Tuesday, April 04, 2006

IEP rhymes with Courtesy

Today was my daughter’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting.  It was a good excuse to take a day off work.  I imagine most parents approach the IEP with apprehension.  The process can be intimidating as there are all  these people, professionals, most of whom are unknown to Mom and Dad, siting around in judgement of your child, and, by corollary, your parenting skills.  They, of course, all know and work with each other.  All children should be so lucky to be the subject of so much attention.

Ours had the assistant principal, classroom teacher, classroom aid, special education coordinator, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech language pathologist.  Pretty typical roster really.  That made the score seven to two and half as we also also brought my three year old son, who did his level best to distract  everyone in the room.  As with most parents, we love to talk about our children and the IEP gives us a designated audience with proper frame of reference and appreciation.  Our meetings always run long, probably because we participate (or at least chat) more than I think the group is really prepared for.  I don’t know how our behavior compares to other parents, but I would guess that many of them are stunned by the logistics and numbed by the amount of data that is churned through.

IEP meetings are twice a year.  This is probably our eighth one since our daughter is now six and in kindergarten and was enrolled into the public education system just before she turned three.  She is diagnosed with Autism which is in the family of Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).

Our daughter has had a very good year.  She is in a regular kindergarten classroom, supported by a few hours of special attention each week and the presence of a full time classroom assistant.  Our daughter is in the middle academically, perhaps the lower third, but we are just thrilled that she is being tested using all the mainstream measures.  That is remarkable progress for her.  I am also a little amazed as to the expectations for all the children are being taught.

I don’t remember the academic lessons of my own kindergarten, but I do know the major focus of the year was merely the alphabet.  I am sure of that because I was so jealous of the of the neat letter-based cartoon characters my brother came home with from his class four years after me.  I remember thinking that we didn’t have anything that neat.  I think they did about one letter per week.  Thirty years later, schools do that much in the first month!  My daughter, along with all the other students, is doing some reading and wrote sixteen words in a formal timed test not long ago.

Her mother and I believe our daughter’s future is without constraints.  The feeling is so liberating for  us.  We try not to live too much in the future, but our daughters long term options now seems as limitless as any other child’s.  It is new for us to be able to think this way.  Less than two years ago our daughter lacked the verbal ability to tell us when she was feeling sick.  About then we understood she had a bad headache because she got us to fetch her a band-aid, which she applied to the middle of her forehead.

This past weekend my daughter did three new things without prompting.  These may seem small to the parents of most six year olds, but were all milestones to us.  At the zoo she asked a girl, a stranger a little older than her, if the girl wanted a push on the tire swing.  The day before at the park she asked the owner of a dog if she could pet the lady’s dog.  A little while latter when were out for dinner, as I was talking to her about ordering something other than her usual food, she asked me, “Well, what are you having?”

My daughter is a lovely little girl, but for most of her life, when out in public, often her behavior is odd enough to attract modest attention.  It has been amazing to me how bluntly rude strangers are comfortable being.  As often as not, a child or adult would ask:  “What is wrong with her?”

Like most parents, we still have the occasional meltdowns at the mall, but it is a huge relief that we no longer expect spectacle.  We can still count on crass questions from ignorant strangers though, but now the subject is my son.  “Where does he get that red hair?”

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