Saturday, March 13, 2010

Number One Advocacy Need

It is IEP season in these parts. One friend already had hers and shared some concerns. Our meeting happens this week. Others are coming. For those unfamiliar with the term, an IEP is an Individual Education Plan. After a child has been assessed by professionals working with the school district they reside in and found to have educational needs that cannot be met in a general education environment, an IEP is put together by a team of professionals (general education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists - OT, psychologists, special education teachers, administrators) and the child's parents/guardians. The IEP includes specific goals that everyone will work together to help the child make progress on. The IEP also states the amount of time extra services (speech, OT, social supports) will be provided on a weekly basis, and how much time the child will spend in a general education classroom. IEP is also used to refer to meetings of this team of people. At least one IEP meeting happens each year, although anyone on the team is allowed to request meetings at other times. Last Fall we had IEP meetings every other week on average for about two months. Hairy, yes, but worth it in the results we've had with our daughter's program.

Long introduction to my topic for this advocacy post. In my opinion there are two essential advocacy roles for being a special needs parent: awareness and acceptance in the community, and appropriate education. Currently 30% of my daughter's waking hours are spent at school. That percentage is only going to increase in the days to come. Since many peer relationships develop there, though they may extend beyond the school walls, that 30% overlaps a great deal with her "community." In other words, the more positive her school environment is, the easier it is to garner acceptance in the community at large. Thus our main focus to date has been advocating at our school. We have learned "on the job". I look back on our earliest IEP meetings when I simply signed the forms and went on with my day with a mixture of amusement and chagrin. Now I feel like an essential part of the IEP team, one who helps the various professionals understand how their various strategies and programs need to be tailored to our daughter's specific needs in order to be most effective. I must also say that we are blessed to live in a great school district with excellent staff and professionals. I am aware, however, of other districts where parents have no support and professionals are downright negligent to their duties and their students.

I keep wondering if the current system is really enough, even in the best of situations. Blog posts like this one make it clear it is not enough. Parents are concerned that their children are being side-lined because teachers can't see beyond their wheelchair to their potential. Parents feel painted into a corner of homeschooling because they are the only ones who will give their child the time and attention they need to communicate their thoughts. Other children languish because no one will try even the simplest of tools to connect with them.

For some time now I've been dreaming of a school where every kid is met on their own terms. Every person has abilities, gifts, strengths, things they excel at. Every person also has challenges; some are more profound than others. Imagine a place where every child can expand their abilities and strengths and be supported in their challenges, and even taught how to address their challenges through their strengths. Imagine them all helping each other to excel, succeed, thrive, and enjoy as they learn, explore, and think. Doesn't it sound lovely? How does one even begin to build such a place? This I do not know. I think one begins with parents like those who commented on Bird on the Street, and then one appeals to a wider community of parents with children of all abilities, and finally one invites experts, professionals, and passionate educators who can catch the vision.

That's a big dream to drop in your lap and walk away, but I'm not sure where else to go with it at this point. If you have a similar dream, or can catch the vision I invite you to comment here. Meanwhile I ask you to plug along where you are...advocating as well as you know how...for every child to have the opportunity to reach their full potential.


Related Posts with Thumbnails