Full Circle

10 Years ago, I sat in my van and cried. Last night, I sat in the same van, crying over the same thing, but because of different outcomes.

10 years ago, I sat in my daughter’s first IEP meeting after they did testing and observations. They told me that she tested as moderate to severely autistic. I was not expecting the severe part. It was my first ever meeting like this. I did not know what to expect or how they went. I was young and inexperienced on how these things worked.

I sat alone in my van and cried. This was the time before everyone cell phones, so I couldn’t even call my husband. I let myself feel the weight of everything I just heard. I felt the trials and hardships that I knew we would face in the coming years. I cried. I let it out. I felt it. Then I stopped. I told myself it didn’t matter. Labels don’t define us. We won’t let this stop her. She can and will accomplish anything she wants. She won’t be limited. We will be her fighters and advocates. This won’t define her or us.

Over the years, We never talked much to her much about being Autistic. We never wanted a label to define her or give her an excuse. She just had different ways of doing things and different abilities. No need for labels or stigmas that come with those labels. I don’t think her siblings even realize it.

From that day on, I never shed another tear over her diagnosis. I became a fighter. Over the years, we had numerous meetings and tests. As she moved onto elementary school, it was a constant stream of figuring out how to get school and learning to work best for her. How to get her what she needed. Most years were fantastic teachers (with the exception of 2nd grade. I’m still irritable about that teacher/year) and I can’t say enough good things about the resource/special ed room at that school. They were phenomenal. In 4th grade, I had to have my husband take over IEP duty, because her teacher and I just had personality clashes and I just couldn’t handle it. Up until that time, It was always me taking care of things, but I had to give it over to him for a while. I guess we all can’t be super mom all the time. Sometimes, we have to let others fight the battle for a time. She was an excellent teacher, just not a person I could get along with well.

I took back over in 5th grade, but let my husband go back in 6th and 7th grades. Pregnancy took me out of it last year – I found when I am pregnant, the emotions are too strong for me, so my husband took over in those years!

At the end of last year (7th grade), we found out that she had made no progress in her special ed/reading class, and had in fact, slipped backward. A terrible teacher lead to the whole class regressing (flashbacks to 2nd grade). I was irate! We didn’t find this out until summer, when we got her report card. There was no one to even complain to. We were flabbergasted since we have always been in contact with the school and meetings/IEP’s, this never came up! I was upset with the school. We were firm with her and what she needed to do to fix this. She had to read all summer. If she didn’t show improvement by parent-teacher conferences in 8th grade, we would start to home school her. She does NOT want to be homeschooled. She, for some odd reason, loves school and being social.

When we went into registration, her advanced band class wasn’t on her schedule. It is her favorite class. Apparently, it interfered with her special reading class. Ugh. I talked to the principal about the class last year and he informed me that teacher was no longer at the school. Good! Our only option, if she wanted to remain in school (and not homeschooled) and go to advanced band, was to remove her from the special reading class into mainstream English classes.

We prayed. We thought about it. Was she ready? We talked to her. We told her if this is what she wanted, she had to show us she could do it. She said she could. We took the leap. We put her into mainstream English and Math classes. (she still had a math support class)

By parent-teacher conferences, her teachers all had glowing reviews and grades backed it up. Then I had an IEP planning meeting since her 3-year review was coming up. (yes, planning meetings for a meeting… This has been our life). I had to agree to some new extensive testing. We’d discuss the results at her IEP in a month or so.

IEP time came and I ended up being the one that had to go. I had my husband do it the last few years and I rather enjoyed that! I wanted him to go again, but he had other commitments all week and really needed to work. So I left the little boys with my daughter to babysit (husband works from home, so he was home too), and I went to the IEP. I wasn’t thrilled about it, because who is ever excited to go to an IEP meeting?

I went and 5 teachers/specialists were there – the principal came in later. Now I know why he showed up, principals don’t usually come. They started with the academic testing. She scored within the normal range or above normal on just about everything. I was surprised. She NEVER tests well.

Then went over her academics. She is already meeting or exceeding all standards in her classes. Her grades were very good. Then the specialists’ observations and testing. Other than a few things here and there, her testing was mostly normal. In their observations of her at school, they couldn’t find anything that would make her stand out from other students. Of course, she still has her quirks and odd ways, but don’t we all? We all have to figure out ways to cope and deal with things. Her principal pointed out we all have issues, quirks, and problems to deal with. All are different and we just have to figure out how and what we need to do to deal with them.

I realized in the meeting, she no longer goes out and swings after school like she used to. She no longer seems to need the swinging. I didn’t even really notice/realize she didn’t do it any longer until the meeting.

After all the reports – at this point, I have a huge stack of papers in front of me – we went through the 4 question Autism eligibility checklist. The first 2 were marked “yes” and the next 2 were marked “no.” After we marked the last one “no,” the speech therapist turned to me and said, “You know that means so no longer qualifies as Autistic?!?!” Wait. What? Seriously?!?! I was dumbstruck and speechless.

Then we went through the checklist on whether she needs an IEP and special ed/help. It was determined she didn’t need it anymore. That was it. The meeting was done. We didn’t need to update, fix, or do anything with an IEP. She no longer needed it. The teachers and specialists wanted to pop the “champagne.” This doesn’t happen very often. It is what they all work for, but it doesn’t happen often where they are taken off an IEP and no longer considered Autistic (academically speaking!!). She did it. No more IEP. No more speech. No more special classes. No more meetings.

I thanked them, grabbed my giant stack of papers and headed to my car. I called my husband. He was in a bit of shock. I think we always had the security of the IEP when we needed it. It was a safety net, a back-up for us. It will harder for us to take it away, than for her. She was thrilled with the news. She was excited to hear she did it – no more special or different classes. She accomplished it.

I hung up with them and then I cried. I’d held myself together in the meeting and talking to them, but then I let myself feel the last 10 years. Sitting in a school parking lot, in the same van as 10 years ago, I cried. I remembered back to that day 10 years ago when I cried after a very similar meeting with very different outcomes. So much went into the last 10 years of this journey. She did it. We fought for her, were her advocates, but she did it.  Such tears of joy. Such a surreal experience. Never let a label or being differently abled affect all you can accomplish – that is what we’ve always taught our kids. You can accomplish whatever you want to.  It was the best and last IEP meeting ever.

Sometimes we have to kick the kids out of the nest to fly (or they kick themselves out!) and she flew!

We went out for ice cream to celebrate after dinner. When the boys asked why we were going, we said we were celebrating Sabrina’s accomplishments. They asked what she did, and she simply responded, “Because I’m AWESOME!” Yeah, because she is awesome – I like that answer.


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