My 3 y-o, Abby, has a diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech. She turned 3 in Dec. 2008 and had her first IEP in Jan. 2009. At the time, her goals were based on assessments from the birth-3 program. Abby met all but her speech goals in the first three months. I asked for an IEP at that time, but was given the run-around, "We still work on that in the classroom" and "We only have IEP's annually." I accepted it. Abby was making excellent progress. I visited her class and saw from the work and notes she brought home that she was doing well.
I was more persistent this school year. Knowing that the "I" in IEP stands for Individual, I thought it was important for her to work on skills specifically to address her needs. (My goal: be prepared for kindergarten.) I spent weeks researching her disability, seeking input from parents and reviewing her last IEP. Perhaps I was a little too prepared for her meeting. I had more paper than the rest of the attendees combined: 3 pages of questions as well as her previous IEP marked liberally with post-its and a parent input letter that I spent about 3 hours composing. (The last suggested by parents and various websites as a way to introduce your child.)
I was very nervous about this meeting which was further aggravated by my inability to arrive anywhere on time. The day of the meeting I was 10 min. late and embarrassed about making everyone wait. I brought my mother with me for support but didn't feel the need for an advocate as Abby has had no issues, I just wanted to update her goals.
I was intimidated by the people invited to the meeting. In addition to the participants in her previous IEP, the principal of the school she was attending and the principal of her school district were there. The school psychologist was not. It seemed like they were prepared for controversy. I failed to assert myself in reading the statement I had written, which could have changed the tone of the whole meeting. The teacher launched right into reading her IEP, which I failed to recognize until I later received a copy. I thought the report was written AFTER the meeting.
She then passed the floor onto the speech therapist. As this is Abby's principle disability I am understandably concerned about it. We had spoken prior to the meeting and I told the ST that I didn't feel a need to change her speech goals. In my opinion, this woman was very defensive. I had given her a long list of questions prior to the meeting and in fact suggested we meet seperately to go over them. She thought we could address them at Abby's IEP. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake. There was no need for everyone to be there for her to answer all my questions. I feel as though she wanted witnesses to our interaction. One of the questions I asked was about the methods used in the therapy session I had attended the previous year. I was straight-forward about my feeling that it was insufficient, that Abby and I did more at home than at that session. (Another reason that I wanted to meet privately. I very purposefully didn't not intend to question her professionalism or embarrass either of us.) The remaining questions were about her disability. I felt I was being spoken down to and that the other professionals were supporting her rather than recognizing my need for information. One thing that particularly bothered me was a principal's explanation of the difference between clinical speech therapy and what the school provided. I don't care, I just want results!
Now that it was my turn to speak, I pulled out the documents I had prepared. As I went over the previous year's IEP, I could feel the defensiveness of everyone heighten. I questioned the fact that no assessments had been done since she started school. I was told that none were needed. I got a lot of "we don't do it that way." I felt attacked by everyone there, coming at me from all sides. My parenting skills came into question. "Abby does not have those problems at school." (Duh! Every child adjusts their behavior according to the environment and expectations.) Emotions came to a peak when I got to the section about Abby's strengths. This was an area I felt was seriously lacking in her original IEP. The principal was very combative about my input. "We only address things specifically related to her performance in school." At this point I started to cry. I still don't understand why my input was so controversial. I tried to pass my notes on to the principal who didn't even look at them! (They were written on a post-it note, hardly a novel.) I conceded that one of my suggestions was not pertinant to the school environment and that the teacher had already included most of my list, but why weren't my suggestions being taken into consideration? I could certainly write pages about how wonderful my daughter is, but I told the principal that I already knew that wasn't appropriate for an IEP. At this point, the teacher asked to see my notes.
At the end of the meeting I felt berated and belittled. I received a copy of the IEP, which was my first realization that it had already been done. The additions to her areas of strength were added in pen with a note that I didn't feel there were enough listed. The goals I had suggested were included with the specifics added as only a person with experience in teaching could do. Even now, I am having trouble understanding why everyone was defensive and triggered to put down my input. I thought I was clear about why I felt another IEP was needed. Most of what I said were questions and ways that I could support her learning at home. Prior to this meeting, I felt these professionals were my best allies in helping Abby reach her full potential. Now I am concerned that they do not view me in the same way.
Ultimately I got what i wanted. Abby has an excellent IEP to address her needs this year. Her goals are appropriate and attainable. The staff she is working with are probably some of the best teachers available and she is getting the supports she needs. However, I am still struggling with the difficulty in getting there, especially as the teacher was so in tune with what I wanted that all that was added were my comments on her strengths. Because of the negativity of this experience I will definitely be bringing a professional advocate to future meetings.
(I should add that my expectations were colored by my experience in working with adults with disabilities. As a direct care worker, day training supervisor, then social service representative I participated in countless Interdisciplinary Team meetings, most of which were annual meeting to set goals. These IDT meetings were a lot different than the IEP's I attended for Abby, with more input from every member of the team and the report being written after the meeting.)
My letter to the teacher:
Dear Mrs. Smith,
Abby is so excited to be returning to your classroom this year! She has been very enthusiastic about being with her friends, riding the bus, and sharing how her day has gone with each member of her family. Abby is very proud of the activities she does in school and her books and artwork have been a great source of joy for her.
I am looking forward to another great year for her. Abby has made tremendous strides in her speech and ability to communicate. She learned a lot of important skills in your class last year. Abby has benefited greatly from the routine you provide and the success she has had in following it. She has learned colors and shapes. She can pick out and identify her name just about anywhere and also recognizes the names of her peers. Abby met the all but the speech goals her team set for her last year.
I expect Abby will continue to grow and meet even greater challenges this year. We are meeting to set new goals for her, goals that I hope will continue to help her prepare for Kindergarten and make her feel confident and successful. I am relying on your input to make them both challenging and attainable. I feel you are very aware of Abby’s strengths and needs and that you are a very important part in getting her prepared to take on the world.
You are probably aware that my biggest concern for Abby is her inability to speak clearly and consistently. It is comforting that you and Mrs. Jones continue to work together to help her communicate. My expectation is that you continue to use the tools at your disposal to help others understand her wants and needs, an excellent example of which is the PEC’s system you will be incorporating into her day. I am excited to see what she will be able to accomplish when she is able to communicate more freely with all the people at school.
Thank you for all the support you give to my very beautiful daughter, Abby. I’m looking forward to seeing all the progress she will make this year. Here are just a few ideas about what can help her in your classroom. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you with her needs.
What you can do:
**Accept what you can get closest to what you want. Abby will work hard to please you. Pushing her will make her frustrated and you will lose her attention.
**Abby may become anxious when strangers are around. She will become quiet and most likely put her hands in her mouth. Let her know it is okay to be nervous.
**Please understand that sometimes Abby might not respond as a way to help her get out of a difficult communication challenge. She may become angry or frustrated and act out as a result.
**Be aware that sometimes Abby is also physically uncoordinated, making running, jumping, drawing, cutting, and other motor tasks difficult. She may fall or run into things, but she is a resilient little girl who will pick herself up and try again.
**Keep alert for any other signs of learning difficulty. Sometimes children with apraxia have difficulty learning to read, write, spell or do math.
**Abby likes to know that you are proud of her and happy to be with her. Engage her in activities in which you know she will succeed. It is very easy to elicit a smile this way!
**Most of all, please include me as your partner. I want very much to help Abby and to do everything possible to support you as her teacher. I know we will always be able to communicate and share information with each other for her benefit.