Indigo's individual education plan (IEP) meeting is coming up next month. When I got the phone call from his school to ask if the proposed date and time worked, I skimmed my calendar and gave a cheerful, "YES, see you then." I noticed I was smiling. Smiling.
IEP meetings used to be a gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking experience for me. "It's just a meeting," I heard all the time. But no, IEP meetings were never "just a meeting" for me. IEP meetings meant educational professionals gave their opinions about their observations, and more often than not, made me feel like an inadequate mother to a defiant, lazy child capable of doing the assigned work.
When the neuro-psychologist diagnosed Indigo with nonverbal learning disability, I felt relieved because I had ammo at his meetings. I knew he wasn't defiant; I knew he wasn't lazy; he just needed to learn differently. And it worked...
Until he transferred to middle school. Despite the numerous medical journals I sent them, the educational professionals refused to accept Indigo's behaviors as a disability. Once again, they treated me like an overprotective mother who ignored the truth. Although I had years of practice with advocating for Indigo's education, it wore me down. One time, I actually spent the previous night throwing up because I was so anxious about the team meeting.
So this smile when I hung up the phone is significant. All my years of fighting paid off. Years of research and preparation. Years of sleepless nights and antacids. Years of not backing down, even when I felt repeatedly bullied by the educational professionals who didn't believe in my son or my faith in him. All those years of advocacy led to Indigo's success.
And now that he attends a private school for children with learning disabilities, educational professionals praise him for his success; praise me for being such a good parent and for cooperating with them.
I am not used to praise. But it's definitely validating. Now, Indigo's IEP meetings focus on his strengths and how they can help him overcome his weaknesses. They ask for Indigo's input and actually listen to what he has to say. Indigo isn't afraid to ask questions and feels confident he can explain what his issues are. He suggests strategies he believes will help and the whole team discuss options.
Yes, I smile. Smile that Indigo and I are finally treated like people, and I smile at how far he's come along. I smile because meetings are no longer a nightmarish battle; they are a collaboration.
It took me a long time to get here. Here are some tips that will make your IEP meetings less stressful and more successful:
1. READ the material the school mails you before the meeting. Schools are required to mail the materials that will be discussed during the IEP meeting no later than 48 hours prior to the meeting. These might include testing results, progress reports and letters from teachers.
2. WRITE down any concerns, questions and suggestions you have and bring them to the meeting so you don't forget to discuss important topics.
3. BRING SOMEONE with you. This can be a spouse, a relative, a child advocate or a friend for support. The person's name does not have to "be on a list" and you do not have to inform the team beforehand. The person/people will sign their names on the attendance sheet during the meeting.
4. Stay OBJECTIVE. This may be the hardest thing to keep in mind. Meetings can become emotional because they are about your child. Stick to the facts. Remember that you want what's best for your child.
5. ADVOCATE for necessary services and accommodations. If the team agrees that your child requires services or accommodations, they MUST provide them. If they do not have access or the funds, they must place your child in a setting where they can be provided.
6. Take your TIME. Decisions do not need consensus and paperwork does not have to be signed on the meeting day. If the team proposes a change, you have the right to think it over for a few days before you decide if it is a good change for your child. Educational professionals do not have the legal right to remove your childfrom a setting or take away services without your consent.
7. REMEMBER your rights. You have the right to mediation if you believe the school is not meeting your child's needs or is breaking special educational laws. Mediation is provided by the state and it is free. Contact your state Special Education Department for more information.
© Sera Rivers