It’s that time of year again, time for the annual IEP meeting at Brendan’s school. This year was a little different than most. First because Matt wasn’t going to be there for the first time since, well, ever. We’ve done these every year since Brendan was 12 months old and in that time through 2 full time jobs and his training schedule we’ve always managed to make sure we could both be present at the meetings. Now Matt will admit to you that I am generally the take charge person when it comes to these meetings, but we both feel it’s important for us both to be there participating in the process and getting all of the information.
Unfortunately, because of where Brendan’s IEP falls in the school year makes our window of opportunity to get the meeting scheduled and taken care of kind of small. It generally falls at the end of January, with Winter Break bookending the other end of the month. And coordinating the schedules of the 6-7 people who are present at the meeting is never an easy task. So when they scheduled the meeting in the middle of Matt’s trip out of the country, we decided to go ahead with it and Matt would just have to miss it.
I ended up not going to the meeting by myself however. I was talking with Matt’s sister about it and when she found out that the meeting was going to happen while Matt was gone she volunteered to take his place. She herself has had a child on an IEP and understands the importance of having two people there to get through the materials. She was able to provide a unique insight into the proceedings and ask some questions that I hadn’t thought of.
The other thing that changed this year was that Brendan was very interested in the whole process. He’s known for a long time that he’s on an IEP. It was either back in first or second grade that he asked what that meant. We try very hard to be open and honest with him about the entire situation and talk to him about the process whenever he’s interested. We also make it a point to make sure that we never ever paint the process in a negative light. Unfortunately special education has always had a negative stigma attached to it and I know that there are going to be kids out there who will make fun of him for having special needs.
But at home we don’t talk to him about having special needs. We have explained that the IEP is in place to make sure that he has all the tools he needs to be successful in school. That the team of teachers are working with Matt and I to determine what it is he needs and making sure we make those things available. We’ve also told him that if there is ever anything he feels he needs assistance with at school to tell either us or his teacher depending on who he feels most comfortable talking to about it.
He’s always accepted that, and has never felt embarrassed or ashamed of working with these extra teachers during the day. Back in his early school days he did have some tools to assist him with his dexterity. He had a slant board and some special pencil grips to help him with his writing. Around second grade he figured out that no one had those tools besides him and “accidentally” broke his slant board and “misplaced” all of his pencil grips. Since then he’s improved enough in his writing that those tools aren’t necessary any longer and he’s able to get through his day without feeling too far out of place.
This year he has shown some resistance to being pulled out of the classroom. In talking with him, it isn’t that he minds working with the teachers, it has more to do with being embarrassed that he misses some of the things going on in his regular classroom and he doesn’t like having to ask his friends what he missed. He says he feels like it puts him under the spotlight. The nice thing is, his IEP team has noticed this as well and came to the meeting with a plan to continue working with Brendan without pulling him out of the classroom at all. He was very excited to hear about this change and eager to put it into place.
But knowing that information wasn’t enough to satisfy his curiosity. He wanted to know everything that we talked about during the meeting. So, that night as we settled down to read for the night I brought out the draft copy of the IEP and went over each section of it with him. I explained why we felt each goal in the IEP was necessary and what his teachers would be doing to help him achieve each of the goals. He was very interested in the whole thing and we spent a good 45 minutes talking it through.
Then he, like I had that afternoon, had questions about what to expect next year. Because the next IEP we write will be for his first year in middle school. From the way they explained it to me the actual IEP process will be the exact same as it was in elementary school, which was nice to know. At least as I transition my baby into a new school environment I will have one element that is familiar amidst all of the new things. But next year will have a couple of additions to it as well.
Either combined with the writing or at a later date we will need to have a transition meeting. I’ve been through this before, when Brendan transitioned from Early Childhood intervention to Kindergarten we had to do the same thing. That was really hard for me because we’d worked with the same group of 5 ladies for almost 5 years. They’d started working with us when Brendan was 12 months old and there we were handing him off to a new group of people when he was just 5 and a half.
Now I’m in the same situation. Brendan has been with the same group of individuals for his entire elementary career. By the time we get to the transition meeting next winter we will have been working together for 6 years. It’s very hard to make the change, and I didn’t think I would ever be as comfortable with a team as I was with the Early Childhood staff, but I’ve now grown quite fond of and quite attached to Brendan’s current team and am not looking forward to changing again.
Along with that, we also have to recertify Brendan next year. Our district requires an evaluation of services every 3 years. Brendan was evaluated going into Kindergarten, going into 3rd grade, and will be again going into 6th grade. I’m happy for the chance to recertify him. His second grade teacher didn’t advocate for him as well as I thought she should and because she claimed not to be seeing anything going on with him in the classroom we lost about half of the services we were getting for him.
I briefly explained all of this to Brendan (well not the part about his second grade teacher–Matt and I try to keep our dislike of her away from Brendan and let him form his own opinion of her). Once he heard about the recertification he had more questions about what that meant and how it would impact him. So I told him all that I could remember about his last certification and explained that most of it wouldn’t impact him directly, that they would determine his needs mostly through observation.
His next questions were about what things he would be recertified on. I went through the list of things he’d been on in the past and said it was likely he’d be looked at in all of those areas again; physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision, and autism. The last one caught his attention and he asked what that was.
It was at that moment that I realized we’ve never talked to Brendan about autism or what it means. And while I have a basic understanding of it I don’t really have a good way to explain it to him. And I told him so. I promised him that I would answer his questions about autism, just not at that moment because I needed time to find the best way to explain it. I still don’t have the answer but Matt and I are working together to find the best way to phrase it so that Brendan will both understand and accept it.