Anxiety is defined as: “Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by the fear of danger or misfortune.” Sounds about right, although a bit technical. For me, anxiety is a rapid increase in my heartbeat, as if I’ve had a lot of espresso. It’s a jittery, panicky feeling, which makes any type of focus impossible. I tend to obsess over what I’m anxious about, to the point of paranoia. Seriously. One thing that triggers my anxiety level is when I hear, “Allie, we need to schedule an IEP meeting.”
An IEP is an Individual Education Plan for students receiving special education services. It sounds rather innocuous, but it comes with all kinds of emotional baggage for the parents. On its best day, it’s kind of like a State of the Union address. The school tells you all that they’ve accomplished for your child, with goals met and mastered and a plan is drafted to raise the bar. At its worst, momma storms out of the meeting, slamming a heavy, industrial-sized door, which reverberates so loudly, I will still hear it in my subconscious, a year later. (It was not my finest hour.)
I’d like to go on record stating that I am very embarrassed by my behavior at Bear’s IEP meeting last year. I lost my cool. My anxiety got the best of me. I’d been psyched out about his IEP meeting for weeks, because we were going to be addressing a possible transition to middle school. We even did something that was unprecedented for us: we hired an Education Advocate. Why? Because I’d talked myself into a state of certainty that they were going to mess with us (even though I had no precedent). In a way, it ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy – although, perhaps one created in my imagination.
They say hindsight is 20-20, and I believe that to be true. A year removed from my temper tantrum, I realize that I may have been a wee bit dramatic. But here’s the deal – there was a lot at stake. I didn’t believe what they were proposing was in the best interest of my child. Additionally, I’d felt purposefully misled by one member of the team who’d told me one thing and then totally flipped on me in the group setting. That was when I walked out.
Side Bar: I’m purposefully leaving out some specific details for the sake of political correctness and self-preservation. It’s IEP season, after all.
Here’s the reality – we’ve been lucky. My son, who has autism, has probably had one on the better special education experiences a child can have in a public school setting. I just want it to continue. Traditionally, I’ve operated with a “you can catch more flies with honey” approach, to the benefit of my family. The factors that contributed to the perfect storm of my hysteria are:
1) My child was approaching middle school age, which is a whole new world for him and me as a parent.
2) I’d listened to one too many harrowing stories about how things change in middle school, especially in a special education, self-inclusion classroom setting.
3) Money’s tight, which means budgets are tight, and the schools are feeling it. Inevitably, this means fewer classrooms, teachers and services.
Did I mention I slammed a big door? Honestly, I didn’t mean too. Have mercy, it was loud and the walls did literally shake. As I walked out through the main office, to exit the school, regrets immediately seeped in. Uh-oh, now what? I also left a man on the battle field. My poor better half was left to manage the fallout. Thank God he’s the epitome of calm, cool and collected.
Prior to the meeting, I’d visited the proposed middle school and it scared me. Unfortunately, I think it’s a fact that a little bit of denial and a lot of hope is what has kept me (mostly) sane on this journey. However the class that I’d seen broke my heart, in a way that pierced my protective shield of denial and shattered my hopes for Bear. There was no way I could let my child go there.
Bear doesn’t say a lot, so I have to be his voice, even if it’s shrill sometimes. I wasn’t ready for middle school. He wasn’t ready for middle school. So I kicked and screamed till we got what we wanted. Infantile? Yes. Effective? Affirmative. I honestly believe the school system wants the best for Bear. Almost every person I’ve encountered in our special education department has been wonderful, but they aren’t his parents. I know they have a job to do, as do I. A year later, I know it’s time. In preparation for this year’s meeting and next year’s inevitable transition, I’ve met and talked to some of the school officials and I think they understand where I’m coming from. I also promised to take my meds before the next meeting.
My boy is smart. He knows what’s going on, even when it seems like he’s checked out. I pray that next year brings him angels, like the teachers he’s been blessed with for the last six years. I pray he’s safe. I hope he learns. I hope the school embraces him, and his new classmates. Please don’t hide these children in small classrooms, without windows. Integrate these kids with mainstream students, so we can plant the seeds of tolerance that will change the future. I hope that his new team will appreciate the twinkle in his eyes when he’s happy or gets what he wants. Let them love the laughter that rings from him like choir bells when he finds something funny (sometimes known only to him!). I hope they love his sweet voice when he sings and that they clap when he does his “happy dance.” I want people to see him, really see him, because my boy can shine. Just give him the chance.
I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m anxious.
I want to know if you have IEP stories to tell…the good, the bad and the funny. Please don’t name names or school systems. Not looking for trouble, just stories from fellow warriors. Any tips you can share to ease the middles school jitters would be appreciated, as well!