Forget all those other milestones. Forget rolling and sitting and standing and walking and saying the first word. None of these long-anticipated milestones comes close to measuring up to the IEP.
At least, that’s how I felt before we had our meeting with Max’s new school.
As a teacher I’ve attended countless IEP meetings, contributing my input to the pot of academic and behavioral mush that special educators sift through to create an individualized education plan. (That’s what IEP stands for.) It’s a legally binding document detailing everything the school intends to do in order to make the school and the curriculum accessible to the student. I’m never part of the testing that precedes and informs these meetings, and because I’m a high school teacher I rarely witness the creation of the original IEP. That usually (hopefully) happens earlier in a child’s academic career.
These IEP meetings can go in any direction. They can be frustrating, productive, enlightening, informational, uplifting, discouraging, argumentative. They can even stall out when nobody agrees, needing to be reconvened another day.
In light of all the meetings I’ve attended I’m surprised to realize and a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never truly tried to put myself in the parents’ shoes. I’ve never really wondered what it felt like to have almost strangers talk so clinically and cold about my child. I mean, Max has a number of medical specialists and their talk is clinical. This should be just the same, right?
Wrong. I don’t really know why, but it’s uncomfortable and at times, upsetting.
I think there are a few things at play here. First, even for Max’s heart failure and subsequent heart surgery we were never visited by more than two physicians at any one time. Four therapists / educators attended Max’s IEP meeting. They sat together at one end of the table while Sean, Max’s early intervention case leader and I sat at the other. It felt a little like a face-off. Second, all that medical stuff—heart, ears, throat, eyes—it’s got nothing to do with me. What I mean is, nobody could ever accuse me of making any of it any worse. Well, I suppose in theory they could but I have no doubts of any kind that we did everything exactly as we should have. But having what amounts to a panel of experts talk about all of Max’s developmental deficiencies starts my own insecurities bubbling up and I wonder if any of them think we aren’t doing everything we should be doing. Maybe they think—and maybe they’re right—Max would be talking, for example, if we had worked harder at it for the last three years.
I can’t continue down that path, though, because it’ll make me nuts. Parenthood brings with it enough guilt as it is. I really can’t add any more to it.
So, back to the meeting. That Friday morning we spent the better part of an hour discussing the various evaluations the school performed in anticipation of the IEP. Here are the results, in a nutshell:
Gross motor: Max is around the 18-month mark having begun to walk less than a year ago. Not bad.
Fine motor: As I’ve indicated in previous posts, this is Max’s strength. He tested at 22-24 months. I think that’s great.
Cognitive: 12 months. Considered “very poor.” Whoa. Okay. Mentally, Max is one year of age. Really? Hmm. That’s gonna take some time to digest.
Social-emotional: 9 months. Also “very poor.” What? I don’t even know what to say that.
It’s hard to hear and see those results, especially when we see Max for all the awesome things he can do. But that’s just it. We compare Max to Max and every day he wins. The school, though, compares Max to the general population. With that as the standard there’s no wonder all they see are his deficiencies. As understandable as that may be, I didn’t like that focus. It made me feel…bad.
Finally, as we closed in on the hour mark, we discussed the IEP. Here’s what the school proposes:
Max will attend preschool five days per week from 1:00 – 3:30. He’ll be placed in a non-integrated classroom with about five other students. He’ll receive PT twice per week and OT once per week. Both will take place within his classroom. The speech therapist will pull him out for one-to-one sessions three times per week. His teachers will put special emphasis on teaching him classroom routines like hanging his own jacket on a hook and lining up to go outside.
We’re a week and a half out from the meeting and I’m feeling good about the outcome. I didn’t at first, though. Max spends a few full days at daycare every week. He can handle the time, but his classroom is small. However, to my knowledge all of the little ones in his daycare classroom are typically developing and I think the exposure has been tremendous, motivating Max to achieve independent locomotion.
We were hoping he’d be in an integrated classroom, but after learning there are about 20 other students between the ages of three and five, we’ve come to the conclusion that the more intimate environment suits Max a bit better. Crowds overwhelm him. Sometimes he shuts down. His afternoons will be far more productive if he remains comfortable enough to engage in the activities.
And now we have a preschooler. Neat.