So you have an IEP. You might wonder why. What is so special about you that you need special education? Maybe it’s something new for you, or maybe you’ve been in the special education system for your entire school career. Chances are you have questions about why everything is different for you. Perhaps you wonder when special education is going to start helping you read better or finally understand math. You might wonder when you’ll no longer need special education. This article probably won’t answer any of that. It will assure you of something, though. Your teachers and everyone else at your school really are trying to help you, even if what they’re doing isn’t really working.
Somewhere along the way, someone decided that for whatever reason, you needed extra support. You struggled with some subject, or perhaps with all of them. School frustrated you. It may have made you want to withdraw, or maybe lash out instead. Watching others who seemed to just “get it” made you feel worse about yourself. Whether your teachers brought it up or you parents brought it up to them, you needed more help than what most of your peers were getting. This didn’t necessarily make you feel “special” in a good way.
You might know precisely why you’ve had difficulty in school. You might be well aware of some condition you have that makes learning difficult for you. Perhaps your doctor told you about this when you were younger, or he or she told your parents and they told you. Someone at school might have explained it to you. At first, you might not have understood. Maybe instead you understood, but rejected the suggestion. Acceptance of your situation might have been gradual.
Then again, perhaps no one ever explained any of this in a way that made sense. You just know you were struggling, some people evaluated you, and few big meetings later, you had an IEP. You knew this meant was you were going to get some kind of special treatment. What this special treatment would be might have been explained to you, but it might not have.
Now, you get that special treatment. You get that extra support. You might take different tests, or you might take them in a different place and with more time than your peers get. You might get printed copies of the notes for class. You might get different assignments, special equipment, or even an assistant to help you with your personal needs. You might see a special education teacher or a speech therapist a few times per week. You might even be in an entirely different class for some parts of the school day.
How you feel about all of this depends on many factors. It depends on you. Do you feel weird about exceptions being made for you? Do you feel singled out in front of your friends? It depends on how much support you get, too. Do other kids even notice what your teachers do for you? Do you think you get too little, or too much support? Importantly, it depends on whether or not you think it all helps. Does the support you receive help you keep up in your classes? Does it help you understand?
Special education might not seem worth the effort to you if you still feel like you’re lost at school. Even with the extra help, you still might struggle to “get it.” Your classes might continue to overwhelm you. If you’re in a class just for kids with IEPs, you might feel it moves too slowly. Going to see your special education teacher might feel like going to someplace safe, but you might wonder whether or not going makes any difference with your learning. Doesn’t anyone know a way to really help you?
The frustrating truth is the help you’re getting might be the most help you can get. In most schools, your teachers, counselors, therapists, paraprofessionals, and principals are indeed trying to help you. They want to help you. They just might not be able to do much more than they’re doing.
The law that allows you to get support has a weird way of limiting how much support you can receive. Your parents have to attend all those meetings and sign all that paperwork because of this law. The goal of the law is to help you stay in same the classes as your peers, but this same law urges schools to offer you the minimum support that’s necessary for you to make progress. Offering you more would be considered an interference with your right to the same education your peers get, even though these services might be the only way for you to access that education. Confusing, yes.
Take a look around at your school. If your school is having trouble paying for this and that, it might not be able to give you more help because it might not be able to afford it. Your school gets extra money to help kids with needs like yours, but it still has to buy supplies. It still has to pay teachers and assistants. When you hear about cuts to programs and staff, know that these cuts can affect the help you receive. Not all schools can afford to do special education well. You might have noticed this if you’ve attended several schools.
Even in the best schools, the people paid to help you might not know how to do any more than what they’re doing. Thanks to the law that grants you services, your special education teacher has so much paperwork to do that he or she might have difficulty finding time to help you. Having twice as much time might not matter, though. Education isn’t a clear-cut as medicine. Some learning problems don’t really have remedies. Many studies have been done and books have been written about helping kids with special needs. For all of this research, kids who struggle in school tend to continue struggling even with special education services. Schools come up with ways to help students cope, but educators don’t really know how to actually fix learning problems.
For as frustrating as school might sometimes seem, just know the professionals working with you probably are trying their best. They face limitations, but they’re doing what they can to help you despite these. They want to see you do well. This might not be comforting enough if you’re still struggling. It might not be enough to keep your parents happy, either. You shouldn’t feel like you’re making everyone have to do something difficult for your sake. It isn’t your fault. However, blaming your school might not be helping anything. The school is trying. Your teachers are trying. Work with them. Be patient and see what they can do to help. Together, you might find something that works—or at least works better than whatever you had been doing before.