The night before Josie's first IEP meeting, I laid out my outfit; a sweater dress, tights, necklace, and suede boots with a dressy heel - an outfit that would have helped me project professionalism and confidence back in my office job days. I went to bed early, woke up early, and got on the treadmill in an attempt to reduce my stress levels and blood pressure that were bound to elevate that day. My husband, a MBA graduate who thrives in corporate America, gave me a rousing Dale Carnegie inspired pep talk and then wished me luck - regretfully, a business meeting prevented him from joining me.
I left my house super early hoping to arrive early and check out the preschool environment. As I headed towards the school, I got an unexpected call from my wonderful husband, telling me that he had left his meeting early so he could join me at the IEP meeting - an unexpected gesture of support that meant the world to me (even if he only did it in anticipation of having to restrain me).
Josie's DHS caseworker offered to attend, and I happily obliged anticipating that she knew a little bit more about this process than I did. I knew I could use all the help I could get.
The meeting itself was uneventful. The school's physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech and language pathologist presented the findings of their evaluations along with the preschool teacher. I asked questions, they answered them, and then they gave Travis and I a tour of the school. I got back in the car and breathed a sigh of relief that it was over. I had maintained my composure and I felt like I deserved a tee shirt that looked something like this:
Having grown up in the special needs community, you'd think I'd have a better idea of what I'm doing. But I don't. Mama Hop has a Masters Degree in Special Education and she'd be the first one to tell you that the educational landscape has changed so much that any advice she can offer is limited. But just because I've never been through an IEP meeting before, doesn't mean that I'm a lesser member of the IEP team. I know Josie and her abilities better than anyone else in that room so my perspective is critical.
When I'm so invested in a cause like Josie's education, I won't let a lack of experience intimidate me into taking a passive position. That's why I called other parents whose children had been through this before, I interviewed other elementary education teachers, I spoke to other professionals in the special needs field, I drilled Josie's therapists in an attempt to extract as much information as I could. And I turned to a trusted friend who has both the education and personal experience to make her an invaluable resource.
What I've learned since the meeting is that the stack of papers I was handed is merely a draft. It's a working document. And as I read through it and consult with others who know more than I do, I am confident that I will have revisions made to this document. For example, I just learned that there is a difference in the medical and educational models of occupational therapy. Josie's private OT cannot work on handwriting because she practices the medical model and handwriting falls under the educational model. That was a major oversight on my part and it will require me to rearrange my plans and schedule so that Josie can take advantage of both the private and school OT.
Who knew? I didn't. But I know now. And I will continue to educate myself and take advantage of any opportunity that I have to gain a better understanding of this process for the welfare of my daughter. I'm sure there will be more oversights in the future. I'm sure I will stumble along the way. There will be small victories and major disappointments. The system isn't perfect. But I must continue to rise to the challenge of my role as my daughter's biggest advocate.