“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.”
~ Job 16:19
We head into Rhema’s IEP meeting in a couple hours.
I am not anxious.
Perhaps it’s because we know our girl is right where she needs to be. And I’m confident that her school placement will remain as is for another year. Perhaps it’s because we trust her team of teachers and therapists completely.
Still, there’s such emotion attached to the IEP meeting – something I cannot really articulate. The lump in the throat. The pit in the stomach. The shock that I’m still shocked that we’re even there. And that the child we’re talking about so intently is my little girl, my Rhema.
I can never walk into one IEP meeting, without thinking of all the meetings in the past…
I’ll never forget the day we met with the local school district to discuss Rhema’s academic setting.
“I thought I was totally prepared for this,” I said on the phone to my mother before the meeting. “But now I think we should have hired an advocate. Someone who understands it all better than I do and will speak for us when we can’t, and stand in our place. We need someone in the know to represent Rhema’s best interests.”
My mother, a retired special education teacher who’d participated in a bajillion IEP meetings during her career, said simply,
“You do have an Advocate.”
When we arrived at the meeting, the Out of District Coordinator had just finished observing Rhema in her substantially separate pre-school classroom. She shared testing results with us, noting that they’d been largely unsuccessful in conducting any testing with Rhema.
I began making my case for why we believed our 3-year old little girl needed to outplaced – in a school specifically for children with special needs. We’d visited a number of schools, and honestly I’d been scared to death. Most of the students were in their teens and their autism – their need for support – had startled me. At the time, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was send my baby off to a private autism school. But I knew it’s what she needed, I knew she was drowning in her current school setting.
So I stuffed down my fears, put on my Mama Bear face and detailed our concerns about the current program and what we needed to do for Rhema. But the Special Ed Administrator was distracted. I realized she was looking past me. I stopped mid-sentence and turned around to see my husband beside me, dressed in his ACU’s (Army Combat Uniform), quietly crying.
I don’t know what happened after that. I was struck by Brandon’s heartache; fathers grieve, too. The tone in the room changed, like someone had injected tenderness and cooperation into the air, and I knew then for sure that God would take care of us.
By day’s end, the school administration was completely on board with the plan to move Rhema to our school of choice. And again, a couple years later, they supported her move to the wonderful autism school she now attends.
So as we head into today’s IEP, I know we’ll talk about Rhema, her beautiful personality, and our vision for her. I know we’ll celebrate her accomplishments over the past year – she has come so far! I know we’ll examine the areas in which she struggles and strategies to help her overcome those challenges. I know we’ll discuss in depth, the plans and goals for the next year. I will be excited about the new programs and new skills she’ll learn… I have every confidence she will succeed in her own Rhema way. I will try not to be sad that she still can’t do x, y, and z, and that there has to be such an elaborate plan to help her learn.
And call me crazy but I will look over at the empty chair at the table, and know that even as our hearts hurt a little, we are not alone. The Advocate will be there.