IEP meetings – ugh.

Is there any phrase for special needs parents with such immediate emotional impact as IEP meeting? Merely breathe it to “special parents” and we enter the zone of mutual knowing – that no matter how the meeting concludes, parents emerge with frustration and amazement that assembling so many highly educated people in one room inevitably leads to displays of sheer stupidity.

After 15 years of IEP meetings you’d think I’d know better.  For the first time this year I fully rejected the drafted IEP as required by a new town liaison who insisted that any word changed to the document once we left the team meeting required a fully new team meeting.  (however it was OK for the OTs and SL/Ps to reword what they drafted in the document sent to me for signature, though.  So I guess the rules apply only to we “lesser” members of the team of equals, i.e. parents).  I had our 2nd team meeting as required a few days ago, and while I did emerge with about 80% of what I wanted, the display of lack of knowledge of my son after 2 years – and commitment to trying something new that might work – was sad, puzzling and downright irritating.

“Individualized” is the first word in Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Yet the lack of interest from SL/Ps and OTs to genuinely individualize a program cuts across just about every school my sons have attended.  This school, in particular, appears to hide behind statements of “we tried and he can’t ___.”   Yet when you ask specifically what they tried, in an attempt to understand or frame a new approach, answers were vague.  I ask, “Did you help him understand the (noun) or the (action verb) by using Meyer-Johnson picture symbols?  “Oh we always have symbols in the room.” – OK, but you didn’t answer the question.  Did you present them to him, and how – or was he supposed to go them for himself ?

Here’s another one. “When we point to the (noun) on the shelf and ask him to put it away, he can’t do that.”  I ask, “So when that happens what do you do?  “We point and walk him over to show what it is.”  I ask again, “Did you use the picture symbols, or look at perhaps whether he doesn’t understand either the noun, or the verb?”   The answer came back,  “Oh we have picture symbols all of the place.”  I ask, well, how do you present them – is it in a size of visual field he can understand, is the symbol photographic or illustrative, what was happening at the time, did you try to simplify or explain the task?”  Dead silence.

Hello, professionals?  You work at a SCHOOL.   Your job is to TEACH.  Your consultative time on my child’s behalf is meant to FRAME APPROACHES.   Your direct service time is meant to PROVIDE INDIVIDUAL THERAPY, not so the same old thing you’ve done for 2 years that didn’t work,or tasks you’ve developed for other students –  then tell me “He can’t.”

And thank you also for sharing that you, too, own an iPad, with the same programs my son uses at home.  But when I pay for his outside speech therapist to show you what she’s doing my child, and you reject the suggestion, even though you crow about how you own an iPad  and are happy to try the existing screens and software you have developed for others – you are proving yourself guilty of the #1 error of your field – failing to MEET THE STUDENT WHERE THEY ARE AT.  Isn’t this the definition of “Individualized”?

I’m not sure if these professionals have noticed, but I begin each meeting by thanking them for their interest and concern in my son – and I mean that.   And I end each meeting remarking on a recent achievement.  It’s my way of saying that while my sons are profoundly autistic, they make progress, Mr./Ms. Professional – even if the pace is slow, and uniquely their own.

And you, the professional who is not really helping, you are in for the most tactful, clear, and insistent PITA (Pain In the Ass) you’ve ever met.