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Family-to-Family

Finding the Right Fit
By Holly Wheeler, Executive Director                                                              
En Español
 
 
When my daughter was 8, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Anxiety soon followed. Her schoolwork was suffering because of her inability to concentrate, and panic overcame her during tests. Desperate to provide her some assistance beyond medication and therapy, I met with her teacher, the school counselor, and the school psychologist. I can’t say that we agreed that an IEP was right for her because I didn’t really understand what it was, all I knew was that it would provide support for her at school to mitigate her restlessness and fears, with the goal of her flourishing in that environment.

From that day forward I felt that both my daughter and I were floating in a sea of paperwork to sign, assessments, and evaluations. I was clueless as to what I had agreed to, and all I wanted was to help her. Unlike a child who has greater needs, my daughter didn’t require a plan that included precise deliverables and benchmarks. Her plan was mostly accommodations for tests. But we kept the IEP, mostly because I was afraid to give it up in the event of crisis. When a child suffers from mental health conditions, that threat is always there.

As my daughter prepared to go to high school, her middle school contacted me and said they thought she didn’t really need her IEP anymore. I couldn’t say I disagreed with them, but, again, I was hesitant to give it up. They assured me that if she needed it in the future, all I had to do was ask. When crisis hit her sophomore year, she was left with no support. Her panic attacks became debilitating, and she began to miss school. As I worked with her mental health providers, I reached out to the school asking to reinstate her IEP and was told that she would have to be re-evaluated for ADHD to qualify. This caught me off guard. I had been told we could reinstate her IEP whenever she needed it. Now that she needed it, we had to start at square-one?

Unsure of what to do, I met with the school. They suggested a 504 plan. This less intensive plan for support seemed to meet her needs. But I was skeptical. A school had assured me that my daughter’s needs would be met with continuity in the past and it turned out to be untrue. Why should I believe this new school now?

That’s when I turned to experts. I spoke to a colleague who works at IN*SOURCE, an organization that helps families navigate special education. She gave me great advice on the differences between an IEP and a 504, what one provided that the other might not and vice versa, so I could feel confident about the decision. My daughter was also involved, and she felt that the supports offered would be helpful to her. Now, in college, my daughter still has her 504 and can access services and supports as needed. 

IN*SOURCE is a great option for special education support. Another terrific resource is About Special Kids, which can provide information and support from a parent’s perspective about the special education system. If you’re faced with making decisions about the best special education plan for your child, I highly recommend contacting these organizations. While everything worked out for my daughter, I wish now that I had a better understanding of the system to make informed decisions. These organizations will be happy to help you understand a very complex system to confidently advocate for your child.
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