If you’re like 99% of the parents of a special needs child the IEP meeting or Individualized Education Plan meeting can be more intimidating than a visit from the IRS. IEP meetings are filled with well-meaning educators, principals and children’s advocates that speak a language so foreign you feel as if you need a translator. IEP meetings determine the educational goals your child will have for the entire year. If they’re too low, he may meet them all early in the year and feel like he’s wasting his time, which is frustrating. If they’re too high, he may not be able meet many of them and that’s also frustrating. The IEP meeting is your chance to have input as to what is appropriate for your child’s goals based on his abilities and progress from the previous year. Here are five simple steps to insure a great IEP meeting.
They are your partners. They are your team for your child’s education. You cannot lead a team that you refuse to join. Treat everyone at the table with respect. It goes back to the basic rule you learned in kindergarten. Treat them, as you would like to be treated. The future of your child’s education lies not only in your hands, but also in theirs.
This is not a meeting to debate who is right or wrong. It is a meeting to determine an individualized education plan that suits your child’s needs. Every child is different, as is every adult. Try to be patient with them as you explain your child’s method of learning. You must be as or more educated about the objective realities of your child’s disability so you can talk to these people as your peers.
You know your child better than anybody else. If certain methods have been proven to teach your child bring evidence of this to the meeting. For example, if your child is a visual learner, bring a copy of the visual cues that you use to teach your child anything from potty training to where to hang his coat.
For instance, on our microwave there is a picture of popcorn with the number 3 so Justin knows that when he closes the door and pushes 3 minutes that the popcorn will cook. On our refrigerator we have side-by-side water and ice so there is a picture of the ice cubes where they come out and water where it comes out.
At school he has a visual schedule that starts at nine in the morning. At his school playtime is from 9-9:30am so we move the “little magnetic Justin man” to the swings for that half hour. Then his teacher sets the timer for 30 minutes so Justin knows when the timer goes off that it’s time for the “little magnetic Justin man” to move from the swings to the library.
4. Spend time listening
Pay attention and takes notes. Sometimes it’s hard to listen if someone is saying something you think you don’t want to hear. Keep in mind what they are saying, even though at first it may not be what you want to hear, may be the key to your child’s education.
This happened to me. I did not want Justin to be in four hours a day of inclusion (where autistic children go to regular classrooms). All I could envision was children making fun of him. Little did I know the friends he would make.
For the first two weeks inclusion was very hard for Justin. After all this was a regular classroom with regular rules. No meltdowns allowed. Eventually the very children who I thought would make fun of him taught him how to behave. Justin was assigned a buddy named Sam and a buddy named Dan. Sam and Dan helped him find his chair and even held his hand to calm him down when he started to get aggravated. Sam and Dan have moved up a grade and Justin has not. But they still come visit him every day. When Justin crossed the finish line at the Special Olympics Sam and Dan made a banner that had the handprint of all their classmates and it said, “High five for Justin. You go Justin!!!!!” And just think, if I would have turned a deaf ear on this idea of inclusion what my child would have missed.
It’s a federal law that you must receive a copy of the minutes and the goals set at your IEP meeting. Go ahead and schedule weekly communication with all your child’s teachers. In Justin’s case we have “the traveling folder” that stays in his backpack. Justin’s teacher and I write notes back and forth two and three times a week.
It’s an excellent source of communication and at the end of the year it’s also an excellent record of how far your child has come. Speak with the teacher and ask what method is most convenient for him/her. Sometimes it’s email, sometimes a telephone call, but for us the folder has served all purposes. You also need to schedule your next IEP meeting while everyone is there. I didn’t do that the last time and now have to try to resolve schedule conflicts with all involved. And it’s a huge pain when your average IEP meeting has four to six participants. Next time, I won’t forget.
Hopefully these tips will help you with handle all the challenges of school in the coming years. IEP meetings are the backbone of your child’s education. You act as the chiropractor and adjust them as you see fit.
Help is out there. Go to http://www.autismfamilycircus.com for more guidance and information. Donna Richards, autism advocate and expert, is mother of five sons, one with autism. She is author of My Brother’s Keeper, a kindergartner’s view of autism, a book written with her son Jace when he was 6 years old.