It's that time of year again: my throat is raw, my eyes start itching and I can feel a dull headache starting at my temples. Yep, you guessed it: IEP season. The IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is the result of well-meaning legislators and educators to provide an appropriate and individualized education for children with disabilities. It's a time to review forms, and more forms, each of which lays out tiny and discrete hoops for your particular small hero to jump through. To wit: has he learned appropriate use of prepositions? Can he satisfactorily pretend to have a birthday party? Can he draw a square? A person? A faithful representation of the cathedral at Chartres?
If your child is anything like mine, he will jump readily through some hoops, grudgingly through others, ignore several altogether, and light a few last ones on fire and sprinkle the ashes all over your living-room carpet. This leads to a deeply surreal IEP meeting, in which you, the parent, attempt to tease out the actual meaning of these skills (does it matter that he's nailed "on top of" but still isn't so clear about "under"?) and their impact on his future life and prospects. May I make a suggestion? Stop. Right now. Before you feel the impact of your head hitting the wall multiple times. You cannot know this. I have been there, and it's not worth the trip.
Even if you are lucky enough to have strong and committed teachers and school district representatives who are genuinely trying to do the best by your child, you will still most likely survive the meeting with a new appreciation of what it must feel like to be an actor in a bad soap opera. They say something. You say something. They say something back. Nothing makes a whole lot of sense, but you have to go with it. Why is this, you ask? Answer: you cannot fully know. But just consider their most likely motivations, in no particular order: 1) needs of the many kids they serve 2) the needs of your child; 3) fear of liability; and 4) budgetary and other stuff.
Now for a bit of practical advice:
1. Assume (unless proven otherwise) that the school district is doing the best they can.
2. Know what your child requires, and his rights, versus what's being offered--and what you're willing to compromise on.
3. If you get frustrated, don't get mad, but do be persistent. This is really easy to say, incredibly hard to do.
4. Don't sign anything in the room if you can help it. Even if the meeting is sunlight and roses, a good night's sleep can help you see more clearly the next day.
I'll write after our meeting and let you know how successful I was in taking my own advice.