Monday, October 17, 2011

The Delight of the IEP

Well, the honeymoon period is over and the season of the IEP has arrived.  For those that were not chosen by God to raise special needs children an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan.   If you were chosen to raise such a child(ren) and have chosen public education for your family, then you have an obligation to your child and yourself to advocate for your child and should be fully informed as to Education Law and your family's rights under IDEA.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend one formal IEP meeting (for child #3) and also another informal conference that will result in a re-evaluation and a revised IEP in addition to a new BIP (Behavioral Intervention Plan)(for child #2) and today we get to attend a parent-teacher conference that will eventually lead to an IEP (for child #4).  At times I do become angry with their birth parents for allowing their children to be exposed to toxic substances and unhealthy family situations which all led (in some part) to the challenges our children often face, but most recently I just pray ... a lot.  God, in His infinite wisdom, asked us to parent the fatherless - these specific fatherless children, in fact.  He had them delivered to our doorstep and with us they have stayed.  It is an overwhelming task to parent them without Him.  All too often I forget to ask for help.  I ask "why us" instead.  Lately, through many tears I have been obedient and asked for help.

From the outside looking in we can look like a nearly perfect family, until you decide to get to know us better.  Our children are all (mostly) well behaved when they are with us.  Most people think we are strict and have very high expectations.  We are and we do.  We expect greatness and have seen them be great time and time again.  We are firm and consistent because that is what helps to give our children peace and lets them feel safe.  There is little need to test boundaries when they don't move.  It doesn't mean they don't try, but we don't have near that challenges at home that their teachers face.

It is when they are out of our care that things start to go sideways.  Why don't we home school?  It isn't right for us during this season of life.   In some ways the public school system is our very own behavioral therapy environment with as many controls as possible designed to help our children master the techniques that will carry them into the workforce.  Our IEPs mostly address behaviors.  It is appropriate behavior with which they struggle and the public school system is an environment that is representative of the "real world" in which they will have to submit to bosses (teachers) and work with peers (students) that they don't like.    I know it can be tough and because of that I have a complete open door policy for all of our children's teachers.

I never assume one of the teachers simply doesn't like my child, but instead I always try to find a way to assist their teachers from volunteering to calling the local school district to ask why our school isn't receiving specific services.  I'm taking the initial steps now to put together an Action Group of Parents of Special Needs Children that, if needed, could work specifically on behalf of our school to advocate for additional training and resources for our teachers.  In addition, I research.  I read constantly.  I am always looking and considering new suggestions on behavior modification and classroom management for challenging students.  When I find a seemingly good suggestion I pass it along to the teacher that I think it could help the most and if that teacher is interested I do whatever I can to help them implement it.  Often I tell them about something I've read and then ask if it is classroom appropriate, or if it could be modified to work in their classroom.  They are the experts here and I am simply a resource.

For example, today I made a set of "Emotion Flash Cards" for one of our children that came to live with us having only developed one emotion (mad!).  He now can express and feels several different emotions, but when things start to go bad in the classroom he gets overwhelmed and things go downhill quickly.  He is very bonded to me (his Mom) and when I'm not there to make it better he gets upset.  He doesn't understand why yet.  Maybe he never will.  However, what we need right now are classroom appropriate techniques.  It is our hope that his teacher will be able to show him these (silent) flash cards and he will learn to self correct or seek assistance.  Honestly, while making the flash cards I thought I could see these working in a lot of different scenarios and not just with special needs children.  Sometimes, we all need a visual reminder to stop and make an assessment.

If you think you have a child (or perhaps it is even you) that could benefit from our "Emotional Flash Cards" then print out a copy and have them ready.  They work best as "silent" reminders, so the other students (or family members) don't see the intervention.  Start with only a few and then gradually add in the others; you could even add your own.

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