I really have no reason to be scared. Truthfully it isn’t the actual meeting that makes my stomach tie in knots, it is the horror stories I hear all over the country about how hard it is to get services for our kids.
It is the anticipation of a fight. And even though I may be Evander Hollyfield in my mind, the school district is known to be Mike Tyson--and in this heavy weight battle there is so much to do, that I am afraid I will forget to cover my ears.
That said, my IEP meetings have been few and far between, but also very pleasant.
I think that is because we don’t qualify for anything. (I can hear you laughing)
Again, my motto is, “If you can’t laugh at my life, you have no sense of humor.”
Gabriel qualifies for Speech for articulation issues. So he gets to see the school SLP for about 20 minutes once a week. That’s it.
My life has been considerably easier in dealing with the limited services that Gabriel qualifies for, in that I truly believe that the entire staff of our public school wants Gabriel to succeed. You are probably saying "Shouldn't every school feel that way about every kid?" Sounds great in philosophy (like "no kid left behind" did...), but in reality, that isn't how it works.
Which is why I feel like it is easier for me to trust my school since I believe that from the principal to the custodian each and every adult that runs into my kid during the day actually likes him and is willing to go out of their way to help accommodate him.
Yes that is mostly luck. And partially due to Gabriel being so damn cute. : )
However, as Gabriel gets older and not every person in the world is going to think he is the Shiz-nit like I do, (hard to believe, I know), I think it is important that we lay a good foundation of accommodations and services in his IEP that will act as a safety net for the times when his behavior isn’t exactly flawless.
That means that this Fall we will have our IEP meeting as soon as it is humanly possible to go over the new diagnosis, PDD-NOS and Mood Disorder NOS—
SIDE NOTE: Just so you know, I love the acronym NOS.
I have begun using it any time I feel the need to be vague.
“Are you ever going to fold the laundry?!”
Doesn’t that rock? It is like you don’t have to pin point anything.
How about this one:
“Mrs. Steiner, you haven’t paid your water bill this month. When do you intend on paying it?”
OK, OK, and last one:
“Why are you angry with me?!”
“I just am, NOS.”
If only NOS could be applied in the real world, I would get away with a lot more.
Now back to the IEP.
I am sure the meeting I have with the school staff will be successful. I also know that I work regularly to make sure my relationship with all of them stays positive.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I definitely walk a fine line between Bitchy and Controlling with the added bonus of being slightly overprotective. And for those reasons, I have been kicked out of preschool and a doctor’s office while protecting my kid.
I have to be careful, since I truly do not want to get kicked out of his current school. Which may not be possible, but trust me, I think I could find a way. ; )
Which means we have to have a game plan.
And yes, Mrs. Fuglevand, our principal, reads this occasionally. So,
“Hi Brenda! Hope summer is going well! Let me know if you want to add any great tips to my series here on how to work with your school to make a better IEP.”
If she emails any great ideas, I'll post them.
My IEP Meeting Tips:Come prepared. Yes, you have to come prepared, duh! Bring current copies of all private assessments your child has gone through, from OT, SLP, psychologist, whomever your child sees over the summer (or up until now, including previous IEPs from previous schools/preschools). Providing up to date info shows you value everyone's time and that you are not looking to have them redo the testing. Prepare emotionally to be as neutral as possible--you want to be a team player. Do not come with that chip on your shoulder that you have such a hard time dusting off. Let's try to assume that everyone wants the same thing: a successful and happy kid. Put the past behind you. This is a new year and new starts can be great for everyone--yes, even you.
