Extra participant at the IEP

Well, it’s that time again. Rhema’s IEP meeting is this week. Crazy to think we’ve been doing this since she was three years old and now she’s almost ten! Brandon will Skype in for the meeting as he’s done in previous years when he’s deployed. But there will be someone else with a seat at the table…

(Originally published February 2012)

“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 be 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 hurt, 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.


***A Book Giveaway***
Chicken Soup’s “The Multitasking Mom’s Survival Guide” is in bookstores today. I’ve got a funny story in it. In fact the whole book generates a lot of laughs and “I’ve-so-been-there” head nods. Leave a comment and we’ll draw a name!


9 thoughts on “Extra participant at the IEP

  1. “The shock that I’m still shocked that we’re even there.” Oh my goodness, you get that too?! Yes, a million times to that line. Also, thank you for reminding me that we do have an Advocate! – the best one there is! Love to you all, and I hope this IEP revealed wonderful surprises for you 🙂 xx

  2. Your posts continue to inspire me as a new mom.While my children do not have any special needs, i grew up with a younger brother with many needs and I remember my mom going through many IEP meetings and feeling inadequate in the “fight.” I also taught in an inclusion classroom and remember those broken families “fighting” for their children’s education. You are such an inspiration on how you keep a right perspective through it all. May God continue to give you the strength you need. Good job Momma!

  3. “Even now my witness is in heaven, my advocate is on high.” Job 16:19. Oh, how I needed that this morning. Four kids, IEPs, 504s, thinking I could do this, then my Matthew comes along. Thank you for reminding me that I can’t do this, but my Savior can. He’s got it covered.

  4. I have to learn to stop reading your beautiful posts while I’m at work. I tear up, more often than not. You always know how to touch my heart.

  5. Thinking of you and Brandon. Sending “BIG” hugs to the girls. It seems like a life time ago when we first meet. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Tell your sister hello. The IEP meeting will go smoothly and in the direction that is best for Rhema.

  6. Pingback: Real strength |

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