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I Made Myself an IEP

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom and author
08/21/19  8:00 AM PST

I Made Myself an IEP

On the day of my son, Charlie’s, final IEP for kindergarten, it looked like rain. I could feel it when I rolled him out in his wheelchair to the bus. As we waited, I noticed the “Class of 2019” signs in the yards down the street that have popped up like fast-growing mushrooms. We have a lot of seniors about to flee the nest. I tried to imagine the “Class of 2031,” the year when Charlie will graduate. But it sounded like science fiction, Wellsian almost, in its apocalyptic feel. What will Charlie or the world look like in a dozen years? I just needed to get through today.

How had I possibly thought that kindergarten was the big leap?

I waved goodbye to him through the window of the bus and went inside to prepare an extra-large coffee for the meeting. Extra-large and extra hot—the modern day equivalent of a Victorian tossing back a tumbler full of whiskey before pulling out his own tooth. It wasn’t that I thought this IEP would be as bad as pulling teeth. In fact, Charlie had done remarkably well this year. He read his library books. He did math on his speaking device. He interacted with his peers better than I could have hoped. And yet, I found myself hugging the coffee cup for fortification. Because the idea of Charlie moving on to first grade and so on and so forth did feel like tugging at a rotten tooth. It made me ache.

To be honest, I thought starting kindergarten was the big hurdle—the one leap that if we could just get enough momentum to clear, all that followed would be smooth sailing. Had I forgotten about cursive in second grade? Or fractions in fourth? Or foreign language in sixth? Or all of middle school? How had I possibly thought that kindergarten was the big leap? From where I stood, with first grade now on the horizon and all the other grades after that, I couldn’t imagine being nervous about kindergarten. Kindergarten was the soft warm hug of school. It was music class and coloring and snack time and swinging in the handicapped swing on the playground and field-trips to pick pumpkins in the fall and raising baby chicks in the spring. It was all the things we miss about being kids.

It’s the unknown that makes me skittish.

The truth is, I’m always going to be fearful of the next step until I am walking it or it has passed. It’s the unknown that makes me skittish. This exit IEP for kindergarten was one big celebration of what Charlie had accomplished. It was checking off a great many goals and increasing the challenges for next year. It was a collective sigh from me and his teachers and therapists that Charlie had not only survived, he had thrived in this new environment.

School is series of stair steps. One grade builds upon the next. No one can leap to the top in a single bound. My worry makes me leap and wobble and try to anticipate a view from the top that is, and should remain unknown, until we get there. At the very end of kindergarten, Charlie won the “Hound Dog Hero” award in recognition of overcoming obstacles. For the presentation, he rolled in front of the entire school, K-5th grade, in Friday morning assembly and received his certificate while everyone cheered. And then he cheered too, as he well should have. This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson Charlie has taught me as we navigate the school years. We have to pause and celebrate the successes before we worry about next steps.

I will pause to cheer for both his and my own present accomplishments. With an 80% success rate on four out of five occasions.

So when I begin to hug my coffee tighter and fret over the future, this is my own goal, a personal IEP for Mom: I will pause to cheer for both his and my own present accomplishments. And then I add: With an 80% success rate on four out of five occasions, because IEPs are all about reasonable expectations. There are more goals I could add. And I will. But this is a start, an actionable step to work towards with as much “Hound Dog Heroism” as I can muster.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

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