A year ago this week, my son graduated from school. Yayy!
It was a long 21 years. It began within months after Nate was born, to him receiving an IFSP (Individual Family Support Plan), to him receiving his IEP (Individual Education Plan) up until the age of 21.
In those years, we have had a number of programs from his early days receiving therapy at home, to attending four state private school programs.
During this time, I have sat in my share of meetings with teachers, principals, psychologists, school counselors, support staff, vision therapists, hearing therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, transition coordinators, and school district liaisons. Don’t let me forget the times where I had behavior specialists and one-on-one staff at our meeting as well.
In those 21 years, I have learned so many lessons that I want to share today.
1- Read ALL documents thoroughly – Sometimes it feels as if an IEP is a large novel or encyclopedia. It is thick with its educational jargon and terms. However, don’t let that stop you from thoroughly reading it. Read every psychological evaluation, every behavior plan, and inspect every goal or objective that is on your child’s IEP. Make sure that it “makes sense” and is achievable or that it “raises the bar” or “challenges” your child. If you think any goal needs to be changed, speak up and demand the change be made.
2- Keep copies – I am not a hoarder, but I believe in keeping things that are important. I have Nate’s IEPs in a file cabinet in my basement. The most recent ones are in my desk drawer. I have psychological evaluations and report cards, as well. Having an updated copy has helped me to refer to it when needed, also when having to apply for services. It has also alleviated the need to complete a release of information form and having to wait for someone to submit it to an agency.
3- Ask Questions and get answers – It is okay to question things in your child’s educational plan. Don’t feel intimidated or that your questions may sound less than educated. And if the person you ask doesn’t have the answer, go to the next person or the next, until you have what you need.
4- Request an advocate when needed – I myself have never needed an advocate for school. I did have one for behavior services. There are agencies that provide educational advocacy or legal services for parents. They will review your documents, and assist with any problems that may arise. They will even attend your child’s educational meeting.
5- Check to make sure services are being performed – Nate was attending an Extended School Year (ESY) Program and he was not receiving services. For some reason, the summer budget was cut, not providing full services of occupational therapy and physical therapy. I was not aware of this until later. Please check to make sure services are being performed. The IEP is a legal document that must be honored.
6- Make sure your evaluations are up to date – After having a conversation with a fellow mom of a child with special needs, I decided to add this one. Make sure that your child’s psychological evaluations are up-to-date, prior to making goals for your child’s IEP. Do not allow your educational team to create goals on outdated psychological evaluations. A current assessment should be in place to make adequate goals.
7- It’s never too early to start planning for life after school – By law IEP teams must include transition planning in the IEP that will be in effect when the child turns 16 years of age. I know that may seem far if your child is graduating at 21, but it is not. It is never too early to start planning for the future. Nate was blessed to be apart of a transition team where we created a life plan. This was very helpful in deciding his placement for life after school. Before he graduated he was admitted into a residential facility. So start early!
And now as I look back on those 21 years of school, I must admit that there are some aspects of that time that I truly miss. Yet, I am grateful for Nate’s years of education.
It has been a true blessing in transitioning him into adulthood and giving him a new life, a “life after school.”
If your child is still in school or out of school, what are some things that you have learned or are still learning? Please share.