The IEP: The Ultimate Game of Chicken

A little background on what an IEP is. An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting is right up at the top of the list for most stressful things you have to do when you’ve got a child with autism. This meeting typically includes your school district case manager, the teacher(gen. ed and special ed), the speech therapist, the occupational therapist, your ALTA (or state case manager), and your ABA therapy team. Typically, they’re an annual meeting. During this meeting, you set up services for the school year. This can be classroom aide support, coordination and communication between school and home programs, frequency of speech and OT services etc. They’re a big deal. Big deal=super stress for parents. That being said, lets dive in to the IEP that happened last week.

Prepping for this meeting was like preparing for battle. I mapped out my plan of attack based on everything I thought these people might say. I was armed with data from my home program, prior assessments for his speech and OT issues, and a serious mama bear attitude.  Despite having been through many of these meetings due to the lawsuit against the former school district, I didn’t know what to expect. This was the first IEP meeting with a brand new district. With people I didn’t know, that did not know Xander. I thought the worst, and based off of my experience, the worst was typically the reality. I tried to stay neutral, but it was not working out so well.

The IEP was set for a Friday afternoon, and I don’t think I slept much that whole week. Those closest to me tried to be supportive. This is one of the times where the understanding and loving attitudes of my friends and family cannot be praised enough. I shut down when I’m stressed. I close myself off, and can be quite cold. My loved ones didn’t flinch. They left voice mails, text messages and Facebook posts filled with love and support whether I thought I needed them or not. I may have walked into that meeting by myself, but I knew I was not alone.

The women I met with were surprisingly kind. I had walked into that meeting prepared to fight for my son, as I had in every other meeting, and this was not the case this time. These women seemed to really care about Xander being as successful as possible during the school year, and cared very little for the budget aspect. Xander’s teacher was very realistic with her goals for him, as well as strengths and weaknesses. She shared her observations, and what she had implemented into his class time to help with his special needs. The case manager, who is usually the tricky one to deal with, was warm. Despite their kindness, an IEP is the ultimate game of chicken. What a parent wants, and what an educator wants rarely match up completely. You have to really pick and choose what items you battle for. I knew Xander’s speech had progressed to the point that he no longer needed speech therapy, yet I still asked for speech services, knowing that I could negotiate away speech in order to keep something else that was much more important like keeping his para educator. It may seem like an awful tactic, but if it gets my kiddo the services he needs to be successful, I’ll do it.

I’d love to say that the experience with the new district was perfect, and I walked out of that meeting with every service Xander truly needed. That wasn’t the case. He won’t be receiving speech, as he no longer qualifies (YESSSS!!). We asked for a re-assessment of OT needs based on his classroom setting, and they agreed. His need for para support will be assessed by a district behaviorist, rather than our ABA consultant, however, the district behaviorist will consult with our ABA consultant before completing her assessment. Despite the back and forth, the overall feeling in the room was comfortable. The district was receptive to my points, just as I was to theirs. There was a sense of unity; we all wanted Xander to have the best chance at being successful this year. It is amazing to feel that we are all working for and towards the same goal, and that’s all I can really ask for.

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