A few weeks ago, we got our notice for our annual IEP meeting for Howie.
And just like every other notice we’ve received for the past five years, this one included a one page purple sheet addressed to us as parents:
Please take a few moments to respond to the following questions. Please return this completed sheet in the enclosed envelope. Your comments will help the whole team develop an appropriate education program for your child.
1. What concerns do you, the parent (and student fourteen years of age or older) want to see addressed in the student’s educational program?
2. What are the student’s educational strengths, areas of interest, significant personal attributes, and personal accomplishments?
3. What is your vision for your child? What would you like your child to be able to do within the next 1-3 years? Beginning at age 14, think about your child’s preferences and interest. Also think about desired outcomes in adult living, post secondary and working environments.
I’ve always taken these very seriously. I return them every year with long detailed responses to each question, usually going on to the backside of the paper. I felt like if they were asking, I was going to answer.
I sat with the sheet in front of me for a while. I thought about how this whole year we’ve been working with Howie to help him identify his sensory needs and coping skills to help him stay in the classroom when he can, but also know when he can’t be there. And to know that that’s okay. We’ve talked about him being his best advocate and using his words to explain what he’s thinking and feeling in the moment. And working with his team to respect that and to really listen to what he’s saying.
For the first question…well I decided the best person to ask was Howie himself. Waiting until he was fourteen didn’t make any sense. So I asked him to tell me what was hard for him. We talked about the times when he gets stressed and what calms him down. I translated it into five issues we’d like addressed in this year’s program:
1) anxiety and stress in academics addressed through accommodations (specifically during time tests, reading out loud to peers, patience with learning new topics)
2) access to new sensory tools and accommodations for individual/group work (scribe, extended time, ability to type answers)
3) work on social/emotional regulation within the classroom space
4) development of self-advocacy skills
5) implementation of programs to work on rules/consequences and taking responsibility for his action.
My answer to the second question remained pretty consistent from the past five years. I wrote that he’s very bright – strong in science and math concepts and loves social studies and history. He loves to read on his own terms and enjoys project time and projects with some structure but without too many constraints. He likes to feel like he’s the teacher and loves feeling popular in his class.
It was the vision question that made me stop for a very long time.
My vision statement for the past four years was this: We want Howie to show what he could do academically without his behaviors getting in the way.
I read that now and I cringe. I don’t even want to write that here. But truth is that in the beginning I didn’t know what I know now. I desperately wanted his teachers and the staff to see the bright incredible boy that I saw. My concerns – my fears – were that they would never see that he had this incredible brain, a wicked sense of humor, and they would never know that he could read and write and draw just like every other kid in the class. I thought that his “behaviors” would keep him out of the classroom and away from the things that he excelled at.
I didn’t know what the behaviors meant. That they weren’t something to extinguish. That we couldn’t “compliance training” them away.
Now I know.
I know that behavior is communication. I know that stimming is not only okay, but necessary. I know the importance of learning how sensory and calming strategies work in different situations. I know to look at my kid as my kid – not a series of antecedents, triggers, and behavior plans. I know now to respect what he’s doing and listen to what he’s saying because by doing that – that’s how he achieves success. Academically, socially and emotionally.
He has that success now with his current teacher and aides. Educators who look at him as an individual and work with his strengths to overcome his challenges.
It was time to put all that into writing.
What is my vision for my child?
We would like Howie to be happy and enjoy school and learning in a classroom environment that meets and supports his needs. This means helping him become a better self-advocate while creating a program that fits his individual strengths and challenges, with accommodations and supports necessary for academic, social and emotional success.
On Monday, we will sit down with his whole team and write an IEP that does just this. As we write objectives for pragmatics, sensorimotor breaks, and social/emotional growth, the major thread through it all will be to help him find ways to feel good and comfortable in his own skin, to feel respected for his differences, to advocate for himself and to – plain and simple – be happy.
That’s how he’ll show them what he can do.
By being himself.
I see the line in the sand
Time to find out, who I am
Looking back to see where I stand
Evolution, Evolution” – Evolution by Motorhead