The first thing I did when I learned of our daughter’s dyslexia was rush to the computer. I got online and started to research every bit of information related to dyslexia. In between my google searches, I spoke with friends and family members. I didn’t know how to find the support I knew my daughter needed. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. While research can be empowering, the kind of endless searching I was doing only resulted in my own overwhelm. I had to move away from the countless accounts of dyslexia challenges and programs and interventions online and move toward our specific family needs and what we needed to do to help our Tiny Dancer.
So, I began with my daughter’s first grade teacher. Once she learned of the diagnosis, she recommended that we set up a Student Support Team (SST) meeting. So that’s what we did.
I learned a lot from our first SST (See Initial Concern and School Support blog posting). Mainly, I learned that I had to be a leader in the room – I could not wait for the school support team to step in and guide me. With this knowledge, I invited the head psychologist from Morrissey Compton who had worked with our daughter to join our meeting as her advocate. I knew that his expertise in the field and his personal knowledge of our daughter’s test results made him far more able to articulate her diagnosis than I could ever be.
Our SST meeting included our daughter’s teacher, the special education teacher, the speech teacher, our school psychologist, our principle, the Morrissey Compton Advocate, my husband and myself. With the extensive 27 page assessment from Morrissey Compton that included the results from our daughter’s full comprehensive IQ & academic achievement tests, we felt prepared and certain we could provide everyone on the SST team with enough background on our daughter’s learning patterns to warrant a full IEP or 504 plan.
Let me explain the basis of these plans:
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes the educational program that has been designed to meet that child’s unique needs. Each child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP. Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when age appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legally binding document.
A 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child, with a disability pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 attending an elementary or secondary educational institution, receives accommodations providing him/her access to the learning environment. Accommodations include wheelchair-accessible facilities, adjustable-height tables, large-print reading materials, and increased time to complete assignments and tests.
The plan ensures that students with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations. The plan provides educators with information about the specific needs of their students with disabilities and practical strategies to be incorporated into their lesson planning.
Much to our surprise, our daughter did not qualify for an IEP or a 504 plan. We had to develop her unique education program on our own. While the SST meeting did not arrive to the conclusion we had anticipated, we did feel we had done our part in the process and done right by our daughter. We showed up with a quality diagnosis, extensive evidence to support our claims, and a willingness to advocate for the our Tiny Dancer in every possible way. I felt good knowing that every single person in the room was empowered with the same knowledge I held. We were on the same page and shared a common goal. I left the meeting certain of my responsibility and clear in a way I had not been before – I would be the one driving the action steps. I would be the one to lead our daughter’s education plan and it would require support that extended beyond our school resources.
Morrissey Compton was the best place to start. The organization provided us with multiple resources: lists of special schools equipped to address dyslexia and tutors (including theirs) that specialize in Slingerland. After more (but better focused) research, we finally found Ruthie Wunderling at the Wunderling Learning Center. We met with her and after the conversation, we knew Wunderling would be the right fit for our daughter. And sure enough it was. It still is. Our journey continues – we follow our education plan, the one we designed, the school supports, and most importantly, the one that best serves our daughter’s learning needs.