When you hear the term “Individualized Education Program (IEP)” you might automatically think of a young child. I know I did…until, that is, I stood by my daughter as she received her first IEP at the beginning of high school.
As a young girl, Jillian had been tested by a neuropsychologist twice, but it wasn’t until 8th grade that we were confronted with either having her tested again to see if she needed services or dropping the notion of special education completely. My daughter insisted that something was wrong with her and that she wanted to be tested a third time. The results of her two previous tests didn’t reveal an absolute diagnosis, but did indicate scattered skills that required attention and allowed for a 504 plan. The third time was a charm. The neuropsychologist literally told me to hold on to my seat. Apparently, he had quite the diagnosis to share with me. “She has,” he told me, “dyslexia, ADHD and an auditory processing disorder.”
I was so relieved that I wanted to cry. It was the first time everything I’d thought could be true was actually validated. After years of feeling like we weren’t capable of providing Jillian with the help she needed to reach her full potential (as a mother, this made me sick!) we finally learned that it was time to try medication to help her with attention and concentration. I admit that I wasn't totally ready for this or even convinced it would work, but once the medication kicked in, the difference in her behavior was remarkable.
Now that I was armed with the neuropsychology report, I expected the school district to provide the necessary services the doctor recommended. I was in for quite a shock. Despite the report, we still had to fight for services we knew were necessary for her success. We eventually hired an education law attorney to represent my daughter. Understandably, not everyone can afford to do this; if that’s the case for you, I recommend looking for an education advocate or an attorney who does pro bono work in this field (you can contact COPPA or your local Parent Training and Information Center for help in your area).
Even though Jillian’s IEP was “tailor made” for her needs, not everything on it made sense. She benefitted from 95 percent of the help she received, but quickly realized some instruction provided was not useful. The strong relationships she developed with her primary special educator was extraordinarily important. She enabled Jillian to learn to deal with academic material in a different way then she ever had before. In doing so, I began to see shifts in Jillian’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Their bond lasted for years, throughout high school and into college. Getting the IEP at this late stage meant that Jillian was old enough to go to her IEP meetings and play an integral role in determining what her needs were. She learned how to advocate for herself. The process was slow and painful at first, but ultimately she was a powerhouse among very authoritative pupil personnel administrators and teachers. I would say that this particular strength is perhaps the hardest of lessons to learn, even for adults at these meetings that can feel quite intimidating.
I would encourage parents to pursue an IEP for high school students. It is never too late to get the help for your child if you are aware of their struggle to succeed. It is far better to understand that there are a variety of methods to learn, and begin to feel good about yourself before you go off to college. By the time kids leave their home and have to fend for themselves they have some experience navigating the academic environment.
Ellyn Levy is a Speech-Language Pathologist, and supervisor of adult and pediatric speech pathology at a large NYC hospital. She is the parent of two adult children who, along with her husband, are the center of her universe. Her daughter had learning challenges from the time she was a young child. Ellyn has always believed that this fact has helped her relate more easily to the parents of the children she treats in her practice. This blog is the first time she has shared her story.