IEP meetings can be very stressful. I have been doing them for about forever. The longer I do them, the easier it gets. I would like to share some of the things I have learned over the years of many IEPs to make your meetings more productive and less confrontational. I have an autistic child, an ADD child, and a child in the gifted program. Yes, gifted children are considered “special education”!
One thing that makes our meetings easier is knowing all the “players” before we get to the meetings. I find that spending some time in the classroom during the school year is helpful. A few minutes at the beginning of the day, some lunches, reading to the class, helping the teacher with a project, or whatever you can do to get involved with the school will make it easier to know what is going on. You will then get a chance to meet the therapists, the aides, and the administrators. Hopefully you will have friendly contacts with them. I make an effort to be friendly and positive as much as possible.
You should also be able to work out any little issues that come up during the school year without too much trauma if you are involved at school. You should have worked out how you communicate back and forth daily with the teacher. When my autistic son was smaller, we sent a composition notebook in his backpack. I would get a summary of his day at school, and would write something every night or morning about what happened at home. This was important because he really doesn’t communicate well. The teachers could ask directed questions about what happened at home, and I could ask about what happened at school.
Remember that the meeting is about your child and how to get the best education for your child. Come into the meeting with a positive attitude. Think about the things that your child needs the most. Introduce yourself. Hopefully by now you have spent enough time in the classroom that you know most everyone and you get along. This makes the meeting easier.
If you are intimidated by these meetings, you are allowed to bring an “advocate”. This can be your social worker, a therapist, a family member or anyone that is involved with your child and knows the situation well. This must be cleared with the school first, but should not be a problem unless the person you choose has been a problem in the school system before. You could call other parents for suggestions about parent advocates who have helped them through the system.
At a certain age, the child is entitled to attend the meetings. Your child may or may not want to attend. My child in the gifted program thinks that the meetings are “a joke”. My child in the autism program just likes to get out of class. He is somewhat disruptive to the meetings, especially when he reaches his tolerance for sitting still. Sometimes he goes back to class at this point. But his opinion gets to be expressed.
The IEP should start with what your child has accomplished since the last IEP. If this is your first one, they start with what your child’s strengths are at this point. Then the discussion should be about the things the child needs to work on and how the school plans on doing these things. Each different area will make a presentation. For example, you may talk to the speech therapist first, then the occupational therapist, physical therapist, reading specialist, etc. There should also be a presentation from the classroom teacher.
My husband and I have worked out signals for when the other one is getting a little worked up. I also take a water bottle to take sips when I need to calm down, and a pen and paper to take notes. All distraction techniques to keep from saying something I might regret. (I’m the one that tends to get hot headed first, my husband the one that gets stubborn longest). We discuss things before the meeting, so we agree on our main points before we even start the meeting. He managed to restrain me from reaching across the table and causing physical harm to the science teacher who called my autistic son “retarded”. He also kept me from asking the principal to fire the English teacher who said she “didn’t have time” to let me know if my ADD child wasn’t turning in his homework “because she had 129 other students”. Gee, I thought letting a parent know the child is failing is your job!
Also remember that you don’t have to sign the IEP. You can disagree. You can ask for another meeting if you didn’t get the things done that you felt you needed. Do not feel pressured to do all the things that the school says you have to do. Remember that this is the plan for your child’s next school year. Of course, if you feel that things are not going well during that year, you can always ask for another meeting.
As my autistic son loves to say, “Smile, Mom! I’m having a great day!” Have a great meeting, and take good care of your child.