Say it again now! Ok cheesiness off….
Your child is struggling both behaviorally and academically. You are getting increasingly more and more reports of poor grades, attention issues, and disruptive behavior. You know your child is smart, creative, curious, and so much more. You are at your wits end. What do you do?!
The Individualized Education Program, also known as an IEP, is a document schools create with the assistance of parents and the child when special education or accommodations are needed. You may have to start out with a 504 plan, which is basically a document outlining accommodations your child may require without changing the curriculum. Understood.org provides a really good breakdown of what each plan is and the difference between the two. Don’t forget your child’s therapist and Psychiatrist are great resources prior to meeting with the school team. They may even be willing to attend the meeting to help advocate for your child.
If you are like my wife and I, you have probably done fifty plus of these, and groan at the thought of a grueling hour plus long meeting in a musky school classroom. We have been lucky to have wonderful educational team members to work with over the last few years. This has not always been the case. Unfortunately, the process to get your child the services they need can be a real battle. We have had more than a few stern calls from Principals about inappropriate social interactions, disruptive or violent outbursts, and even leaving school grounds before they would even entertain the thought of one of these programs. Even with mental health professionals providing their full support and diagnosis, the school has the final say if your child qualifies for either a 504 or IEP. Be proactive. Find out who the school Psychologist and Special Education Teacher are, odds are they may have already interacted with your child. We never gave up and neither should you!
Here are a few tips once you schedule your first meeting:
1. Prepare a list of strengths and weaknesses for your child. You are the expert on your child! You know what they excel at and what they require additional assistance with. Your strengths list should be longer than the other. I know it is hard sometimes to find the positive words when you and your family are having problems, but that is when it is the most important. Get your child involved. You will be surprised at what they come up with if for nothing else than the entertainment value.
2. Ask loads of questions! Questions are expected and encouraged. Especially if it’s your child’s first IEP meeting. I still ask the occasional question even now.
3. Don’t take no for an answer. Think outside the box to figure out a solution. School budgets are getting leaner and leaner, so hoping for a fancy Apple laptop to alleviate a handwriting problem may be extreme. Requesting additional time on tests and assignments and the opportunity to access a computer as necessary is more reasonable.
4. Discuss ahead of time with the group if your child will attend the meeting. We have done meetings with and without our child for the entire meeting or a portion. I personally prefer to have our child join us for fifteen minutes at the beginning or end to provide their input. Any longer than twenty minutes results in concentration loss and heightened anxiety. And that’s just the grownups!!
5. Last but not least be open-minded. Everyone is there to help your child succeed. Leave any and all personal biases at the door. We set the example for our children to follow. Even though they struggle with behavioral and mental health issues, our children are very perceptive. Remember you can step out and take a break if needed. Gather your thoughts, regroup, and get back at it.
Do you have any additional tips? Leave them in the comments section below.