Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some Good

Like most people, when I was in school (mostly college), I dreaded exams. I much preferred those classes in which the final exam was a paper or a project. Because as much as I could prepare for exams – researching, studying, memorizing – it gave me such anxiety knowing that I would have to retrieve all of that information in a limited amount of time and use it to prove that I knew what I was talking about. So much was riding on it, and I usually doubted how well I would do.

Yesterday, we had a very important IEP meeting for my son who has autism and is now in high school. He requires constant assistance to start, work on, and complete assignments at the public school where he is mainstreamed with extensive support. While we are very fortunate to have that support, I do not want his potential limited by a modified diploma. He needs to be taught to work independently, and I don’t see how that could happen in his current placement. We found a school that specializes in teaching ASD students, and he has attended summer camp programs there. I asked his current school to change his IEP to reflect that his academic needs would be better met in the special program.

I prepared for this meeting for two weeks. I researched online, I consulted other special-needs parents, and I printed out e-mails from my son’s special education teacher that I had saved over the course of the school year, mentioning various times that she’d had trouble getting him to do the work, and in which she was asking me for advice. I built a case showing that although I appreciate the support that my son receives, his academic needs were clearly not being met. I practiced my main arguments in my head for days. I threw all of my energy – mental, emotional, and physical – into my preparation. I meditated. I prayed. I tried not to lose sleep. I did everything I could.

But this was one exam that I could not pass. From the moment I sat down at that huge, intimidating table, the district special education coordinator controlled the meeting. She knew how it was going to go. She was diplomatic and acted sincere, but she did her job for the school district. No matter how convincing my arguments, no matter how irrefutable my evidence, no matter how much I stuck to the facts and did not let my emotions surface, she did not waver. It didn’t matter what I’d said or how many e-mails I produced. I felt railroaded. We never had a chance.

I left the building and the tears immediately streamed down my face. I couldn’t even make it out to my car first. I was not completely surprised at the outcome of the meeting, but still, I had hoped. And it was quite a blow. I know that I could hire a special education attorney and take the district to court. I know that we have a good case. But I also know that there’s only so much I can take. I’m supposedly so “strong;” I’ve been told that many times over the years. But I’m not. I’m tired. I’m vulnerable. And I’m not going to fight that fight.

But I will continue to work for what’s best for my son, even if it turns out to be something different than what I’d thought would be best. When I tell Nigel, after I come home, that the district would not approve transferring him to the special school that he wanted to attend, at first he’s angry. “We need to call the authorities!” he proclaims. But after a few minutes, after he feels my calmness and acceptance, and after we talk about our alternatives, he sighs and goes back to the cartoon he had been watching. I walk out to the kitchen to begin making dinner.

I think about the huge changes that my son – that all of us – will be facing very soon as we move seven hundred miles away to be near the special school in Los Angeles. His father lives there, and my two sons have spent the past eight summers there. They’ll go to the local public school, and we’ll just keep working to get Nigel in the one we want him to attend. But I’m open to the possibility that maybe something else will come up in L.A., some other opportunity that will turn out to be even better for him. Something we hadn’t even thought of. After the meeting, walking out to the car, I felt so disappointed in myself because I knew that I wasn’t going to fight the school district. I felt like I was surrendering, giving up. But now I see it differently. It’s not surrender; it’s hope. Hope for something better.

A few minutes later, as if he picked up on my thoughts, Nigel walks through the doorway of the kitchen, stands there for a moment, and says, “Maybe some good will come of it.” It was most likely a line from a movie. But it couldn’t have been better said. I put my arm around his waist and pat his back and tell him Yes, honey. I’m sure of it.


                                Tanya writes TeenAutism.


  1. Sometimes, no matter how much preparation you do, you cannot control what happens, just as you cannot control the tide. Indeed, maybe some good will come of it, and the ability to be calm, move and hope for the best is in itself pretty powerful. I wish you the best of luck. Keep us updated!

  2. You DID fight the good fight, Tanya! And, you've fought it for many years, and struggled, and achieved, over and over again! Look at beautiful Nigel, at all he has attained and who he is, because you have devoted your life to making his young life rich and full with whatever gains you could provide for him, many times at the cost of your own health. I see how he trusts you. He knows you've always 'got his back', and that he can rely on you. That you are always there for him. He comes to you easily for advice and guidance...You have taken this fight to where it's probably best to end. All the energy you would spend fighting it further can now be used in a positive flow towards new channels of new beginnings, and I feel confident you will make it of continued benefit for Nigel. Pat yourself on the back. You have done good, Mom. Very good.

  3. Awww Tanya! Good thoughts that things will turn out well in LA for you. xoxoxo

  4. I am so sorry that you were railroaded, that just sucks. We've been in that situation, too, and chosen to walk away to conserve our energy and focus on the things we needed to for our son. He's only 6 though so I see more fights in the future. At least until we are able to relocate, too.
    I wish you good and wonderful things, new opportunities for Nigel and a greater sense of ease and peace for you as you make the move to LA. Hugs.

