I got to thinking about what makes an IEP meeting successful and I came up with 5 things I personally strive for when I walk into my child's classroom. Now remember, I have three separate IEP's to pay attention to, so I have a little bit of experience in this area. Just a little.
Always Get A Draft - Yes, you can get a draft of the IEP ahead of time. Its important to ASK for it ahead of time as well. Teachers are just like you and me and they can get swamped and do things at the last minute, so you want to tell them you would like a draft to review before the actual meeting. A good time to ask is around the time you get your IEP invitation. This gives them time to get it ready and get it to you preferably 5-7 days before the meeting. During that time you can review it, highlight it and write down your questions early. Then you can confidently walk into your child's meeting totally prepared like a pro.
Put It in Writing - How many times have you had a conversation with a teacher either on the phone or in person and you swore you asked for XYZ and the teacher said, "sure, yes, no problem," only to find weeks later that XYZ was never entertained, worked on or done? It happened to me more times than I care to remember. Don't dare bring the XYZ (undocumented) conversation up at the IEP meeting. I'm sure you may have received a response similar to this; "ah well, Ms Flamer, I don't remember us discussing that blah blah blah, we are working on this goal." Does this happen to you? Well not anymore, because from now on everything and I mean everything will be in writing. Maybe you don't have time to draft an official letter? No problem an email will do, or my personal favorite, I write it in the communication book and make a copy of it. If I don't see any movement in a week, my teachers get a call and a reminder and a copy if necessary. This secret can also be entitled "Get In Writing," as you always want to make sure any promises, proclamations and plans the school makes are in writing as well.
Travel in Pairs or More
I learned this the hard way. Little old me walked into the school for a meeting that I thought was going to be simple, quick, and short. I turned into the classroom to see the teacher, the principal, the guidance counselor, the school psychologist, the speech therapist, the occupational therapist, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Since this wasn't an official IEP meeting I was only expecting the teacher and the speech therapist. Here were six representatives from the school, who had already discussed what they were going to do with my daughter, ahead of time, with out me, now all talking at me. To say I was just a little intimidated would be an understatement. So from now on I travel in pairs or more. Ambushes are best handled with back up.
I Know its a Pain, but you will Explain
Not all teachers and professionals are like this, but occasionally you will meet the rare arrogant, jackass who gets off on using professional jargon and acronyms like everybody is supposed to know what they mean. A lot of teachers and therapist have had cultural sensitivity training and are aware to not overly tax parents minds with terms they are not familiar with. After doing this for awhile, you do start to understand these terms, but even I, yes I, Miss Know-It All 2013 will ask someone nicely to explain what exactly MDE (Multidisciplinary Evaluation) stands for because sometimes I forget. As parents, we don't use these terms on a daily basis and its ridiculous to expect us to bring our Special Ed to English dictionary with us every time we meet with our kid's team. So don't be ashamed, if you don't know, but make them explain.
Tell Me Something Good
Yes, I'm talking about the song by Rufus and Chaka Khan (a noted supporter of Autism, I might add). I hate absolutely hate to go into an IEP meeting and hear nothing but what my kid can't do. How bad their behavior is and how difficult it is for them to do AB and C. No, I won't stand for it. You must "Tell me something good" about my child. If you don't, I will and it will be written in my parent statement that will and must get added to the IEP. Individual Education Programs do not have to be a short story on how behind little Jimmy and Sally are. They can be plans that build on strengths while identifying challenges. ALL our children have strengths and these things need to mentioned if not promoted throughout the IEP.
These are my 5 secrets that get me through my 3-9 IEP meetings a year. I do have to mention that this year my kids have phenomenal teams and so far I have only been to four if you count the one I am going to tomorrow. For more insight on what goes on behind the scenes check out "What Really Goes on Behind the Scenes of an IEP....."
Please share some of your "secrets" in the comment section, I would love to hear them, I can always add something new to my repertoire.