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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.

self-discipline.”

[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]


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  1. This is wonderful! We had such a hard time getting my son on an IEP at all, and even though he needs a resource writing class, our school is so small that we can’t put him into one without holding him back in math, at which he excels! It’s such a stupid mess.

    He’s transferring to a different school district, into a specialized magnet program, for high school. In some ways it will be great for him, but they do rely alot on the children being self motivated to keep on track and on pace. My son clearly will not be able to do that part of the school, and will need an external structure special to him to make sure he’s actually getting his necessary work done. He also still needs remedial instruction in writing, even though this is a tech academy. I’m hoping this isn’t going to prove to be too big of a problem, because the rest of the school is so great for him. Computers and coding fit into his brain practically just by breathing. The chance to work on real projects with outside companies and have internships in high school will be an amazing chance for him to get a glimpse of what his future might look like, since right now he still really has no clue. Unlike other kids who are planning to be this or that, the future is still one big blank for him.

    And then I’ve always known that college is going to be a serious struggle, and he probably won’t be able to be a “traditional” student. Things might change, but he might be one of those students that needs 6-8 years to finish a typical 4-year degree because he can only handle so much at one time. I know that he can still get 504 accommodations in college, thank the lucky government stars, and that will be important. He will certainly need a note-taker and to be able to have exams in a testing center rather than in a large classroom where he can see other students turning in their papers.

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