Finding success with our IEP team.
(For those of you who don’t know an IEP is an Individual Education Plan. They are provided to students with special needs and are backed by the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) law.
Last November we had our first IEP meeting for Jackson at this new school, and I am happy to report that it was the first time I got through one without crying.
IEP meetings use to be very hard for me. I see my son everyday; I know his strengths, his weaknesses and our long journey ahead. But for me it is difficult to hear another person talk about him in this way. To hear them talk about how far behind he is and all of the steps that will be necessary to get him to catch up with his peers. To hear what classroom options should be considered and how they can best serve him.
Our first school experience (pre-K) was grim. We had a teacher who wasn’t attentive, wrote horrible goals for Jacksons IEP and never even realized that Jackson didn’t grasp how she was testing him or what the context of her questions meant. When we went through this we called for additional IEP meetings, called for a specialist to come in and help this teacher and asked for her to report Jacksons progress on his goals more often- every two weeks. At the end of the school year we switched schools and Jackson was lucky to get a teacher who understood him and saw his potential.
The second school (pre-K) was revolutionary. Not just because of the teachers, but also because of the parents. His teacher at his new school was well versed in special needs education but was also compassionate, understanding and listened to our concerns. She crafted clear goals that Jackson could obtain and it was easy to see him progress and thrive in that classroom environment. The parents of that classroom also helped make it an inclusive for my son. In the beginning of the year I sent out an email to all of the parents in which I basically outed my son. You can see this letter by clicking this link. I was astounded by the response to this letter. They encouraged their children to be understanding of him, to be friendly toward him, and they invited Jackson to their birthday parties. It was the first time that I felt that Jackson could grow up in a world with people who would look out for him, befriend him and try to understand him. It was a true blessing.
As Jackson got older it was time to decide where he would go to kindergarden. Now given my great experience with his current teachers, his IEP team and the parents of the kids in his class of course for me the answer was easy… he would stay in his current school of course. However, it would not be that easy.
Jackson is on the low end of the autism spectrum and it’s not because he isn’t bright, but because he cannot speak. He is 6 and is still non-verbal, which means that he knows a ton of information but in order to find out what he knows you really have to alter how you ask him. This means time, resources, and an environment that can accommodate those things.
I had two options given to me: keep him in his current school- put him into a typical classroom with a 1:1 aid, or send him to another school where he would be in a self-contained classroom with 8 other autistic, non-verbal boys. I cried over this decision for hours, days, weeks. As a mother how do you know which course of action will be best for your child. We had finally created a mini-Jackson utopia and now we were asked to give it all up and roll the dice with a new school, new teachers, new students and new parents.
Over a series of meetings Jacksons IEP team convinced me that the self-contained classroom would be best for his development and so Matt and I agreed. We placed in at a new school, in a self-contained classroom with his peers and to be honest, it was the best choice we have made so far.
At his new school his teachers are amazing. He has 8 classmates and 3 teachers- a great ratio. He is removed from class and goes into a typical classroom for at least one hour every day with a 1:1 aid and is allowed to stay in there as long as he is not being disruptive. He does PE with his typical peers and eats lunch with them. He has blown through his IEP goals and is even surpassing his typical peers in some areas.
My son is once again in a mini-Jackson utopia. He is happy, healthy, and learning. For that I am thankful, happy and content. There are no tears of sadness only ones of joy.