As a mother of a special needs child, I know all about the dreaded IEP meetings. As a parent, I know these meetings are important. I need and want to see my son’s process as well as be a part of the goal setting process. Having a child on the spectrum isn’t easy. Still, I want him to have a quality education despite his vast amount of medical needs. Through many years of suffering and pulling my hair out, I have found that parents must be proactive with their school system as you will not always see eye to eye. If you are facing an IEP meeting, here are some tips to ensure you get the best possible outcome.
Don’t Be Afraid To Advocate For Your Child
Some school systems are easier to deal with than others. While it is not that they don’t have your child’s best interest at heart, but they process so many of these reports that it becomes monotonous. You are the best advocate for your child. Do as much advance work as possible. Look at grades, evaluation results, and testing. Then compare that with the medical diagnosis and the doctor’s expectations. The school always has a psychologist weigh in on mental issues. Don’t be alarmed as this is routine.
Have a list of questions prepared that you want to be answered. If they set goals that you think are too complex or not complex enough, don’t be afraid to have your say. Your child should be challenged without being frustrated. You must agree with the bulk of their planning to sign off on it. They need your signature for processing. The goal is to come together for the good of the child and to work together for the benefit of their education.
Get A Copy of The IEP Before the IEP Meeting
Many school districts will give you a copy of the IEP in advance. Over the past 10 years, I have found my share of mistakes in their reports. If you have some time to look over the report, you will be able to quickly identify these errors. Also, it gives you a chance to make sure that you agree with everything. If you go to the meeting and try to grasp the seemingly 50-page report in a few minutes, then you will find it is an impossible task. Come prepared by knowing that report backward and forwards.
Keep Your Cool
When you look at the problems identified in your child, it is often a bitter pill to swallow for most parents. While you think your child is flawless regardless of their medical issues, the school system has focused the issues. If you find yourself overwhelmed and upset during the meeting, then you need to ask for a break. Take five minutes and cool down. The last thing you or your child needs is you to be at odds with their support system. Remember, they are not going to take things personally like you. It’s not their child. They are just there to educate. Most of them, see your student as one of the hundreds.
I remember the first IEP meeting I had. One of the teachers stated that my child was unteachable in many ways. I became so aggravated that I could have screamed. I shouted, “well, why are you a teacher if you cannot teach?” The principal stepped in and helped to calm things down. Later, I realized that she was just as frustrated as I was. She is trying to help my son, and she was making no headway. You must be open-minded and see things from all viewpoints before jumping to conclusions. The reports don’t always say the nicest things, but they are truthful. You need to have your game face on and be open minded.
Use “We” Not “I” To Collaborate With Staff
Never use the word “I” in an IEP meeting. You want to seem to have a sense of collaboration with the group. Using “we” makes it feel like you are a team, which you should be. You don’t want to single out any staff members or set yourself aside from the majority. A sentence should be worded as follows: “We all see that Jesse is really struggling with math. What are some ways that we can help him to do better?” By making it about “we”, you join forces for the good of the child. Everybody needs to be a team player.
Prioritize Your Requests
You may have goals for your child that are not in line with what the school feels is possible. There is no way that you will agree 100 percent with everything in the report. Make a list of the goals you have and things you notice that needs discussing. Prioritize your list. If your child is struggling in math, then you need to make sure it is top on the list. Math is an important skill they will need all through life. Your list should have your “hot topics” on top. Perhaps they cannot accommodate everything on your list, but they can accommodate some of your requests.
Utilizing Your Support System
The same support system that helped you with your child’s education can also help in the event of their passing. Unfortunately, as parents, we must understand that special needs children often have medical needs that surpass their educational ones. Your IEP team is support in one of the toughest battles of your life. Think of all the ways you can preserve these precious memories. Take thousands of photos, make picture books of your child’s artistic creations, have a journal dedicated to your child’s special moments and accomplishments, customize and order soft personalized stadium blankets, do anything to capture as many memories as you can. Because no one knows what tomorrow holds, it is important to work as hard as you can to make today precious.
Don’t get too upset with the teachers or staff members at these meetings. If you don’t get where you need to be on the IEP report during the IEP Meeting, you can always go over their head. The Individualized Education Plan is a legal and binding document. It is the school’s responsibility to ensure that they provide all services, accommodations, and modifications listed in it. If they don’t stick to the plan, you can file a complaint with the Special Education Department.