It’s IEP season, which we know affects many of you, so this week we welcome back our friend, Andi Sligh, mother of two children with special needs, to share her tips for a successful IEP meeting.
As a mom of a daughter with cerebral palsy and a son with Down syndrome, I’ve spent many hours in the last twelve years in meetings. First, it was the IFSP meetings in early intervention, then came the IEP meetings at school, then one of each, and now I’m facing both a 504 plan meeting (for my daughter) and an IEP meeting (for my son) in a couple of weeks. It can be exhausting.
On the surface, the IEP and 504 seem great – and I AM thankful for them, because they have given both of my children opportunities that children with their conditions a few decades ago would never have received. But even under the best of circumstances, these meetings are stressful because, if nothing else, they show you – right there in black and white – how your child is different from his or her peers. Add in a dollop of differing opinions, and things can take an unpleasant turn quickly.
You can find a wealth of information on the Internet about what to say, what to bring, and how to prepare for an IEP meeting, and I’m not suggesting you don’t do any of those things – you’ll find many nuggets of good advice. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve come across read like a battle plan, and in my experience, there’s a better way. Why do battle if you don’t have to?
Here are a few things you can do to take some of the pressure off when it’s IEP time:
1. Show the IEP team you’re ready to cooperate, not do battle, when you walk into the room.
If you like to bake, bring cookies. If you’re a gift giver, bring a gift basket. If you’re neither of those things (like me), just be friendly and take a personal interest in the team members assembled for the meeting. Be yourself, not Warrior Momma, and it’ll set the tone for everyone else. Nobody likes a grouch, and the impression you give reflects on your child, too.
2. Remember that everyone at the table has a different perspective, and that’s a good thing.
It’s true that the school staff doesn’t know your child as well you do, which can be a disadvantage at times. But they’ve got a leg up on you in some key areas: the makeup of the class, the quirks of the school’s facilities, the details of the dismissal procedures, and the flow of the day in the classroom. Most importantly, they chose to spend their careers educating children, and many of them have been doing it since before your child was born – possibly long before. They had other options, but they chose to be there in that room, helping your child get an education. Trust that in some instances, they may actually know better than you.
3. Go into the meeting with some end goals in mind, but don’t get hung up on all the specifics of how to get there.
For example, if your child needs an accommodation due to a physical disability, be prepared to discuss the problem, brainstorm ahead of time a few suggested solutions you can share, then sit back and see what the team comes up with. Sometimes the suggestion they provide will be an even better option you didn’t consider. Don’t worry about what your child is entitled to receive, or even what you want for child – instead, focus on what your child needs and go from there.
4. Be the grease, not the squeaky wheel.
Sure, the Squeaky Wheel Technique can be effective in the short run, but your child’s school career is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Build positive relationships with your child’s teachers and other school personnel all year long and it’ll pay dividends down the road. If you’ve done that, when the day comes that you need to push back, it’s a lot more likely that the wall will come down.
My daughter’s first IEP meeting was in 2005 and my son’s was in 2013, and I’ve attended a minimum of two (usually more) of these IEP or 504 meetings each year for each child, through three different school systems and five different administrators. We’ve had a few minor hiccups here and there, but no major problems, so I feel confident our approach is working.
IEP meetings are never fun – despite a decade of positive outcomes, I still dread them like the plague. But if you follow these simple tips, things should go a lot smoother, not just in the meeting, but throughout the year.
Recommended Further Reading: Consider Your Flight Plan
Andi is an ordinary mom living an extraordinary life on the Alabama gulf coast with a daughter with cerebral palsy, a son with Down syndrome, an adventurous husband, a wild Westie, a rescued Schnoodle, a camera, and a worn out pair of running shoes. She blogs at BringingtheSunshine.com and is the author of There’s Sunshine Behind the Clouds: Surviving the Early Years as a Special Needs Mom, an ebook for parents of children with special needs.