I never look forward to IEP meetings. I don’t know any parent who does. IEPs are the annual meetings where we review our child’s Individualized Education Program at school. The entire school team of teachers, counselors, and specialists convenes to discuss a child's progress, to set goals, and to craft a plan to provide services. These IEP meetings can be tough for all sorts of reasons, partly because they remind us how different our children are from what is considered typical. The reviews, the assessments, and the test scores don't often fill parents with cheer. The meetings always run long with a lot of discussion, and they can become contentious when parents and school districts disagree about the best standard of care and support for a child with a disability. Many parents walk out of such meetings feeling weary, dark, and even bleak. That said, Jukie has always loved school. And the folks at his school have always loved and supported Jukie. We have confidence in his educational team and enjoy hearing sweet and silly anecdotes about our boy.
When we walked into Jukie’s IEP meeting yesterday, the smiles of his team filled the room. As soon as we sat down, his teacher began raving about Jukie’s progress at school. When we heard that Jukie works independently so well now that he needs little direction or supervision with his school work, I shot Andy a look, and he knew I was thinking: “our Jukie?” We titled our book about our boy Where’s Jukie? in part because we needed to know his location at all times. We liked to track him the way a meteorologist tracks a hurricane. For many years in our house, his only “independent work” was destructive.
We were pleased to learn that not only did our maturing boy meet most of his previous year’s goals, but he actually exceeded them. At one point, his occupational therapist casually mentioned, “…and his handwriting is improving.” I shot Andy another look, and as the room was noticing this silent exchange, I had to share: “I’m sorry, his HANDWRITING? Andy and I are having trouble believing that.” Jukie doesn’t write or draw or color or anything like that as far as we had ever seen. “Would you like to see a video?” she asked.
Yes. Yes, we would love to see a video of Jukie’s “handwriting” in action. The OT handed Andy her iPad, and we watched as Jukie stood before a large dry erase board and slowly wrote the letters j-u-k-i-e. Our boy Jukie wrote his name. We were stunned. You can imagine what happened next. I began mildly sobbing. Then Andy teared up. The principal ran to the next room for a box of Kleenex, and almost everyone in the room needed a tissue.
I looked across the room at Jukie smiling broadly. As we communicate intuitively, almost telepathically, I sent him my thoughts: you can write your name! What else can you do? What else do you know?
After the meeting, Jukie took us on a tour of the new playground equipment at his school. I took a photo so that I will always remember the day we learned that Jukie can write his name. And as I write this, I'm left to wonder what messages our boy may be preparing to share.