Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: Johh-Morgan

It’s spring, which means it’s IEP season. My third one. Simply put, that means it’s time to get together with our special education team and discuss my children’s present level of performance in school, come up with annual goals for next year, and decide what special education services they will need. At the end of the process we will have an Individualized Education Program for each of them, a document that we will revisit periodically to check their progress.

This year is more complicated, and since I’m in the throes of it right now and it’s all I can think about, I’m posting about it here. This year, they will transition from preschool to kindergarten. Our previous IEP meetings have been relatively short, painless affairs with a few teachers and therapists we’ve gotten to know quite well after three years at the same school. At our meeting last week at the new kindergarten, there were no fewer than eight teachers and other professionals, only two of whom we knew. And it ended up being quite a marathon—we were there for three hours. On the one hand, it was wonderful meeting the people who will be working with our sons next year, and I’m honestly humbled that they all took so much time out of their day to hammer out the details of the IEP with us. On the other hand, it was also pretty intimidating.

Also, eligibility for special education services runs on a three-year cycle in our school district. So my boys have undergone a whole battery of tests and evaluations over the past month or two to determine their eligibility, and I’ve been collecting the reports as they come home and adding them to the pile. And obviously, the reports I awaited most eagerly, the ones I took out of their envelopes and read in the school parking lot before I even started the car, were the results of the bilingual speech and language evaluation.

Since my boys started attending a special education program, our lives have been full of tests and evaluations and results and percentiles. And though my boys’ strengths are outlined in their IEPs, they mostly address their “areas of need.” If you choose to dwell on those things, it can be dispiriting. So while the bilingual evaluation report included plenty of these, I hardly noticed them. Other phrases jumped out at me instead: Seemed to be equally bilingual in English and Spanish for receptive and expressive language. Was able to talk to this clinician in Spanish using complete, well-elaborated grammatical sentences. It was not necessary to use much English. There were a few informal language samples. It is so rare to get a professional’s objective opinion on their Spanish skills that I pored over every word. In the middle of such a stressful time, getting positive feedback about their Spanish was a nice boost.

My favorite part about the speech evaluation wasn’t included in the report, it was a story the wonderful Ms. E, Secondo’s speech therapist, shared with me later. She’s worked with him for two years now, and though she speaks some Spanish, she works with him exclusively in English. She was in the room while the bilingual speech pathologist was conducting the evaluation. At one point, a question was asked in Spanish and Secondo was silent. Ms. E gently prompted him by repeating the question, in Spanish.

“No,” my once severely speech-delayed son told her, looking her straight in the eye. “You. Speak. English.”

That is the story I keep coming back to when I’m overwhelmed by the percentiles and areas of need, when I need to remember how far my boys have come. It makes me smile even as I face that second IEP meeting tomorrow—even if it does last three hours.

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