The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu
We recently had our annual IEP meeting, which we are thankful beyond words is actually a fun experience for us. We feel like we completely lucked out in getting great teachers, therapists, parents, students, and administrators!
While the J-Man had several very rough patches over the last school year – precipitated by becoming a big brother and realizing this little person in the house was actually staying – he did make great strides in some areas. And we are so happy and proud of him that he’s starting off this new school year with a bang.
We brainstorm his educational goals for the coming year with his teacher during the couple of weeks prior to the IEP. We don’t officially write anything until it’s time for the actual IEP meeting, of course. Brainstorming beforehand speeds up the meeting. We just start out with whatever array of goals we have for the coming year and then look at which ones are appropriate for the IEP. Examples: “We’d like for him to eat some new foods” isn’t really an educational goal let alone a measurable one, but it’s an informal goal we know we’ll work on together at home and in the classroom. “The J-Man will imitate up to 8 motions in familiar songs/fingerplays with minimal prompting 50% of the time” is one of his actual goals for the next school year.
Not surprisingly, those educational goals for the IEP are for areas in which he is ‘behind’. As we’ve said numerous times in the past, we have no idea what a ‘typical’ five-year-old is doing at this age to have some benchmark to work from in creating those goals. So we just list everything in our brainstorming and figure that part out later.
We already knew his reading skills have been above, if not well above, age level for some time. With him being only minimally verbal, it’s hard to know with much precision. As a result, we’ve not had any reading goals in his IEPs. Over the last year, he’s been able with decreasing assistance to write a couple of letters, particularly ‘E’ and ‘F’, and he’s working on some more. (The school uses the Handwriting Without Tears method, which has worked brilliantly for him and the class.) So a goal Mary and I put on one of our lists was to expand his writing skills to additional letters. What we didn’t realize initially is that the J-Man’s writing skills are pretty much at age level right now! Woo hoo! That’s news you love to hear! Of course we’ll be working on those additional letters, but we can cross that off the formal, IEP, educational goals for now.
There was a specific achievement we were particularly proud of him for. He’s graduated from his fine motor skills work with the occupational therapist! He’s able to do the various ‘age-appropriate’ tasks asked of him! He’s even renowned for his wild finger dexterity because he’s been known to hold a bunch of snacks in his hands and manipulate other objects at the same time. To think that we started years ago where he refused to even hold anything and then struggled to learn every new task because of all the fine motor planning and sensory revulsion involved. This really is a momentous achievement for him. We are so proud!
Sure there are a lot of areas in which he still struggles, but that’s OK. We’re getting there, and he’s bravely working to overcome all the obstacles still in front of him. It’s important for each of us to celebrate every achievement our kids make no matter how seemingly small those may be. To our kids they can be like winning the Super Bowl. And we should jump up and down and run around in the confetti with them.
Every great milestone they reach comes from the seemingly unending line of inchstones our kids have strung together, one hard-fought step after another. One more second of eye contact today may be one inch closer to more comfortable social interactions as they get older. Just getting the J-Man to put his lips together as one of a number of things that have to happen to form the ‘p’ sound is one inch closer to better communication. A bite of a different food, sleeping 30 minutes longer, a rare embrace, a beaming smile, a calmer trip to the store, and any of a multitude of other victories bring us one inch closer to our kids being able to express their wonderful selves as completely as they can.
This is an ultra-marathon we’re all running, but if today or tomorrow or whenever we get even one inch farther down the road, someday we’ll get to points like we just had when we look up and realize we just tripped over a landmark. We can look back in the direction we came and see how far we’ve come. And then we can face forward again out into that unknown and say like the explorers of old, Well, we made it this far and we’re still in one piece. Let’s keep going and see what’s next.