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IEPS and social work oh my...

It's funny how previous experience can click into place during a classroom lecture. Sitting in class on Thursday, the idea of self-determination became crystal clear to me. Oh, sure, I knew what it was, and I could tell you why it was important. But something made it click with a memory of the dreaded IEP or Individualized Education Plan.

I absolutely hated having an IEP, especially in November when we had a meeting with my parents, specialists and teachers. As a kid, it just seemed like being blind made me have to have more parent-teacher conferences than everyone else. And, since I was usually not doing as well as everyone thought I could be doing, I understood what was meant as constructive feedback as full-blown criticism.

Part of why I wasn't doing well was that I felt if I couldn't do it by myself, I shouldn't do it at all. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that independence was doing everything perfectly all of the time. I can't say for sure why I had this idea, but I think it had something to do with seeing successful blind adults at meetings and events. I had a very close friend who was very successful, but the difference there was that she has always been human. She admitted that things scared her and wasn't unwilling to let me see her ask for help. But since we didn't live as close to each other as , would prefer, I sometimes saw more blind people at events designed to get kids involved with mentors. These are good things, but it is very easy to take comments meant to encourage independence the wrong way. And I think some mentors felt the need to show complete independence. Also, let's face it, an hour is not long enough for a student to get a good idea of how someone handles their entire life. Anyway, all of this push for independence meant I didn't ask for help with my homework because I didn't think I should. So, I wasn't doing as well as I could, and my teachers knew it, I knew it and my parents knew it. This added to my dread.

But back to why I hated having an IEP, and this is more relevant to the start of this story... As a kid, no one expects you to know what you need to learn. You don't have the life experience to say "I will need x, y and z to be successful in life." So a lot of goals are based on assessments and perceived deficits. There are two problems here, one is the focus on weaknesses (which I just touched on), and the other is that I'm not in the driver's seat.

Starting in about eighth grade, I started getting to take an active role in my IEP and thus, my education. My vision teacher (yes, I know, that's not the politically correct term), suggested I start helping with goals and running my meeting. I think at this point, I started to kind of melt. She could tell something was wrong. When I admitted how nervous IEPS made me, she helped me understand the intent of the meeting. We changed the format of the meeting slightly and soon it was much more enjoyable.

First, she started changing the focus of the meeting from a "improve this", type of meeting to a "check in" meeting. We started talking about my strengths over the last year, what had gone well before we talked about the things that needed continued work. This is what is called the strengths perspective, and I didn't even know I'd already learned it. But it made the meeting much more palatable and much more fun.

Second, I learned self-determination through the effort of creating goals. I was encouraged to add new goals. I didn't have to know the IEP language. Even though we still did the assessments, we started applying them in ways I wanted to apply them. They weren't tests, just assessments. That made the difference.

How could I have known that my IEPS would help prepare me for social work? Well, they have, and I am so grateful!

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