Friday, February 10, 2012

Preparing for the IEP

After receiving some positive feedback on my last posting regarding the educational system, I thought I might be able to dig up a few other tips that have been helpful to me.  We will be having an IEP meeting in two weeks, so I find this a good opportunity to make sure I have all of my plans prepared.  I am not an expert, by any means.  I have just been around the block a couple of times.  So, in no particular order:

1.  In Navigating the Educational System, I said to make sure your comments are documented.  Honestly, it is in your best interest to make sure everything is documented.  Warning: you will easily  kill a forest with all of the papers you will have in a giant binder.  I am on my 4th giant binder.  I am probably on the tree-hugger-protectors 10 Most Wanted list. If there has been any mention of K, it's in there.  If you want a meeting, request it in writing.  If you want a progress report, request it in writing. If you just want to check and see if your child has the sniffles at school today, put it in writing and ask for the response in writing. This is for the benefit of everyone on the team.  If it is in writing, the proof will be on the page.  Email really is fine (some sources would disagree), but make sure you keep the emails, back up the emails, print the emails.

2.  How do you document a phone call?  First, it's pretty rare for me to have a conversation by phone regarding K.  Email is most common.  Face to face is great, but not always practical.  To document a phone call, I just keep a simple note for the binder.  Who, what, why, when.  Those are things that need to be documented.  Who did you talk to?  What did you talk about?  Why was this discussed?  When will action be taken and by whom?  You may not always have answers for all of those, depending on the purpose of the phone call, but it's an easy way to remember.

3.  The Binder.  The binder is kind of like the parents' extra-special bible.  Today, all over the country, parents are marching into school meetings and plopping a binder the size and weight of a baby elephant on the table.  Disclaimer:  my binder is not always in perfect order.  I usually sit down once a year to clean it up.  In the binder are the sections that work for me.  Yours might be different, although some are going to be pretty universal.  Section 1 - the IEP.  I keep the most current progress report on top. Behind those is the most current IEP.  Behind that is the previous year's IEP. Why?  It helps to see if progress is being made if you can quickly refer to previous goals and accommodations.  Next section, Parent's Rights. Your school is required by law to offer you a copy at every annual IEP meeting.  If it hasn't changed, no need to kill another tree.  Either way, I have my copy there.  Section 3 is usually my notes or interesting articles and always a copy of the condensed description of K's diagnosis.  That is one section that I can grab from quickly if I need to.  The 4th section is a copy of all of the most recent assessments - those done in school as well as any that have been done privately.

Aside from organization, the binder shows the school team that you are invested in the process and educated about your child and her specific needs.  It adds to your credibility.

4.  The photo.  I know it sounds strange, but always make sure there is a photo of your child on the table.  Meetings can get intense very quickly and it's most important to make sure that everyone, even you, is focused on the child.  I know that there have been times when I have just been so pissed off, I just want to WIN at whatever it is we are discussing.  Those are the times when I have to take a step back, look at the picture and reassess whether or not this is about K.  Granted, most of the time I wouldn't get that angry if I wasn't passionate about something that would help K, but occasionally I forget that sometimes you need to pick your battles.  I usually give each person on the team a picture of K.  I want them to look at her sweet face every time they have to reference her files.

5.  Know that if you give the school team 24-48 hours notice, you can record the meeting.  We have recorded a couple of meetings, just so we had something else to reference later, if we needed it.  So much is discussed at these meetings, the information overload can be overwhelming.

6.  If it is available, if it is remotely possible, hire an advocate to help you with this process.  Depending on where you live, there may be a variety of options to find one.  You do not have to hire an attorney, although many advocates are also attorneys.  An advocate not only knows the law, but will know the little quirks within your district that you would not ever know as a parent who only sits in on meetings for your own child.  

7.  Have a personal partner at the table.  If that is Dad (or Mom, depending on who takes the lead on these things), then great!  If it is grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, godparent, or your best friend, great. You will feel better knowing that you are not alone representing your child.  That person is your support system.  Bringing a friend can be especially helpful for taking notes.  It allows you to actively listen and participate in the meeting without trying to take notes at the same time.

I know that a lot parents are uncomfortable with things like recording a meeting, requesting an assessment, asking for a service or accommodation, or bringing an advocate.  I was too, at first.  I don't want to have to fight for every little thing that K needs.  It felt like I was trying to pick a fight if I did any of those things.  So, even though it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, I have learned to ask.  I bring the photo.  I demand answers to my questions and accountability for everyone at the table.  I am "pleasantly persistent," keeping at it until I'm satisfied.  If need be, your advocate can be the bad guy - mine usually is!  It may seem adversarial, but ultimately, we are supposed to be a team working for my child.  It isn't picking a fight; it is working together and exercising all options available to you to make the best decisions possible for your child.

If there was something that I could give to every parent who has ever asked me about these meetings, it would be to give them their own confidence and power.   Always remember to take your own place at the table.  You, as the parent, are the most important person at the table.  You are there for your child and you are her voice in this situation.  You know what they say about the squeaky wheel?  Be the squeaky wheel.  Don't let your own misgivings get in the way of advocating for your child.  Do your research, make your plan, and be a part of the team, not a spectator in the stands.  I didn't always know this.  I'm so glad that I have learned something over the last 8 years.

Then, when the meeting is done, treat yourself to a cocktail (or two) or chocolate (by the pound)  or something that is a real reward for your hard work.  You deserve it!

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