I have 4 kids. 3 IEPs. This is no joke, folks. IEPs are no laughing matter. We were part of the fifth largest school district in the nation with very few resources. We almost went to due process in our last full year. You might say, I’m seasoned. Weathered. Or worn.
But due to all this motherly seasoning and aging, there are a few helpful tips I’ve picked up along the way for this necessary event on behalf of my children.
- Dress for success. Way back when, when I knew nothing about IEPs, and had only 2 kids under 3, our early intervention program offered a class on what was next for our kids as they officially entered the school district, and their developmental needs would be handed over to this less than empathetic institution. The IEP was heading our naive way. I had no idea what all those acronyms were or why on earth we should be scared and, therefore, must be prepared for this seriousness. Couldn’t tell you one thing that was said, except this: “Show them you mean business by dressing like it.” You may not be an attorney or a doctor. You may or may not be college educated. Who among us has a ton of extra cash? But if you look like you are a professional, they will be more likely to treat you like you are one. It’s harsh. It’s not PC. But it’s the truth. And you are THE professional about your kids. Professionals will more likely show respect and not to try to take advantage of other professionals. Look the part. It’s simple. So do it.
- Get an educational advocate. Even if you don’t expect your child’s IEP to be complicated, if you walk into the IEP meeting with an advocate by your side, suddenly you’re not the one who starts to squirm in their seat. Advocates know the law and can help create accommodations and know particular ways to word things that can help you get what your kid needs. They can also help you feel and look more prepared, more professional and help you stay calm. You do not have to pay an attorney for this! Many advocates are free.
- Stay calm. It’s all so emotional. Our children are our life. When we start to feel the school professionals are not listening to us and willing to accomodate our children’s special needs, it’s really hard to stay calm. But if we start to lose our cool, we start to lose our accolades. We just look like a crazy parent. We might indeed be crazy parents, but we don’t want to appear that way to the school. We want to appear like we know what we’re talking about. We want them to hear us. Make it so they want to listen.
- Get an Independent Evaluation. This is a bit more tricky, but an EXTREMELY helpful tool. Schools do their own evaluations. But their evaluations are based on academics. Typically, schools are not trained in trauma. Trauma has had such a huge impact on our kid’s development that it’s important to have a professional evaluate them based on that. These are usually done by neuro psychologists. Neurological being key. Our kids neurology has been altered due to trauma, thereby affecting the way they learn. Schools are not equipped to test this. These evaluations are very expensive. However, once your school gives you their evaluation, if you do not agree with it’s findings due to insufficiency or other reasons, you can get an independent evaluation, and the school is required to pay for it (although will probably try to get out of it). That’s right! Read about the law here: Independent Educational Evaluation.
If we start to lose our cool, we start to lose our accolades. We just look like a crazy parent.
- Focus on your child’s needs, not school resources or teachers. This is where staying calm comes in big and why the advocate is so important. They can help you stay focused. Many, many schools are under-resourced. We all know that. Teachers can’t do it all. Schools can’t be expected to fix everything about our children. But the law is the law. And where there is a will and a need, there is a way. And IEPs can go with you wherever you go. So write it accordingly. When push comes to shove, the school must follow the law and what is written in the IEP. They WILL come up with the resources.
Keeping in mind that each school, district and state can “interpret” the law (if only I had $ every time I heard that one), don’t give up. But don’t let school rob your joy of being a parent either. I failed big time here. We’ve since moved on to a new school, district and state where we found a huge difference in our kid’s school experience and therefore mine. But I allowed the previous school to have power over me they never should have. I wish I walked away with my head held higher and the confidence that school is not all the system wants us to think it is. It’s a tool. That is all. School is not everything. Family is everything. We’ve got that covered. So bring on those IEPs, and know your child is in great hands with you by there side.
Are you approaching IEP review season? What have you learned from past experiences. What could you add to this list? Share in the comment section below this post.