Saying Goodbye to My Son’s IEP

At the age of two, my son was evaluated through Early Intervention, and we discovered he had speech and cognitive delays.  At the age of three, he transitioned to pre-school and received special education service through a local Intermediate Unit.

And then, at the age of five years and ten months, we went to an IEP meeting and a school psychologist told me that my son will enter kindergarten as a regular education student; he no longer qualifies for services; he will no longer need an IEP.

Looking back at our experience with special education services through Early Intervention and our local Intermediate Unit, I am nothing but thankful for the services provided.

Sawyer registration
Registering for kindergarten in April.

I am thankful that such a thing as Early Intervention exists. When my son needed help, he received it, and it was free. Helping my son never had to be something that had to be financed or put on hold because we couldn’t afford it.  We never had to choose between something that might help him succeed in life or a bill we had to pay.

I am thankful that no time was wasted. At the age of two, I had concerns because my son wasn’t speaking. After inquiring about Early Intervention, he was evaluated within weeks, and within a month he was receiving services for more than I initially thought he needed. At the time, I had believed my son was just being defiant when he misbehaved or ignored me, but he really couldn’t understand many things.  It was not just a speech delay, but he had cognitive delays, as well.

I am thankful that although I was prepared to fight tooth and nail for what was best for him, I never really had to.  I read and researched and talked to specialists who all said, you will need to advocate, you will need to fight to get everything he deserves.  But, I never had to.

After months of receiving services, there was not much improvement and some behaviors became worse. He couldn’t focus, he simply piled toys instead of playing with them, he chewed holes through all of his collars and sleeves, and he needed constant physical activity.

I went to his IEP meeting ready to fight for more services, but I didn’t need to. He was soon tested for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  He was not diagnosed with SPD, but in many categories his test showed he had some sensory issues.  With this knowledge, new strategies were put in place and an occupational therapist became part of his team, alongside his speech therapist and special educator.

DSCN1418
Pre-school graduation in May.

I am thankful for so many of his therapists that were patient and kind and understanding, not only to my son, but to me, too. These therapists and educators were underpaid and overworked, but they were professional and advocated for my son. I will never forget that.

I am thankful that his therapists, special educator, and caseworker took me seriously. They recognized and identified his problems.  Although my family was well-intentioned when they said, “He’ll grow out of it” or “He’s just being wild,” these comments did not make me feel better. Deep down I knew he was struggling in a bigger way.  Although, I certainly didn’t want my son to have delays, having them identified was reassuring. He did not act this way just because we did not discipline him the correct way or we let him have too much freedom. He acted this way because he was struggling to understand and struggling to communicate.

I am thankful that when I cried because I was scared my son might have autism or might never catch up to his peers or never be considered “normal” there was comfort, but more importantly there was a plan. There was always a paper, a chart, a test, a pamphlet of information, something to fall back on to help me feel like even if everything wasn’t going to be okay with him, there would be a plan in place to help him be the best person he could be.

I am thankful that when he was tested for autism, I was kept busy with a thousand papers and a thousand questions. And hours later, when the testing was completed, a psychologist told me the results right away. There was no possible way that I could go home and wonder for one more second.  Although I never received the answers as to what caused his delays and whether or not he would catch up in the future, it was reassuring to have that hope.

I am thankful that there was so much support for one little boy, my little boy.

And, most importantly, I am thankful that we are done; I am so unbelievably grateful that my son no longer needs services. I understand that he may still struggle, and he may need help in the future, but for right now, he does not. He has achieved and succeeded in ways that I did not think possible on the day a therapist suggested we have him tested for autism.

20160519_101336
Standing outside of his new school on the day we attended our last IEP meeting.

And as I write this, I know that many of you parents, you strong and resilient parents, can’t say “thank you but I am done with you.”  You have a long road ahead of you. One filled with meetings and goals and therapies and tears.  I will never understand what it is like to be in your position.

I do, however, know what it is like to love your child unconditionally. This four year journey taught me, without a doubt, that no matter if my son was delayed or considered average, if he needed three therapists or none, my love for him did not change. No chart, diagnosis, or 30 page IEP can alter my feelings for him.  My love for my child is not part of a goal or an accommodation that can be changed, increased, or decreased; my love for my child remains constant.

***

After I left the last IEP meeting, I cried.

I cried out of fear. Fearful that without services and support my boy will struggle in elementary school.

I cried out of relief. Relieved that this journey is over for us.

I cried out of amazement. Amazed for all that my boy has accomplished in the past few years.

And, finally, I cried out of gratitude. I am so very grateful for this amazing life my boy has to live and how many people have helped him find his way.

Please feel free to share this and show a special educator or therapist that they are appreciated for all they do!

