IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) and IEP (Individual Education Plan) are both terms that my husband and I are very familiar with. They’ve been a part of our vocabulary for 8 years now. These are what our school district uses to provide special education services to students in need (I don’t know if these are the same documents every school district uses, but they seem to be the standard around here). And every year we are required to meet with Brendan’s current teacher and his special education team to determine what goals he has completed and what goals need added for the following 12 month period. Today was our annual meeting.
The timing of this meeting really stinks in my opinion. It’s halfway through the school year, so it’s written by his current teacher and has to cover at least half of the next school year without us knowing who his new teacher is going to be or how he/she will interpret the goals within the IEP since they were not there to help write them. Unfortunately it is when it is because of when Brendan qualified for services initially. When he was 9 months old our pediatrician recommended a developmental specialist to us because Brendan wasn’t meeting the development curve. We went and saw him for Brendan’s 12 month checkup and he confirmed that Brendan was severely behind the curve developmentally but there was nothing he could medically do for us unless Brendan stopped developing totally. He recommended we contact our local school district and have Brendan evaluated to see if he qualified for any special services.
We contacted the school and they came out to the house to evaluate Brendan. We had 8-9 teachers with different special education backgrounds sitting in our living room doing all sorts of activities with Brendan for almost 2 hours. All Matt and I could do was sit back and watch. We had no idea what significance any of these activities had or how to evaluate whether Brendan performed them well or not. At the time we had him tested the only thing we were aware of was that he wasn’t able to sit up or crawl on his own. From our perspective he seemed to do well on their other tests and we were concerned they would say he didn’t qualify for services just on the delay in movement.
Boy were we wrong. He qualified for services in gross motor (walking, crawling, etc), fine motor (his ability to grasp a small object), and speech (he wasn’t talking at that point). They began to lay out for us a plan of therapy sessions which would help him through each of these issues. He would receive therapy multiple times per week for an hour at a time. The first thought that went through my head was how we were going to manage to get him to these therapy appointments, but they explained to us that the therapy sessions would take place right in our home and that they would come to us rather than us having to go to them.
Phew, one load off my mind. Then dollar signs started flashing through my head. How much were these services going to cost me? In the sense that Brendan needed the help, money was not going to prevent me from doing all that we needed to get him help. But that didn’t stop me from worrying about how much debt I was going to incur to provide it. The district representatives quickly assured me that money was not a problem. The services they provide are free to all families living within the district. They want to encourage early intervention whenever possible to get as many kids up to speed before they start school as possible. My jaw dropped at this proclimation. Multiple therapy sessions by trained professionals, taking place right in the comfort of my own home, for FREE? I must be dreaming.
But I wasn’t. Brendan’s early education team were some of the most wonderful ladies I’d ever met. They took such great care of Brendan and adjusted his plan as he developed new problems and overcame old ones. They got us connected with an in-district pre-school that was perfect for Brendan. He was in a class where half of the students qualified for special education services and half of the students didn’t. This makeup was just what he needed because while he does qualify for services, his personality fit better with the students who did not receive services. The previous year they’d put him into a fully special education class and he just didn’t fit into that group at all.
Since children under the age of 5 grow and develop so quickly, the IFSP process had to be rewritten and revised every 6 months. Coordinating the schedules of that many caretakers, plus two working parents was always tricky. There were a couple of times that it just didn’t work out that both Matt and I could be there, but we made every effort to both be involved in the process. Even now with me not working, Matt still makes an effort to be available anytime we have either parent/teacher conferences or the IEP meeting.
This morning’s IEP meeting progressed much like the 8 billion other ones we’ve gone through. They aren’t nearly as overwhelming as they were back when Brendan was a toddler. Partially because we have a better understanding of the process at this point, and partially because he has less care providers and less goals…so the mountain of paperwork is much less than it used to be. There are still at least 4 sheets of paper that we have to sign saying we were present and took part in the meeting, and that we agree with all that is written into the IEP, and that we’ve read our rights as parents of a special needs child and were provided with (or at least offered) a copy of the parental rights handbook. I’ve received so many parental rights handbooks through the years that I could probably wallpaper my entire house with them and have many many pages left over afterward.
As we dived into the heart of the meeting I was reminded once more why it is that I love Brendan’s teacher so much. We first went through his previous goals (which thanks to the handy work of his previous teacher had been reduced down to exactly one goal) and agreed that goal was still ongoing and necessary to keep on his IEP for the following year. Then we went into what goals needed added to his IEP. This was where his teacher shined. I had a list of things I wanted to see added into the IEP, but never even got my list out. I had met with his teacher when she returned from maternity leave and discussed with her the issues I was seeing in Brendan’s progress that school year and she helped me develop solutions that would work for Brendan to overcome those obsticles. Those solutions have been working so well that I wanted to see them written into the IEP for future teachers to use. However, she must have had the same thought because every one of those items were written into the IEP already and she’d come up with a couple more that would be beneficial to incorporate the rest of this school year and into the next one.
That saved me a lot of time and effort of having to explain what it was we were doing and why I felt it would be beneficial to continue those things. The only thing that hadn’t been addressed already was Brendan’s issues with remaining focused. I had no idea what services the school could provide to assist with that problem, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least mention my concerns and see what they could do. His teacher took the lead and a discussion started about his struggles with both his sight and his fine motor skills (Brendan has very low muscle tone which makes it difficult for him to grasp small objects in his hands).
They determined that his focus issues were most likely linked to the amount of effort he had to put forth to write. Within a matter of minutes they’d determined that adding a learn to type program to his IEP and to his weekly school routine was the best method to overcome this obsticle. He will still have to write some things to continue to develop his handwriting skills, but that will be supplemented on longer projects with a word processor. His teacher also gave us permission to do his spelling homework on the computer and email the assignments back to her. She said she didn’t care how he did them as long as he got the practice in each week.
We left the meeting fully satisfied that for the next 12 months Brendan’s needs will be taken care of from every aspect. If only every teacher had the skills this one does to recognize the needs of an individual child and be able to tailor her teachings to meet those needs. We are so blessed.