High School IEPs for the Weary Mom
By Amy Scriven
“How weird do you want me to be, mom?” My son is the sweetest, most polite teenager, who would never say that to my face, but I could tell from his sadness and frustration that he was thinking it. “Hearing aids? I don’t need them; I’ve been fine this far in life. IEP? No way mom!” Unspoken, heartbreaking words written all over his face and through his future actions of refusing to wear his aids, hiding his mini mic, and feelings of shame and sadness from being what he would call different.
Late Diagnosis. We adopted our precious Cole from China at age 14, and it took a few years to uncover all of his medical needs, including that he is hard of hearing and the subsequent recommendation of hearing aids. As parents we think, “Okay, this is costly, but not bad, there is a solution, we can navigate this.” Our teen was thinking, “Whoa no way, hold it right there, cowboy. Hearing aids in high school? No way!” Our son went through all the stages of grief over his need for hearing aids, and as uneducated parents, we struggled to guide and comfort him.
High School IEPs. I’m at the age where doctors suggest mammograms and colonoscopies, both more desirable than navigating an IEP meeting. Our first denial of an IEP cited that our son did not qualify because his IQ scores were too high, and English is his second language, which was deemed the sole contributor to his struggles. The fact that he was hard of hearing was skimmed over and labeled, “not that significant,” without even showing us the legal criteria for eligibility. I was crushed and cried at the end of the meeting when Cole was denied IEP accommodations. Yes, our son is smart, yes English is his second language, but the poor dude couldn’t understand the teachers well enough to acquire English at the rate that matched his IQ. My biggest mistake, among many, was not seeking out an advocate specifically for deaf/hard of hearing kids.
My list of Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda’s:
- Seek help from advocates who specialize in kids who are deaf/hard of hearing. Not only did the Hands and Voices team assist me with understanding the IEP process, my son’s rights, how an IEP could help him, but they also guided me emotionally and educationally through hearing loss in general. As a mom of a late diagnosed kiddo, I didn’t fully understand how to read an audiogram, let alone effectively navigate IDEA laws. The Colorado Hands & Voices team spent hours at my kitchen table, over the phone, and through email helping me learn and prepare. Their coaching helped me to be more confident during the IEP meeting and provided my mama heart with some much-needed love, reassurance, and tender care during what was a confusing time for our family.
- Be open to advice. Our son Cole, who is now 18 and much farther along in this journey, does not mind me sharing that he did everything that first year to foil efforts to assist with his ability to communicate and gather information. My response to his actions, which was all part of his grieving process, often made the situations worse. The Hands & Voices team gave both my husband and me, and the IEP team, suggestions to help Cole feel more comfortable speaking up for the accommodations he needs to learn at the rate of his peers. For example, allowing Cole more control over his hearing aid usage, setting up a plan for a period of months where his teachers discreetly prompted Cole for his mini-mic instead of putting the responsibility solely on Cole, and having him meet with a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing to research and learn about his hearing levels and how to advocate for his needs.
- Come to the IEP meeting with a plan. Research IDEA laws as it pertains to students who are deaf/hard of hearing. Create a list of your teenager’s areas of need with specific examples from both home and school. Also, come prepared with a list of possible accommodations you would like to see for your teen once the IEP is approved. Practice how to describe your concerns to the team and your answers to possible objections. Remember, as a parent your opinion matters, and what you see at home is as valid as the perception in the classroom.
- Consider speaking with the IEP team without your teenager. Cole is a joy to parent. He’s easy going, quick to laugh, and if we are being totally transparent a real mama’s boy. However, he did not think he needed aids for hearing or an IEP. During the first meeting, not only did the educators cite Cole’s insistence of not needing help, but also Cole had to hear over and over my words of how he was not thriving and not performing as well as he could in school. This sent the wrong message to Cole that he was somehow failing, which he was not, and that he was responsible for this perceived failure. One solution is to conduct part of the meeting without your teen. Take a bit of time to review your concerns with the team, and then have your teen join after for the solutions and accommodations portion, so that he or she can feel empowered rather than deflated.
- Plan for transition services. Your IEP team should document transition plans starting at 16, but I found my son still needs much assistance answering the big question, “What’s next after high school?” Stretch outside of the IEP team and attend workshops designed to help you and your child determine areas of interest and the proper track for exploration. The path ahead may include college, Voc Rehab assistance with training and job coaching, or perhaps volunteering for more discovery. You are not alone, there are many organizations that provide transitional information including Hands & Voices.
A year later, armed with copious amounts of research and knowledgeable advocates from Hands and Voices, our kiddo was approved for an IEP that is helping him to understand his teachers and material better, learn to self-advocate, and educate his peers. Most importantly, he’s starting to see himself not as weird, or different, but just as our precious Cole, who truly is a gift from God.