Midway through December, I had to go in to meet with the school district social worker as a part of this IEP. The social worker interviews the parent regarding the child's background and the parent's perception on their child's struggles. The social worker report is then entered into the IEP as well.
The social worker was nice enough and while I don't give out all of our family's information or the details of Keenan's personal story, I knew I could add enough to support our assertion that there are 'processing delays.'
What caught me off-guard, as I was answering questions, was the realization that I know nothing about this child.
Favorite foods? Well, he either likes the food, or he doesn't. And what he likes and doesn't like is inconsistent from one week to the next.
Favorite color? He cannot consistently label colors.
Favorite game? He flutters throughout the house, never committing to any one particular activity. He likes to just kind of check everything out.
Favorite book? Well, he likes them all. But if you ask what book he wants, he never knows. He just likes to look and ask questions about the pictures.
Favorite anything? Hmmmmm . . .
I felt horrible. Awful. What kind of person am I to bring a child into the home and then, 16 months later, have NO idea who the child really is?
Keenan is a happy, smiley kid. He has his meltdowns, although we're not always sure what triggers them. The triggers are inconsistent at best. But they are few and far in between. He never asks to go and do anything; he just kind of goes with the flow. The only need he ever expresses is to use the bathroom.
As I walked out of school, I thought about how much I know about Miles. I have a rather full understanding of who Miles is. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and always expresses himself (whether he means of doing that is appropriate or not is an entirely different post.) I can tell you Miles favorite and least favorite everything. Miles is Big and Loud and Full of Life, and many of his issues demand a lot of time and attention.
But Keenan. Beyond his happy face and silly antics, I guess Keenan is just here. I felt myself sinking into a pit of sadness and guilt. How could be a mom for over a year and still not know this boy?
This entire realization troubled me terribly. As soon as I got home, I plunked down on the floor next to Keenan and began to ask him what he wanted to play. Or read. Or color.
Smile. Eyes looking up and to the left. "Ummmmmmmm. . . . " no answer. Then Hatfield comes in with large posterboards and markers. "That!"
About 15 minutes into the coloring, Atticus walks by with his DSi. Keenan gets up and stands over his shoulder, watching.
I go into the kitchen to make dinner. Keenan wanders in, asks what I am making. I tell him. Big smile. "Smells GOOD, Mommy." he says.
I ask him if it is his favorite food. Eyes up to the left. Smile. "Ummmmmm. . . " I say, "What food do you like the very very most in the entire world. That is SO delicious you'd want to eat it everyday. "Ummmmm. . . " 3 minutes later, no answer.
I wanted to cry.
The next day I went in to see the Therapist. Who now jokes that I should move into the office next to his since I pretty much live in there (it's okay that he jokes about it; we're on good terms and he knows that we're very dedicated to helping our boys (and ourselves) get through this journey).
"Sarah, you don't feel this way because you're not investing yourself or time into this little boy. You have a little boy with impaired cognitive and emotional development, who was institutionalized from toddlerhood, and who has trauma issues. Those factors added all up, and it's understandable why you feel that you. You can't beat yourself up for it as though it's a sort of neglect on your part."
Truthfully, I should have known all of that. But hearing someone else tells you adds a sense of validation that sometimes we can't give ourselves.
A few days later, the BIG IEP meeting had FINALLY arrived. Going into it, I was suddenly fearful that maybe everything I thought about Keenan was wrong. Maybe I was neglectful. Maybe I was just too busy to notice or understand what he needs.
The IEP meeting, which was my first ever, was a full house. A social worker, kindy teacher, ESL teacher (and not just ESL! She holds four degrees, two of which are advanced!), speech/language pathologist, special ed teacher and a school pysch (but not my racial-profiling, doobie-smoking, isn't Haitian and Asian the same thing? school psych).
One by one, each specialist gave their reports. One by one, pieces of the puzzle were turned right side up and put together. One by one, a growing list of delays and concerns were identified. One by one, the long list of concerns that I had listed in my initial letter to the IEP team were validated.
While it sounds twisted to say it, my biggest feeling was RELIEF. While I may feel like I don't know this little boy, clearly my motherly intuition/connection was strong enough to know that something wasn't right. Something just wasn't clicking.
The good news is, Keenan's receptive language skills, while delayed, are considerably stronger than his expressive skills, which are grossly delayed (Since Keenan is a relatively new ESL student, he was mostly tested with nonverbal.) Our little guy has no skill set and system to get his needs across.
To walk out of that room, with a better understanding of what his delays are, was empowering. To walk out of that room with a plan, with a group of people who were taken by his adorable smile, deep dimple, willing spirit and sweet nature and who want to help him succeed, was humbling.
We have a long road ahead of us. Keenan will likely repeat kindy, which is fine by me. To move onto 1st grade, the school likes to see children has Level C Reading, Writing and Math Skills (the system begins with Level A, and as the levels progress the difficulty progresses.) Currently, even with a full year of 4-K and half a year of 5K, Keenan is a pre-pre-A.
After the IEP meeting, I took the report to the Therapist. We reviewed it and developed a plan to help Keenan with his expressive language skills at home.
Already I'm feeling the change in our house. Even though the news was not great--some wonderful and positive things are rising from it.
The Mister and Keenan got off to a rocky start from the get-go. There hasn't been a connection or bond between those two.
Yet, with the IEP results, I see a softening in Cliff's feelings towards Keenan. I see a huge growth in the Mister's "Daddy Lion" protective tendencies of his little boy. I cannot begin to describe what joy that brings to my heart.
Knowing Keenan's weaknesses, Keenan's strengths and weaknesses, has really helped Cliff remove the "box" of expectations he had previously placed Keenan in.
Right or wrong, I think as parents we all do it. Armed with this new knowledge, we are both able to better meet Keenan where he is.
That's one of the hardest parts of therapeutic parenting. To meet your child where he is, and not where you want him to be.
Because Keenan is who he is. I want to help him become the best Keenan he can be. And meeting him where he is right now is a good place to start.
And so that is what we'll do.