I am a parent, just like you. My daughter, Chanel, was placed on an IEP when she was 3 years old. I know how scary, overwhelming, and isolating it can be to be a parent of a special needs child while trying to navigate the maze of special education. Over the years, I remember crying and feeling isolated from my friends and family and not being able to talk to anyone (because they didn’t get it). Even my husband didn’t really understand why I felt so worried, stressed, and angry.

When you’re in it, it’s hard to imagine that your child and family will ever get through it. It may never get back to the way it was before but it will get better. With the right help and your commitment to invest in learning how to protect your child’s rights, your family can find a new normal.

Here are some steps you can take right now:

Try to stay in the “one day at a time” mindset.

When you feel like you’re drowning in a state of constant worry about what may happen in the future, stop and shift your thinking to something else that feeds your soul. Self-care is key. We, as parents, tend to take care of everyone else and end up in a malnourished emotional state. Lack of time is not an excuse to not make your mental and physical health a priority. Be selfish (even though it’s really not) and take time to nurture yourself by doing things you love.

Give yourself grace, be kind to yourself; you are doing your best.

Our monkey mind can torture us with thoughts that make us feel as if we’re failing to be a good parent or that we’re not doing enough. The IEP process is just that, a process that can sometimes take years. A child’s IEP is a living document that changes as the student grows and progresses. Allow yourself the space to breathe and stop judging yourself. When you appreciate your own efforts and tell yourself you’re doing a good job, you’ll feel lighter and more hopeful. Learning the IEP process takes commitment and tenacity and requires a learning curve. Be proud of your accomplishments. This will give you a sense of comfort and relief.

You may feel alone, but you’re not.

There are tens of thousands of other parents who have come before you and are in it now with you. Did you know there are more than 7 million students on an IEP in the US today? The number of kids being diagnosed with autism has skyrocketed to 1 in 34 and 1 in 22 boys. Being a neuro-diverse individual has become a way of life in our world today. You have scores of other parents who share in the same journey.

Remember the two steps forward, one step back mantra.

No IEP is a straight path, so try not to get discouraged during setbacks. One of my sayings is, “NO” doesn’t mean no ~ It’s just a formality parents deal with along the way to getting to the “YES”.

They told me Chanel would never read, never write, never talk, and never be successful in school. But they were all wrong.

Chanel graduated with a high school diploma with honors. Don’t let any medical professional or district staff place a limiting ceiling on your child.

Over the years, I’ve had scores of other parents say they were told the exact same disparaging prediction by doctors and educators. No one knows what the future holds or has the right to play God and predict a child’s potential in life. Chanel is proof, along with so many other young adults who have far surpassed the limiting beliefs of societal norms and the medical and education system.

This is a picture of Chanel, graduating from high school.

Here’s to your advocacy success!

Valerie Aprahamian

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