Know the law. It seems complex and awfully daunting, but you do need to know the actual law you are exercising. Those legal rights granted you by the Individual Education Plan (click here to see the law), must be followed by all parties. Common misconceptions are how your child qualifies for the services (OT, SLP, PT, etc at school). If you are on a preschool IEP currently, the qualifications for a school aged IEP are different. Yes. Shocking, but true. Once you move into the school aged IEP program you are having your child qualify under academic rules. Your child must test two standard deviations below in every category you are looking for support in. This is really hard to show for a smart (as most of our kiddos are exceptionally smart; with above average IQs) kids that are on target academically. Also, please realize that your school legally only has to give your kid enough to be academically successful. Lots of semantics here, so know your law. Oh, and you can just go down to the school and ask for a free brochure--on IEP rights and/or 504 rights--or call and have one mailed to your house. District offices are usually open most of the summer, and school offices generally open beginning of August.
Know what you want. Don’t show up without a list of your child’s deficits, how they affect him academically and what can be done to support/accommodate the issue. Hello? Make it simple, lay it out, ask for what you want. In life, you only get things you ask for.
Be realistic. I hate to say it, but the school’s job is to educate your child. Not to regulate him any longer necessary to allow him to learn something. Don’t shoot for the moon on everything. This has to be doable for everyone in the constraints of the system. They are educators, teachers and administrators; this is their job. We are parents, moms and dads; this is our life. See the difference? Job vs. Life.
Negotiate. This may have the fuzzy exterior of being "for your child" but it is a negotiation plain and simple. You are there wanting a level 10 and their goal is to provide a level 3. In order for any negotiation to be successful, both parties have to leave the table feeling like they got what their way. Sticking to your guns and being stubborn are very similar--walk that line carefully but keep your eye on the prize.
Set GOALS. Yes, IEP goals are supposed to be just that—goals. Which means that they should be attainable and measurable. Don’t put “will complete homework”. Instead, “Will turn in homework on-time 80% of the time without penalty.” Everyone should know what you are working towards and why.
Do not remove goals until they are met. Require the school to show what goals have been met--make them accountable. If the goal on last year's IEP has not been met, it stays on this year's IEP. Period. The school's goal is to remove goals as to make the IEP easier to comply with. Once a goal is on there, don't let it go unless you feel that skill has been reached successfully by your child over enough time that you and your kid think that it has moved into "always accomplishes" category.
Think about accommodations carefully. For example, if you are asking the teacher to modify assignments, think about what exactly your child needs. You don’t always need more time—maybe you need a different kind of assignment? You know, instead of asking for an extra week or two to write a 10 page paper, ask for a 5 page paper and the ability to do a visual aid to accompany it for the same credit. Be creative. Think outside the box.
Advocate, Attorney or other. My goal for my child is to avoid this phase. I am much more concerned about maintaining the team spirit and keeping my focus on my goal: a happy child. I am not sending my kid to school to learn to write and read. Shocked? You shouldn't be. I am sending my kid to school to to learn to control his behavior, maintain his arousal, monitor his body, practice social skills, make friends, learn about the world, be independent, make choices for himself, learn cause and effect, and consequences all in a real world environment (or closer to real than home is). If he learns the life cycle of a plant, that is BONUS. The obvious exception to this is if he is failing, doing so badly that it is affecting his self esteem, or if there is some other detrimental unforeseen circumstance that can only be changed by drastically changing his schooling. Then, I say, get an advocate that knows the law inside out and can actually voice in the correct rhetoric what you are wanting--and help you get it. I would warn against the attorney route unless you are so far escalated you can't handle it or if your child's rights are blatantly and unforgivably being violated. The last statistics I heard in our state were that 90% of cases failed without an attorney and a staggering 85% still failed with an attorney. Save your money people.
The IEP process is very daunting. I know so many families who have struggled with their school to receive services for their child.
This hasn't been my experience. And I don't want it to be yours.
Every family is different, but my main message for success here is be educated, be a team player and stay positive.
There are so many battles in your life--trust me, I know--but this doesn't have to be one.
Start preparing yourself for the "beginning of the year IEP meeting" so that you can take a deep breath once it is over--and successful.
Remember, I am not an attorney, nor an "IEP" advocate by profession, just a mom out there struggling like you are to get my kid everything he needs to be successful.
The good news is Gabriel is young. He and I have plenty of time.
You do too.