In Special Needs world there is a big difference between an accommodation and a modification. Webster might find them synonymous; high schools, do not. One sends you to college; one does not. One allows you join the Navy and Air Force; one does not. My son receives modifications, and modifications to the modifications. He is the exception to the exception. He is consistently inconsistent and predictably unpredictable. He stands out in any crowd: a crowd of typicals, a crowd of others with different abilities, a “crowd” of two.
Over the weekend his service plan was mailed to me, I’d read and approved an earlier draft; this one was for signing purposes only. It was all I could do to read it when it was e-mailed, and I must confess, I only gently skimmed it before signing it this time. I didn’t even show it to my husband. He can’t take it. There are things I can’t take, and he handles, and things he can’t take, and I handle. Isn’t that what marriage is? We’ve been at this long enough to know what needs to be discussed, what requires a plan, and what the other can graciously and compassionately, simply make go away.
I made the service plan go away. I signed it, returned it, and hope not to have to look at it again for months. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the hours and hours of testing, evaluations and effort that went into making the plan. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the careful thought that went into forming reasonable goals and a timeline for which to achieve them. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the earnestness and dedication of the teachers creating the plan. I do. I really do. In particular I appreciate the social goals of turn taking in a conversation, using an appropriate tone of voice, remaining polite, staying on a topic of mutual interest, all of that. God only knows how hard we’ve tried on all those fronts, all efforts by experts is appreciated and welcome. So, too, is the goal to read and comprehend at a level that will make him as independent as possible. Real life math skills? Yes, please. I don’t have a problem with anything ON the plan, what I have a problem with, is that nowhere on the plan does it highlight his strengths. His cognitive weaknesses, difficulty focusing and remaining on task, working independently and at anything approaching grade level, that’s all there spelled out in excruciating detail. Nowhere is his kindness, his spirit, his compassion, his joy, his soul. No where does it reflect his ability to meet someone and never forget their name, track their age forever, hold on to every little tidbit about that person that makes them special and unique.
If the rest of us had to have our weaknesses documented ad nauseam and ad infinitum, that body of information trail us for years and years, possibly our whole lives, how would that be? If we needed whole teams of people to determine if we’re meeting our goals 80% of the time, how would we handle that? Everyone signing their names and moving the goal forward until it is either reached or stricken when it becomes painfully evident it will never be a reality? Can you even imagine?
I don’t even pretend that I can change the IEP process, even if I wanted to, even if it was possible, I no longer have the strength. All I can do is remind myself that my son is more than the sum of the parts of the IEP, he is not what that he is on paper – not by a long shot. The thing for me to do is modify the weight I put on it; accommodate my own need as his mother to see him fully. The gifts he has and the gift he is. His exceptional, unpredictable, inconsistent, perfectly imperfect and whole self.