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“My Daughter Is Winning the IEP Race”

One mom passes the accommodations baton to her daughter, and, much to her relief, she is off and running with managing her own IEP in high school.

As Lee and I walked through her high school quad, a sudden wave of emptiness washed over me.  This, I realized, was my last walk, the final time I’d attend my child’s IEP annual meeting. I was empty-handed for once, just a purse over my shoulder, with nothing to bring to the table except my daughter and myself.

I thought back a decade ago to Lee’s first IEP in elementary school. I’d been so nervous and scared, carting in a load of paperwork, including my parent rights. I was ready to make my case for my daughter with ideas for accommodations she needed, like fewer items on homework assignments, study materials provided in advance, and more frequent breaks for sensory exercises.

We were up against a formidable foe.  Lee’s teacher didn’t believe there was such a thing as ADHD.  “This child doesn’t need an IEP,” Lee’s teacher told the district special education counselor, “…she just lacks

I felt my blood boil. But I kept my voice calm and asked her, “Does Lee still chew on her clothes?”

The teacher nodded and said, “It’s disgusting.”

“Are you aware it’s a coping mechanism for hyperactive kids?” I said.


[Free Download: 8 Rules for Productive IEP and 504 Meetings]

The district special education counselor took my list and looked it over. “Jennifer,” she said, “…you can have your accommodations.” She gave the teacher an icy glare. “All of them.”

By fourth grade, Lee’s learning disabilities were becoming more pronounced, even though her artistic abilities were flourishing. At the last elementary school IEP meeting, no one questioned the importance of keeping Lee in special education for middle school. They told me she would have her hands full juggling five teachers instead of one.

During Lee’s seventh-grade year, I breezed into a meeting for an addendum to her IEP, thinking that it would require nothing more than my quick signature.

“Isn’t this a wonderful day?” the school psychologist asked.

Wary, I said, “Yes…why?”

“Because it’s the first day of Lee’s journey into college prep classes.”

Oh boy, here we go. Was this the push I’d heard about from other parents to transition kids off their IEP’s after middle school?

“No.”  I swallowed hard, forcing a smile on my face.  “It’s not.”

We stared at each other, two gladiators getting ready to enter the ring. I’d come a long way down the road since that first IEP, and I wasn’t about to go back.

[Help Kids Get Their Middle School Mojo]

I said, “Are you aware that she has learning disabilities associated with her ADHD that have kept her in resource classes for five years?”

“Well, you would certainly want her in college prep classes in high school, wouldn’t you?”

If I lived in a perfect world where kids in resource always had the best instructional strategies to succeed in a mainstream class, of course! What mother wouldn’t?

“No, I don’t think so,”  I said, “especially in ninth grade, the critical time to adjust to high school. The worst time to make a change, in my opinion.”

I knew my parent rights. I didn’t budge, and Lee continued on to high school with her IEP and stayed in special education classes. When her anxiety increased in tenth grade, slowly growing worse than her ADHD symptoms, I fought for new accommodations. Allowing personal space, the use of a sketch pad to doodle, and testing in a separate room went into the IEP, helping Lee to make it through the more difficult classes.

Today, there was no one present at the twelfth grade IEP meeting who wouldn’t be there in full support. When the IEP got underway, the district transition counselor asked Lee if she’d thought about which accommodations from her IEP she’d like to use in college classes.

“Yeah,” Lee said. “It takes a few minutes for me to process stuff, so I need a note taker. That way, I can focus on what the professor is saying. Also, I could use extra time to take a test, plus I need to sit in the back for my sensory needs.”

As I watched her speak up for her disabilities with confidence and strength, the emptiness I’d felt earlier threatened to make my tears spill. Lee was starting to fight her own battles. It was time for me to step aside and let her into the ring.

[Graduation Daze: 6 Ways to Smooth the Transition from High School to College]