Elijah will celebrate his third birthday in April. He will also begin preschool. Last week we met with a representative from our school district to discuss the transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood (preschool), from an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The meeting went well and I look forward to working with the school district to help Elijah reach his full potential in school.
When I talk with other families about their experiences creating an IEP with their school district, I sometimes get the sense that their relationship with the school district is somewhat adversarial. It almost seems as if the families expect the school district to give them a bad deal and to deny services that their children need. I am choosing to enter the process assuming that the school district wants to work with us to provide the services Elijah needs. I have to believe that the teachers, therapists and other professionals involved in early childhood education want what is best for all of the children in their care. We may not always agree about what specific services should be offered, but I hope to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect where we can discuss differing opinions without animosity.
I truly want what is best for Elijah and am prepared to advocate for services I think he really needs. At the same time, I think building a good relationship with the school district is important to this goal. If I am pleasant and willing to work with the district to coordinate Elijah's education, I am hopeful that the district will do whatever they can to return the favor. If I am angry and difficult to work with before we even have a disagreement, I can't imagine that they will be eager to work with me. Advocating for my child does not necessarily mean I have to put up a good fight. It does mean I have to know my child, including his strengths and weaknesses, and communicate those things effectively. It also means understanding the IEP process and our families legal rights and doing my best to form a good working relationship with those involved so we can work together to meet Elijah's needs.
The next few months should be interesting. Elijah will be assessed by a team of professionals who will probably focus on his weaknesses more than his strengths (they are, after all, determining if he needs extra help). Once they determine if Elijah is eligible for services, we will meet to discuss which services he needs, to create goals for his education and then to create specific plans on how to reach those goals. And at the end of it all I have to send Elijah off to preschool. I am sure preschool will be very good for him, but I'm glad I have another few months to get used to the idea. Sending Josiah to school for the first time was hard. This will be harder.