  5. "It’s not surrender; it’s hope. Hope for something better."
    Love that, and I believe you're right. And I don't buy that it was "as if" Nigel was picking up on your thoughts, he WAS, indeed. Tapped in. That boy is tapped in.
    All will be well.

  6. fighting for my childrenMay 20, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    YOu fought for your son, sometimes the school just wont listen. Maybe when he is in that mainstrain school in LA they will recommend him to the special needs school you would like him to go to.

  7. Bureaucracy sucks! You did a great job raising the boys. If only those people at the IEP had more compassion and empathy rather than just thinking about keeping their pathetic jobs (which is supposed to be helping kids not impeding their potential). I'm really mad!

  8. Tanya, I'm so sorry the meeting didn't go as you had hoped for. You are not surrendering, you've fought the good fight and you are moving forward in the best way possible--with hope. Hugs to you my friend.

  9. Tanya,
    Us mums are innovative, we have plan B's and plan C's. In L.A. near a University, you should be able to find a Special Needs student teacher, egger to practice, egger to help, egger to learn, egger to get started etc. and happy to make some extra pocket money teaching a handsome and charming young man some life and management skills.
    Hugs for a super mum

  10. Hi, Tanya! I hope that you'll get in touch with me as you plan your move to Los Angeles -- I think I know what school you're referring to -- in any case, I'm totally sympathetic to your plight. I don't think there's ever a time when it feels good to be at an IEP. There's just something so disjointed about the whole process. It sounds like you handled it in the best way, however disappointing. Please email me (on my blog) if you'd like to talk!

  11. Fighting smart means choosing battles wisely. You have always chosen with care and in so doing have found exactly what Nigel needed every step of the way.
    And honey? Strong doesn't mean not vulnerable. It can't. You ARE one of the strongest people I know. Sorry. ;)

  12. I have so many emotions about this year and the new school year coming up. Guess I need to blog.
    I hope you can continue to fight to get your sweet son what he needs.

  13. More and more ((hugs)), Tanya. You're doing all the right things.

  14. Being disappointed and emotional does not mean you are not strong. Being strong is being able to keep goijng and that you are doing with abandon. You are changing your entire life for the betterment ofyour boys and that is an amazing thing. Just keep doing what you are doing the boys sound terrific. Also we need to pick our battles and our fights. You can't fight every issue and in some way these bureaucrats also know that. As I mentioned before, it is always a cost benefit analysis for them. Do you have the cash to fight thme or do you need to save your money to help your boys. Its cold I know, but that is who they are. Now onward and upward to a great future. HUGS

  15. I hate your district special education coordinator with every fiber of my being.
    And I get not being up for the fight.
    And it will work out for the best, because you are an incredible mom. And Nigel is an incredible kid. That school doesn't deserve him.

  16. I'm sorry things didn't go as you had hoped.
    You have a great attitude and a great head on your shoulders. There will be something good. Wait and see.
    A big hug to you tonight.

  17. I'm sure something good will come out of it. Nigel is an awesome dude. If anyone deserves a miracle, it is him!

  18. They are so worried they're going to have to pitch in and foot the bill. It's like they can't see the forest for the trees - YOU are the one who's packing up EVERYTHING to move. There is nothing simple about this. This is not you manipulating any system. This is you making the best possible decisions you can for your boys. I am positively stomping my feet in anger right now. ARG!

  19. I have been at similar IEPs and like an earlier commenter my dd is only 6. Two years ago our district "forced" us to move her to a different preschool because they "couldn't support her" at the one we had enrolled her at. Now they're "forcing" us to move her to another new school because "they can support her" at the new school which is our "home" school. It's been mind-numbing to watch them shove around a little girl who has trouble shifting from one activity to another during the day, much less walking through major changes like a whole new school of kids she doesn't know. It felt very much like being railroaded, but I've come up with an analogy that works better for me. It is as if the district has painted us in a corner, a dark one, with lots of cobwebs just for effect. There seems to be not much we can do in that corner - sulk or pull out our claws and fight our way free, but I've realized I have a bigger tool box than that. I have pulled out my sawzall, my nailgun, and my drywall kit, and made a lovely doorway to walk through to a new situation. It sounds like you've found a doorway, too, so don't grieve over the lack of fight - be glad you have a big tool box.

  20. Tanya -
    I have been here.....a couple times, its like I am the parent I know what is best for my child, not the district who just want numbers!
    Once you move check and see if there is an ARC connection. I called them and had someone come with me to an IEP to be our fighter, the teacher wasn't listening and had every excuse in the book as why she couldn't even take my daughter to the bathroom more to help with potty training her, Unreal!
    They are advocates for parents and more importantly the child with Special Needs.
    Even if you use them for adivce it helps! Hang in there.