We had an IEP meeting today. For the uninitiated, that's an Individualized Education Plan here in WV--the plan for dealing with an exceptional child's exceptionalities. I had one forever ago. The state of West Virginia considered me 'gifted' long before the ultimate gift of my sons was given to me. But it turns out that an IEP for a child whose most difficult request was to be allowed to take classes formerly reserved for upperclassmen is MUCH different than an IEP for children who are developmentally delayed.
I was really, really worried about this meeting, to the point that I put it off for at least a month longer than I should have. John even asked his dad (a combination education expert and worried grandfather) to come down and go with me. We requested this meeting, mostly because I wanted to integrate some things from their occupational, physical, and speech therapists into their curriculum, but also because we had some concerns about the class itself. The meeting needed to be held, things needed to be said, and yet I dreaded it. What if they didn't listen to me? What if I didn't do a good job advocating for my children? What if, rather than improve the situation, I angered the people who spend unsupervised time with my nonverbal little boys? How could I strike the right balance of advocating for them while still keeping them safe?
Turns out, I worried needlessly. While I may not have been born to parent special needs children, I most certainly have a talent for advocating for those who can not advocate for themselves. I was nervous and afraid--and more than once looked to my father in law for strength and support--but I did not, as I had feared, fold, or even back down. I was honest and bold, polite but argumentative. I asked why they had not yet had the evaluations we requested months ago, how the classroom aides were trained, why my children were being taken into 'typical' classrooms, and on and on. I asked why the classes I had observed did not have as much support from the 'support staff' as I would like, and I asked how they were going to restructure the class to meet my sons' needs. In other words, I was an advocate for my sons, and though I wish I had done a little more, I would give myself a strong B for today's meeting.
Which isn't to say that the meeting was all about me being a buzzing fly and forcing them to either swat me or let me out :P. I learned a lot. For example, I learned that the school system considers the therapy my children are getting a 'medical' intervention, and therefore do not believe it automatically follows that they need those interventions in an educational setting. I learned that there are support systems already in place--but that finding them can be an adventure all it's own. I learned that a parent requesting an official meeting scares the bejesus out of people--which leads me to suspect that I have more power than they would like me to believe.
Most importantly though, I was reminded that like it or not, I am my sons' advocate. It's my job to make sure they have what they need, and if I can't give them what they need, then it's my job to find someone who can. If I don't know what they need, it's my job to find someone who can figure it out. It is my JOB to take care of them--and my JOY to watch them grow. And somehow, along the way, I grow, too.