Extra participant at the IEP

“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.

16 thoughts on “Extra participant at the IEP

  1. I understand the wave of emotion, grief, and memories at each IEP meeting. It is so hard to overcome. Praying that The Comforter is there with you and makes His presence known.

    I know that this scripture is talking about our heavenward journey, but when IEP meetings approach, I always find a unique comfort in it. Hoping you do too.

    “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” Philippians 3:13-16

  2. I am so glad Brandon revealed his heart at that meeting, and your girl got what she needed. Being able to express emotion is a strength. A STRENGTH. Good for him. So glad you were not stressed this time. I do know the dread.

  3. This is beautiful. Yet another post from you that makes me slow down and really think. Your faith is inspiring.

    I thought of you a lot yesterday… we had an incident with B at school and it’s exactly one week until our IEP mtg. Things have been going along, charting progress, re-exaiming plans, goals, etc. And bam, the incident (not earth shattering by any means) brings it all into focus and reminds me that we still have a lot of work to do and helps me focus on what we need to tackle.

    We had a similar/different incident last year, roughly about a week before his IEP meeting. Bringing us the focus we needed.

    I got the message loud and clear.

    I hope your meeting went well lovey. xo

  4. We were so blessed in our first IEP meeting. We’d been prepared for the worst, but everything went smoothly and we received just what we’d hoped. I pray the same for you!

  5. Thank you so much for the reminder that I won’t be alone this Wednesday. This is our first forray into an IEP meeting and I’m scared as heck. I needed to remember that HE is with me, and I will never be alone! Your blog is beautiful!

  6. I am a new(er) follower of yours and as I am heading into my very first IEP with my daughter in a week and a half I know I will have this post in my head. Thank you for sharing and keeping your faith a HUGE part of your blog. I am new to the blog but several of you mom bloggers are helping to inspire me and keep me focused on my mission of sorts. I think I started my blog just to help me sort through the emotions but I have found such a sense of community. I truly think God was leading me to find all of you and see that this world is so large and inclusive. Thank you for your honesty and beautiful words. You’re a blessing even over the miles that separate all of us!

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