The last several weeks in our house have been all about one thing....Brady's upcoming I.E.P. For those of you new to the world of special education, I.E.P. means Individualized Education Plan. It is suppose to be the road map for your child's future in whatever special education program they participate in. It must be reviewed annually with the I.E.P. Team. The Team is made up of the professionals who provide services to your child, including your child's teacher, the therapists who work with your child, someone representing the administrative end of the special education department and sometimes social workers and school psychologists. The Team also includes the parents. We are part of the Team. The most important part of Brady's Team.
The I.E.P. Team and meeting can be quite intimidating. Especially when you are a rookie. Last year, when Brady's very first I.E.P. was held, I thought I had it all under control. I had a few law school classes in Special Education Law, some experience working for an attorney who specialized in working with families of children with special needs, I had witnessed I.E.P.s first hand with my sister who is a person with Down Syndrome and of course, I had done my reading, research and interviewing. I was ready. Or so I thought. My husband and I were unprepared for what happens at an I.E.P. and what consequences can come from not properly drafting goals and objectives. Expectations must be realistic, even when they seem simple and unimportant in the big scheme of our little boy's life. Goals must be achievable, otherwise, it will always seem like your child is failing. Everyone on the Team must be on the same page. They must communicate. They must want to do everything possible to see your child succeed. We did not know all of this during our first I.E.P. last May. We did not know that our voices, the voices of Brady's parents, are the most important ones. They should be the loudest ones. We are the voice of our son. We know him better than any of the professionals. We know that he is capable of achieving goals, the little ones and someday, the big ones.
In January, my husband and I were getting concerned that Brady did not seem to be progressing toward of any of his goals. His 2nd quarter progress report was filled with marks that did not reflect the little boy we knew at home. We were confused about what Brady was working on day after day and if he was accomplishing anything, anything at all during his school day. So we requested a note be sent home once a week giving us this information. Brady is completely non-verbal. He does not use words or even signs to communicate with us. We know he has had a good day at school when he comes home smiling and his eyes shine, but we do not know what he did during those 3 hours he was away from his family. So, we asked that he be given a voice to share with us what he is working on during the day. Due to some miscommunication, our request was denied and we were forced to call an I.E.P. a few months before we had originally planned. This time we would be prepared. This time we would do everything possible to make sure Brady was given a road map to success. To his success.
On Tuesday, my husband and I, along with an amazing advocate, went to fight for our little boy. We spent several weeks, reading Brady's entire file, listing all his strengths and writing down the things he has not yet accomplished. We did not focus on what he cannot do. Only on what he can. We thought about Brady's needs and goals that would be achievable and realistic. We understood our rights. We researched programs. We found someone who listened and really got to know our little boy, so she could be another voice for Brady. This time we truly were prepared. The feeling of intimidation crept up when we walked into a room with eight others from Brady's Team. Eight individuals representing the school district. Eight professionals sharing their "expert" opinions. But I looked to my left, at my husband, who is so strong and has such a big heart, and knew he would protect Brady and I looked to my right, at Sue, our advocate, and knew she would bring her own expertise to the table and fight for Brady. Then, I looked at the picture of my son that I had tucked into my overflowing folder of reports and research, and I took a deep breath. I put aside the fear, frustration and emotions and I remembered why I was sitting in such an uncomfortable place on such a beautiful spring day. I was here for my little boy. I was here to make sure that his goals were about him. I was here to make sure that everyone on his Team knew my little boy for who is truly is. I was here to make sure that I.E.P. meant so much more than just an education plan. I was here to make sure that Brady is treated like the amazing individual that he is and respected for just that. We did all this. We made a plan that could only be made for one special little boy...our little boy.
Brady now has one year to accomplish goals that we believe are achievable. We have put communication tools in place and feel more comfortable asking questions and giving suggestions. We feel like part of his Team. I do feel like I.E.P. now means, that I (will do) Everything Possible to make sure Brady is given everything he needs to suceed, and I believe we have a very good start on that.
To read more about our adventures with Special Education, please read about how grades do not mean everything.