Do You Want Me to Self-Advocate Now?

About 10 minutes into Dylan’s IEP meeting today, Dylan came in.  He sat at the head of the table, several chairs away from the adults at the long conference table: his parents, the 7th grade vice principal, his case manager, his guidance counselor and the special ed coordinator.

We spent more than an hour discussing Dylan’s issues.  We had two teacher reports from opposite ends of the spectrum: engineering (A+) and algebra (F).

Dylan sat politely through the entire meeting, making appropriate comments and answering direct questions.  The case manager and special ed coordinator outlined Dylan’s four main objectives – which, after 20 minutes of discussion, he could not repeat.  Come to think of it, after all that lecturing, can’t repeat his four objectives, either.

But one of the objectives had something to do with self-advocacy.  Dylan has had a great deal of trouble asking for help.  He thinks he knows everything already.  He thinks that, if he doesn’t know something, he should know it, so he flails along aimlessly, hoping he’ll figure it out in time for the test.

Sometimes I see Dylan as a Japanese beetle that’s landed upside down, waving his legs wildly and wondering why he’s not upright.

Dylan has hit a wall which, for him, means he needs to do some actual work to get good grades.  But since he doesn’t know what extra work he should do, what’s most important is that he ask for help.

“What does ‘advocate’ mean?” his case manager asked him.

“Getting what you need basically,” Dylan said.

YES!  He knows what it means!  We’ve only been discussing it since fourth grade – so now we know he really understands advocacy.

And yet, he doesn’t know what homework he should do.

“So you could ask a teacher to tell you what the homework is,” someone suggested.

It was around that point in the meeting that I noticed Dylan gazing off at a poster of snow-capped mountains.  He didn’t seem the least bit interested.  Apparently, an hour of discussing his needs is WAY too much time on one topic.

I think everyone agreed on that point.

So we sent him back to class, to self-advocate at will.  Hopefully, he’ll follow some logical progression toward order and organization.  Perhaps he’ll find out what the homework is and when to turn it in.  Perhaps he’ll even turn in some homework on time!  Miracles have been known to happen.

But I got the distinct impression that knowing the meaning of “advocacy” and actually acquiring what he needs are two different things.

I wanted to yell at him as he walked out of the meeting room, “Okay, Son, now is the time!  Advocate! Advocate!”  I considered leaping from my chair and doing a little cheer, “ADVOCATE!  ADVOCATE!  YAAAAAAAAAY!”

I always have such high hopes on the day of an IEP meeting.  I expect wonderful things to happen at the meeting, and spectacular things to follow.

But Dylan just wandered out the door, and his dad and I followed shortly thereafter.

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