When you have a child with special needs, you are aware and ultimately prepared about the early childhood education intake process. First the public schools are notified when a child in their district is almost three years old and that child has some type of delay (physically, cognitively, speech, language, etc). Mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the child must be evaluated by the public school system in an effort to put that child in the most appropriate school setting as well as offered in-school therapeutic services – if a child qualifies – under what is called an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is specifically designed for the child by a team of professionals at the school. It not only ensures the child has a chance to reach education goals, but it is also helps the teachers understand the child’s disability and how it affects their learning process.
It really did feel as if we were a part of this team which, being parents, helped ease the fear of sharing control of Lola’s future.
The IEP goals will be implemented for generally one full school year, but the IEP can be modified at any time by any member of the IEP team, including the parents. After the year is over, the goals are reviewed once again to see where the child has progressed and areas where the child is still struggling. An IEP can be mandated until the child graduates with a high school diploma or reaches their 22nd birthday as long as the student continues to qualify for special education services. This ensures the student is consistently placed in the proper classroom setting with the ultimate goal to succeed and thrive rather than be held back by their specific disability. Initially, I read crazy horror stories about IEPs and – I’ll be honest – I went into Lola’s IEP meeting with confidence but also with my mama armor on because I knew how important this was to her future education.
On Thursday, we had Lola’s very first case conference and IEP. Given how extremely heated I was after Lola’s evaluation, I tried to go into this case conference with a clean slate. My mind was clear of ill-feelings, I had a plan I wanted to implement and I knew that ultimately Rob and I would have the final say. Period.
We went to the case conference with an army of people sitting by our sides. Maybe this was more for my own personal comfort, but I wanted every one of Lola’s First Steps therapists as well as Ann Hughes from VIPS at the case conference because, besides Rob and me, they know Lola best. They know her strengths, they understand her weaknesses and they genuinely care about our little girl. The part they played in the meeting was not only meaningful to us, but it was extremely beneficial to Lola as well as the IEP team because it helped them better understand our daughter.
I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I will say I am incredibly pleased with how everything went. The evaluations were read and explained by the school therapists. The goals were presented to us and many we agreed with while others were modified. In all honesty, we were an active part of the entire process. It really did feel as if we were a part of this team which, being parents, helped ease the fear of sharing control of Lola’s future. If at any point we weren’t happy with something or we didn’t agree with specifics then the progression of the meeting was stopped until we were ready to move forward.
Towards the end of the case conference, the public school gave their case as to why Lola would best benefit in their program while a representative from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) gave her case as to why Lola would thrive in their school. It was at this point we realized a very important aspect of the entire IEP process – everyone does want what’s best for Lola. After much thought, Rob and I decided to send Lola to the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired…at least for a year or two.
We know that Lola has other challenges inhibiting her learning – and her struggles are not solely because of her vision (CVI and subclinical seizures in the occipital lobe) – but we felt it would be best to put her in a learning environment where she is surrounded by trained staff that can address the vision impairment while her brain is so plastic. They can help Lola learn through her other senses and alternative methods a traditional special education teacher may not understand. She will be enrolled in an all-day program and, believe me, my heart skips a beat every time I think about my little girl being at school all day, but we believe she’ll truly benefit from all the peer-based learning she’ll receive on a daily basis. At the ISBVI she will receive physical, occupational and speech therapy on a weekly basis (in addition to cool electives such as physical education and music every day). She’ll be in an environment where learning is hands-on, which to me is very important. She won’t learn about the world only through pictures and books, she’ll actually be out experiencing it because this is crucial in a blind or visually impaired child. We’re genuinely excited for this next chapter in her life and we are thrilled we can say we successfully survived our first IEP meeting.