|This is what a good day at school |
Of course, the day before we headed down this road, we had that all important acronym that strikes fear into the hearts of special needs parents everywhere.
I'm speaking - of course - of Jack's annual IEP.
Now, our IEP was actually moved up a couple of weeks from when we originally thought we'd be meeting. It was due by March 12, but we had learned that Medicaid wanted his new IEP before they would approve his pre-authorization for the next 6 months of OT services. So, we pushed the meeting up.
I hate rushing. Have I ever mentioned that to you? I'm a planner. I probably plan things to the extreme, but what can I say...I'm thorough. So, the thought of pushing Jack's IEP up a couple of weeks was less than appealing.
A couple of weeks before the meeting, I received that obligatory meeting notice, along with a worksheet to provide some parent input into what worked this year, what needed to change, and what placement/services we thought our boy needed next year. I thought about what others had said to me - family, mostly - about their thoughts on Jack's placement after seeing him in his current class. The consensus was unanimous; his current class - a self-contained preschool special education class - was a good fit. We agreed.
Ever since last year, I kept a running tally of goals that were on my wish list. While my goal wish list included about 17 goals, I knew that I couldn't put them all into Jack's IEP. Jack's special instructor had already told me that some of the goals were a bit ambitious, so I tempered them down and focused on what we needed in the coming year, and that was to get Jack ready for some of the increased challenges of Kindergarten. In the end, I settled on 4 goals that I emailed to Jack's teacher as being the ones that I'd like to include this coming year:
- Pulling up/down pants (to give him some measure of independence in his toileting routine)
- Eating an appropriate amount of food at lunch in an appropriate time-frame (he won't get 1 hour lunches in K...)
- Requesting - either verbally or non-verbally - the need for a sensory break
- A parallel play goal
We then got to thinking about services. I thought that there was a fair likelihood that Jack's PT services might decrease next year, but Dr. DP wanted me to fight to keep them, so that was what I intended to do, if not a little half-heartedly.
Here's the thing...I like to go into every IEP or IFSP with something in mind that I'd like to see obtained. Something for which I'm going to fight, all the while hoping that the "fight" won't be a fight at all. So as I reflected on my boy, what this year was like, and what I'd like to see for next year, it hit me...more speech. I wanted my boy to get an extra 1:1 pullout for speech each week.
He currently gets 1 hour of speech each week when his school SLP pushes in to team-teach the class 2 days a week, but I thought that with his sensory issues and the wide variety of speech needs he has - plus his potential! - that the 1:1 time would be beneficial. So, I did what I normally would do; I did my homework. I found evidence in his progress reports of distractibility affecting his performance. I saw places where goals - specifically oral-motor goals - weren't met. I also knew that this year Jack would qualify for articulation services for the /k/ and /g/ sounds, thus the 1:1 time would be extremely beneficial for working on articulation. I also got Dr. DP to write a letter of support, one which he was only too happy to provide. He loved the idea.
The morning of the meeting, I bought coffee and muffins. I brought my 2 big binders with Jack's pertinent medical and school records. I brought the Hubs and Jack's special instructor. I was going in as prepared as I would ever be.
Let me say this...this was more than a good IEP meeting. This was EPIC. This meeting will go down in special education history as one of the best IEP meetings ever.
Really it started all with a PLOP. (That's Present Levels of Performance, for those of you who don't know the acronym.) When his teacher began to read off their assessment of his PLOP, I actually felt great about where my boy had been and the people he had worked with this past year. Why? Because they GOT IT. Their assessment was - in my opinion - spot on. Not that I like to hear my kid's deficits - I don't - but I like hearing people who see my boy's strengths and weaknesses and know what needs attention the most at the present time.
We moved on to his goals. We tossed some around, tweaked others, and debated time-frames for mastery, but I felt like a full participant in that process. Even better, all of my desired goals were in there. I felt listened to and respected as the foremost expert on the little student that is Jack.
We began to talk about needed accommodations. There have been several put in place for him this past year, but none were formalized...until now. We wrote his Rifton chair into the IEP. We also discussed implementing a choice board for him - at his SLP's suggestion - and wrote it in.
We then talked about the section we breezed past last year - medical concerns and accommodations. Everyone agreed that we needed some kind of choking plan in place for this coming year. I expressed my desire to have a CPR/Choking First Aid-trained staff member present in his classroom at any point that he was presented with food. Everyone agreed - and stated that we needed to clarify such things for subs, etc. - but someone raised the concern that not everyone was CPR/First Aid trained because the school system made them pay for it themselves. Now, as an interjection, I think it's RIDICULOUS that our school system would make teachers - who make so little to begin with - pay for their own CPR certification! Now, here's where some special education law knowledge helps out...I asked if I could add it into the section that mandates staff training that all full-time personnel in Jack's classroom have to be CPR/First Aid certified. I also confirmed that it would mean that the school system would pay for that training. I could see the smiles spread across the faces at that table. Jack's teacher said yes, but did I mind if they put it in the minutes that I was requesting this training for the teachers? Of course I didn't mind...I don't mind being the bad guy to the administration if it gets my son's teachers what they need to keep him safe.
We all agreed that Jack's current placement - self-contained special education - was the most appropriate. In fact, no other placement options were offered, which was fine. We thought his placement was best, anyway. He would start doing full-days at school, at first only 2 days a week, then building up from there. The other days, he would still go half-days. Then, we got to the part everyone loves...services. OT would remain the same next year - 2-30 minute sessions a week. PT would drop to a "monitoring" level - 30 minutes per quarter - which I was just fine with accepting.
Then came speech. I spoke up about wanting the pull-out. We tossed it back and forth; everyone agreed it would be great for Jack and that he needed it, but how to work it out logistically? How to cram more time into the SLP's day for her to see my boy? Then, she had an idea...she would get him after breakfast one morning a week - right before school started - and see him for an extra 30 minutes, bumping him up to 3-30 minute sessions each week, after which she would drop him off at music therapy along with the rest of his class. It was a win-win for all, and later Jack's SLP told me that she wished she had thought of the 1:1 pull-out before the meeting. I was elated.
As the meeting wound down, we got to the portion that I forget to consider prior to the meeting every time - ESY (Extended School Year). Jack got ESY services last year, delivered as a classroom option. Before I could even speak, everyone agreed that Jack needed ESY again this year. No fight needed. When it came to designing his ESY program for this year, I mentioned that doing the classroom option would mean pulling him out of private therapies for the duration of ESY, which would likely cause the very thing we were attempting to avoid - regression. So, I requested that Jack only receive speech and OT services over the summer. Everyone agreed.
We concluded. After I got the finalized IEP, it truly is a mish-mash of accommodations, goals, services, and personalized programming. It is definitely unique, but isn't that as it should be? An IEP should be just that - individualized. It is crammed full of various things that were carefully considered and agreed upon to be what Jack needs for the next year. It is a document that a group of educators, therapists, and parents collaborated - truly worked together - to develop. It encompassed what I have always pictured an ideal IEP would represent - the meeting of minds to benefit the educational well-being of a child.
I left that meeting feeling great. Sure, I was happy about what we accomplished, but I was happiest about one thing - that the people working with my boy CARE. They care about him. They want what's best for him and see him for who he is. They are willing to put in the extra effort. They want him to succeed.
I left with a sense of peace. Peace in that I know - I finally know - that each day I leave my boy with people who love him and want him to do well. People who are genuinely trying to do best by him. That's really the ultimate service to receive - teachers, therapists, and staff members who want to give our kids their best.