IEP

 

 

Snapshots of the Sea

sea

FLY AWAY:

Lydia and I can’t resist the sand and the sea.  On our first morning at the beach, despite the chilly wind and overcast sky, we hear the waves calling, so we pull on our hoodies and leave the boys behind in the house.

My daughter squeals in delight as her bare feet hit the sand.  I do the same as I take a deep breath of ocean air. We begin walking down the beach to look for seashells.  However, Lydia can’t contain her excitement, and before I know it, she is flying down the beach racing with the wind. Her blonde hair whips behind her as she raises her hands up to the sky.

This is exactly how I feel inside, so I do the same. We pause and climb over rocks that have washed up on the beach, collect a few sea shells, and investigate a jellyfish that has been washed up on the sand. We poke the dead jellyfish with a stick, and she jumps back. I laugh and remember doing the same thing as a child.

Lydia again can’t seem to slow down, so I let her run ahead. Walking behind her, I notice the beach is quite empty.  Empty, morning beaches remind me of family vacations as a child in Ocean City, Maryland.

While my siblings and I groggily ate our cereal, my mother would slip down to the beach and stake our claim by planting our umbrella in the sand. An ocean-front spot on the beach was a hot commodity in mid-summer, and she always wanted to make sure she  “reserved” a good location to be able to sit and watch the waves and her children. From the deck of our rented condominium, I could see her lone figure under the orange, flowered umbrella waving to me, inviting me to join her morning celebration of the sea.

Most memories of my mom at the beach include her seated in a beach chair, book in hand but not open, as she watched her children perform for her. We called, “Look, Mom! See what I built?” and “Mom, watch this!” just like my own children call for me now.

I take a moment to mourn the fact that my daughter will never know her beach-loving grandmother; my mother will never be able to sit under an umbrella and watch her granddaughter play in the sand.

I let the sadness wash over me but then let it fly away on the breeze. There are too many happy beach memories from my childhood and too many memories waiting to be made to dwell on my grief.

La beach

Lydia is just a tiny pink speck now.  I am amazed that my girl – the one who used to hold my hand wherever we went, cling to my leg for dear life at parties, and beg me to rock her to sleep every night – is so far from me. I appreciate this moment and all it entails:  her independence, her joy in the beach, and her strong legs that carry her so far from me.

But then, of course, I panic and start to run toward her.  Seconds later, she turns, as if sensing my distress and waves to me. I gesture for her to come back, and those strong legs start kicking up sand.

When she gets close, I open my arms and she flies into them.

CRAB DANCE:

P1050384

I watch as my son slowly pulls up the string inch by inch.  His little fingers are steady and slow; two qualities I usually don’t associate with my fast-moving boy. He looks up at me occasionally for approval, and I nod my head and smile. Finally, we see a shadow beneath the water, but it is just the bait. “No crab,” he says simply as he drops it back into the water.

It is mid-morning, and as the tide rolls in, we sit on a sunny dock along the Intracoastal Waterway trying to catch some crabs. During the past few summers, my dad has patiently started to teach my son how to crab. Now, he carefully shows Sawyer how to tie string around the bait, tie the string to the dock, throw in the bait, and then wait.  The waiting is the hard part.

I appreciate his willingness to show my son how to crab, as I really don’t like to touch the chicken necks we use as bait.  I also lack the patience that is necessary for teaching such things.

As a child, my dad taught me how to crab during our trips to Ocean City, Maryland.  We mainly crabbed from docks and rocky areas, but once a year we rented a small motor boat to take out onto the bay.  I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement fluttering in my stomach as we traveled the empty, pre-dawn roads toward the marina; as a child, there is something magical about waking before the sun to go on an adventure.  Some years, we came home with only a few crabs to show for our hours of work; other years, we dragged home coolers full of crabs to steam and eat.

Now, my dad calls from the other side of the dock, “We’ve got a crab over here!” and my son shoots across the dock to take a look.  Sawyer carefully watches as my dad shows him how to slowly lower the net and then quickly scoop up the crab from behind.

Once the crab is above water my son backs up slowly; he wants nothing to do with it. He screams and jumps up onto a bench when my dad brings it close. He likes his crabs still and steamed.

As my dad places the crab in the cooler, I am filled with a sense of happiness.  I am pleased that we will have some crabs to take home to steam and eat, but on a deeper level, I am delighted to see this tradition being passed down to my son.

Later, while my dad steams the crabs, my son dances his way through the house in anticipation.  As a child, I remember singing silly songs about crabs and doing the same exact thing, but now I linger in the kitchen and watch my father cook the crabs.

I watch as he takes time to lift the lid off of the pot to show my son the crabs that are now red and ready to eat. In this moment, I have a new appreciation for my father’s patience.  I think of all of the crabs he might have caught over the years if he hadn’t been spending time guiding smaller hands to pull up the strings, slowly and steadily.

