Blog by Yessica Maher, los Angeles Native.

She explores life after marriage, starting a career in her late 30's, relationships, breaking cycles of abuse, online dating, self care, fertility and depression. 

It's all over the place, but so is living. 

Advocating through IEP's

I believe everything happens for a reason.  I'm one of those people.  The optimism in me is tempered with a strong leaning toward disbelief, but I push past that and see the glass not half of anything because I took a sip and it's refillable.  I think the trick is in finding what that reason is that forced something to happen, and acknowledging the season you are in has a purpose.  Not having anything to rush to after my son's triennial IEP meant I spent time reading the reports. Reading the reports showed me something was done to get done and not to make sure my kid would be taken care of. I should explain a few things for those that have never had an IEP.  An "Individualized Educational Plan" is the phrase used to describe the legal document created between the school and parents to first determine educational needs for a student, then to set goals, placing supports where needed to attain these goals.  I can take an IEP to any school and the school would have to do what it says, although they have the right to hold a new IEP within 30 days to see if they can make changes.  Since my sons are at a nonpublic school, the team is usually the parents, kids are invited if they're over 14, a special ed. teacher, a general ed. teacher, a psychologist, the district representative, the school representative, and any support people that would have to present the findings of their report.  It can include an occupational therapist, speech therapist, an adaptive P.E. teacher, or any other support person that would have to give their opinion about what services and therapies would help your child function in class.  Let the diction sink in.  If your child's behaviors are a problem at home, but not at school, it isn't something they are concerned with and the job of an advocating parent is to track down therapies on our own.  If your child is a client of Regional Center, they will often but not always cover what the district doesn't, assuming you remember to bring it up in your annual IPP.  (I'll save that for another post).

Since the first IEP in 2004, we've had them scheduled regularly, without having to do much of anything, but there are times when you have to write a letter to make a request. Anytime your child doesn't seem to be thriving is a good time to ask for an assessment.  Public schools will do this at no cost because that is the point of a public education.  There are lots of assessments to request.  There are plenty of ways to see if your child is performing at their best.  There are also plenty of ways to test them emotionally, psychologically, physically with gross and fine motor skills, cognitive ability to process information, hearing, vision . . . the list goes on and they have handbooks for that sort of thing.

Once you've asked for the assessment in writing, you sign a form saying you give permission to test your child.  The school will send you a notification for an IEP date (they have a certain amount of days from the time you make the request to the IEP and I believe it's 60 days). You sign, giving instructions on how to proceed if you can't make it to the IEP and then you go to the IEP.

During most of their elementary school years, their Assistant Principal would bake cookies from scratch.  He was great with the kids, being a Dad himself, and had a white soul patch and an old soul.  I could picture him as a beatnik, in as far as my understanding was from the first Hairspray movie. I'm really not that old, but my knees try to convince me otherwise.

Depending on the team you work with, sometimes they'll want to contact you to go over things ahead of time.  I love these situations because it's easier to follow along.  In LAUSD, there is the Welligent program for the meetings, and more often than not, it will freeze, or not save or not print.  It is a finicky software program/website and a pain for most people that access it, but it's what they use. It's problems can be a little distracting.  Reading reports quickly to get through them and getting to the point means if you aren't as prepared as they are, you can find yourself a little lost.  At the end of the day, the parent needs to sign, but signing comes with a choice. Do you agree or don't you? If you don't agree, you still sign, but make it known that you are not going along with what they say.

Most IEP meetings will start with an introduction, and the same sentences are read and re-read each time.  By the 5th grade, you can probably wallpaper a room in parent handbooks, and you leave with a survey that I've never filled out or mailed in.  During the meeting, one at a time, a person who did an assessment will read through it, or skim through it, handing parents a copy to read along.  After that, we go over goals and figure out what they decide is best.  For the most part, I can agree with what they come to. I can see the logic in their reasoning.

There are some situations where you have to be aware of what is being said and decided and think ahead to the possibility of change.  Reducing Occupational Therapy hours to nothing isn't a big deal when OT is incorporated in the classroom because it's a special needs classroom.  This needs to be spelled out incase they ever decide to stick him in a general ed. classroom. Transitioning out of special ed will always be their goal even if it isn't yours. In that case, the natural support of a special needs classroom would set him up for failure in general ed.

The triennial is a larger IEP meeting held once every 3 years. This is the time for new assessments to be done and to look at all aspects of the needs as they may have changed. More often than not, the district will try to go off of the last assessment, even if it's 3 years old. It is my job to say I don't agree to their shortcut.  I read the report that was clearly copied and pasted from another child, with copied and pasted sections from old reports.  What she tried to present couldn't possibly represent my child.

In the days following the suspended IEP meeting, I was called by the psychologist with profuse apologies that I wasn't interested in hearing. I had a stress headache like a ball of pressure above my left eye in the shape of the finances I was just going over.  She wanted to go over what she had written down, and that part of me that was in pain had to remember being a student with dinner started in a crockpot, a term paper before me and a child on my back who wanted to brush my hair while I hammered out nuance in Diderot's prose. I went through her assessment, word for word, even pointing out misspelled words and filling out information that should have been in her files. She thanked me profusely and asked if I could meet her on campus later.  It's another one of those things a job would have prevented me from hopping over to do.  Of course I could meet her. So much of her job relies on not what is written or said over the phone, but a careful examination of body language, facial expressions and micro expressions, affect, and many other things I didn't bother to study because I couldn't get into philosophers.  It took a while to realize philosophers would make an appearance in all of the liberal arts classes I loved and the ones I hated too.

I met her and she talked about how glad she was to be able to meet with my son because he exceeded all of her expectations.  Of course he did.  My kids are amazing.  Also, she was going off of a report completed when he was suicidal and he wasn't that kid anymore.  He's in a more emotionally stable place and his autism has become a part of him that he understands.  He still has to make an effort to navigate life in ways I could never imagine, and at times that stress becomes clear in a melt down or assault on his brothers, but he's exceptional.

I realized that as an overworked school psychologist, going off of old reports is standard practice, and as a parent, when I insist a new assessment be completed, it gives her time to do what she wanted when she felt her calling was to study the mind and behavior.  She was forced to do what she loves.  We talked about her kids and her husband's GI bill.  I encouraged her to look into Chapter 35 benefits for her kids and the California Department of Veteran's Affairs fee waiver because they are independent of each other but go off of the same DD-214.  An advocate never stops seeing where they can lend a hand and how they can help a situation.

She should have finished her report by now but we'll reconvene that IEP after spring break.  In the meantime, I submit resumes, make phone calls, research various programs that would benefit my family and stay connected to groups on Facebook that are on the same journey because we all help each other out.  It's what we do.

I Won't Be Ashamed

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