Why the IEP Was Not For Me

by Lyn Bopp

Choosing not to have an IEP for a child who is hard of hearing is a difficult decision and a controversial one, but by the time our son Cameron had completed his first two years of preschool, we had made that choice. Having been born with a physical deformity of his right ear and unilateral hearing loss, it was automatically recommended that he have and Individual Education Plan. However, Cameron was a high performer and was already reading some sight words. His preschool teachers had been very accommodating and sensitive to his needs, so instead of going ahead with the IEP, our instinct was to give him the opportunity to go to kindergarten without starting his educational career with the stigma of "special needs." My teaching experience (albeit a decade ago in another state) left me with the impression that educators feel that special needs kids always require intervention and differentiated education. My determination to give him as normal a life as is possible without the stigma of a visible birth defect led me to steer clear of the IEP and the labels associated with it. Because he was socially right on track and academically solid, we felt that as long as his teachers were sensitive to his hearing needs and agreed to accommodate him by giving him preferential seating and a little extra dose of patience if he missed some directions, he would not need, nor would we want a legal document to guide his education. So far, it has worked for us. The benefits are that we don't have to put Cameron through IEP evaluations, label him, or attend uncomfortable meetings to discuss his needs in the classroom.

The downside to avoiding the IEP is that it is difficult to notify every educator and support person with whom he comes in contact of his needs. And once they have been notified, his situation is often taken less seriously without the IEP, and is sometimes forgotten altogether because he performs well academically. Cameron had one year when he was in trouble a number of times at school for "not listening to instructions" when he actually never heard them. I do think that if he'd had an IEP, this wouldn't have happened as much. Fortunately, as he grows and matures, we can help him learn to self-advocate in these instances when he truly doesn't hear something because of his hearing loss. This is an issue he will have to deal with for the rest of his life. He won't have an IEP for his job training or his business conference when he's grown and the sooner he learns how to advocate for himself, the better.

We're not diametrically opposed to the IEP and we haven't ruled it out for the future, especially if Cameron's academic performance drops, as nearly one-third of children with unilateral hearing loss do. And I'm seriously looking at a 504 plan for him as middle school approaches and teachers go from seeing twenty-five kids per day to one hundred and twenty-five per day or more. For now, though, we're comfortable with our decision to take the road less traveled and we feel that it is the right choice for Cameron. We know that the IEP is always there and available to him if he should need it and we're glad for that! We may need it someday!

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