When I Heard My Son on the Spectrum Was Ready to Graduate From His IEP


I’ve written an entire series about the IEP experience…

From a parent perspective.

From a special education teacher perspective.

From a teacher perspective.

From a student perspective.

I knew it was coming.

This IEP was different. I asked Tucker if he wanted to come. At first he said no, and I was relieved. I know this might seem old school, but I like to have my own teacher time. Yes, my children should be responsible for their own learning and be able to communicate their learning and so on, I get it. Regardless, I like the one-on-one time with their teachers. I like to ask them honest questions and receive honest answers.

This time, he decided he wanted to know what it was all about.

He called my bluff. Damn.

It started with me being early and trying to hold it together. Then a small room. Then fidgeting. Then Tucker arrived, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He takes up pretty much the entire doorway, and his twinkling eyes, soft complexion and sweet smile reassured me it would all be OK. (Who’s the “real” adult in this situation?!)

We talked about the meeting. I told him how the meeting would be run. I told him he could leave if he became bored — but to do it politely and quietly. Then we practiced what “politely and quietly” looked like.

I always wanted to be an actress; he gives me that chance over and over and over again. Rehearsals for life.

Then the teachers arrived one by one. They all smiled. They all said “hello” to Tucker, and he nodded back.

They went around the table and all said wonderful things… Then the special education rep spoke the words I knew were coming: “He’s met all of his goals. He must graduate from his IEP.”

Tucker politely excused himself.

The teachers left.

Celebrate.

Panic.

Celebrate.

Panic.

Celebrate.

Panic.

Breathe.

Here I was in a room with his special education teacher, and I was speechless. I just stared at her and out the window and at the table and back at her. I took a deep breath and she finally said, “Nikki, he’ll be just fine, and if he’s not… you’ll know, and you’ll know just what to do.”

Then I sobbed. In that small room in Tucker’s middle school, I sobbed.

She came to the other side of the table and hugged me and said, “You know, I don’t get this moment very often. This is what is supposed to happen. I feel so lucky that I get to share it with you.”

Snot is now all over my sleeve, and mascara is running down my face.

I was able to mutter a “thank you.” Then she said, “You know, it’s your victory, too. You never let the frustration show. You advocated in the smartest of ways. You helped us understand so much about him. We are better because of you.”

That was not helpful to the existing snot situation.

I hugged her again and said, “We are all better because of him.” She agreed and ushered me out the door.

On the way out to my vehicle, I stopped and looked towards the heavens. Religious or not, this was a moment for praise and thanksgiving. As I climbed in my vehicle and drove away, I couldn’t help but think about all of these meetings. All of these meetings where I left in tears because I wanted life to be easier for him. They were over. In hindsight, they didn’t seem so bad. Funny how time really does heal.

I called my husband and had to pull over to tell him the news because I couldn’t talk. Half-way through my 25-minute drive to work, I had to stop again. It hit me.

How did he do this?

How did he keep up with the academics of his peers and have 27 (yes, 27) different goals in his first nine years of school? How did he do that?! It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that he was not only working on speech and coordination and managing emotions — he was doing everything the other students were doing as well — math, science, literacy.

How did he spend time with speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, counselors, and physical therapists and still keep up?

Seriously, how did he do that?

When life settled down, that night I stood in front of my refrigerator staring at a picture of my brother. A picture that was taken after a horrible accident. A picture of him after he had overcome tremendous odds. A picture that was taken after my parents were told his chances of living were marginal.

I keep that 30-plus-year-old picture there as a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. I love that picture. As I turned around, there was Tucker, sitting at the table like every other night. But tonight, I was overcome with emotion.

There he is, sitting at my kitchen table — a very present reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

The tears were certainly present, but in the end a smile crept in. A smile that is evidence of a triumph. A smile of success. A smile that is reminiscent of the strength of the human spirit.

A smile because of Tucker.

Image via Thinkstock.

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