We adopted our first son through domestic infant adoption. He was perfect, but I spent the first year of his life terrified. I second-guessed every decision we made as parents. I felt so honored to be parenting this boy; the last thing I wanted to do was “break” him.  

We began noticing things about him that were different around the age of 18-24 months. Whenever I’d bring things up to our pediatrician, she would make note of them and then explain them away as age-appropriate or just his own funny way of living life.  

It wasn’t until we brought home our second son that we noticed a significant change. The boys shared a room. Our older son would prefer quiet and dark, but our second son enjoys singing boisterously and continuously, preferably under bright lights. You can imagine how that worked out. We gave our eldest his own room shortly after the second’s arrival. Eventually our eldest son’s behaviors worsened, and little things that we didn’t give much thought to started making more sense. He was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD) two years ago.

We decided—by his pediatrician’s and early intervention teacher’s suggestion—to hold him back from kindergarten and put him in a kindergarten-readiness preschool. Shortly after the school year began we were approached by his teacher, who asked if we would be willing to meet with a special education teacher. Yes! This is what we were here for. Shortly thereafter, we sat down with his special education team. Over the coming weeks, they did a full evaluation. We met again shortly afterward. His SPED (special education) teacher wrote up her recommendations for an IEP. I consulted numerous friends and my father, who is a former SPED teacher. We signed and moved forward.

While he didn’t meet all his goals for the year (they were lofty, to be sure), he made significant progress. And with our second IEP meeting behind us now, I’m looking forward to the new year. We are fortunate to have very competent and proactive special education services in our district. But it’s up to a parent to be diligent.

Advocate, advocate, advocate. You know your child best, including what he or she needs to be successful in each situation. When you enter an IEP meeting, it helps to bring letters from former teachers, whether it be preschool, daycare, or Sunday school—anyone who can attest to your child’s needs. We also included a letter from our child’s pediatrician and occupational therapist speaking to his diagnosis and the challenges that may present. Bring someone knowledgeable with you! A friend of mine worked in our district’s special education program for years. She wasn’t able to attend our meeting, but it is our right to bring whoever we want.

If you’re months into the IEP and it’s not working for your child, ask for a meeting to change the IEP. You’ll want to check your state/local guidelines for the proper channel and process to request such a meeting. A great resource for help navigating the process is PACER. They can provide you with free information, answer your questions, and, in some cases, send a representative to be with you during the meeting.  

The most important piece is to know your child. Advocate. Build a support group of those who are familiar with your district and the laws and norms in your state. My biggest support has been an adoption support board that I’m a part of on social media. It’s filled with warrior moms and dads advocating for children with far more significant needs than my child. Don’t hold back. Ask. Ask for everything you’d love to see for support for your child. It may be granted if you just ask. Insist if you need to.

Parenting a child with an IEP can feel daunting. I certainly have much to learn and will continue to do that as he moves through his school years. I educate myself on his diagnosis, notice his changes, and learned his triggers and what makes him most insecure or anxious. I’ve sought out blogs and received many suggestions for helping him through school. They’re children counting on those who love them to make this process as safe and secure as possible for them. Trust your team. Get to know them. Ask other parents. There is no such thing as too much information.

Karla King is a passionate open adoption advocate, adoptive mom, foster mom, wife, reader, avid creator of food, stay-at-home mom, and Christian. She loves taking care of her family, supporting others on the adoption journey, and watching the world through her children’s eyes.