I have a love/hate relationship with my son’s IEP. On the one hand, it sometimes seems irrelevant because many of the goals get overridden by the curriculum when the expectations in the classroom are way beyond the goal. It’s a little bit different for something like speech because there is time spent outside of class working on specific tasks. On the other hand, not only does an IEP contain goals, it also contains accommodations, and if the teacher is able to follow through, they can be very helpful. So, overall, the IEP is a good thing and definitely beats having nothing at all. One hitch is that it needs to be renewed every three years. So, while you really want your child to do well, if they do too well, then they no longer qualify for an IEP. In theory, outgrowing the IEP is a good thing. In Monkey Boy’s case, I’ve found it to be a vicious cycle.
If you remember from way back, Monkey Boy had an IEP for preschool. Because he made so much progress, Monkey Boy lost his IEP before beginning kindergarten. That’s not to say that I wasn’t able to work with his teacher, and the SST (student support) team really helped get some modifications going in the classroom, but there was no formal plan. Just in case you don’t know, a parent can call a meeting of the SST team any time they have a concern. It worked very well through second grade. Unfortunately, third grade hit him hard, and I spent most of that year trying to get him the right diagnosis, so he could get the help he needed. He finally qualified for an IEP again in April of third grade based on his diagnosis of ADHD.
Now we are at the end of sixth grade, so it’s the year of retesting and renewal. Can you believe how quickly this year has flown? And can you guess what happened with his IEP? If you said he lost it, then you would be correct! The education diagnostician told me that I should look at this positively. Past experience has told me otherwise, so I’m having more trouble seeing the good. As far as Monkey Boy’s attitude, he’s happy he won’t be pulled out of class for speech anymore. Before I move on, I will say they offered me a meeting to see if he qualified for a 504 plan, which I took them up on, so I will get back to that in just a minute.
Going back to losing his IEP, I do have a few issues. The first concern, and unfortunately I didn’t think about this until after all my meetings, is that he never finished his goals. In elementary school, I got quantitative measures as to how he was advancing. In middle school, all I got was “steady progress (or sp).” As far as I know, none of them, except speech, were ever mastered. My other concern is that the whole process is, from what I gather, centered around his IQ score. He scored a 96 (in the past it has always hovered around 85, so this is an improvement), which is a low average score, and they calculate his performance around this score. So, he’s working at his potential, which is good, but the kids with average or above average IQs working at their potential yield much higher scores. For the most part, though, they’re all supposed to be mastering the same skills. I guess that’s more about the SOL’s than the IEP. But with a lower IQ score, he will always struggle more in school. He just doesn’t have a specific learning disability nor does he struggle enough to qualify for special education services.
Let me get back to the 504 plan. Here is a good explanation of the difference between the 504 and IEP. The team (made up of his case manager, the educational diagnostician, the psychologist, the vice principal and a classroom teacher) looked at several of his diagnoses; autism spectrum disorder, ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder. In my opinion, sensory processing is also a big issue, but Sensory Processing Disorder doesn’t exist as a diagnosis. Isn’t that nice?! They determined that both ADHD and his anxiety contribute to problems with learning; specifically concentration and thinking. In reality, he is much more complex than these labels, however, we need a specific medical diagnosis to move forth, so this is what we have. Thankfully, he qualified. Whereas the IEP has goals and accommodations, the 504 simply has accommodations. In Monkey Boy’s case, this is the more important aspect anyway, especially since he’s mastered everything in speech (I was actually happy about this because he had speech both inside and outside of school for a long time, and his gains were obvious).
It’s hard to say how I feel overall. I think only time will tell, and I get the feeling I’ll be fighting for Monkey Boy for a very long time. Yes, academically, he has made great strides this year. The more I read about autism, though, the more I think he’s on the spectrum (something I’ve questioned on and off for years even with his diagnosis). I think that needs to be a separate post in the near future. As far as the 504, they took most of his accommodations from the IEP and will implement them next year. The thing that makes me most nervous is that they don’t want to automatically place him in the inclusion classrooms (these are classes that include the kids with IEP’s, and they have a resource teacher at all times to provide extra help). The team assures me he will be fine. I have years of experience with him that says he’s walking a fine line between excelling and becoming overly frustrated. But, like I said, we will see. Thankfully, we have a much needed summer break to look forward to between now and then. And I will reassess my feelings in the fall.
In another corner of my life, we are quickly approaching Master Yi-Yi’s senior year. Just wait until I tell you how things are panning out with him.