In my closet you'll find a pair of boxing gloves. Well, maybe not literally, but when I close my eyes, I imagine they hang from my closet door on a hook designated just for them, within easy reach. They were once a beautiful bright pink, but now they're scuffed and have a fair amount of stains from a lot of blood, sweat and tears.
I don't like to pull them out. However, on a occasion, usually around this time of year, I pull them out and and dread the thought of putting them on. You see, it's IEP time. IEP stands for Individualized Eduction Plan. The IEP is used for children with special needs to determine an education plan designed specifically for their needs and unique learning abilities. The meeting lasts in the neighborhood of two to three hours. I have a love-hate relationship with this meeting. It is certainly necessary, but there is no denying it is not fun. I'm sure all parties involved would agree!
I debated writing about this topic. It's a sensitive subject and involves a number of people. Yet it consumes my every day. It determines what Dylan does on a day to day basis at school. The IEP is Dylan's education plan. It will follow us until the day he graduates from high school. I share for those who experience them first hand, I share for those who know nothing so they might learn and I share for others so they might see where parents are coming from.
First and foremost, Dylan is blessed with an amazing school district. Nope, I'm not just saying that. We pray daily that the Lord keep us here for many years because the thought of leaving our district is a nightmare. Our district isn't perfect, but perfection doesn't exist....in any city, county or state!
There is no doubt the IEP is an essential part of Dylan's academic, social and emotional development. Through it and amazing input and insight from many individuals, Dylan is growing daily. That doesn't mean the process is a pretty one. A solid ten people are a part of what we refer to as Dylan's IEP Team. That's a lot of folks, a lot of input and even more reports and paperwork. It's a formal event for paper, pens and signatures.
At our yearly IEP - for us it's this upcoming Thursday - we are reminded of exactly where Dylan is at. It's not an easy pill to swallow. Although Dylan is well over nine, I often say he ranges in age from three to nine, depending on what you're looking at, when you're looking at it and his particular mood at any given moment. Obviously, this makes planning his placement challenging. There's the SDC program. SDC represents the Special Day Class, which is made up of various children with various special needs. Then there is inclusion, which is where you place a child with special needs exclusively in a traditional classroom. We are personally attempting to do a combo of both, often referred to as Mainstreaming. It's hard and I feel like I'm constantly on my toes.
I want Dylan to have the best of both classes, as each one has so much too offer. Combine these choices with the IEP team as a whole and you get all sorts of input, opinions and options. All are relevant and important. But, at the end of the day, Dylan is my son. Right now he's nine. Eventually he will be nineteen, twenty nine, forty nine and so on. It can be difficult because I often feel as though the bigger picture isn't always being considered. I believe his IEP team tries to see it, but unless you live the life of a special needs parent or something close to it, I don't believe anyone - family, friends, educators, doctors, therapists - can ever really get it. I'm not upset by this, it's just the simple truth.
So, here I am again, prepping for another IEP. I'm making lists. I'm thinking and pondering. I'm trying to see all growth that Dylan has accomplished this past year while also seeing how big the gap is in certain areas. Dylan won't become a heart surgeon. I highly doubt he will attend an Ivy League university. I do believe he will attend a college of some sort and hold a job. I believe, if he chooses and the Lord brings him the right person, he could marry and even live independently. So how do I accomplish these long-range goals for Dylan in these early, formative years? What class should he go to? I know he can't do division - yet, but want him to act appropriately with his "normal" peers. I want his "normal" peers to "get" him and be able to co-exist with him. It's likely that his "normal" peers will be his co-workers and employer someday.
There is no perfect answer. There never will be. When I get up in the morning and get Dylan ready for school, all I really want to do is drop him curb side, wave goodbye and watch him walk to class on his own. I don't want to have to check my cell phone for missed calls or the answering machine for messages on a regular basis because this or that might have taken place at school and I have to "address" it, in whatever fashion that might be. This is the "yucky" part of being a special needs mama.
Dylan is my son, my baby, my first born. It is my motherly nature to fight for him, protect him. I want the world to see him as I do. But in order to do so, now and then I have to put on those pink boxing gloves. We all have our own set of eyes and I have to show the world what it is I want for him and how I believe I can get him there. It's not an easy task and it often takes some convincing, a few soft punches and swift maneuvering. I'm not trying to be difficult. I want to build bridges, not burn them. I've pulled out my gloves and put them in my purse for our yearly IEP. I hope they don't have to make an appearance. In fact, I love it when I see dust accumulating on my pink boxing gloves. It makes me smile, BIG!