Friday, March 6, 2015

The Day The IEP Worked

Photo image courtesy of Robert Churchill via
O Lord, you alone are my hope.
    I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood.
~ Psalm 71:5, NLT ~

While moods may be tense and foul from endless winters, there is a season more widely dreaded by parents raising a child with special needs -- IEP season.

I explained to a friend who is a special education teacher that even the best IEP meeting is a heap of stress for parents.  It is that one time of year where we are made to hyper-focus on the less-than-typical things in our child.  We often sit down at the table for an hour or more with people who may not share our opinions or approaches regarding our child's schooling.  At times we can find ourselves trying to be diplomatic with people who feel like our bitter adversaries.  And at the end of this intensive time, we are expected to have problem-solved together, formulating an agreeable contract to give this child their best shot at a quality education.

Last week we had our daughter's annual IEP meeting.  Even though she has made incredible strides, I was no less feeling the intense pressure that comes every year.  Would there be any surprises?  What if they try to drop her back down to a less effective 504 Plan again or deny her services?  What if my husband makes some well-intentioned and completely incorrect remark in the meeting?  Does this EVER get easier?

Since we fought to first get her services in the third grade, we have met with large teams of professionals around large conference tables hashing out multiple details, procedures, and adjustments to her academic plan.  This year, we were meeting in the school's small conference room with only a handful of staff.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.

To my delight, this was the first year that our daughter was included in the meeting.  I was concerned about how she would respond, as her previous attendance at these types of meetings have made her very nervous...  and thus, extremely goofy.  

Still, one of the exciting things that propelled her forward this year was her sudden and unexplained ability to verbally advocate for herself.  Early into the school year she was asking me, "Mom, can you please buy me some gum, because it helps me concentrate on my work in class?"

WHAT?  You have recognized something that helps you focus on your work?  Of course I'll buy you what you need!  

Parents like me realize that this is a HUGE step for a child with any sort of executive functioning issues.  The fact that she has had to try to make all of her strides without the assistance of any medications because of her allergic reactions to them is no small feat either!

The meeting proceeded with the school psychologist, the special education teacher, her occupational therapist, and one of her regular teachers.

"I don't want to sound in any way rude, but I must say that any progress that has taken place this year has been because of our daughter's effort," I honestly and tearfully stated as we got underway.

"That is exactly what I was going to say," responded her special ed teacher.

Wow!  What a treat to come together in agreement!

Prior to the meeting, I had met with our girl, pressing her to think about what she might need to be successful in the school days ahead.  (Thank you for that idea, Sharon Fuentes!)  It was a little bit too abstract of a concept for her to grasp at first.  Noticing this, I started going through with her the strategies that she is currently using, asking how these were working and what might work better.  Eventually, she began to catch the vision, and came back to me about 4 different times with things she might like for me to write down and mention at her IEP meeting.

Formulating that list enabled us to cut down on the amount of time spent in the conference.  We could talk about her successes, her challenges and what we thought were viable solutions to addressing them.  We were able to get right down to some new health issues that will need accommodation in the days ahead.  It made for a much better use of time for everyone involved.

As we got to the end of the meeting, I asked if our daughter could be dismissed back to her classroom so I could speak privately with the staff.  Unbeknownst to me, our girl had been having a little "check in" with the school psychologist about once a week this school year.  Learning this in our private staff conversation, I wondered if this had set in motion some other positive accomplishments.  Through tears I spoke with the psychologist about the fact that, for the first time ever, our daughter had recently spoken about physical social cues she had noticed in another person who was lying to her.  It was amazing!  The school psychologist became tearful too.  We discussed my daughter's progress with making just a few new positive social contacts this year.  It was an incredible relief.

In the end, the accommodations we wanted had been made, her academic progress had been noted, and she did not lose any services or supports.  Things went so well, it was almost surreal.

I share this story of our daughter's IEP this school year to give you the one thing that we parents so desperately need...  HOPE.

This annual educational piece is one area where we parents can just feel such dread each year.  We need that hope that we will be taken seriously, hope that our child will be valued by other adults and peers, hope that they can have a positive experience in the school setting, and hope that we can work with our local school without having to end up in an ugly, contentious situation.

I want to encourage you today that it CAN happen.  We have had our share of good and bad years over the course of our daughter's schooling.  The first two years transitioning from grade school to intermediate school were particularly rough.  We even went into the beginning of this current school year with boundaries in mind that would determine if we needed to make a complete change of course.  Nevertheless, our perseverance paid off.

The good news is that if we remain engaged parents, politely persisting, working with our child and educators, and having a solid, reasonable framework of expectations in place, our children CAN have IEPs that actually work.  Cling to the Giver of all HOPE, parents.  He will equip you to put everything your child needs into place.

PRAY:  Father, wisdom and knowledge are Yours.  Guide us to make wise decisions for our kids.  Go before us and beside us into our various meetings with our educational professionals.  Prince of Peace, bring us unity of purpose and a spirit of teamwork with school staff.  Help us to succeed in making school a positive experience for our children.

~ Barb Dittrich

* Recommended Resource:  The Don't Freak Out Guide To Parenting Kids With Asperger's by Sharon Fuentes and Neil McNerney, M.Ed, LPC


  1. As always - Barb - honest, REAL, and encouraging! Love U!

  2. IEP's are so daunting, emotional and heavy no matter how many years I attend. I dread it so much but get through it every year. My daughter is going on 4th grade now. I'm worried, as always, but know God will protect her. Best of luck to you too.

  3. Love to hear a story of HOPE and a GREAT IEP and even more... Love to hear that your daughter was a part of her own success! So important and even more important that she understands and feels that! AWESOME! P.S. Thanks for teh shout out too! HUGS!