The day I finally got an Individualized Education Program (IEP), I was in my junior year of high school. Now, I understand that when people think of a student who has an IEP, they usually think of a young child in elementary school. Unfortunately, for me, that wasn’t the case. For many years, my family and I tried to figure out my diagnosis and get me an IEP, but this process took longer than anyone could have imagined. After many visits to the neuropsychologist, I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD and auditory processing disorder.
It’s an extraordinary feeling when you finally have a documented reason for some of your past academic struggles and when you can tell everyone that they were wrong when they said that you were “just being lazy.” Having the diagnosis also made all of the evaluations, trips to the neuropsychologists, and fights with the school district well worth it. At this point, it didn’t matter to me and my family how long it took to get my accommodations, what mattered was that I could finally use them.
My parents always wanted me present at my IEP meetings and it wasn’t until now, as an adult, that I can understand why it was so important. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program, the keyword being “individualized.” My parents made sure that the accommodations and goals of my IEP were based on my diagnosis and what would help me improve academically, not based on other students and what has worked for them. It was also important for me to understand what was written in my IEP so that I could make sure I received all of my accommodations. This was the moment where I learned the importance of self-advocacy.
As a junior in high school, I was getting ready to apply to college and start the next chapter of my life, without my parents holding my hands. I had to be able to advocate for what I needed in college and by going to my IEP meetings and understanding my accommodations in high school I learned how to support myself in college.
My advice is that it is never too late to get an IEP. If it wasn’t for my IEP and the accommodations it granted me, I wouldn’t have been on honor roll in high school, dean’s list in college and I certainly wouldn’t have graduated college magna cum laude. If you are a student who is struggling, it is crucial that you don’t give up on yourself and your dreams of success. If you are the parent of a child who is struggling, it is also crucial that you support your child through and through. I know without the support of my parents I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that I have.
Jillian Levy is the Web Production Assistant for the Online Strategy and Engagement team at NCLD. She grew up with learning disabilties and is a champion of self-advocacy. Through her work at NCLD, she hopes to educate children and adults with LD to self-advocate as well.