Parental Tips and Advice to Get an IEP Approved for Your Child
Teacher.org asked a highly involved parent about the troubles with getting access to an IEP, specifically, "What kept you up at night?" We changed names to remain anonymous but this should take nothing away from the validity or circumstance of the concerned parent answering - these are her exact words. We ask all parents to share their thoughts and concerns, pros and cons, ups and downs with us in the comments section.
...In thinking about the question, what kept me up at night?
When you're the parent of a child in need of an IEP you are up every night.
It's not just one thing. The nightly tidal wave of emotions hits as you put you head on the pillow. I was so frustrated by the system, heartbroken by the labels, annoyed at the constant run around by staff, teachers, and administrators etc. I was angry at the hours my son and I had surrendered; precious childhood playtime to work on his disability that hadn't resulted in much academic gain. Guilty - could I have, should I have's, and tired. Very tired. For all of us.
It took us over two years from asking for Sam to be tested for an IEP to implementation of any program. Two years of constant correspondence. It had become very clear that Sam was falling way behind in reading and writing despite constant effort from us at home, reading programs, specialize tutoring etc. Initially my concerns were met with responses like "oh all kids develop these skills at different rates" or "it's just not his thing." I even once had a teacher tell me he was "too social to have a learning disability!" Don't even get me started on that one!
The process went like this. You email the specialized teacher, she waits a week (she's overloaded). She responds with the idea that she will speak to his teacher.
One month goes by...
I again request testing. She gives me a date two weeks out. She no-shows. Apparently she got busy?
I pinned her down to a date. She sat down to what I believed would determine a possible diagnosis and a plan of action. Instead I'm told she can not diagnose and this is just a basic test but, "yes, there is an issue" and she thinks he should begin with preschool level workbooks again. Wait, what? I expressed my extreme dissatisfaction with the idea that we would go back to what we have tried for years. She offers to send me some of her specialty books and an online program that supposedly has a high success rate. We spent five months doing exactly what she asked. No significant gains for my now almost nine year old.
I returned to her and requested another test be done.
She warned me of the horrors of IEP and tells me I really don't want to send my son down this road. She basically implied that he will be labeled before he enters a classroom. That many kids with IEPs have behavioral problems and that once I label him an IEP kid he won't be able to shake it off.
I agonized over her words for weeks. My son is a gregarious, funny, happy, copper haired little boy. Is this really true, that he will be immediately deemed a troublemaker? How unfair for every child who's already struggling!
Here's what I wish I knew during this process.
There are many people with good intentions in special education. They also tend to be overworked, underpaid and overloaded. The first point of contact is a gatekeeper of sorts. This person's job is to do a primary evaluation and do their best to keep your child out of the system.
The next level up is the school psychologist and a SPED director. These people can get something done. Although I had been asking and asking, I wasn't using the proper terms.
If you are met with resistance you need this simple sentence -
I believe my child falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act and would like him tested for an individualized education plan immediately.
Simple. Effective. Even if I cried for thirty minutes after writing it.
If all else fails, they know you are serious, and they are required by law to comply within thirty days. Any other polite plea for help can be pushed to the side.
Until Sam was tested I didn't understand what specifically would qualify him. I knew he struggled with reading and writing but that's not reason for an IEP. Apparently it's about the discrepancy in areas of learning. After Sam's testing, the results showed one of the highest discrepancies ever seen by his special education teacher. He tested in the top 2% of the nation in many areas and in the bottom 2% of the nation in a few areas. This was why I had heard people say insulting things like "he seems so smart". He is smart! A learning disability doesn't mean you're not smart.
8 Amazing Tips for Parents Seeking an IEP
My advice for any parent entering this process is:
1) Skip all the nonsense and write the sentence saying you believe your child falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Open a good bottle of wine and know help is on the way.
2) Don't believe the hype! Your child's confidence is at stake. Toss the idea of labels to the side and recognize that those people don't know your uniquely awesome kid! Most these people will never be in your life again and your child will know you stopped at nothing to get them the help they needed!
I have learned that if people can't see that out of the gate, help them see by preparing them for your child's challenges and your child's gifts. I always speak with Sam's teachers before the school year begins. If not, they tend to think he's being lazy or not trying. He tries harder than any kid I know. I make sure they know that going in.
3) Bring a neutral party to the IEP. Maybe this is a friend who's a teacher or your sister or your great uncle! Whoever it is, choose someone that can keep their cool and stay calm when your emotions start to get the best of you. These are our babies. It's very hard to be completely present and catch everything that's going on in those IEP meetings.
4) Play devils advocate. As hard as it is try to understand this team is up against restrictions as well. You'll catch more bees with honey and these teams are sadly used to being adversaries with parents. My position is always of strength and respect. I go in treating them kindly but with a clear plan of action I hope to obtain for my son. I stick firmly to any item I know they can provide that I believe will help him meet his goals.
5) Help the team set goals that have clear and measurable milestones. Goal setting is a major part of an IEP and you want to be sure they are specific.
6) Be prepared. Take notes. Make copies to hand out to the room. The latest research or out of school programs that are helping your child are all relevant. The more information they have, the clearer picture they'll get on how to best help your child.
7) Keep all this info in one binder: previous meetings, testing results, some prime examples of work your child produced. This way when someone suggests trying something they have already tried you have the proof ready to go and can redirect the team towards trying something new.
8) I slip a picture of my sweet boy onto the front of the binder. This way everyone in the room is reminded this isn't about money or a statistic. This is a real little boy they have committed to helping succeed.
RELATED IEP READINGS:
- Parent Participation at the IEP Team Meeting
- 9 Questions to Tackle in Demonstrating Knowledge of Your Students
- Get OUT of the BOX! Our Kids Aren't Succeeding
- 4 Terms for Translating Behavioral Jargon
- Quit or Stay? Battle - Special Education
- Getting the New Kid