My husband and I are currently going through the IEP Annual Review process for our girls. Working in conjunction with our local school district, we are formulating what supports the girls will need over the summer and devising what next school year will look like. Appreciating that many in the special needs community with school age children are going through a similar process at this time I have decided to focus my May blog on navigating the Annual Review process. As always, I hope you find my commentary valuable, and welcome your comments/feedback. Additionally, please share with others.
Two Keys to Advocating for Your Child
For me there were two key understandings that empowered me to advocate for Jordynn and Jocelynn. The first was recognizing that I am the SME, or subject matter expert, when it comes to them. No one knows them better than I do. I have known them since before they came into this world, and have watched them develop into the young ladies they are today. I am the one who can speak to their longitudinal successes and challenges. Additionally, working in conjunction with my husband, I am the one sketching out what the future will look like for them. Because of all of this (and the fact that I am an educator with over 15 years of experience) I am the key member of the girls’ Child Study Team (CST). I am the “expert” when it comes my children.
Recognizing the wealth of knowledge I bring to the table when we sit to sketch out the girls’ educational plan, the next key element to advocating for the girls was bringing to the table a long-term vision of the girls’ future. This vision was not just an annual plan or vision, but really a vision of what their “forever” would look like. This was a challenge. For Jordynn the challenges of autism are more pronounced, while in Jocelynn they can easily be overlooked by the untrained eye. Regardless of the manner in which autism manifests itself in the girls my husband and I “dreamed” for our girls and constructed a “when they grow up” plan based on the most audacious of goals. We then identified the skills and experiences the girls needed to have in order to reach that dream. When we came to layout the girls annual educational plan it was a plan embedded within that long-term vision. When we met with the other members of the CST to review the girls’ progress it was not through the limited lens of a year-by-year view, but one that also looked at where their annual progress fits into each of their “master” plans. In some areas of their plan they met their goals, in others the goals were exceeded. The best analogy I have for this shift in vision (and really planning) is it was like we went from renting a home to buying it. We really “owned” their future and challenged the teachers and other members of the CST to help make that plan a reality.
Securing these two understandings has been truly transformative! Given my experience I ask you to (1) Embrace the fact that YOU are your child’s most valuable CST member (even if you are not an educator), and (2) Encourage you to dream the biggest of dreams for your son or daughter and bring the “master” plan for your child to their next IEP meeting.
Remember by removing barriers we CAN reach beyond autism!