Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In which I compare an IEP to a naked dream

You know those dreams where you're standing all alone on a big stage with thousands of people out in the audience waiting to hear your clarinet solo, and you look down and realize you're completely naked? They're all staring at you, and there is no easy (or dignified) escape. You see smirks, hear laughter, and you know it's all directed at you. You're all alone and the world is pointing fingers of judgment at you in your most vulnerable state. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who has these sort of nightmares)

Ok now add back in clothes (thank goodness), subtract the audience down to fifteen professionals holding clipboards and lengthy documents on your daughter, replace the smirks and laughter with lots of pointed questions, and picture yourself struggling to balance a sitting position on a teeny tiny chair that was built for a three year old...for a couple of hours.

That. That is what an IEP feels like.

Everyone stares at you with such intensity that you double check to make sure that everything is zipped and that you actually DID remember to put a shirt on before you left the house. As you try to still the nerves, you think of a thousand hilarious jokes and struggle to keep the smirk from your own face because if you spontaneously burst into laughter in response to the many questions, your file would go directly into the "insane mother" bin.

Yesterday I did my first IEP meeting (as a parent), and other than my own uncomfortable state (yes, I do bring it on myself), it went well.

I noticed a distinct difference between the enthusiasm level between the therapists that have been working with Addison for years and the new therapists and classroom teacher. At first I was worried that we were trading down in the dedication department until I realized halfway through the meeting that they hadn't met Addison yet. I think once they get a chance to meet her the enthusiasm will be matched in her new teachers. There's just something about the little ball of cuteness that will be starting preschool on February 7th that captures the hearts and demands the therapists' best work. (Ok I might be a touch biased). 

For those of you who don't know what an IEP is- it's an Individualized Education Plan. All of her therapists (that we have been seeing for the past three years) gathered notes ahead of time as to where she is in all areas of development. We discussed her current achievement level and what our goals for her are for this next year. The IEP is a document listing out everything in extreme detail (almost painful detail at times), and the IEP meeting is where the team who wrote the document (or will be responsible for the new goals) gathers to basically read through it and make sure that the team is in agreement that the document is complete.

And even though I joke about the lengthy meeting and the uncomfortable attention on me, my take away from this meeting was thankfulness for what Addison has available to her. I think that this might be the best time for someone with a disability in the United States to get an education.

I mean seriously- so many people cared enough to sit through that long meeting on tiny chairs right along with me. So many people spend HOURS on this document to make sure that this preschool would be able to best help Addison continue to develop to her full potential. So many people called me, emailed me, walked me through what that document would say ahead of time. So many people care about and love Addison.

I realize that they're getting paid to do this and that it is their job. But just to have the resources in place to make this possible just makes me extremely thankful. Fifty or so years ago the school system would have scoffed at Addison's potential. Yesterday they bent over backwards to make sure that the transition would be smooth from her private therapy work into her new preschool classroom. I can't even tell you how much that meant to me.

As I sat through the meeting imagining her with bouncy pigtails, bounding through that door with her tiny backpack on her back, I could predict her excitement and picture her so happy at her new school. I read and heard the steps laid out to help her by people who were going to give Addison their all, and I knew that if Addison could communicate it to us, she would say how thankful she is that this school is giving her a chance to succeed.

It is really amazing when I stop to think about it. So many people are fighting with me for Addison. Yes I'm her mother and I ultimately have the final responsibility, but they are all working diligently to do their best for Addison, and I am so thankful.

If you are a special education teacher on the other end of these meetings- THANK YOU for everything that you do. As a parent I fight so much for my little girl to be given the same opportunities as every other little girl. The fact that you work so hard to provide the extra assistance that she needs to make those opportunities possible means the world to me (and to Addison). You are amazing, and I think you have pretty much the most important job in the world. (Once again I might be a touch biased) (-:

To sum up:

How big is Addison?
Are you excited to go to preschool in a month?
Marshmallow stealing excited...eh?
At least we know you fight for what you want!
 Thank you for all of your encouragement about the upcoming meeting when I posted about it last week. It couldn't have gone any better, and I am so thankful for the many resources that have been put in place to make that possible!

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