It seems I have slacked on our blog recently...probably because I couldn't even tell you what day it was yesterday. Today I can-its FRIDAY! We've had a lot going on in the last two weeks.
AJ's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting was last week Wednesday. Any child who needs special education or has special needs in regards to their education has an IEP. The meeting last 2 1/2 hours and was attended by 13 people. We presented all those in attendance with our binders. I chose to put our information in binders vs. stapling them together. For one: it was mondo thick, two: a binders shows better presentation, and three: I figured they'd be less likely to throw them in the trash. The binders went over very well and everyone had a moment to take a look at most of the contents before the meeting started. The contents included 5 different sections:
1. AJ's Story
2. Parent Report - A summary of AJ's personality, his strengths, weaknesses, needs, and our goals presented to the IEP team)
3. Related Research & Articles - Included: AG Bell Statement on CIs, Power of Hearing article, articles on using sign language post-CI as a bridge to speech & language, and an article on Sensory Integration Dysfunction
4. Lowell Elementary School in Waukesha Auditory Oral/Total Communication Programs - I printed all of the information off the program website including curriculum, acoustics in the classroom, and a general summary of this amazing program
5. Photo Gallery - We included two pages of photos highlighting AJ's progression since we first received his referral pictures, till now. It was very important to us to have the IEP team look at AJ as a child, not as another case on their case load. For those that hadn't met him yet, it really helped them gain a better understanding of who AJ is and how far he's come.
It was the loooooooooooooooonggest 2 1/2 hours ever. Toward the latter part of the meeting, I had to give myself a bit of an internal pep talk "Keep Fighting, Keep Fighting".I don't know what it is, but there is just this tension when you walk into an IEP. All of these people coming together with different opinions of what your child needs and should have. I am happy to say that most of us were all on the same page. We left with no concrete plans. I guess we didn't realize that the decision period for placement could be extended. Our home district was willing to contract with the Center for the Deaf to allow AJ to continue in his toddler group through the end of summer. Yeah-BUT, it was unsure as to whether there would be a place for him. We all agreed that Lowell's summer program was not what we were looking for (individual sessions vs. us wanting him to be in a group of his peers). The program director/teacher of the 3K class at Lowell came to our meeting and asked if she would be able to come and observe/play with AJ to determine if he would appropriate for Lowell's program. We scheduled that for this past Monday. Another meeting was scheduled to take place at Lowell this past Wednesday.
In the time between the IEP meeting and program director/teacher's visit, we began to panic. What if she doesn't think AJ is appropriate for the program? What would happen? His case would get thrown back to our home school district and they would have to provide for him. NO! AJ's signficant cognitive delay was part of this panic. Would he be able to access his education in this program? It made us feel like we just haven't done enough with him. He has made tremendous gains and yet it didn't feel like it would be enough. Would he need a full-time aide to help him in the classroom? Would Lowell provide that with AJ being an out-of-district kiddo? Would our home district allow the aide since they would be contracting with Lowell?
At the end of last week we were informed that there IS space for AJ to continue in the toddler group at the Center for the Deaf. WHEW. At least we knew his summer placement.
The visit with the program director/teacher went very well. She spent two hours here with our little man and was even able to see his OT work with him a bit. It was the day of the tornado warning, so the whole afternoon was rather interesting. She was very impressed with AJ. She would literally ask me a question "does he do this?" and he would do it. He responded to multiple auditory cues for more. He put objects into a container for her and his OT (YAY!) and followed my finger pointing to Daddy for more crackers.
The meeting on Wednesday was quick and painless. We took AJ to Lowell with us. The meeting was small and AJ just played on the floor with toys he was provided. The newest draft of his IEP (15 pages) already had Lowell written in as placement. We signed on the dotted line. AJ's school placement for the 2009-2010 school year will be at Lowell Elementary in Waukesha. We have chosen to place him in the Total Communication classroom. There will be 3,4,5 year olds in this classroom next year, with AJ being the youngest. He will attend 4 out of the 5 days a week, until we and the IEP team meet again 8 weeks into the school year. He will attend the mornings 8:35-11:15am. He will not have an aide! The program director was very impressed with how independent and engaging AJ is. We all saw pros to his attending both 4 and 5 days a week. At this point, we chose to start with 4 and use the extra day for one of his private therapy sessions or, imagine this, a BREAK. He will be receiving PT, OT, and Speech at school. Beginning in July, AJ will also receive "medical" PT and OT four times a week with his current PT and OT at their clinic. Once he turns 3 he is no longer in Birth to 3, so they will stop doing home visits. Which is fine, since in all honesty, he's "outgrown" PT at home.
At the end of the meeting, AJ had found the classroom door and was sitting with his koosh ball in front of him. I walked over to him, he saw/heard me and looked up with this big smile. I asked him "Where's your ball?" and then said and signed "Where's your ball?". He looked at me and then looked at his ball and picked it up. What a SWEET ending to such a long process.
I am soooooooo looking forward to receiving his registration packet in the mail and going supply shopping. *I have a thing for school supply shopping.
Our meeting ended at 8:34am, with just one minute for the program director to get to her classroom. She will be coming to observe AJ again during one of our speech sessions at Children's and during the toddler group at CDHH. To have someone who is so passionate about working with children with hearing loss and doing everything she can to see them succeed: PRICELESS.
To all of those in the IEP process, beginning, or just dreading it when it is your child's turn: Let's be honest. It isn't all fun and games. It is a hard, long, tedious process. I have cried many tears, had many sleepless nights, and ate way too much chocolate in the last few weeks. Ask my husband, I haven't been June Cleaver lately. But the feeling of gaining access to the education you want for your child is AMAZING. It may take appeals, and letters, and stress, and lots o' margaritas, but all of as parents of children with hearing loss, know what its like to advocate. This requires "super-advocation" if you will. So ladies and gents, bust out that cape and let 'em have it. Your child deserves the best. You know that. Make sure your IEP team knows that. (Stepping off my soapbox now)