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The Last IEP Meeting by Karen Putz

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Kid Companions- Chewelry: The Last IEP Meeting by Karen Putz

December 9, 2010

The Last IEP Meeting by Karen Putz

It hit me like a ton of bricks this week when the school counselor remarked, “This is the last IEP meeting for David.” I looked at my son sitting next to me. How did the time fly by so fast? He was a little toddler when Joe and I sat in on his first IEP meeting. David had just turned three and was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss just a short time before that. I had attended many other IEP meetings as an advocate for other families, but it was a whole new ballgame to sit in the IEP meeting as a parent.

One of the hardest things for me to do was to put him on the bus for a 45-minute ride to school. It was hard to trust someone else to drive my child, hard to trust someone else to care for him and protect him. I didn’t like the bus driver, a young man who seemed distracted. My gut feeling kept telling me that something was wrong. A few days later, I went to get David off the bus and spied a half-smoked cigarette on the floor. That was the last time that bus driver picked up my kid and I requested an aide on the bus after that.

David attended a school with a deaf program for three years. In kindergarten, the supervisor ca

me up to me and told me that they felt the best placement for David would be in his home school district. I struggled with that view, because I grew up solo in the mainstream– I was the only kid with hearing loss all the way up until I met Shawn Haines in high school. Then it was solo and a friend. I didn’t want that for my kid. I wanted to make sure he grew up with deaf and hard of hearing peers. So at first, I balked at the suggestion. Joe and I had days and days of discussion, wrestling with the decision. Should we fight to keep him in the deaf program or should we try the mainstream option?

Finally, we came to the conclusion that we would give the mainstream option a try, with the intention of putting him back in the deaf program if it didn’t work out. From day one, I was determined to make sure he had a different experience than what I went through growing up. Our subdivision had built a brand new elementary school right across the street from our house and it was just about to open up. I went in and introduced myself to the principal, Randy Vanwaning. That turned out to be one of the best moves, because Mrs. Vanwaning stayed on our side throughout the whole elementary school experience.

There’s a saying that I learned at a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) conference years ago: “Bloom where you are planted.” Once we decided that we were going to mainstream the kids, we kept that philosophy with us. We made the best out of it. I volunteered at the school and in the school library so that I could get to know the staff and the teachers. I went into class and read books to the students using sign and voice. I became involved with local playgroups and neighbors. The school hired an interpreter whose parents are deaf. Mrs. Mac is still interpreting today for Steven. Mrs. Mac started an ASL club at the school. The music teacher embraced sign in every single concert that the school put on and Mrs. Mac volunteered her time to teach the students one song per concert. Many of the students signed the school song at assemblies.

There were many experiences along the way that were challenging and it wasn’t always easy. I teamed up with Janet Des Georges to write The Myth of the Perfect IEP as a result of those challenges. I often reminded myself that it would have been the same in any environment– it’s the nature of the journey and of life. There were times when we questioned our decisions and explored options and considered changes. One of the most difficult IEP meetings we ever had was David’s transition to high school. A staff member felt strongly that we should keep him in the home district. We felt differently– we wanted David at Hinsdale South, where he would have deaf and hard of hearing peers as well as a mainstreamed education. We couldn’t come to an agreement at that meeting. That was a meeting where tears were shed– I’ve had a few of them over the years with the three kids for different reasons. We worked out that agreement and it paved the way for a smooth transition for Lauren as well.

At David’s last IEP meeting, I sat and thought about all of this as I watched him talk about his experience at the “Explore Your Future” camp to the VR counselor and the district representative. I sat in awe as I watched him share his views of what he wanted for his future– this little boy of mine has turned into a young man– when did that happen? I thought back to preschool, and how he cried during the Christmas show that the teachers put on. The teachers tried to encourage him to say his lines, but all he did was sit in his chair and cry while the other kids took turns saying and signing their lines. I look back at that time and laugh, because I have a son who can get up on stage and put on a show now. Go figure.

For a long time, I was the parent teaching the child–guiding David through life and sharing what I wanted him to know. Lately, I’ve been aware of how much the roles have shifted, I’m learning things from my son. When we head to the gym together, he teaches me things about muscle development and he becomes my coach as he runs me through drills. “Come on Mom, you have to do one more set”– which sounds a lot like the stuff I tell him at home: “Clean the bathroom and sweep the living room.” Just yesterday, he made a stir-fry dinner while I was glued to the computer and I was surprised at how delicious it was. There he was, sharing his newly-made recipe with me and teaching me how to make a better stir-fry.

I mentor families who are just starting out on the journey of raising deaf and hard of hearing kids and the beginning of the journey always seems so overwhelming, so impossible, so challenging. “Hang on to every bit of time that you have with your child,” I tell them.

Because before you know it, in the blink of an eye, all of a sudden, the last IEP meeting arrives and you wonder how it went by so fast.

Read about the author of this post, Karen Putz (photo left) in the post:
 Meet Karen Putz, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Advocate

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