Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Angst

Individualized Education Plan (IEP} time. Ugh, this is when I stew in the dashed hopes of my child ever catching up academically and simultaneously wallow in parental guilt and shame. I do all of this while preparing to battle teachers about why my child isn’t getting all of the needed supports or services. If you haven’t had a child in special education, you probably are unfamiliar with the IEP meeting stress.

An Individualized Education Program or Plan (IEP) is a written plan for children struggling in school. Goals get identified, and special education services, supports, and accommodations are selected to help move your child forward. Goals get assessed quarterly.

A meeting is held annually (unless otherwise requested). This is when stakeholders (parents of a child on an IEP, his or her teachers, and an IEP facilitator) convene in a school conference room to hash out what next year’s goals, supports, and services should look like.

I have a perfect record of crying in 5 out of 5 of my daughter’s annual IEP meetings. Sniffly tears relieve some of the emotional pressure, right? But, this year, I get to cry in my house because it’s a phone meeting. Yay?

Let me tell you a secret. Okay, now, it’s not a secret, but I’ve disliked most of my daughter’s teachers. Just so you don’t label me a teacher hater, I’ve never had this problem with any of my son’s general education teachers. Okay, except for the teacher that yells at kids until they cry. She sucks.

My guess is that if you surveyed parents of kids in special education about their relationships with their child’s teacher you would find signs of acrimony everywhere. Some of this is from the stress of having a child with delays, but also from judgment from teachers.

My daughter’s pre-k teacher used to send me regular emails questioning our shoe choices for my daughter and why she was unable to keep shoes on her feet. She even offered to buy my daughter a pair of shoes. In retrospect, this feels way less offensive than it did at the time.

I found compassion for that pre-k teacher, though, after spending the day substitute teaching where I followed barely verbal kindergarteners (on an IEP), but in a general education classroom setting, I couldn’t get these kids to do any of the activities that I was tasked to help with. My big win for that day was distracting my kids from knocking over the other kids’ blocks. I still can see one little boy’s happy face as we knocked over blocks in our own little corner.

That pre-k teacher had a seriously difficult and frustrating job. I’m sure there are beautiful moments, but I didn’t get to see them. Additionally, I got a window into what it was probably like to work with my daughter in an academic setting in that age range. #ToughDay

After one exhausting and overwhelming substitute teaching day. I can see why a teacher might choose to focus on winning the shoe battle with kids who resisted every other single thing that you tried to get them to do.

At the end of my daughter’s second year of pre-k, the shoe judging teacher told me that the term “delays” was misleading because some kids never catch up. I resisted this notion, but her words still sit with me.

Each annual IEP meeting, I try to set my expectations, but embers of hope flicker that my child will one day fall in the typical developing tribe. These sparks are quickly extinguished when the teachers share the standardized tests that show your child’s score is too low to plot, and when I contemplate what an uphill battle she has.

To date, I’ve handled my daughter’s delays by throwing resources in the form of private speech therapy, therapeutic riding, and a special summer camp. I even researched getting her a tutor. Until recently, I never felt qualified to help my daughter with her elementary school work. I’ve had fantasies about being a teacher since I was a child, but somehow tutoring my daughter felt to hard

With reflection, I recognized this belief as a protection mechanism. Watching your child struggle with school work that is a few grades below their grade level hurts. Queue, the shitty parent feeling.

The quarantine-time homeschooling, though, has gifted me with a chance to truly see where my daughter is academically and feel the total ownership for shoring up foundational knowledge or at least not making her delays worse. When I’m not stressed out and binge eating jelly beans, I actually feel kind of empowered about my children’s education.

For the first time, I’ve pushed back on almost all of my daughter’s IEP goals in the pre-meeting draft. Many of the goals weren’t specific enough or at her level. For instance, if she’s doing simple addition and subtraction, then why would she have a goal for multi-step word problems with multiplication and division. I’m grateful for the time to see things I need to see and finally feeling like I deserve a (virtual) seat at my daughter’s IEP meeting table.

If you’ve had any IEP struggles, please feel free to hit me up on Twitter. I’d love to chat.

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