Mateo had the big IEP today, the triennial IEP! These IEP’s are given out every three years and involve putting the child through a ton of tests to see where he is academically, socially, physically to grasp an overall picture of how your child ranks to children his/her age. Mateo’s last one was before entering Kindergarten and involved me taking him to a psychologist for several occasions for rather long sessions, as well as intense evaluations delivered by his Occupational and Speech therapist. And Mateo came out with many strengths and deficits and a school psychologist that ranked him very high on the Autism traits scale.
Mateo is doing well in school, he doesn’t have a lot of behaviors, he stays focused, is advanced in Math and really improving in his reading and writing though not at Grade level yet. He amazes us all in how well he does and how hard he pushes himself. The room was filled with familiar faces today, people that have been with Mateo for the past year, two years and three years at the school except for one, the school psychologist they brought in to evaluate him. She spent a total of two 30 minute sessions with him in the past week. That was all.
We sat through the long IEP and many praises were said of Mateo’s accomplishments in the past year. We were all so happy to see how much he has done, and how hard he has worked. Much of his scores are accredited to the hard work of the therapists as well and the excellent services he has been receiving for the past years. There were still many things that Mateo scored below average on, many things that we knew he needed support in to be successful. None of the evaluations or his placement was really a surprise to us. We sit with him each day and do his homework, we have weekly chats with his teacher and follow up with his Special Ed Coordinator often.
The only real surprise of the whole session was what came out of the school psychologist’s mouth towards the end of the IEP. I will honestly say, I never expected to hear something like this, and I believe I left mostly in shock. She sat across the table from us and passed a list over to us of 7 Autistic Traits. I wish I had the list, but I remember glancing at it and thinking yeah Mateo hits a about 4 of those right on, so what exactly is her point. There are no 7 perfect traits that each person with Autism will all share, which is why it is called a Spectrum Disorder. Has she seen the T-shirts that say, “If you meet a person with Autism, You’ve met one person with Autism.” This all happened in my head as a I looked at her wondering where she was going with this list.
Then she said to us, “How would you feel if we took this label away?”
And I instantly flashed back to Mateo’s diagnosis with another psychologist. The diagnosis that happened 6 years ago. When we sat in the office after a very long observation and evaluation and this psychologist said to us, you can’t ever focus on the label, you need to think of the services your son will receive. He is young, early intervention is so important, and he has Autism. He said, he knew those words were not easy for us to take in at this time, but to trust him. And it took a little while, but he was right. That diagnosis meant everything to Mateo. He received so much from that diagnosis, he received 40 hours a week of ABA, OT, Speech and Social Groups that got him to where he is today. And through those 6 years, I have learned so much, and one of the most important things I have learned is to embrace Mateo and the Autism that makes me such an incredible kid! And how I have been trying to teach him to be proud of who he is and to never feel ashamed of being different or having Autism. And I wanted to blurt all of these things spinning through my head.
I think the look of complete shock and disappointment on my face resonated through the room as my Special Ed Coordinator looked at me and said “This is a decision we will be making as a group. No one person will be making this decision.” And that no one will take away his academic services until we decide that he’s ready. And I said, I think we need to continue his academic support, I don’t think he’s ready. And she agreed, and the room agreed, except for the stranger in the room. She went on to say the goal is to move him out of special education eventually. Sure, I understand that. Does not change the fact that my son has Autism? No! And you sitting across the room from me pretending to wave a magic wand after spending a total of 60 minutes with him to make is Autism label disappear is ludicrous.
He works so hard to get his brain to connect, put in so many hours to get where he is today. I could not be more proud of him! But a usually uplifting yearly IEP turned very sour to me in that moment. How dare she say those words after he has worked so hard to get there. After we have tried so hard to positively portray Autism, part of who he is, something he lives with every day. But to her I know he was money going out the door to pay for services. And I know how to handle people like that. I fought the district year after year to get Mateo quality placement and the support he needed, I have no problems breaking out my Mama Bear claws and taking on a fight.
Thankfully no fights had to be fought this time, and we have some very caring people at that school that support us all. To them I am very grateful. They are all aware of how hard Mateo works each day and what an incredible kid he is. It was said over and over again in the meeting. They are all very proud of him. Thanks so much to them for that support!