My IEP just ended, and now I’m missing my senior year

Three months ago, I had my last Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. I was told that in my senior year of high school, I wouldn’t qualify for special education.

At the time, it seemed like no big deal. I hadn’t been in a special education classroom in a few years and rarely used the accommodations outlined in my IEP. It seemed like a logical — even insignificant — next step.

But now that I’m missing my senior year because of what’s happening with the coronavirus, I realize how big that step actually was. 

I’m on the autism spectrum (previously Asperger’s syndrome), which has made it difficult for me to express my thoughts and feelings in a socially acceptable way. My emotions spilled out in my tone and body language. I came across as defiant because my frustration presented itself as pulling my hair and shaking. And I wasn’t able to read the nonverbal cues of the people around me.

My teachers weren’t able to give me the concrete instructions I needed to learn. So, in fourth grade, I started getting special education to build the skills I needed to solve these challenges. 

The development of my skills has been gradual. I progressed from special education classrooms to mainstream classrooms with an aide for support. Then, to mainstream classrooms with accommodations in my IEP, and finally in high school to mainstream classrooms with no support.

Now there’s a new, unexpected step in that progression. Like students across the nation, I’m currently taking my classes online because my school was shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

Just a week or two ago, I was focused on being the school photographer and editor-in-chief of the yearbook. In the past, I wouldn’t have been able to take this leadership role. But this year I reached a point where both my yearbook teacher and I felt I was ready.

In class, I was constantly running around. At any given moment, I was teaching people how to use the design program, showing someone how to take a photo, or discussing and delegating an assignment to one of my editors. I take immense pride in the fact that I’m looked at as someone who is there to help, rather than as someone who needs to be helped.

But now I can’t help my staff from home. I’m scrambling to finish the yearbook by myself so it can be published on time. I can’t connect with classmates by photographing spring sports or graduation because those have been canceled. I’ve had tremendous growth over the years in socializing and have tried to put my skills to use. But what’s the point if we’re social distancing? 

The first week home, I was agitated. All of the structure in my life that I had both established and relied upon crumbled so easily, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

I hated the situation I was in, but I was also bothered by my inability to contain my feelings. I got stuck in my head, perseverating over trivial things like what to eat or how I came across in a text to my best friend. These things weren’t what I was actually frustrated with, but it’s how the frustration manifested.

For me, this felt like a regression to my earlier self, the one who couldn’t manage his emotions. It’s deeply upsetting because it made me realize how different I am now after years of constant work.

Now I’m trying to salvage my senior year while still dealing with the unique anxieties and thoughts that come with being me, and it’s overwhelming. School has been out over a week and I’m learning to navigate this difficult time.

I still feel frustrated, but acceptance has slowly replaced my anger as I realize that there’s no one person to be angry at. So anger doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. 

I’m trying to strike a balance between acknowledging that what I’ve lost matters — and acknowledging that many are suffering with this virus and my situation could be far worse.

Most importantly, I’m remembering all of the skills I’ve gained over the years. I’m slowly using them to reestablish a routine so I can feel at ease once again. I desperately want my “normal” senior year back, but I know I am as well-equipped as I can be to handle this strange version of it.

About the author

About the author

Jacob Lewis is an award-winning 17-year-old photographer and videographer with a passion for creating.