It can be hard not to go into an IEP meeting with an attitude of “me vs. them”, ready to defend your child. Especially if you’ve been pelted with behavioral labels, accused of not disciplining enough, or relentlessly badgered about why you are not medicating. And believe me, I’ve been called some really inappropriate names during some IEP meetings by Special Ed district representatives that could have cost them their jobs.
No parent should be a doormat, but I encourage you to try a shift in your attitude before your next meeting. This hasn’t been an easy journey for me, especially during the two-year diagnosis process that seemed to be more about what category my child fell in than what he needed to help him be more successful in the classroom.
However, when I started coming from a place of appreciation, partnership, and resourceful ideas the IEP process really transformed into a positive experience. I’m not saying there aren’t any challenges or issues, or that all the resources I feel should be in place are. There are still budget constraints and understaffed schools; there are still many misunderstandings about what he can help and what he does to try and ease a sensory experience. But we are much closer these days, especially when I come into the process with honesty, willingness, and an open mind.
Appreciation. Instead of balking about what I see wrong straight out of the gate, I always start with comments of celebration and sincere thanks for what the teachers and staff ARE providing. Remember, their job isn’t easy, either!
Keep moving forward. I like to keep a solution-oriented tone in the meetings, regardless of any disappointments or misunderstandings I may have experienced in prior sessions. By focusing on what I feel NEEDS to happen instead of all the things we tried that didn’t work out so great, it keeps the whole team in a forward momentum. This doesn’t mean I ignore things that went wrong, but fixating on them will not lend anything to the outcome of the meeting. Remember, we are ultimately there to find and ask for tools that will help our children succeed.
Bring some tools of your own. I am always researching scheduling ideas, resources, and routines to help us at home. I like to come into IEP meetings with a list of things that are currently working well for us, adjusting each for the classroom if I can. I also openly talk about some of the challenges I still experience and ask for input. It’s been my experience that these simple actions can be disarming and set the stage for working together.
Keep talking about the goal. Whenever we get hung up on a certain behavior or issue and I feel things may be getting tense or heated, I sometimes break the moment with a statement like, “My goal for him is to teach him to ask for xxxx appropriately, or self-correct if he is able,” or “I’m aiming for a decrease in the need for small-group time this quarter.” Sometimes we just need a small reminder of why we are there.
Aim high. Every so often, the team will suggest a support be put in place before we have experienced it. I have actually asked for the least amount of support at times to see what my son was capable of. By assuming he will have trouble in a certain situation without actually letting him try is setting him up to aim low in the future. Sometimes they really surprise you!
Overall, it is very easy to take things personally and experience frustration in the IEP process. You know your child best. However, I have personally seen the magic that happens when I have shifted the focus to taking the higher road and keeping my side of the street clean. There’s a strange ripple effect in your world when you stop expecting everyone to be against you : )