By Tanya Sotelo
It is almost that time again, time for our son's IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This year it has come a few months early. For those of you out there with kiddos who have IEP’s, you know it is time to fire up those search engines, go through your files and notes, and possibly get ready to fight for more, or for what you already have in place for your kiddo! If you do not know what an IEP is, here is a brief description “The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.” https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/what-difference-between-iep-and-504-plan
Now, this isn’t our annual IEP, this is one of those fun emergency IEP’s that comes up because of behavior or academic concerns, or in this case a little of both. As you may or may not know, I am the associate editor for Aurtistic Zine “Hi!” my husband and I have a seven-year-old autistic son. He was diagnosed at three and was in Special Education up until kindergarten when he went to general education with a one on one aide. We have had many, many IEP meetings. The most IEP’s in one year I believe was five during TK! That was a doozy of a year and as parents, we learned a lot and really had to fight for accommodations.
The fact that an emergency IEP is being requested was not entirely unexpected. We wanted to meet with his teacher before requesting one, and as fate would have it a parent-teacher conference had already been scheduled. When we met with her his teacher, who is understanding, lovely, kind, sharp and truly adores our kiddo, expressed her concern for our son. She explained that while he loved science, history, and stem he was struggling with reading, writing, and math (can I just ugh I hate 1st grade math). He had expressed to her that she was going “too fast” but she explained she could not slow down for him. She told us “First grade is fast-paced it’s like bam, bam, bam!” she could see his frustration as it was manifesting in behaviors and emotional outbursts.
Not gonna lie y’all internally I was screaming. I understand, of course, there are 25 other kiddos and it is not possible to pause the whole lesson for one child but as I nodded along my heart was crumbling. My son who had difficulty most times expressing his needs verbally had let it be known that he could not keep up, but he couldn’t get the help he needed. He was stuck as his classmates marched ahead.
We knew he wasn’t a fan of math. It was plain as day on his face when it was time to do homework. Fifteen minutes of work dragged into an hour. He was not engaged in the work and couldn’t concentrate. I am not pushy with it I don’t want him to hate learning, I try to make it fun, but I couldn’t get him to pay attention. Each week a new strategy was introduced when he had just gotten used to the last one, which I know he finds frustrating.
I had actually considered homeschooling when our son was first diagnosed, but we knew our kiddo and us as parents needed the support of professional educators. There was also a big emphasis on social interaction for our son. We were just learning the ropes on how to better support our son, it’s an ongoing lesson. Now that our son is older my mind has been drifting back to the idea of homeschooling, where we could provide one on one instruction and a curriculum around his interests as well as the foundations that he, of course, needs to learn should he later want to pursue higher education.
I mentioned this idea to our son’s teacher during the meeting and she advised that homeschooling Autistic kids is difficult. What she had in mind was to call an emergency IEP, which we obviously were in agreement with as we had intended to request one ourselves. Her plan is to recommend SAI (Specialized Academic Instruction essentially the kids are in small groups and can work at a slower pace) class for the subjects that he is struggling in. He would then go back to her class for the subjects he was ok with. She believes this would lessen his frustration with the work. To us that sounded like a solid plan, in my head though there was a little voice that said ”for now”. Despite his frustrations he enjoys school and likes his teachers and peers. We agreed that this is the course of action we would take at the IEP meeting. When I got home the nagging Although we agreed I was still conflicted. My gut was urging me not to be dismissive of my intuition.
Our main objective is, and always has been, to make sure our son is happy and emotionally healthy. He can always learn new things even if it takes him longer but I’ll be damned if my child is going to stress about school he’s in first grade for crying out loud! I’ll be quite honest and this may be an unpopular opinion but, I really don’t care about grades, I care about how my son feels when he knows he can’t keep up in a system that seems to be not made for kids like him.
It saddens me to know that amazing teachers are restricted to this narrow way of teaching, who otherwise perhaps be able slow things down or allowed to focus on the child’s strengths, but there is testing to be done, so that is not to be. I appreciate her effort in doing that instead of letting our son struggle I wish that more could be done, but I realize now it will not happen with the way the current system is set up.
I was feeling very conflicted when I started writing this blog post. I was unsure of my own abilities and the prospect of home-schooling was daunting, but as I am nearing the end I have gained clarity. After much soul searching and with the encouragement and support from friends, other parents, my therapist, and most importantly my dear husband I have decided to honor my intuition as a mother. It will not be something that can be done overnight we have a lot of work to do. There is research, planning, saving, to be done but I am ready to embark on this new learning and life adventure with my family.
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