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Riding The IEP Rollercoaster

Riding The IEP Rollercoaster

Recently, I sat down with a team of excellent, kind, and hard-working educational professionals for my son's three-year IEP (Individual Education Plan) evaluation. Together, we looked at a plethora of documents with test results and charts that were there to demonstrate Ian's academic and social deficiencies and to justify the need for continued services. By the end of the meeting we had formulated a plan for the coming school year. And I had once again come face-to-face with the ugly reality that my precious child is behind his peers. Or at least that is the truth as it is spelled out on paper.

These meetings are important, necessary and I am ever so thankful for everyone's efforts. But they are gut wrenching for me. Attending my son's IEP meetings is like strapping in for a rollercoaster ride. Sadly, I'm not a thrill ride kind of girl. Being upside down and potentially puking all over myself is not my idea of a good time. Yet Ian is now a seventh-grade student and I've been hopping on this ride every year since preschool. You'd think that by now I'd have developed an iron stomach. Or at least an iron heart, to help me keep my emotions in check.

The IEP: A Necessary Evil

The IEP is, of course, a necessary evil. In this day of tight budgets, the proof is in the paperwork. It safeguards the special services that are provided to a student with cognitive social functioning difficulties.

But it doesn't change the fact that it super sucks to once again hear disappointing news: according to psychological tests, more than 80 percent of the kids roaming the halls of Ian's school are performing at a higher level than my bright-eyed man boy.

At least I'm in good company: many moms have a love-hate relationship with the IEP.

"I just feel it's the same thing every year and not making any headway," complains Misty T. in the Moms of Children With Learning Disabilities community.

"I HATE those IEP meetings," posts Patricia D. in the Autism/Aspergers/PDD Awareness community.

"They are overwhelming and stressful," states Cory F. in the Mothers of Special Needs Children.

"They (IEPs) can be very intimidating," writes Jennifer P., also a member of the Mothers of Special Needs Children community.

Annemarie B., posting in the Autism/Aspergers/PDD Awareness community on Circle of Moms, shares that she still feels intimidated even after attending IEP meetings for eight years.

"You feel so out of place with all the professionals in the room," she says.

And yet the presence of all those experts—in Ian's case a school psychologist, speech therapist, special education teacher, regular education teacher, special education department chair, principal, plus a representative from the school district busing department—is reassuring. It helps me see that I'm not alone, that many folks are on board this ride with me.

Which brings me full circle to my first and foremost IEP-oriented emotion: gratitude.

While I do battle a myriad of emotions at IEP time, this one isn't a fight. It is more of an embrace. I am thankful for the people working so diligently to help my son overcome his obstacles to reach his potential. He's a budding scientist, mixing all sorts of concoctions in his room. Without their belief in his current and future capabilities, he wouldn't have the opportunities he does to develop that passion. I know teaching is a job performed from a heart filled with care. There simply is no way anyone would last long in the profession without one.

What Really Matters, Tests Or Grades?

Frustratingly, all those experts speak an educational lingo that can take years for a parent to fully grasp.

It's tough to decipher what matters more: these performance tests with all their mysterious formulas, or the grades that were just sent home?

Third-quarter grades came in the mail this week. Ian has a "B" average in mostly mainstream classes. (His only "special education" courses are language arts and a study skills class. A junior high boy doesn't require Asperger's Syndrome to qualify for that type of remedial help.) My husband asked me how our child can score so low on performance tests yet still bring home respectable marks.

I questioned it as well until I realized once again that the IEP process, which includes its own testing and evaluation, is what gets Ian the extra help he needs to earn these respectable grades and to build patterns for future success.

Ian takes his time processing information. This isn't a bad thing unless you are taking a timed test. Ian won't perform well if he's rushed. He struggles to accurately follow multi-step directions.

Melissa G., posting in the Autism/Aspergers/PPD Awareness community, reminds me that the nature and (hopefully) end goal of the IEP meeting is "to help our children reach their full potentials."

The reality is this: My son is a square peg in a round world. We cannot shave too much off from him or he won't be who is meant to be. But we do have to gently round off his edges so that he'll fit better.

Hope in a Text Message

The other day Ian was out with a friend and his father at the hobby shop, searching out parts for a school science project. My cell phone began to buzz with text messages, little updates on the project's progress. To my amazement, the bulk of the messages came across with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. I wondered if Ian's buddy was actually punching the buttons. But my suspicions were mistaken. My son's syntax is unmistakable, and confirmed the messages were actually from him. My kid was texting me! He was texting me enough to almost be annoying. Just like any other kid.

Suddenly my fears were put to a nap (I wish I could say rest). For at least one afternoon, I ceased worrying about the results of his IEP tests as I watched evidence of his progress and normalcy ping me repeatedly through the little screen.

Every year it takes me some time to recover from the jarring twists and turns my emotions experience on the rails of the IEP ride. But at least it isn't the bumper cars. And maybe in the future, I'll feel I've just ridden a carousel instead.

Image Source: natalie419 via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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MichelleMayes MichelleMayes 4 years
And then there's the frustration of what feels like a failed IEP. After years of progress this last year was like playing how fast can we strip away services and then place her in the worst possible environment. It was like a 180 from prior years leaving a parent who thought we had maneuvered the process well, reeling. She's actually bright, works above half her classmates, but needs the help with sensory processing, emotional control, speech. We thought it was the year that would see what she could do given all the right supports, instead it is a blatant keeping of the status quo. How does that serve anyone?
ErinBerglund ErinBerglund 5 years
thank you for this article that I so identify with. The things you mentioned about your son are exactly the things my son needs to succeed. The extra time to process, I like the idea of a check list on the desk to remind him what to remember to take home at the end of the day. We will try that!
AmieVillarreal AmieVillarreal 5 years
I have a 12 year old that is profoundly deaf and he has been on an IEP since he was 3 years old. In the beginning there was some intimidation cause of the unexpected. Now over the years I know my son and how he is. Though the Staff is VERY understanding most of the time, I have come to realize how he learns and work w/ the staff to what is comfortable; there had been times the IEP was ugly, let them know I was the parent and I know what is right for my child. I have come to realization that my child has a disability and have embraced it. I make sure he understands that there is a support system and he is not dumb or behind other kids, just it takes more time to learn. Find what kind of learning style works for him and go from there.
TiffanyHanson25921 TiffanyHanson25921 5 years
Amy, your post is so true...everytime IEP time comes around I am nothing but a bunch of nerves. The very first one me and my husband attended I actually walked out during the middle of the meeting in tears. I thought i was prepared to hear all the negative things that all their tests said about my daughter, but I wasn't. I have to prepare myself for the meetings every year. I have learned that the best thing to do is pray, pray and pray and just leave everything in God's hands. Me and my husband always say that she is our miracle and she will be and do what God wants her to. I am thankful to all the teachers and therapists that help her daily and I know that the meetings are tense for them also. I just want my daughter to reach her highest potential. Thanks for your article...and it helps to know that all of us special needs moms are not alone :)
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