual TEAM, which is the whole purpose of the IEP in the first place.
I was finally able to relax when I heard about the plans they have for my daughter and the innovative ways they are willing to help her and the flexibility they are willing to put into helping her succeed. They listened to my input and we were able to end on a note that left me feeling happy and hopeful for her improvement. Also gone were the months-long delays that lead to a catastrophic lack of follow up and plummeting grades and self-esteem (not to mention my endless anxiety and stress due to the incompetence).
My son graduated from high school this year and it was only due to my pervasive tenacity to keep fighting for his rights. In his case, having him pulled from public school and put into a school that specialized in children with Autism was the right path for him. For my daughter, the work is starting to fall into place to undue the damage her elementary school did and I see hope now instead of despair and hopelessness that she will ever receive a good education.
To those of you out there struggling, I feel your pain. I’ve been there. I may still be there from time to time, but for a brief moment today, I was HAPPY in an IEP. Never give up advocating for your child. It’s always worth it.