What It’s Really Like When Your Child Has An IEP
It often surprises people to learn to homeschoolers can also have IEP’s through their school districts. This is our story. This is what it’s really like when your child has an IEP.
I recently completed a mid-year IEP meeting for my youngest son. It went about as well as it could go.
And it was still the worst.
When we started the IEP process more than a year ago, it was in the best possible circumstances.
We homeschool and our state allows for enrollment in charters that provide public resources, including educational support and therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and emotional therapeutic interventions.
It seriously has been the best case scenario for us.
The experts we work with are wonderful. They are great with my son, despite his age and level of delay. They work hard to connect with him, even though they only know him online. He cares about them, much the same way that he would a great teacher in a traditional school.
All of this is true.
And all of it is not enough. Not even close.
My heart was breaking, as I processed the most recent meeting between his team and I.
Breaking for my child.
Breaking for all the moms I know and have met through this blog, who go through the same thing and much, much more, in an attempt to secure resources and an appropriate education for their children.
What It’s Really Like When Your Child Has An IEP
Although IEP stands for individualized education plan, the truth is, it is anything but.
Because of the sheer amount of children a special education team must accommodate, the truth is, one IEP tends to look very similar to the next. Not that this is necessarily wrong – I mean a child struggling with sight words can and should likely have the same goals as another child, also struggling with sight words.
In my experience, the challenge is in individualized learning and prioritization within the IEP.
IEP’s and Individualized Learning
One child will not learn those same sight words, with the same IEP goals associated with them, in the same way as the next. And yet, just like in a traditional classroom approach, the expectation and approach is exactly the same for both learners.
I have learned that an IEP is not an individualized learning plan. It is a less traditional approach to traditional education.
The very best therapists will do what they can to flex the learning to accommodate the individual, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. Even worse, when the child fails to make progress to the IEP goals, what can happen is the therapist essentially doubling down on the approach, in attempt to meet the goal. Again, not the therapist’s fault. The system is designed exactly this way.
Prioritization Within the IEP
Going into the IEP process, I was fairly aware of what to expect, but even still, the lack of prioritization within the IEP has floored me.
Let me explain.
When a child is assessed at the very beginning of the process, multiple needs may be identified. For example, my son needed educational therapy including Orton-Gillingham tutoring for reading delays, speech therapy, occupational therapy for writing, and therapeutic support for managing anxiety and behavioral differences. Every single one of these interventions has several goals, with very specific measurement targets associated with each of them.
At first, I was relieved that someone else had identified these needs and that I didn’t have to fight for or prove anything. But as time went on, it became apparent that all goals and all therapies have equal weight and importance in the IEP process.
So, if my son is feeling overwhelmed by all of the therapies, the expectation is that he keep doing all the therapies, with equal attendance. There is no collective focus on what the “whole child” needs. In fact, in my experience, everyone in the room is “fighting” for their respective therapy with very little awareness or care of the others.
The Hardest Part Of The IEP Process
The hardest part of all of this is that I am the only one working with all of the experts involved in my son’s treatment and care. I am the only one seeing the big picture for this kid and looking at everything he has coming at him from a medical, therapeutic and educational perspective.
The speech therapist sees his speech delays.
I see his speech delays, the medicines his doctor prescribed last week, his regression in bedtime and sleep routines, his faltering reading ability, when he misspelled his own last name on Wednesday, the vomiting from an allergen exposure, the anxiety he feels when it’s time to get on the computer for educational therapy and the appointment he has with the immunologist on Friday.
I see it all, and rightly so. I am his mother, his primary teacher and his caregiver. This should matter in the process of individualizing an education plan. It should invoke some credibility. But it just doesn’t.
Like you, I am trying to figure this out. Like you, I am worried about my son’s future.
Like you, I am discouraged and exhausted with it all. Like you, I will try again, and again.
Because our children deserve it.
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.