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Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Mother's Guide to make the best of the IEP Process

Not Just Surviving but Thriving
A Mothers guide to make the best of the IEP Process
IEP time can be super stressful. Not only do you have to stay on top of your everyday parenting responsibilities but now you also need to worry about your children’s futures and how to get them the education they need to ensure they get the best possible start in this big crazy world. Here are a few tips that might just help bring your stress level down and also help you feel a bit more empowered during your IEP visits.
I am not by any means an expert on this subject. I am simply a mother of 5 amazing children ranging in ages from 17 years old to 7 years old. All of my children have IEPs for one reason or another. The very first IEP I attended was 8 years ago, and I have been attending them every year since. So I do feel that I have been to enough to know the ins and outs of the IEP process. These tips are universal and should help out from kindergarten all the way up to high school!

1st Be Prepared
The worst thing you could do as a parent is assume that the school is going to bring all of the information to the IEP that is needed for the IEP Team to make an informed decision about you child’s educational needs. I have made this assumption in the past and if you are working with a good IEP team then things might be okay but if you are working with a school that is understaffed or unorganized you will seriously regret not preparing for the IEP meeting yourself. Even on the best of days the most amazing teacher could forget something that might have been a key component in your child’s education.
So how do you prepare for an IEP?
Make a MOMMY- MASTER –BINDER!
I have a 3” MASTER binder where I organize all 5 of my child’s school information. Each child has their own section in the binder. In the front of every section I keep a copy of that child’s current IEP. Next in each child’s section is a print out of that child’s current class schedule and teacher information. And the third thing I put in each child’s section is blank paper for taking notes. The MASTER binder is also where I keep copies of any long term projects the kids may be working on or will be working on soon.

Take Notes!
I always keep my notes or copies of any important e-mails from the teachers in the MASTER binder. This part of each child’s section is the one I use most often. This is where I write down any notes or observations I have made about my child. Such as; noticed George is not getting the basic math facts might need more help OR gave Stephanie a i-pod with classical music on it to listen to while she did her spelling and she finished it two days in a row with no complaining.

These things might not seem like a very big deal now but I often find that when I start comparing my notes with the teachers observations there are patterns that start to emerge and the right accommodations for my child can be made based on these patterns.
Set up an IEP team group e-mail list!
This list should include all members of your child’s IEP Team. All the teachers your child is currently being taught by should be included (Math, Science, English, PE, and even Art) the principal and vice principal should be included, the special education instructors should be included, the mother and father of the child should be included, and if the child is old enough the child that the IEP is for should be included. I decided 7th grade and above for my kids. Do this, separately, for each one of your children who have IEPs. The group e-mail list will give you a quick and easy way to communicate with your child’s IEP team all at once and it makes scheduling IEPs much easier. This is also good for sending a generic “These are the topics I would like to discuss at the upcoming IEP meeting” e-mail. Sending an e-mail like this, one or two days before the IEP is scheduled, gives the teachers and the rest of the IEP team time to think about and come up with ideas on how to best help your child.
Print a hard copy of your child’s grades!
Before you go in to the IEP, print off of your child’s grades to bring to the meeting with you. Most teachers will bring this with them but I have had the occasional teacher that tries to pull off the “oh your son is doing fine I don’t think we needed to look at that”. If you have a copy with you in your MOMMY-MASTER-BINDER then this won’t even be an issue. Make sure your copy is the most current copy that you can get and that you have reviewed it thoroughly before you go to the IEP. This way you are not shocked or horrified by the amount of missing assignments or failing grades in front of the IEP team.

2nd Know your rights

  • You have the right to an Independent Educational Evaluation of your child.
  • You have a right to call an IEP at ANY TIME!
  • You have the right to have your input included!
  • At the meeting, or just before, the parents must be given a copy of their states Procedural Safeguards Notice!
  • Written notice must be given to the parents of a student with a disability a reasonable time before testing.
  • You have a right to fully understand what the scores on your child’s testing means!
3rd Set the standard
If I expect other team members to be prepared I must also be prepared.
If I am not willing to take the time and effort to be prepared to discuss my child’s education, how can I expect others to do it for me?


Be patient.
Everyone on the IEP team has super emotionally challenging jobs. We are raising future leaders,scientist, doctors, lawyers, and future parents. All of us can get way stressed. Put yourself in each other’s shoes and imagine how stressed they might feel at this moment. Just think about it I have 5 kids at home and I work a full time job, the high school teachers are trying to shape the minds of up to 200 kids a day, if not more. I feel like I am going crazy with 5!!! They must be totally bonkers by the end of the day.
Use smart communication skills.
Instead of saying “you’re wrong” to a team member you don’t agree with, try saying I am not fully understanding your position on this. Could you please help me understand where you are coming from?”
Listen actively, especially to the things you do not want to hear.
I know that it is very hard not to go all momma bear on someone when they are telling you something about your child that is hard for you to hear. This is why I prepare as much as possible before the actual IEP. If you are in contact with teachers prior to the meeting you can hear their concerns about behavior and such and you will have time to calm yourself and come up with creative solutions. Even with all of this there are going to be those times when you find yourself on the verge of tears or wanting to reach over and smack some stupid teacher. JUST BREATH!! Try to think of it as a business meeting and remember cool heads always prevail!
Say thank you when IEP team members do things that are helpful.
I don’t know about you all but when I go in to an IEP meeting and the teachers start off with some amazing story about a time when my child did something wonderful at school or how much they appreciate my efforts as a mother I feel completely invigorated! Teachers feel exactly the same way!! Acknowledge the positive!!!
Get to know your child’s IEP team and their educational styles.
It is much easier to work with someone when you understand their reasons for the things they do.
Stay positive.
Instead of focusing on just the things that aren’t working try examining a bit closer the things that are working and grow from there.
Bring the energy.
Yes I understand that it has been a long day and you are tired and you still need to go home and help the kids with homework, make dinner, and get everyone in bed. I get it, I truly do, but the more positive and upbeat energy you can bring to the meeting the better. Positive energy is contagious and when the team members see your passion and drive for the situation it will spread!










THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!!!
The absolute most important thing you can do to make you child’s IEP meeting positive and beneficial to all parties involved is to remember why this is important to you!! YOU LOVE YOUR CHILD AND YOU WANT TO PROVIDE THEM WITH THE BEST START IN THIS WORLD!!! At the start of every IEP or parent teacher conference, I remind myself that “(Insert child’s name), is worth my very best!!” As the meeting goes on or the homework gets harder I just keep repeating that line in my head and it helps put things in perspective. You are your child’s most important advocate. Think of the awesome things you imagine your child doing or becoming in large part to the efforts you put forth. When things don’t go the way you plan, as they often do, breath and simply reevaluate!

Lastly
Don’t be so stinking hard on yourself!!!!!! I know I know, this is way easier said then done. I am continually blaming myself for my children’s failures and shortcomings. However on the other hand I see how much of a struggle this life is for my children right now, in this moment, and I can’t imagine the realities that they would have to face in their lives if I had not been there in their corner backing them up. So as I said before DON’T BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF!!! You are doing such a great job!!!!!

Resources
These are mostly Utah based resources but every state and every county has internet resources that are super helpful. In our county we have district level IEP meetings that parents can attend to learn about the laws in their state regarding IEPS and the rights of the children and the parents who have IEPs. Our kids’ high school special education instructors also have a SEC (Special Education Course) that they offer, once a year, for the parents of children in the school with IEPs. Ask around the school for resources and if all else fails remember Google is your friend!

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