IEP Meetings

IEP meetings still make me cry. The two today were no exception. On any average day, I do things that not just anyone could do. I pull it all together, everyday, somehow. It’s not easy, and I do it anyway. But, I won’t pretend that I have it all figured out. That’s just not the way life works. That’s especially not the way that Autism works. One of the hardest things to reconcile, as a parent of children with Autism is that feeling you have when you finally get what you’ve been fighting for. Success? Victory? No. Not quite. Getting what you ask for is often not the same as getting what you want. Oh man… if we’re being honest, we don’t even know what we want half of the time. Our wants are basic. We want what’s best for our children. 

Sure, that’s how most parents feel. Of course, “most parents” can make these decisions based on their personal beliefs and aren’t required to have endless discussions and disagreements with people outside of their personal circles, such as service providers, administrators, case managers, insurance representatives, budget supervisors, and more than a handful of people who don’t even have children. Most parents are able to say, “your opinions don’t matter,” to people who have opposing views on their desires for their own children. Parents of children with Autism can’t easily tell others to butt out! Parents of children with Autism are just a part of the many “Teams” of people it takes to get the services, support, and education their child needs, and deserves. A parent’s opinion is just one of many that ultimately determine the education path their child takes during any given school year. Let me stop here for a second. In case you find yourself trying to play devil’s advocate, thinking that parents can just say, no — they can’t! Right here. This. This is AUTISM AWARENESS. In order for a parent to ensure their child’s right, they in turn must give up some of their own. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’d do this all day, everyday, with a smile on my face, because it’s for my children. It’s an honor to be their voice. I just want to set the record straight. Regarding education, and IEP meetings, parents are just one member of The Team.

I’ve been preparing for today’s meetings since the end of the last school year. There have been quite a few IEP meetings between then and now, all leading up to the ones today. Last year, our old district made the recommendation that Enrique and Andres be placed into mainstream Kindergarten classes. I cried at that meeting because I was sure I could see the future. That future was everything that led up to today. Most of my predictions came true. Oh, but all the trial-and-error attempts between then and now, to find solutions is all part of the beloved process. I’m a “team player.” Literally! 

Andres recognizes less letters than he did before the school year started. He has made no academic progress. He regressed. I cried at the end of last year, because I knew he wasn’t ready for the mainstream classroom. I’m ready for him to be there when he is ready, and not a moment sooner. He started with no support, then some support, then an all day 1-1 aide, and none of that got him to where he should be at this point in the school year. So at the IEP meeting today, it was decided that Andres will go back to a SDC (Special Day Class) after the Winter Break. I looked around the table at “The Team,” and felt nauseous. I saw what seemed to be looks of relief. Everyone had a “that went well” look on their faces. All of a sudden, my eyes swelled up with tears. Andres matters. His time is important. His time was wasted in the name of process and procedures,  which served only the  budget-biased education system.  All the while, I’ve endured constant recitals of  the LRE “least-restrictive-environment” speech. I’ve said this before: what is least restrictive to one child (a mainstream environment) may be most restrictive to another! Considering that Andres spent five months in the supposed LRE, only to actually lose skills, rather than gain them, I was not overwhelmed with the same warm-and-fuzzy feelings I saw expressed on the faces of other members of The Team. I believe The Team felt a sense of closure. Somehow, that idea brought me to tears. It’s not over. A few months from now, we’ll be doing this again, and again, and again. It’s what we do. We make decisions, take data, and make more decisions. That’s the cycle. The. Ongoing. Cycle.

In that moment, I removed myself mentally and emotionally as a member of The Team, and let myself be MOM. As his mom, all I could think of is how much I Love him! As him mom, after sitting there accusing him of weakness after weakness after weakness, all I could think of was his strengths. He’s perfectly Andres. 

Even though I predicted his struggles in mainstream Kindergarten and tried to avoid them, I’m not mad. I’m not sad. I’m aware. Just because mainstream isn’t right for him right now doesn’t mean SDC will be.  I’m part of The Team. They drive me crazy. The process makes my head spin. Just like my sweet Andres, it’s complicated though; I am thankful he has a TEAM! I’m grateful he has that right. I’m grateful, that there is a process and procedure, even if it sometimes sucks up more of Andres’ valuable time than I’d like. Before children with Special Needs were entitled to The Team, many children and families had no recourse or support.

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After Andres’ IEP meeting, The Team immediately held Enrique’s. We were unable to come to a firm agreement about Enrique’s IEP, so we came up with a temporary one. When I take on the role of Advocate in these meetings, I’m sure there are days The Team thinks I hate them. I’m outspoken, adamant in my demands on behalf of my children, and willing to go head-to-head with any member. Although IEP meetings can cause opposition, tension, and anxiety for everyone involved, we are all on the SAME TEAM. For that, I hold each member all in high regard.  

I know IEP meetings are hard. You’re not alone, though. You have a Team. That’s much better than having a single dictator deciding what is right for your child. Inevitably, I end up crying at IEP meetings. I try to hold that in until they’re over.

Do you cry at IEP meetings? Share in the comments!

By: Alicia Gonzalez