An IEP in Autismland

We had Roman's IEP meeting today* - he already had his annual IEP in October, but this meeting was specifically regarding his transition to Middle School. Dun dun... dunnnnnn!

And I wanted to add my voice to the well documented writings out there on IEPs, because: 1) 'tis the season, 2) it's not the innermost ring of Autismland hell (everyone knows that's the grocery store), and 3) besides yourself and your family, the biggest influence on your child is likely to come from school- from their teachers, therapists, ed techs, mentors, and classmates. It behooves us to nail this, so I beg of you: choose the best possible educational environment for your kiddo. I cannot overstate the importance of this point. (<--seriously. *this is where I look over the top of my librarian glasses at you, pause for a few seconds until we lock eyes, and then I go back to reading*)

We totally lucked into Roman’s school system- we knew it was a great one on paper, but didn’t need to know about the Special Ed department until we had been here for a few years and already had a couple of kids in the pipeline. And those parents out there with neurally-blended families (contents = quirky + normie kids) will know that this *can be* a particularly sticky situation.

But honestly? We absolutely LOVE Roman's school. We feel trust, a common purpose, and joint respect when we partner up for our IEP meetings. It’s clear that the teachers really LIKE Roman and want to help him succeed- they presume him to be competent, and support his progress at every turn. Here are a few ways in which his school excels:

  • they adapt their teaching skills to suit Roman’s incidental and visual learning style, giving him lots of movement breaks and choice time for good behavior and unsalty language
  • they use his obsessions (like carwashes, construction vehicles, and octopi) to teach concepts like counting and sequencing
  • they provide him with an aide for inclusion on the regular bus and "specials" (classes like art, music, and gym)
  • they work on social goals using techniques like lunch buddies and reverse mainstreaming
  • they include Roman in general education classroom activities & projects whenever possible, and he receives one-on-one instruction in reading, writing, and math, plus hours of speech and occupational therapy every week
  • they respect his social anxiety flare-ups, and let him choose quiet spaces when he needs them
  • they communicate regularly, reporting on all his goals every day
  • they are open to trying new things like listening therapy to see if it will improve his attention span
  • they model and foster a respectful learning environment for all students, and actively coach his peers on navigating Roman's "ism days"
  • they do a therapeutic swimming program once a week- road trip!
  • they bring in a specialist to tweak his behavior plan when the shoes go wild (re-linking to the same post as above- it's a twofer)

Based on conversations I’ve had with other spectrum parents, and on what I’ve read on the subject, I realize that our school system is unusually excellent with regards to Special Ed. If, on the contrary, your relationship with the school system feels like putting an octopus to bed in dark waters, I have some tips.

First of all, I get it. There is nothing more personal than your kid. But before you go day-drinking nuclear, it's worth a Costco-sized effort to hammer out an amicable agreement with the school. Keeping in mind that your kiddo has the most to gain, and that IEPs can be stressful for you AND for the school, we've found it helpful to go in with the mindset of parent-apprentices, to learn about the techniques they are using, and about the social and academic progress our son is making.

Roman is more challenged at school than at home, so his behaviors are more extreme there. < this is a euphemism for swearing, kicking lockers, avoidance, aggression, etc. > He has more trouble with anxiety and transitions at school, so it's important for parents to keep an open mind to what teachers are seeing, hearing, and dealing with on the daily with your kiddo. Also, share your own strategies, tips, and tricks for redirecting rogue behaviors, and if you have concerns after collaborating on this brain trust, voice them in the spirit of friendly advocacy. A kindly "have you tried...," or "this works for us at home...," will go a long way, and sorry to go all Miss Manners on you, but it goes without saying that a heartfelt thank you never falls on deaf ears.

Secondly, if you’re still having trouble seeing eye to eye, it wouldn’t hurt to speak to an IEP specialist/advocate. These are people that know the heads, tails, and ridged edges of the coin, and can help steer the debate in a helpful direction.

And lastly, if all else fails, you might want to consider speaking to a lawyer who specializes in the Americans with Disabilities Act. They can help you to understand how the federal ADA law applies to your child’s educational rights. Word.


* That's shorthand for an Individualized Education Plan, for you neuro-neophytes out there.

PS I'd love to hear from you! What accommodations are most helpful for your kiddo, what's great about your school system, and what's running a little gimpy? Put in a comment or question below, or click this link to go directly to our Facebook post, and put in your two cents there. I'll be listening. (FANCY)

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