Let’s talk about that IEP

 *steps up to soapbox* 
Ahem ahem ahem..

I see a lot of parents here express frustration with their kids’ school, their progress, or lack thereof, or just a general angst with how things are conducted. 

Most of y’all know, both I and my daughter are autistic. I’m very vocal on being an advocate for your kid, and the rights afforded by the school system and government for both you as the parent and the littles themselves. Knowing what your rights are is crucial to getting the help for your kiddos that they NEED to thrive in the public education system. 

I am no exception when it comes to that frustration! It boiled over today for myself. 

Just a little bit of it: this is BB’s first year of middle school. The transition has been difficult for both of us. It seems like by the time we got a good system in place at her elementary school, it was time to navigate the overwhelming waters of multiple teachers instead of just one. Suddenly there are 7, all with different methods and personalities. 

I’ll be blunt and admit it’s actually harder for me than it seems to be for her since I had no coping skills taught to me at her age. Nobody thought anything about autism 30+ years ago. Or if they did, it was the severely disabled, less verbal sort that people still sometimes associate with Autism. I wasn’t diagnosed until after she was, when I was 38. 

I didn’t have any good experiences to draw on from my own memories of school, so for me this is all the more daunting. I’ve been very open with her school staff about that, and I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good advocate to join you in the IEP meetings, for both you and your child. They are worth their weight in GOLD. The laws governing IEPs, what the school can do and can’t, are all complex. And if you try to fly blind on this, you’ll miss out on some key elements that can really help your kid get the best shot at education they deserve. 

We’ve been round and round with this new school, having roughly 4 IEP meetings so far and it’s not even Christmas, trying to nail down modifications that work for both BB and her teachers. When you deal with multiple people, the complexity only grows exponentially. You have to find a balance that everyone can work with, so he or she gets the help in class they need, while also avoiding the pitfall of letting their Autism become a crutch to where they aren’t being challenged in any way. 

School should be a challenge. It’s how kids learn and grow to know how to handle these types of challenges as they become adults. 

And schools will do everything they can to avoid going over their extremely limited budget. They’re constantly having their funding cut for services that help our kids learn in the ways that they can, and still meet the requirements for advancing to the next grade. 

BB isn’t on any medication. I have been open to the idea of a trial of it in the event that it may help her with her struggle focusing, memory, zoning out, etc. But her dad is adamantly opposed, and because I respect his right as her father to have equal say, we don’t go there. At some point it may become necessary, but for now we try every modification possible to circumvent it. 

The meat of this long winded post is to illustrate that you should never be afraid to stand toe to toe with your kids’ school. I dislike the term “mama bear” but I guess that’s kind of what it boils down to. Sometimes you just have to be that. 

We’ve put in place a system of daily checks to try to get BB into the habit of remembering her assignments, and more importantly, turning them in. This has been a source of high frustration for all of us. We’ve been through one entire schedule change, and even now with new teachers, getting them all on board is tough. 

Emails, phone calls, and today it boiled over in an impromptu meeting with the principal, EC coordinator, and lead EC teacher. I have been frustrated with the lack of clear communication from her teachers, and even after the last IEP meeting, lack of compliance on their part, to the IEP. 

It’s important to remember, once it’s in their IEP, it becomes law. There are legal ramifications for non-compliance. And I’m a bit of a hound when it comes to sticking to the letter of that law. 

For the past 2-3 weeks, her teachers, with one single exception, have not been notating or initialing BB’s agenda, making sure her assignments are written down, and/or handed in. 

Because I know the struggle BB has with executive function, remembering is especially hard for her. Therefore it falls on the teacher to do the remembering for her. When these guys have class sizes of 26-29 kids, that’s difficult, and I’m sympathetic to it. 

To a point. 

After that point, it’s time for Dallas to stand up and say “enough! What’s the escalation process for this, because this isn’t some game or whim they get to pick and choose what part they want to follow on a particular day.” 

Photographic evidence is hard to dispute, and I’ve already said it, if it isn’t written down it didn’t happen. I email and take photos of everything. I have it all organized by date, class, teacher, etc. 

I’ve made myself sick from the stress of dealing with it for 4 months. I asked for advice in the Autism society of NC group, and sent phone calls and emails to DPI already, and when I told her principal that, along with the email of BB’s agenda showing how only one teacher has been compliant regarding the IEP instructions, she called them all into a meeting of her own, and told me it now becomes a written warning. 

Another violation and they have to open an investigation, and a teacher could lose her job if it gets bad enough. 

The most ideal way to conduct business on behalf of your kiddos is to always remind yourself and then that you’re a team, and all have the same goal: the success of the student. But sometimes you have to be willing to show them you aren’t afraid to escalate it up the chain of command when repeat non-compliance occurs. 

It’s okay to be nervous, but also keep reminding yourself that it’s also okay to stand your ground and demand correct action when you see things that aren’t being done properly. 

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