This time of year is always crazy around our house. It isn’t just the holiday’s, or the fact that we have both my birthday and Brendan’s birthday bookending Christmas. This is the time of year for us that we have to start thinking about Brendan’s IEP meeting. For anyone reading this that isn’t familiar with what an IEP is, it’s an Individualized Education Plan, and it is what our school district uses when a child qualifies for Special Education Services.
The meeting itself isn’t too stressful, but scheduling it is. It falls just after winter break, so we usually have to start planning it before school lets out for the semester. Then it is trying to schedule it at a time that works for all the different people that have to be at the meeting. There is generally between 6-10 people involved, depending on the year. We generally try to make sure it falls at a time when Matt and I can both be present as well. I handle most of the day to day school stuff for the kids, but Matt has always been very involved in the IEP process and helping to make sure that we are meeting Brendan’s needs to the best of our ability.
In addition to the IEP meeting, every three years they have to do a re-evaluation to ensure that Brendan continues to qualify for services. When he went into Kindergarten he was certified to receive services for autism, vision, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and I swear there was at least one more, but it is escaping me now. From Kindergarten to second grade Brendan worked with about 5 different special education teachers and was pulled out of the classroom for about an hour per week to work on his specific IEP goals. We were very happy with the teachers he was working with, and the whole process in general. They seemed to be meeting his needs and were good about working with us when we had questions or concerns.
Our first major bump in the road came during the second grade IEP schedule. Brendan was due for re-evaluation. The re-evaluation process is lengthy and involves testing his academic skills, his physical skills, his vision, and of course filling out new autism questionnaires. Those are the absolute worst part of the process. There are usually 2-3 questionnaires to be filled out each with 50-150 questions on them. They take forever and a day to complete and Matt and I usually have to fill them out separately. In addition to us they have anyone who interacts with Brendan on a daily basis fill one out as well. Back when he was evaluated in pre-school that meant his daycare providers since he was in daycare every day, and it meant in second grade that his classroom teacher had to fill them out as well.
We had been having difficulty with his classroom teacher the entire school year. Back then Brendan was not a huge advocate for himself and it was up to the classroom teacher and us to recognize when something was amiss and help him solve the issue. The problem that we were encountering was that his teacher insisted on treating Brendan just like every other student in the classroom. And while we are definitely not ones to want overly special treatment for our child there were definitely areas where she needed to handle him a little bit differently.
For example, she had a reward program that if students turned their homework in at the beginning of the day they would get a card. After they had collected so many cards they could turn them in for a prize. Her expectation was that if you turned the work in you just grabbed the card yourself. No matter how many times we explained that to Brendan he wouldn’t take the card himself. The first week they had the program the teacher had handed the cards out so in his mind he had to get them from the teacher. But even though we talked to her on multiple occasions she would work with Brendan for a day and then expect him to pick op on it after that. As time when on Brendan became more and more upset because he wasn’t receiving rewards like the rest of the class and it finally got to the point where he would do his homework at night with us but he would not turn it in at school.
And that is just one example of how one little thing on her part could have solved what turned into a huge problem. So when it came time to fill out these forms she could not or would not see that although Brendan is fairly normal and can fit into a classroom setting with relative ease, he still did require some special attention and assistance. She filled out her forms in such a way that Brendan did not meet the requirements to continue with autism on his IEP. We were able to continue with most of his other verifications, so he still qualified for services, but to us the loss of the autism verification was a huge blow.
Despite the loss we still had a great team of specialists working with him, and we had good classroom teachers in third and fourth grade that would do those little extra things that he needed despite them not being written into an official IEP form. His main special ed teacher did what she could to get around the loss of the verification as well. While she couldn’t pull Brendan out of the classroom to work on his specific social needs, she could pull him into groups where another student was having a similar issue and needed other children to work with.
Things were going well enough that we didn’t push for a new verification. It had been explained to us in the past that verification was always a slippery slope. The goal of these IEP’s is to get Brendan functioning at a level with his peers and to get him off needing an IEP in the future. He could at some point begin functioning at a level where we still know he needs assistance but at a level that the state no longer recognizes him as needing help.
This school year marked the need for verification again. Some issues had come up at the beginning of the school year that showed Brendan was falling behind his peers socially again and so his team decided that a full re-evaluation was needed. They tested every single aspect that they had available, even things that Brendan has had written out of his IEP over the years like physical therapy. For weeks Brendan went through some rigorous testing. Most of the time he didn’t even know he was being evaluated. They did very well at blending the testing into his every day school day.
Finally, on the last Monday before winter break, we sat down with the team to discuss the results. Academically Brendan passed with flying colors. He is at least keeping up with, and in some cases exceeding, his peers in school work. They also tested his IQ and social skills and he struggled in the areas we knew he would given what we know about his diagnosis. We had also filled out the million and one questions for the autism piece and knew that his teachers would be doing the same at school. This year, unlike years past the school also has a psychologist on staff who took part in Brendan’s evaluation. Rather than just looking at the results of his autism questionairres numerically, she also spoke with us and his teacher to ger a feeling of what he’s really like in the classroom and she went in and witnessed it herself.
Her findings concluded that, numerically,Brendan was on the cusp of qualification. Strictly by the numbers he wouldn’t qualify for services, despite showing some strong autistic tendencies in specific areas. However, based on her own observations and the conversations with his teacher and us she felt that it would be better to err on the side of caution and go ahead and put the verification in.
It was like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. Brendan doesn’t get a whole lot of specific treatment for the autism piece of his IEP, but just knowing that they were laying the foundation for assistance just as we are about to change schools and special education teams took a lot of stress off of us. We are certain that Brendan will continue to have a good solid support staff behind him, but any time you change teams the new team isn’t going to be as familiar with his individual needs as the old one was. It takes time.
With our IEP out of the way early this year, we were able to sit back and enjoy the holiday’s without that hanging over our heads. Now we can go into the new semester planning for our next big hurdle, preparing him for middle school.