When parents of different needs children hear the famous initials IEP it can create all types of emotions. Unfortunately, most of those emotions are not good ones. The annual IEP meeting is one most parents do not look forward to having. I wanted to take some time today to explain how our family went from the dreaded IEP meetings to the we got this IEP meetings.
First, I think the major piece that helped me overcome this was that I stopped thinking of an IEP meeting as something that only happened once a year. Did you know you can call an IEP team meeting any time you feel it is needed? You can do this because you are not a spectator in the IEP meeting, but you are actually part of the team. As soon as I realized when something important happened or was happening with my child’s education, I had the right to call a meeting the big annual meeting didn’t seem so bad. I didn’t call them over just anything but when important changes happened, I asked for one. Great example, we are doing virtual school which was not part of our IEP plan last year, so I asked for a quick meeting to discuss.
That leads me to the next thing, I have open and honest conversations with my child’s teacher. I start each year out setting that expectation by sending an email to the teachers. If I notice my child isn’t doing what they are supposed to do I ask questions. Open honest questions. Can you help me understand what I can do to support them or if you see something that might be need support at school? I have to say for it to be open and honest I have had to learn to turn my Mama Bear down a bit. It is so easy to jump into that mode. I try to pause when something critical is said and determine the truth in it and how can I help rather than a how dare you say that mode. I found that when I stay in touch with the teacher and they feel safe engaging me in what is going on at school I have less surprises at annual IEP times.
The last thing I am going to share with you might be something you never thought of as important. You know how they ask for you to provide your thoughts on your child at the start of every annual IEP meeting, I started doing it. Now by that I mean I don’t wait for the meeting to provide it. A week before the meeting I take time to really focus in on how the year was, what worked, didn’t work, what would have been better, my child’s strengths, where I see them going long term, and I brag a little on them. This is no short three sentence blurbs. I write paragraphs. I send it over to the coordinator a week before the meeting. This way they have it for the documentation. When the meeting starts, and they read over things I don’t let them skip or skim this part. I have them take the time to read it aloud to the team. I have found that this brings my child into the meeting even when they are too young to attend. When they were old enough to attend it lets them see themselves through someone else’s eyes. Taking the time to write this brings my child to life to those who don’t interact with them daily. They get a sense of who they are and that they are more than a long meeting.
You may have just read this and thought, none of these are really big changes. I can take on some of that. Maybe these are things you are already doing but can now put a different spin on them. I just hope that your next IEP meeting is a we got this meeting!
By Kim Nolder