The Ins and Out of IEP meetings
I was reading a post in a facebook group I am a part of for parents with kids with Ds. The comment was asking why IEP meetings seemed so secretive, and why didn’t other parents share their knowledge to help each other out? This hit me hard- because in Dex’s short school career we have had our fair share of IEP meetings. In fact, when this post becomes visible, we will be in our 4th IEP meeting for this school year alone.
Now, let me start by saying, I am no expert. I was a school teacher who sat in IEP meetings as a gen ed representative several times, and then I became a momma to the two coolest kids ever, who happen to qualify for special education services in our local public schools. So I have been on both sides of the table, and feel like I know things, especially my kid. I will tell you that sitting at that table as a teacher was way less nerve wracking then it is as a parent. I have felt every emotion in a powerful way sitting at that table.
The second thing I want to say is that we have had lots of teams. If you remember, I posted about Dex being in 3 schools in 3 years. You can check out that post here. So we have worked with so many different people on this document that follows my boy throughout his school career. We have had amazing teams that wanted to work with us, took into account what we had to say, and really wanted to help Dex succeed. Then we have had teams who were the opposite. I hate to say it, but I feel like most of us with kiddos with Ds or other needs will encounter the great teams and the not great teams as our children progress through their school years.
Now I want to share about Dex’s situation now, before I get into the practical things that we have found helpful when it comes to IEP meetings. Dex now attends the school he is zoned for based on our address. He is in a co-taught classroom and is pulled out to a resource class for different segments of his academics since he is not on grade level at this time. He is the only kid in the school with Ds which makes me happy and sad. It makes me happy, because I think of all he is learning and all the other students are learning with him. It makes me so sad because we had to fight so hard to give him this opportunity, and I see so many other parents fighting for their kiddos to be with their typical peers and it just doesn’t happen. We are optimistic about this team (today is our first meeting with them). Dex’s teachers are wonderful. They challenge him, have super high expectations, and seem to genuinely like him. His classmates love him, and I have heard from several of them that Dex is super cool and they like that he is in their class. Oh, and apparently he is really funny too. (He must be his mother’s son, right? haha) Even reading his draft, IEP their tone seems so positive (realistic, but positive) which thrills my heart.
So now on to the practical stuff- here are a few things that may seem little or insignificant that we have done at different IEP meetings that made a difference.
Food/ treats- Almost every IEP meeting we have attended, I have taken snacks (I did not to the meetings where I was a little more emotionally charged, but I probably should have). Sometimes they have been homemade, or sometimes I just grabbed doughnuts on the way to the meeting. One of our meetings was close to halloween, so I took a bowl of halloween candy. One of our meetings was in March, so I took the team crazy socks to wear on World Down syndrome Day. It always makes things a little easier when you can chat over food. I mean, can you be mad while eating a delicious muffin?
Photo of Dex- I have taken a giant 8x10 photo of Dex and put it in the middle of the table. The first time I did that, one of the team members said, “we all know Dex”. To which I replied, “but it is easy to forget that we are talking about HIM during this meeting, so this is just a good reminder.” Plus, if you are like me, and get emotional, you can look at your kiddos sweet face, and it is a reminder of why you are there as well.
Binder- I have a giant binder that I keep updated with emails to/from the team, the grade level standards, progress reports, report cards, notes from his private therapies, work samples, etc. I update it before every meeting and make sure I am up to date on where Dex is, where he should be and that I have all communications at my fingertips. I also put a photo of Dex on the front, because he’s awesome!
Know that you can request a meeting at any time- It is not just the teachers that call IEP meetings, you can request one at any time, and the school is required to schedule a meeting in a timely manner.
Don’t back down- Now this one gets tricky, because I would say, don’t back down nicely. I have been very firm, and let them know that I knew what I was talking about, and did not need to be talked down too. Just remember- you get more flies with honey than vinegar. :) Also know that if you come to a stand still, you can ask to table the meeting and agree to reconvene at a later date. Go home, make a new plan and then call another meeting.
You know your child best- Last and most importantly- remember you know your child better than anyone sitting in that room. They may have all kinds of numbers and data and reasons that they know your kid better, but they don’t. If your child is reading 35 sight words to you consistently at home, but they say he only knows 12, remember you know your child. (I mean, not that I know anything about this specific example) That’s when the team needs to figure out a way to help bridge that gap. I can’t say this enough- you know your child. Keep that on the forefront of your mind. Write it on your hand, heck, put it on a shirt. You know them. You know them. You know them.
Now the last thing I will tell you, is that sometimes it gets to a point where meetings are not productive anymore. We have experienced that. No one is willing to budge, and things need to change. This is the reason we hired an advocate. And I will tell you, we will never go to another meeting without her. Like EVER. She knows the laws, she can look at the data objectively, and she has valuable knowledge of curriculum and what works for students. Our advocate is like part of our family now. The amount of stress I feel about meetings now is minimal compared to the days and weeks of worry, preparation and anxiety I would feel before we hired her. We are so thankful for her!
And one more thing- I also like to plan my wardrobe on IEP days very carefully. I either wear my Shout their worth tee, my Inclusion is the new cool, or for this meeting, I will be wearing my Advocate like a mother tee. I just like people to know where I stand before I speak a word. Hahaha. Consider planning your wardrobe to make a statement at your next IEP meeting.
I am always available for questions about IEP meetings, IEP prep, why we chose and advocate, etc. Please ask any questions you may have. I am not on this journey to keep everything to myself. Let’s walk together and help each other navigate the world of education.
Until next time.