At my last IEP meeting I received a compliment from the compliance specialist in the district. She has been in every IEP meeting this school year! We had four meetings this year and she told me,
“I just want to thank you for being so thorough, detail oriented and prepared for each and every meeting. Some parents just show up and agree to everything, don’t understand and rarely ask questions, but NOT YOU!”
I laughed and said, “thanks”. Mostly, because she was giving me a compliment but it was a bit backhanded.
She says, “No, I mean it. I respect that you come so prepared and make us do our job. I wish more parents were like you.”
I have worked very hard over the last two years to learn how everything works. I have asked for a lot of advice from a ton of teachers, co-workers and friends/other parents. I have also researched things like IEP goals, organizing your IEP binder and accommodations for children with autism; mostly through Pinterest! (look for a Ruthfulness Pinterest Page coming soon!) I have worked to put together some suggestions that will help any parent improve their advocating skills.
Ruthfulness’ Guide to Advocating
- Develop a strategy. Try to think about what the team will recommend and what the district will allow/provide. I like to think of every IEP meeting and the entire school year as a game. Maybe chess or poker? Think of a good strategy game and use that to motivate you to win all year. My strategy was to get through Pre-k and then pull my son out for private ABA based school for kindergarten. When developing your strategy you CANNOT show your “hand”. This is a game, if you are going to win you cannot let the opponent see your cards. Poker faces on! My long-term plan is to re-integrate my son back into that same school and see him continue his education so that he can manage our family photography business.
- Request a draft IEP and develop specific goals for your child. When you schedule your meeting, you want to tell the teacher or case manager that you need a copy of the draft IEP sent home prior to the meeting. This allows you to see what the team is thinking in terms of goals, accommodations, and services. Then you can read what they have written about your child and write out any questions you may have about those comments or notes regarding growth within the current goals. During the meetings, the teacher often want to read this word for word and then tell you what they think and feel. If you just read it before hand and ask any clarification questions it will sped up the meeting and help to take the emotional toil out. I use post it notes now and stick them to the draft IEP where I thought of the question. Sometimes I just leave myself a note about how something moved in the IEP; for example the teacher/case manager will move a goal from Social/Emotional to Independent Functioning. Pay attention to those details and ask why that change was made.
- Identify your child’s needs for services and accommodations. Once you review the draft and goals. Determine what services and accommodations your child needs to accomplish those goals. Ask questions like, what does that look like? When addressing the goals. Try to imagine your child doing the expectation described by the teacher. What support do you think you might have to provide your child if you tried to do this with him/her? Write down questions that address safety. If you think that your child my walk/run away then address that concern to have phrases added to accommodations that say “within arms length”. I always go to observe the next level classroom prior to my end of year meeting. Then I can reference what support he needs for the next year in order to function and be safe.
- Keep optimistic but realistic. Always ask for more than you think you need when at the table developing goals, services and accommodations. If you think your child needs or would benefit from 30 minutes of speech a week then ask for 90 minutes. If you want more one on one therapy at school then ask for the minutes to be changed to ESE instead of general education setting. What will happen is that the team will reach a middle ground with you. For example, you may get 60 minutes of speech but it is a small group in the general education setting. When requesting more one on one therapy they will give you half ESE and half general Ed and then revisit his progress at the next meeting. If the therapist sees gains during the one on one then you can request all minutes ESE again. Being optimistic that your child will learn and grow toward his goals and expectations but be realistic in the support he needs to achieve those goals. Set your expectations high and ask for more services to support your expectations. This way you are going to guarantee growth during the school year.
- You are the boss! You have all the power and ability to veto any suggestions that the team recommends. Don’t like a teacher, a placement suggestion, don’t want all your service minutes pulled out during major instructional time; then say so. If your child loves art then you are the president of decisions and tell the team. They can work around art so that your child can get her minutes and enjoy art with her peers. My example, I refuse to allow a weighted vest on my son. I’m the boss on that decision. I don’t care what research you try to give me or that I should educate myself. I have educated myself, it’s called knowing my kid. It is seeing my kid in a weighted vest at private therapy. It is seeing that it was a distraction not a relief to his sensory needs. I know my son wants to run, weighing him down does not slow him down. This will only make him faster, you are training him up to seriously out run you. Just because it worked for this child with autism does not mean it works for my child with autism. No, means NO! Final decision.