So, what would the ideal IEP meeting look like for you? Would you get everything you asked for? Everything you wanted? Or would the team collaborate—discussing your child’s needs and how the school could help meet those needs—to determine what was best for your child?
How about both?
To be fair, this meeting was simply to revise Willy’s IEP to address the needs raised by his new diagnosis of epilepsy. We did not revisit goals at this time. We simply discussed his new needs and how to accommodate those needs. Even so, it went surprisingly well!
Lately, I’ve been working with a co-author on a book about special education. I have also been editing his book on IEP collaboration. I’ve learned a lot working with him, and I’m confident I have taught him a lot as well. It’s a very fruitful, effective partnership (though, not in the traditional, legal, business sense of the word).
I brought that knowledge to bear as I prepared for this IEP. I even brought along two advocates—one especially familiar with Willy and one especially familiar with epilepsy. I was prepared to negotiate. I was prepared to advocate for my son’s needs.
And I did—no negotiation needed. I was simply “given the floor.” I explained what has happened over the summer, what I knew Willy needed, what I suspected would be beneficial, and that’s what was the team agreed to do. There was a lot of discussion, but it was collaborative and productive and focused entirely on Willy’s needs—including the training the staff would need to meet Willy’s needs.
The meeting went beautifully!
Afterwards, I thought a great deal about how that happened. The “training” I’d received by working with my co-author had certainly enhanced my advocacy skills—and I’m going to provide him with a quote for his book to that effect. But, as much as my modesty would like to give him all the credit, I also have to acknowledge that there was a lot of solid groundwork that made this possible.
You see, when I go into an IEP meeting, my focus is on my children. This means that I don’t always get what I want or even what I think is right. Instead, I work with the trained professionals to get (to the best of our ability) what my children need. Some battles are longer than others—and feel very much like battles—such as the years it took to convince school staff (in thought, word, and deed) that neither Alex nor Ben were/are intellectually disabled. (Again, there’s nothing wrong with being intellectually disabled, aka retarded; but there is something wrong with assuming that a child who cannot talk is intellectually disabled and there is also something wrong with providing inappropriate services because of such an assumption.) Some battles aren’t battles at all, like graduating Willy from a one-on-one aide to a team-teaching environment. The point is, if you start with your child’s needs, then discuss how to meet those needs, and finally ensure that the services provided satisfy those needs, well, sometimes you don’t like what you get, even when you get exactly what your child needs.
I didn’t like the idea of Ben switching schools in the middle of his elementary school education. But, as the year starts and I’ve had a chance to meet with his new teacher and help prepare everyone involved for the transition, I’m confident it’s the right choice for Ben. Ben’s needs will be better met at the new school and that’s all that matters.
When you go into an IEP meeting with that attitude, when you work with staff to achieve those ends, then you build a reputation in the school district and you build a relationship with the school staff. When you provide useful input and make reasonable recommendations—versus asserting your opinions as facts and making unattainable demands—you build a foundation of trust. You respect the professionalism of those on your child’s team and you show your own “professionalism” as a parent and as an advocate for your child.
That groundwork made this ideal IEP possible. The case manager trusted me to provide useable information to the IEP team and to make reasonable recommendations. In this case, they had more questions than answers, and my answers (and the answers provided by the advocates I brought to assist in providing answers) were respected and trusted. That trust empowered them to accept all the recommendations we proposed and to propose recommendations of their own that would completely accommodate the needs we identified. We worked together, collaboratively, with Willy’s needs in mind.
In a few months, when his baseline is re-established with a new, comprehensive three-year evaluation and we sit down for a full-blown IEP meeting, things might change. By then, we’ll know more about how Willy’s epilepsy effects his education. But, for now, we’ve done all we can and we’re confident Willy’s going to have a great year!