Friday, March 14, 2014

IEP Miracles

To truly begin at the beginning, I must go back to the meeting we had with Wesley's team at school last November, the one in which we pushed for Wesley to have more time each day in an inclusion classroom. At this meeting, we were stonewalled, with his team refusing to increase his time in inclusion since they had no data to support that he would be successful in such an environment. Of course, there would be no way to acquire such data without placing him in the classroom and collecting the data, which becomes a cyclical problem. With no placement in an inclusion class, you can collect no data. With no data, you cannot be placed in the class.

After much pushing on our part, toward the end of this meeting we saw God work in the hearts of these ladies in a powerful way. While standing firm on their stance that Wesley could not have more minutes in an inclusion classroom each day, they did agree to move around the times that he attended this class so that he could participate in circle time and learning times rather than just in center and free play times.  Looking back, I can see how God burdening us to push for this is part of what He used to completely change the trajectory of Wesley's education.

Fast forwarding to this past January, Mike and I began discussing and making plans for how we would make adjustments to our family life over the next six years to accommodate for Wesley's schooling. We had been told for two years that the only self-contained classrooms in our district were in elementary schools on the south end of our district, which are 30-40 minutes away from us. So we planned on having Wesley bused far away for his elementary school years. We assumed, based on his placement during preschool and the school's resistance to his time in inclusion being increased, that he would obviously be placed in one of these self-contained classrooms.

Then, toward the end of February, Wesley's teacher told us that as part of the preparation for transitioning to elementary school, representatives from both his home school and the school with the self-contained class came in and evaluated him. She was very surprised, and told me with much excitement in her voice, that Wesley's home school thought there was a possibility that they could provide for all his needs with their top levels of support. At that point, a lot of people began evaluating Wesley, looking at what he needs, and comparing it to what is provided at both our home school and the school that has the self-contained class he would be placed in. At his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting, everyone would present their perspectives on what they felt would be best for Wesley and where they would recommend that he be placed.

Obviously, we felt that it would be best for our family as a whole if Wesley attended a school just 10 minutes from our home. And it was exciting to think that he could be in a less restrictive environment with more opportunities to interact with his peers along with many pull-out times for individual teaching. But more importantly, we just wanted Wesley to be placed in the school that was the best fit for him with the best opportunities for him to learn and be successful. And we wanted him to be placed with a teacher who was a good fit for him. We were cautiously excited as we thought of the possibility of Wesley being nearby this next year, but we didn't want to make this decision based solely on our convenience. 

Whatever the outcome, our conversation with Wesley's teacher was another moment when I was reminded of how great our God is. He cares for Wesley, and He cares for our family. He knows what is best for us, and He can move mountains to provide for His precious children. He can open up opportunities for Wesley that didn't even exist and provide options that we didn't even know to ask for (and that wouldn't have even been possible, except that suddenly they were!)

Isaiah 46:3-4 says, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." God created Wesley in his image, with his own unique strengths and weaknesses, and He promises that even to Wesley's old age, He will carry him. He has made Wesley, and as our loving Heavenly Father, He will bear our burdens for us and with us that we bear with Wesley on this earth. He will carry us and uphold us through each unique trial and joy that we face due to the unique way that He created Wesley. And one day, if Wesley trusts in Him, He will ultimately and completely save him!

So, we prayed.  We prayed that Wesley having the opportunity to attend school at his home elementary school would be one of the ways that God chose to carry us and help bear our burdens over the next six years.

Last week, on the morning of Wesley's IEP meeting, a friend sent me the following verses from Exodus 14:13-14: "And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."" As I read those words, I felt The Lord giving me His peace that surpasses all understanding. We had no reason to fear or be anxious as we went into our meeting that morning. The Lord would fight for us, and for Wesley, and we had only to be silent. As I prayed that The Lord would actively move mountains on Wesley's behalf, I was very aware of His peace flooding my soul.

Wesley's IEP was very different this year than it has been in years past. His teacher and therapists had taken all of our goals for Wesley into consideration and written 11 excellent goals targeting his greatest needs. As well, unlike in years past where we had to push for adaptations and supplements to be added, they were very willing to add all the supplements/adaptations to his IEP that we felt were important for him to learn to the best of his abilities.

When it was time to talk about placement, Mike and I quickly realized that every single person at the table believed that Wesley has grown so much in the past year that the best place for him to be for kindergarten was in an inclusion classroom at his home school. The special education teacher at his home school explained how he would be pulled out with her for times of 1-on-1 or small group teaching, she would go into the classroom to help him throughout the week, he would receive extra assistance for PE, art, music, recess, lunch, and any times in the classroom that he needed it, and they would provide all adaptations (seating, sensory breaks, etc...) he needed to succeed.

As we listened, I realized that there was nothing we needed to ask for; no areas in which we needed to fight for our son. God had gone before us, fighting for his precious Wesley, and we had only to hold our peace and be silent.

When we walked back to Wesley's classroom with his teacher, she was very excited to tell us that this is an amazing opportunity for Wesley, most elementary schools in our district don't provide the extent of supports that Wesley will be provided, she is absolutely amazed and surprised herself with the amount of 1-on-1 help Wesley will receive in an inclusion classroom, she is beyond thrilled that he will not be in a self-contained classroom next year, and she thinks he will thrive in his new placement.

Then today, the district kindly arranged for me to observe at our home school.  While watching the special ed teacher work with a small group of boys, I found myself thanking God for giving Wesley the gift of such an amazing teacher next year.  She truly is fantastic.  Her manner of teaching, her patience, her ability to manage the class while both effectively teaching four boys at different levels and also encouraging these boys to interact with each other and work on social skills, and her wealth of experience working with special children like Wesley were truly awe-inspiring to watch.  I continue to pray that his inclusion teacher will be equally amazing!

God has given Wesley an unexpected gift, and we couldn't be more thankful! We rejoice and thank God for providing for Wesley in amazing ways!

* photo credit Katie Fenska Photography