I do not think I have made it through one IEP without crying before, during or after. I think we have the most painless IEP of any IEP anyone could dream of, but talking about my kid’s education, their future, their accomplishments and their struggles stirs all of the emotion inside of me.
For those of you who do not have a child with any sort of developmental disabilities an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan that lays out the services your child will receive for the year. To the average person that sounds pretty painless. But unfortunately the public system is so skewed that it is anything but painless for most parents. It’s weeks of stress before, during and after until you sign in your own blood, sweat and tears to finalize it. It involves teachers, principals, the regional center, therapists, consultants and sometimes lawyers. The IEP has become a battle ground and war zone pinning parents against faculty to get the services our children need.
We are lucky enough to attend a wonderful Charter school where the dreaded IEP is not a battle ground, but a conversation. It is a dialog between our team. Our team consists of a Special Ed Coordinator, principal, teacher, therapists, our home ABA company and my husband and I. And we sit at a table, and we talk about Mateo’s accomplishments ( pages of accomplishments) and we talk about his struggles, we talk about his fun personality, and about his ability to make everyone in the room laugh. And in my IEP, everyone in the room knows Mateo. There are no strangers telling us what’s best for our child. They are the people that know his strengths and where he needs help. We laugh, and smile and of course I cry. Not because they are against us and fighting our suggestions, quite the opposite. In our discussions of his transition I tell them I am concerned about the 2nd graders in this new class.
You see, Mateo has had the same class for Kindergarten and First grade. They all know him and his silly personality, they know he stims when he’s excited or anxious, they know he may break down when frustrated, they support him and love him for who he is. But it’s all about to change. No longer will they all know Mateo. They will be bigger and let’s face it meaner than most Kindergartners. And I worry for him. I worry a lot! I worry they will be mean to him, and hurt his sweet nature. So as I tell the team my fears, I try to push the tears back. The Special Ed Coordinator is holding my gaze, and trying to be supportive but the tears fall anyway. I feel embarrassed, but my kids mean everything to me and every worry and fear I have is for them.
But we develop some strategies and ideas together. We are setting up meetings with his new teacher to develop a transition plan. We are deciding how to handle the new students and discussing Mateo and Autism. Our goal is to create a positive and happy environment for him for the next two years. Not just my goal, it’s the team’s goal.
My wish is that all of my Autism parents out there could have a TEAM for their IEP. I wish they could work together on the computer typing up the goals for the next year, providing input and not us versus them. I wish that an IEP was always in the interest of each child and not cause so much strain and stress on the parents. I wish it was a place of smiles and laughter and not a battle ground with blades drawn and names signed in regret or anger. I am here to support you all as we wind down from IEP season. You are all the warrior parents who have gotten us this far, and who knows, maybe together we can change the system to be about the kids.