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Working out an IEP With Your School

Sometimes in life you need a Plan B...

Meghan's freshman year of high school ended with the final two months completed at home - mainly due to anxiety caused by a temporary health set back along with the adrenaline issues that one faces with POTS that can make any normal amounts of anxiety seem unmanageable. We already had a 504 Education Plan in place, so we just made it work as best we could - with a LOT of help from the school. She did the homework and projects at home and had the tests proctored by the school psychologist. But there could come a time when you need something more than a 504 Education Plan.

Not wanting to go through the stress of the spring semester again, we started to talk in July about how we would handle getting Meghan back to school. We talked about part-time at home and part-time at school. Eating lunch at home and being able to rest as needed are often important to making it through the day while managing health needs. In Wisconsin, home school students are allowed up to 2 classes at the school, but I asked about the possibility of a little more flexibility. When I told the school psychologist what I wanted to try for Meghan, she said an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, would meet our needs. As soon as she said it, I knew that meant a plan for special education. My first thought was what would others think. She mentioned POTS and anxiety as reasons. She kept talking but I'm not sure I was completely listening for a moment. Anxiety. I think that's when it really hit me. We needed to acknowledge the anxiety and talk about it - even though the word has negative connotations and disbelief connected to it. There has been a lot of recent talk of anxiety, mental health, smiling depression (think Robin Williams). I know and believe that it is real but don't always feel okay talking about it. We need to acknowledge it. She said the POTS, along with the anxiety and panic attacks, would qualify her for an IEP. It highlighted the realty of the situation at hand - although we had been trying to address it already... as best we could.

An IEP is a legal document that is created under a law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It covers kids with autism, vision and hearing disabilities, learning and emotional disabilities, developmental delays, ADHD, and cognitive challenges. It typically involves a referral and an evaluation process. A teacher provides the referral, while parents and the student fill out separate assessment surveys that are evaluated by the school psychologist. Parents also sign a formal approval form. An overall evaluation report is completed and then approved by pupil services in your district. Meghan's doctor had already provided documentation of her illness for our 504 plan. We found our school to be extremely supportive and helpful. But parents should know there are legal rights that families may need to look into if they have difficulties getting a plan in place.

For Meghan, doing online classes from home with a mix of in-school classes with the hope of getting her back full-time is something we are considering. Anxiety is real and a good support system is crucial to helping someone to learn to cope. I get a weekly email newsletter from a site called The Mighty. It has a combination of staff writers and submissions from readers sharing life experiences. They cover topics on autism, down syndrome, chronic illnesses (including POTS), rare diseases, OCD, and anxiety. I find a lot of great inspirational stories or articles that are useful in helping others understand these tough areas that need to be discussed.

Anxiety is often looked upon negatively by society. Many times misunderstood. Sometimes thought to be exaggerated or even made up. I recently learned from a college student who has POTS that at most universities resources are available for those who struggle with anxiety. Tests can be proctored in a low stress environment and help with managing projects and speeches is also available. I had no idea. What a great way to help people instead of letting them slip through the cracks. We need more of that in the world.

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