IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. If you are the parent of a child with special needs, you might have an emotional reaction just by thinking about your child's IEP.
While this is certainly not the case for all, many parents of children with special needs will tell you that the IEP process is one of the most difficult parts of their journey with special needs. Being so connected to the world of special needs, I have many friends that walk out of IEP meetings and break down in tears. Many feel that they have to fight with all their might in order to get their children the services that they need. It is not unusual to hear that parents bring trained advocates to these meetings, and in some instances, some parents do bring lawyers. I say this not because it happens often, but because it does happen, and it shows you what an emotionally charged process this can be for all involved.
Ultimately the goal should be to provide an individualized plan that will help the child develop to his/her full potential.
For this reason, I dreaded the day we would have to do an IEP for Nina and Nichole.
There are specific Special Education Laws that all school districts are to follow. Every child is to be placed in a LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) and follow the IDEA Law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Most children enrolled in an Early Intervention program automatically transition into the school system when they turn 3 and begin the process of having an IEP. This should have happened with Nichole, but it did not. We actually declined the IEP and I began "homeschooling" Nichole. Why? Because I did not feel like we were helped during the transition.
Nichole's birthday is in October and I had asked to do walk-in services until January, so that Nichole did not have to begin school in the middle of a school year. The team was supportive of this choice, but I was taken aback when presented with the option of Nichole being placed in the self-contained classroom. An option that we had agreed months before would not work for Nichole, as she would do better with typical developing children. I asked for the reason behind the change and the answer was simply classroom size. One of the team members mentioned Nichole would be a great role model for the children it that class. I don't think so. Nichole has Down syndrome, she is delayed, and she would be placed somewhere where she would be the role model? It made no sense to me at all. Since we knew we would be moving, we did not "fight" and declined services.
Now, I want to stress here, that this is how I perceived things. It is very possible that I did not understand the process or the options we had. It could have simply been my lack of understanding or not knowing which questions to ask. After all, I do not have a degree in special education. However, nobody took the time to clearly explain the process to me. There were times where I stated I did not understand something (per what I knew about the IDEA and LRE law) and I was not given answers or a clear direction. I felt quite helpless, and I did not feel like there was a “team” working on what was best for Nichole. It was discouraging, I felt defeated, I think they saw that, yet there was no offer to sit down so we could talk in detail about the process.
Then there was Nina. She was almost 4 when we brought her home. We knew she needed services. Yet, somehow, she did not qualify for services in our school district. Again, maybe there was a misunderstanding. It is possible because I know there were many parents that were pleased with that school district. Personally, I really liked all the people we worked with; I thought we had a great professional relationship. I am just not sure what happened.
I learned a lot from this experience. I needed to ask lots of questions, I needed to keep pushing and making sure that I knew what was going on. I needed to communicate that what was a simple process of transitioning and finding appropriate placement to them was not that simple for me. I allowed myself to be intimidated and frustrated. In short, I needed to be a better advocate. I could sit here and point the finger at them, but quite honestly on my side, I dropped the ball, so I was not going to allow that to happen again.
The IEP Process: Part 2