[Warning: This is a bit of a rant. I also wish to state that the rant is from the perspective of a mom of a child with ASD - not a lawyer. Anything said in the following post should not be construed as legal advice. Should you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney who specializes in Special Education in your jurisdiction.]
The all powerful IEP is the basic document from which all the rights of a child with a disability spring. From that document, in theory, come real-live tools used to even the playing field for a child that has special needs. Whatever you obtain, acquire, keep, or lose will be based upon the goals and other language you agree upon in the Individualized Education Plan.
Under the law of the United States, every special needs child is entitled to a free and appropriate education. What is appropriate will be determined by the language of that IEP – that we parents sign. As a mom of a child with ASD, it is my belief that it is extraordinarily important that you read it right side up, upside down, inside out and backward and forward before you sign. Know it. Agree with it. Change it if you must, but do it before you sign.
Having said all that, guess what? My son has no working, agreed upon IEP. Am I the only one who is still without an IEP over four months into the school year? And yes, you read that right at the top of the page – I am a lawyer.
I am not a lawyer who specializes in IEPs or special education or any educational issues. I am a litigator though. That means I go to trial. I have picked many juries. I have questioned witnesses, taken hundreds of depositions (testimony under oath in an office before a court reporter which is used at trial) and given both opening statements and closing arguments. I have won and I have lost. The point is that I am not afraid to fight. And there is no greater cause than my son.
And yet, here I sit with no IEP. I have been given no written offers. And the only acceptance I have is that the whole system is broke – funding wise, and, as in, it ain’t fixed.
I have strong feelings and opinions about the whole IEP process. On one level, I understand how lucky I am to live in the United States where public schools have funds designated for special educational needs to help even the playing field created by a child’s disability. It is a privilege to have the right to a free and appropriate education.
Having said that, the IEP process is full of politics, “little” white lies, misinformation and ineptitude. Teachers and Special Education teachers are wonderful people. But they are covered with layers of bureaucracy. Not many are trained to any depth on autism. Is it enough to provide an “appropriate” education? Who knows? Do we get the teacher’s resume? Review and critique their training? Do we know how effective their methods are? What are the percentages of children who have been measurably helped by any given teacher? Are there stats like with sports teams? No. How many unqualified people fill classrooms with just a body? And yet they hold our most precious cargo in their hands to mold. When I ask, I get vague, how-dare-I-ask, evasive responses. I don’t trust – trust must be earned. It hasn’t been.
Unfortunately, the system that surrounds teachers is sometimes poorly run, underfunded, and overpopulated. Mix inadequate funding, high numbers of students, and high turnover rates, and you are not living in Utopia. The IEP meetings are always, by their very nature, adversarial. The school district will always be trying to maximize their savings by providing the bare minimum to meet the language of the document you have agreed to. I don’t believe it’s anything personal. It’s simply business. The less they pay, the more people can be funded. The way funding has been explained to me is that there simply are not enough funds to provide the “appropriate” part of the education equation to every child. So, should I accept that my child is receiving an inappropriate education because of the lack of funds, or do I fight for every cent that will make his education appropriate? You know the answer.
So, why, if I’m clearly not going to lie, and an innocent child is involved, do they always lie to me?
Don’t tell me that you are offering me an ABA trained, one-on-one aide, ”comparable” to my one-on-one EIBT [Early Intensive Behavioral Therapy] trained (no- really trained) tutor when you hire a minimum wage, college student, whose only training is one week following another similarly-situated, college student, who has been trained by the trainee of a trainee, of an ABA-style behavioral analyst. Don’t try to replace my EIBT tutors with babysitters.
Don’t tell me your six hour kindergarten program with PE, art, and social studies, in the afternoon is appropriate for my son. Don’t tell me that leaves me two hours a day to run ABA programs, late in the afternoon when my son would be exhausted. Don’t tell me that vague notion of an offer is comparable to my son’s current high intensity school math, spelling, writing, reading program in a 12-2 ratio of students per teachers for three hours a day, not including his one-on-one EIBT tutor, who then follows school with three additional hours of intensive behavioral therapy that integrates his school and nonschool life. An EIBT tutor who follows him from school to afternoon ABA intensive programs, that is part of a layered, professionally and scientifically proven program that redesigns itself weekly to meet my son’s new challenges and monitor his daily gains.
My son doesn’t need your “PE”, social studies, and art in kindergarten. He needs not to scream. He needs to talk. He needs to learn to sit still. He needs to comprehend stories and verbalizations that go far too fast for him to follow. He needs someone to facilitate the conversation in a way he can understand. He needs to catch up, not sit in a whirlwind of indecipherable chatter that is overstimulating and useless to him.
Maybe there is someone out there who needs your six hour a day babysitting program. I need teachers who will teach what my son needs to learn. Not what you deem my daily allowance. Because that is unacceptable and not appropriate. I will assure my son has every single tool he needs to help him succeed. And we can do it the easy way – or we can do it the hard way. They’re both easy for me.
Today was Round 2 of the IEP Wars. When all was said and done, there was some amorphous, indistinct, thing the district was calling an “offer” but it was not in writing. It was not detailed. It was vague. It was a shadow and a ghost.
When I sat for the first IEP round, no offer was made. I am rather surprised that this is where I sit, near Christmas. No offer in writing. Some vague notions about an equivalent level of service with no details and no understanding of my son’s needs. They want to take away funding of a proven successful program and replace it with a question mark. And they expect me to say “thank you very much” and be on my way.
I’m thinking not.