I try to remember this later as I sit down to eat the crabs with Sawyer. I take a deep breath, slow down, and patiently show him how to pick meat out of the crabs.  I try not to get annoyed when he does it all wrong and smashes the crabs to bits while sending pieces flying everywhere.   Instead, I guide his hand while showing him the correct way.  My dad did this for me; now, I will do the same for my son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bribing Our Way to Sleep

sleepingkids.jpg

Bedtime issues continue to deteriorate in our house. My five-year-old son resists settling down at night. After we tuck him in around 8:30, there is usually a good hour or two of him exiting his room, and us promptly sending him back. He will use any excuse he can think of:

  • I need a Band-Aid
  • I was just checking on you guys.
  • My tummy rumbled.
  • I need a cuddle.
  • There are creepy things in my room.
  • I had a bad dream. (Even if he hasn’t fallen asleep yet!)
  • My bend (elbow) hurts
  • I saw a bug.
  • I thought I saw a bug.
  • I saw a scary bug in my big book of bugs.

Depending on the night, this results in a combination of the following:

  • Calmly leading him back to his room.
  • Yelling at him to get back into bed already.
  • Lecturing him on the importance of sleep.
  • Trying nighttime yoga (you can read about that HERE)
  • Giving him more hugs.
  • Making empty threats to take away toys tomorrow.
  • Letting him sleep on the sofa … or in our bed… or on the floor.
  • Staying with him until he falls asleep.

Several weeks ago, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I developed a brilliant plan involving bribery and visual aids. We had previously tried to reward him for staying in his room with candy or dollar store toys. This was met with little to no success. This time my husband and I knew we needed to go big. Cue the lobster.

Yes, we actually bribed our five-year-old son with a lobster dinner. If he remained in his room after bedtime for five nights in a row, he would get a lobster to eat. My kid who won’t eat hotdogs or pizza loves lobster. Go figure.lobsterchart

The best part of my plan?  IT WORKED! And, I got to eat lobster. Seriously, could there be a better plan? Well, as it turns out, probably.

We continued with ridiculous bribes for four more weeks. Each week, I made a chart and added an extra night or two to the number of nights he was required to stay in his room. We eventually reached ten nights in a row without a bribe. He loved the charts and felt a sense of accomplishment when he colored and then crossed off the image each morning; I loved that I did not have to hear his door open and shut every fifteen minutes each evening.

However, after five weeks, I came to the realization that this couldn’t go on forever. We were shelling out some serious cash every week or so, just so I could drink a glass of wine and binge watch House of Cards without interruption.  I reluctantly stopped making my charts, stopped dangling the carrot in front of his nose, and I expected the worst.

During the first bribe-free night, I sat on the edge of the sofa just waiting to hear the creak of his door. Amazingly, it never came. Or the next night, or the night after that. Miraculously, for three weeks, he has remained in his room after bedtime.

Now, things aren’t perfect. Some nights, especially when he is particularly restless, he will simply stand in his doorway and yell, “MOM!” over and over again. He will also occasionally come out for an “emergency” that is definitely NOT an emergency. For instance, last night he came out to tell me that he learned how to snap his fingers. Awesome … but not an emergency!

However, as I sit basking in my cleverness, I am also starting to realize that I seem to have created a new problem. My son may stay in his room now, but he stays in there awake for HOURS. I will go to bed around 10:30 some nights, and he is still up!

Sometimes I hear him playing with his dinosaurs or using his Leap Reader, and I will go in and try to settle him down. However, most nights, he remains in his room quietly and diligently copying words out of his dinosaur encyclopedia. With only the dim glow of a small lamp, he hunches over his nightstand and slowly writes the names of meat-eater after meat-eater.  He is like some sort of medieval monk carefully copying an ancient manuscript by candlelight. He just needs a brown robe to replace his Jake and the Neverland Pirate pajamas.

DinolistIt’s hard to reprimand him when I am kind of in awe of what he has accomplished. Writing has not been an easy process for us (read about our Valentine’s Day letter writing drama HERE), so it is wonderful to see him take initiative. He is a slow writer and he can’t read yet, so these lists take time. It is somewhat baffling to me that he has the patience to painstakingly copy all of these words.

I’m not quite sure what to think of this new development. He is definitely not getting the recommended sleep for his age, but there doesn’t appear to be any negative effects.  In fact, there is an actual positive effect – his handwriting is much improved.

I also can’t help but smile at this situation because I distinctly remember myself as a child doing the same. Well past bedtime, I would hide under my covers with a dim flashlight and continue writing in my journal.  I remember feeling that it was imperative that I keep writing or the words might escape into the night. Perhaps my son feels the same.

 

What is bedtime like at your house? Any clever tricks to get your resistant ones to sleep?