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504, IEP - IDK?!

I watched Abby's adorable little shoes light up like an arcade game as we approached the threshold of the elementary school - shiny new shoes, shiny new school with our shiny new diagnosis. Everything was going to be better. We were told public schools are more equipped with the resources to handle kids like Abby. I was overwhelmingly thankful that I wouldn't have to worry about all the phone calls everyday; they have people in place and psychologists at hand. The school was fantastic and throughout our tour, I learned that all that I had heard was true!

Parents with volatile children know what I'm talking about when I say, you kind of have to prepare people for the intricacies of their behavior before you can just drop them off with someone new. I did that as delicately as I could - not wanting to cause any over-analyzation or bring unnecessary attention to it - and left her with her new teacher. I'll never forget the anxiety that I can only explain as trying to breathe around a balloon.

I can't possibly take you through the day-by-days that followed but I can tell you that my phone did in deed ring. A lot. But what happened next is still to this day the single most important part of our journey. The school provided us with a support team consisting of the counselor, the school psychologist, her teachers and the vice principal. We learned about behavioral support programs. Together we could create a behavior plan to help Abby get through a day, strategies for helping her recognize and identify her emotions and giving her a place and the proper language to calm down. We just needed to decide if we wanted to start a 504 or IEP... I'm sorry huh??

IEP stands for individualized education program (or plan). It's a legal binding document that tailors a child's education program based on the evaluation of the their strengths and challenges. It is covered by special education law and typically used for children that have certain learning disabilities. A 504 plan, on the other hand, is a specific list of accommodations and supports that are tailored to individual needs. It may allow extended time for tests or the ability to have a break to see a counselor and a calm down box or corner.

So there's the technical jargon, it's all so overwhelming. I couldn't help but think about how oblivious I was to these things or even the need for them while raising my son. I never really gave much thought to all the mothers and parents around me that might have been going through what I'm going through now - IEP's and 504's and the dreadful fear of how their child's day is going every single day and the constant calls and team meetings and emergency pick-up's. I suppose I was too busy being proud of how well behaved and situated my child was - I'm giving that person - the past me - a dirty look right now. Abby's issues are entirely behavioral based. Those behaviors do interfere with her ability to learn but when those behaviors are controlled there aren't really any cognitive difficulties so we were able to decide that the 504 plan was the best fit for us.

And that's how it went; we would walk away from yet another behavior-plan meeting, feeling both optimistic and doubtful it would stick. Eventually, we learned new tactics would work for a while and then she would quickly learn how to manipulate them. I can tell you why it wasn't working, while we had a plan for how to handle the complexity of her emotions, temper tantrums and defiance, the real issue was that she was having complex emotions, tantrums and defiant behavior. Despite our efforts to not go there, it was time to try something new. It was time to try medication. That's when the journey took a turn. Tune in next time.


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