Talking to a few of my readers in the last month has made me realize that many of you out there are going through your very first year in the wonderful world of “disabled children acronyms” or as I like to call them DCA’s……hahahaha jk I totally don’t call them that, but I could start.
IEP = Individualized Education Plan
ISP = Individualized Service Plan
IHCAHN = Interior Health Children Assessment Network
BI = Behaviour Interventionist
Now that we have that straight!
I’m going to give you a run down on what an IEP looks like, and how to best advocate for your child. This world of raising children is crazy enough, so those of us with REALLY crazy ones (ahem my Little Miss Psychopath) need to stick together like your kids fingers after they get into your homemade waxing concoction (AHEM Little Miss Psychopath!).
For those of you who follow me on IG (for those of you who don’t, you should probably start now @coinsandbabble) you may have noticed my post a little while back about IEP’s, I’ve made it the cover photo for this post for you reference and a little giggle. It TOTALLY takes a superhero to raise ANY type of disabled child! They come with so many extra things that you have to LEARN how to do. Sometimes it’s hard to think that someone else has to teach you how to raise your own child…..But back on track to IEP’s. For those of you in your first year of navigation with this, I’ll give you a rundown of what an IEP here in BC Canada can look like. Usually before parent teacher interviews start each year at elementary schools, IEP’s are scheduled. Present at these meetings should be your child’s teacher, educational assistant (EA), the student services teacher and a parent. The point of setting up an IEP is to help the staff understand, accommodate, teach and care for your child throughout the school year. Because every disabled child and their needs are so diverse, you usually get around 35-45 minutes with these people. You go through goals you have for your child for the year, and talk about ways to help them adjust and be cared for in a public school setting.
So here’s what I have learned over the years of IEP’s, this year will have been my 5th IEP meeting (that explains the crows feet!)
Bring someone who is on your side! Most of the time it’s mom who attends the IEP, and if you have never done it before, you may not even know what your goals for your child should be and how to advocate for them. I ALWAYS have one of our BI’s present with me, or, if possible, I Skype in our Behaviour Consultant or have them physically attend with me. This way I have a professional to back up what I am saying about my child.
Educate yourself! Make sure before you go into this, you’ve educated yourself on your child’s needs. Sad but true, if you know the lingo, it’s easier for the staff to believe that you know what your talking about and aren’t just making demands that are unnecessary. There are limited resources in the public school system, so you have to be able to show that your child needs them. This year when I went into Sir.E’s IEP meeting I went in with needs and absolutes! Last year around October, our amazing Sir.E began to lose his ability to print, his printing has been on a slow decline since grade one and he finally gave up last year. He was close to failing many subjects because he couldn’t put his thoughts to paper, either his EA’s, his teacher or myself were putting pen to paper for him, even in simple things like writing one word in his agenda. I’d heard about a program called Set BC for children who didn’t have the fine motor skills required to print. Set BC provides your child with a keyboard and a usb drive to use at their desk. I’m thrilled that this year Ezekiel starts on an alphasmart because I told them he something NEEDS to be done. Set BC has a two year waiting list and so his school is making one of the alphasmarts available to him starting this year. I told them he NEEDS sensory room breaks 3 times a week on top of him being pulled out one morning a week for the provincial swim program. You CAN ask for what you KNOW your child needs!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should go in guns blazing, but you should be able to advocate for what you KNOW about YOUR child! The fact is, no one knows your child better then you do. You may not know the medical and technical terms for them, but you do know THEM, and no one else is going to ask for the help your child needs.
Ask at the beginning of the year! I have been lucky enough to get an EA every year for Sir.E, but I know that if I didn’t tell them about him and ask for the resources at the beginning of the year, he would’t get the help he needs. Resources are there at the beginning of every school year and your in an IEP for a reason! “Ask and you shall receive”….well not always, but don’t ask and you’ll never receive!
So, each year I go into an IEP for my Sir.E feeling nervous and anxious that I won’t be heard, and each year, if they don’t listen to me at the start, they sure are listening to me by winter break when he’s a basket case in their classroom. We’ve been over the moon with our teachers last year and this year. This year our Sir.E has his two favourite EA’s in the classroom with him and he is once again paired with two other ASD boys who have been a pack since grade 2. He has come so far because of his teachers and EA’s and we are eternally grateful to them. Last year he had a beyond amazing teacher and he was able to go off of his medication full time with her. This year he has a young and energetic teacher and at our IEP meeting she was all ears for any advice I had for her. I always go into IEP’s with a few facts that I know about Sir.E that are hard for others to understand or see. I let them know that he is four years ahead intellectually and four years behind emotionally, so they can understand the full impact of that I say, “so you’re dealing with a child who has the IQ and reasoning skills of a 14 year old with the emotional level of a 6 year old.” That sums up the kind of “deals” he will try to make with them over the year hahaha…I let them know how extremely black and white his world is and that he is smart and very kind hearted, but that everything goes inside, he shows absolutely nothing on the outside, so it will be to late when he has to TELL us something is wrong. I tell them that they will never forget our sweet and strong young man because he leaves an imprint on your heart, and they nod and smile but by the end of the year they are always crying that he has to leave them.
Tell them, tell them about your amazing child…..make them fall in love with your child, with their strengths and weaknesses, with their smile and their heart, help them to see how amazing their life will be now that your child has pushed into their heart……….advocate for them.