Ever heard of an IEP? I hadn’t either. But when your child turns three, if there is concern about developmental delay, the school system puts them through additional assessments and determines the types of therapy they qualify for. I gotta say, I am really thankful for an educational system that foots the bill for therapy at this stage. (Incidentally, my state is more than $20 billion in debt, but this is when I thank my dysfunctional Golden State for its concern for the least of these.)
Anyway, from what I’ve heard, the IEP is never easy. In my experience, this is because it’s never easy to drive out to a school you’ve never been to and sit in a child’s sized plastic chair for two hours and listen to people you don’t know tell you about all the things that your baby boy doesn’t do right.
There’s not a single mention of the way he holds your face at night after you’ve read your eight millionth rendition of Goodnight Moon. Or the way he climbs into your lap at the dinner table with the sole purpose to charm you so you’ll quit trying to get him to eat. Or the way he uses his little voice to say two of his very few words and ask, “What Mama?” when even his tiny soul can tell that the day has become too much for your tired heart.
But the IEP is not about strengths. It is about needs. Special needs.
Before our IEP, we were feeling really good about the progress Henry’s making. Because he’s making really good progress. But the optimistic moments of a hopeful parent do not equal the critical and necessary eye of educators. And I’m not saying they’re always right, and I’m not saying they always focus on what’s really important, and I’m not saying they really know my son.
But they know what he needs to be ready for school. They know he can’t sit right, that he’s not coming close to holding a crayon correctly, and Lord knows he’s not talking enough.
It’s not easy to get in the car after the IEP and let the tears well up on the way home, and it’s not easy to start dinner and try to remember everything and explain to your husband what they said and why it hurt and why they’re right. It’s not easy to feel like anything other than a failed parenting experiment when you subsequently lose the IEP paperwork for a week or two.
But then, oh then. Then, you miraculously find the paperwork, you rearrange everything to get him to three classes a week for speech and occupational therapy, and the teachers gush about his sweet nature and praise his strong progress. He comes home with art projects and starts to say r’s. You pray for his brain, his mouth, his hands every night. That they would be strong, that they would work.
Then, one night, after the weather’s gotten cooler and the days have shortened, you put on Chopin. You look over and see him lost in the beauty. Eyes closed, head and arms moving slowly and in perfect time. They don’t put that in an IEP. But that’s what he is. And he’s yours.