I’m struggling finding the words that truly explain the emotions parents (or at least me) experience before during and after an IEP meeting. I want to share every raw emotion, the good and the bad, so the school personnel who read can get a sense of what it is like to be on the other side, so other parents understand they are not alone in their feelings, and so family and friends that don’t have children with special needs understand why we are lunatics around IEP time.
Courtney’s IEP meeting was yesterday and leading up to it, I was a nervous wreck. I let myself get so worked up before her meetings even though there is typically no reason for me to be worried or nervous. I let myself get more worked up this time because placement for kindergarten was going to be discussed. When you are on the path we are on, it takes a meeting to determine what the next school year will look like. It’s not just sending your child to their neighborhood school. Now that the time is here, I am finding that harder to take than I expected. I know, it’s just a school. But it’s the school that Courtney and Alyssa were suppose to attend together at some point. I loved being in the same school building as my siblings. When push comes to shove, you knew your “people” were in the same building to help you. I remember when I was in kindergarten that there were times I would be upset and they would bring me to my older brother so he can say hi to me and that was all I needed. Nope, not the case for us. Not the path we are on. Gulp, hold back the tears and time to move on.
Let me back up though. Let’s talk about how overwhelming it is for a parent to just walk into an IEP meeting. The more severe the child’s needs are, the more staff that are involved in your child’s education. Courtney’s school team includes a teacher, a speech language therapist, an occupational therapist, a health clerk (partly because it was a re-eval and all the health issues we had at the beginning of the year), a social worker, a psychologist, and then the admin of the school and a representative of the kindergarten placement. That is 8 adults, all there to talk about the needs of my child. There actually wasn’t enough room around the table for everyone. I lead meetings like this and I still find it overwhelming.
The meeting always starts off with sharing the child’s strengths and celebrations. It’s a great way to start the meeting. I loved hearing about all the progress the team has felt Courtney has made. Some of the staff members have been a part of Courtney’s team for 3 years and it was amazing to hear the growth they have seen. This is followed by what the next steps are and the growth that we hope to still see in the coming year. It’s an emotional roller coaster! We finish talking about how great she is doing and then remember how far she still has to go. My 5 almost 6 year old is still learning how to communicate her wants and needs. Still learning how to use words. I know…baby steps. All that matters is we are making those steps forward. Who decided anyways that progress needed to be made at a certain rate for every child?
I actually wonder after sitting through a placement meeting why every child’s placement isn’t done so delicately. I was so impressed on how much detail went in to Courtney’s placement part of the meeting. A representative from the proposed program attended the meeting. Her current assistant principal stopped the meeting at one point and had me explain to the representative the events that occurred in the fall regarding her health and prefaced it with how important it is that they know how much her health plays a role in her ability to perform. You want to paint this beautiful picture of your child for a new teacher but the picture I was painting was a child with aggression and communication issues that really limit her. I know, nothing they haven’t heard, but again, difficult. And difficult to relive the moments of the fall and hear the staff even say how heart wrenching it was to watch.
I was in awe as the representative described the program that was being proposed. It was the program we observed. It truly is a perfect program for her. I was so excited to hear about the community outings they do with the students so they can generalize everything they are working on outside the classroom. Now, we also found out at this meeting that though we know the program she will be a part of, we do not know what school she will be at. The district has to open up a third classroom of this program and they have yet to determine what school it will be at and may not be decided until this summer. So as most people know what school their child will be attending, we do not know. This does leave Joe and I concerned. A structured learning classroom is so unique. It is so much more than just a classroom. This likely means a whole knew team of teachers and therapists. It is training the entire staff and community in the school how to work with children like Courtney. This is hard to do in a year. We shared our concerns with the team. They acknowledged that they understand how nerve wrecking it is. The representative even said she would probably feel the same way. Though they assured us that opening up this classroom will not be taken lightly, we are left still with some uncertainty. I will keep holding on to how much we like how the program looks in the other schools.
I think the other emotions I’m feeling comes from the fact that Courtney has been in this school for 3 full years. Through the ups and downs of how we felt about program changes at this school, she made so much progress. She is comfortable there. She loves it there. She is happy there. But in just a few short months, we will be saying good bye to all of them and trying to find a way to thank them for all they have done. So many emotions!
In this picture, Courtney is wearing a shirt for autism awareness. It shows puzzles pieces and says “Until all the pieces fit”. Seeing so many people in this meeting shows how many puzzle pieces it really does take. But together we do find a way to make them all fit. I will forever be grateful for the staff at her preschool that helped bring her so far.