This post is about three little letters that mean big, big things to any special needs family. Yes, I’m going there. I’m talkin’ IEP.
To be honest, I had another post about something entirely different half-written, and I’m going to have to get back to that another time. Because I just got back from my son’s IEP meeting and realized that I have to write about that right now.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: this post is not intended to be an exhaustive resource on what to expect from an IEP meeting, or how to effectively advocate for your child within the meeting. (For some awesome information like that, check out these articles: The 504 Plan versus The IEP or The IEP Team.
This post will be more about our own personal experience.
And, for the most part, that experience has been (surprisingly, perhaps), very good. From the beginning, our son has had an extremely dedicated team of insightful, enthusiastic, professionals; people who have all worked well together toward a common goal. Crazy, right? I know that can sound like a very unusual thing to those of you who have been down this road. There has been no screaming, no crying, no walking out of the meetings and refusing to sign the forms. We have never once considered removing our son from the school for any reason. (I know you’re thinking, “what is she smoking?”).
We’ve been very, very lucky.
This year, though, has brought some changes. Still no screaming or fighting, but changes nonetheless.
This year, for the first time, when I read the document prior to the meeting, I saw the first indications that some changes that the school and teacher are suggesting seem more motivated by what works for the school than by what works for my son.
So, now what? What do we do now? We like these people, our son likes these people, and we think that so much of what the school is doing is good stuff. But how do we advocate for our son in the meeting without, you know, screaming and yelling?
My first suggestion, if this happens to you, is to do whatever will help you work on those emotions before you enter the meeting room. Your child is best served if you are calm and focused, so work out your emotional stuff separately. Figure out whatever you need to do to get you to your place of Zen. For some, that involves prayer, long walks, yoga . . . For me it involved a treadmill cranked up to “sprint” and really, really loud gangsta rap. To each his own.
Because I had seen the IEP document before the meeting, I had a pretty good idea of what changes the school would be suggesting. So I did some research and I went to the meeting with documents, notes, and questions. That helped me stay on track and make sure I didn’t get sidetracked and miss something important (Easy to do when a dozen people are discussing a 49-page document).
Throughout the meeting, I took more notes. I listened to the points that the various educators and therapists were making. I showed them the respect that any true professional deserves. I think that’s important.
In the end of the meeting, when I felt that some things still didn’t sit right with me, I asked that certain paragraphs (called SDIs) be added to the document before I sign it. Remember, this is a legal document. For example, I am ok with some changes being made from now until the end of the school year, but I don’t necessarily want those changes to continue into next school year. So I asked for an SDI requiring the team to revisit these changes in the first month of the new school year. Turns out, you can do that.
But…some things still did not sit right with me. So, at the end of the meeting, for the very first time, I refused to sign. I didn’t yell or scream. I just said, “You know…I’d like to think about the wording on some of these things. Can you send me some backup information about these changes for me to read, and can I take this home with me and think this through before I sign it?” The answer to that was, and always should be, “yes.”
It was as simple as that. Well, sort of. Now I need to sit and think about the changes. I will talk them over with my husband, and I will draft some more paragraphs to add to the document. These amendments are intended to provide clarity and more detail to what seemed to me to be rather nebulous plans, and I will ask for detailed reporting in order to evaluate the success of the changes that the school wants to make.
I’m not certain the final document will be perfect, but I feel that I’ve done the best job possible of serving my son’s needs and leaving room for course corrections if we find them necessary.
And now, I want to hear from you. How have your IEP experiences been? What suggestions do you have for people who may be just starting out on this road? Please share your comments below—this community is here so that we can learn from each other.