After her daughter’s final IEP meeting, guest blogger Karen Jackson, marked the day by penning a letter to the mother she was in the early days of their children’s education. Her advice is valuable beyond measure and may require a tissue.
The Final IEP Meeting:
Advice to the Mom I Once Was
Today I attended my 17th and final IEP meeting for my daughter, Samantha. I remember the first one when she was just four years old. I was new to the lingo, new to the procedures and still grieving and trying to figure out what autism was and how it would affect my sweet daughter.
Samantha’s public schooling comes to an end this year, and the last IEP begins the official process of transition to the post-high school world. I feel like something should mark this day. Celebration does not seem completely appropriate but the idea of a letter to that mom from 17 years ago might work. So here goes…
Dear Young(er) Mom,
As you begin this new, unknown path of education for your child who was just diagnosed with autism, let me share a few things you will learn during the next 17 years- things that may set your mind at ease:
- You aren’t going to do this alone. There will be many, many professionals who will come alongside and help educate your daughter. They will not all be excellent teachers, but some will be. Most will be caring and skilled, doing their best to help your daughter reach new goals.
- It’s not a battle. Despite how you feel right now, the best strategy is to support and encourage the IEP team. Be a positive advocate when at all possible. Sometimes, you will need to use strong words or even bring in other advocates, but you will be most affective by staying positive.
- Do not feel guilty. You try your best for your daughter, so do not feel guilty when you miss something–when she doesn’t make the expected progress or when you can’t be at every event for all three of your children. (Oh, by the way, you will have a third child in a couple of years…Surprise!)
- Enjoy the everyday moments. The schedule in the school years will always be busy: activities, work, meetings, therapy will be on-going. So savor the small, seemingly insignificant moments; a walk to the water, the first day she wanted to help in the kitchen, watching her interact with her brothers. These precious moments will make up for some of the daily challenges so take time to recognize and enjoy them.
- You are stronger than you think. The task ahead appears daunting. You need to educate a child who can’t speak a word, keep her safe, help her to grow into the woman she is meant to be. You will become strong enough because, as you gain parenting and life experience on this unexpected journey, your faith will also mature. One day, you will look back and realize your strength is not just from yourself. It is from the Lord. You were never meant to be strong enough by yourself, or even with all the support of professionals, family and friends. God will be on every step of the journey with you and He will give you the strength to carry on.
Blessings to you as you begin this exciting and very special parenting journey. Hang in there. The years are going to go quickly!
Karen, a slightly older and more experienced me
Karen Jackson is the Executive Director of Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) of Hampton Roads where she lives with her husband and three children in Norfolk, VA. She is also the author of Loving Samantha. You can connect with Karen on Facebook at her Loving Samantha page and at the FIN page.
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