Guest blogger Portia Dawson is a wife and mom of four sons, one of which was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Ten years later, she continues to write about their journey to promote awareness and acceptance for those living with autism.

IEP meetings are always daunting to me. I walk into a room, with artificial smiles, covering up true disregard for me and my child. Attendance only out of obligation and time away from their routine is clearly an inconvenience. Straight forward voices…no inflection, just a sign that hope has no shot in that room. Questions, requests and worries are tabled or swept under the rug of forget as if we have said something too preposterous. And the documents…these lovely papers are passed with dismissed sincere care and no expectations whatsoever. The beginning of my advocacy for my son started in these types of rooms. If I didn’t try and alter perspectives or fight for change, my son would still hold a seat in a classroom where the bare minimum took place and no one would have noticed that his brain had drifted far from the location his focus needed to be. Callie is a name on a file. The diagnosis has become the heading. For years, we’ve watched the story unfold. Yes, a couple of memorable years have surfaced but almost unrecognizable today, because all of the other years have submerged in countless pessimistic views based on the diagnosis alone and not the child.

Not all IEP meetings are facts, goals (not discussed) and meeting adjourned. Many parents are fortunate to have open, kind-hearted and protective educational team members. Finding ways to unleash new course material to a child at their level of understanding is the team’s motto. Receiving help from parents is embraced and appreciated. And honestly, this should be the norm across the board, but there are some, myself included, that struggle to get their child to fit into the system. Identification of what’s wrong is at the forefront. Assessments are made and the results are concentrated on. Strengths take a backseat. Consequently, the child is hidden behind a lot of jargon that really doesn’t explain how the child will master these goals. What plan of action is in place for lessons to be broken down to their level of comprehension? Are the parents’ concerns to be silenced all because the district’s approach is etched in stone with no room of adjustment? Is it possible to come into the room, drop the label and be willing to discover the greatness that each child possesses? Based on my experience, there seems to be a lot of conversations, but the content has failed to see the child. Now we have settled for what is available, what is convenient and what they think is best. I’m saddened by the many beautiful faces who are lost in transition from one year to the next. At school dismissal, the staff close the book for the day, while the parents are left confused about what knowledge their child has actually obtained….wondering where’s progress. I see my son. I am not oblivious to his challenges, neither am I blindfolded by it where his capabilities go undetected. I know there’s more to Callie but do they?

I worry about other parents who are like sponges and accept every word uttered. Some parents do not know, that just because this establishment has been in existence for years, that doesn’t equate to an automatic mute once you arrive. They do not realize that they are crucial to the decision making process for their child and their concerns are always valid. Many parents don’t grasp that hope is real and a diagnosis does not dictate growth, comprehension, progress, or life. No one has taken time to say, “Where do you see your child at the end of the year?” and truly mean it. Sometimes the room represents dampened dreams instead of aspirations, and we walk away asking what just happened. Often times, there is a disconnect between parents and professionals. They give us their expertise and their years of learning combined with service. We give them our child…our heart and soul, in hopes that at the end of every discussion, whether a period or question mark concludes the sentence ….there is a child….my child needing to be taken seriously……needing to be seen.