By Alexandra Ramirez-Vizcaino
Plenty of times when I speak to a parent about an upcoming IEP meeting, I hear dread and anxiety in their voice. I find that a lot of times parents have worked themselves up about issues that haven’t been discussed simply because they fear pushback from the school staff. This causes the parent to walk into the meeting with a defensive attitude and one that automatically sends the wrong message, creating a parent vs. school type of relationship right from the start. It doesn’t have to be this way and there are ways you can start turning those negative emotions around in order to establish a positive relationship with those who will be in charge of your child’s education.
The first step is to make sure you set aside any assumptions that can cause you to have negative thoughts or rile up your emotions. Oftentimes we as parents get emotional just thinking about the what ifs and we allow those emotions to rule our thoughts. This is important for many reasons since our emotions tend to cloud our judgment and could prevent us from seeing things in a different light. Instead of assuming the meeting will end up being a train wreck, spend your time making a list of issues you foresee could potentially be brought up during the meeting (either by the staff or yourself) and right next to those issues, write down potential solutions to each. Seeing that each potential problem has a solution will help set your mind at ease while showing those present at the meeting that you consider yourself to be an active contributor to your child’s educational plan.
Create Valuable Relationships
The second step is to reach out and create valuable relationships with those who will be servicing your child. I realize this is easier said than done but it is such an important part of the process. These individuals will be in charge of your child’s education as long as your child is enrolled in their school. They will be the driving force behind the IEP while in the classroom and school environment and having a relationship built on trust, respect and open dialogue will be the best way for all of you to work as a team. While this doesn’t guarantee you won’t encounter disagreements, it will however make resolving the disagreements a bit easier and less stressful for you. You should also keep in mind that there will be instances where the disagreements will need to be escalated and tensions will run high, but even during those times, you must remember to keep the emotions under control and remain respectful of all parties involved. Keeping a cool head will allow you to remember that there are procedural steps that need to be followed and that despite the disagreement, there are things your child is entitled to under the law.
Prepare Prepare Prepare!!
The very last step, is probably one of the most important ones since without it, you will have a hard time keeping your emotions in check. This step requires you to go through your child’s IEP and any relevant test scores with a fine tooth comb. Bring a copy of the paperwork and organize it in a way that will make it easy for you to sort through during the meeting. Write down any questions you have about the IEP and how it is being executed in the classroom setting. Take the time to familiarize yourself with key sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004. While no one expects you to be an expert in the area of special education law, being knowledgeable of the rights your child has and the services they are entitled to is extremely beneficial and will help you understand the underlying reason for the decisions your school district might make such as recommending a 504 vs an IEP. Being prepared is key because just as I mentioned above, your emotions will always try to get the best of you when you find yourself without answers or you find yourself not understanding what is being discussed.
While there are many other ways you can turn the IEP meetings into positive experiences, these three steps listed above should help provide you with a starting point. Remember these meetings are meant to be a collaboration between the parents and the school staff and your main goal should always be to come out of it with a plan that will help your child be successful beyond their school years.
Alexandra Ramirez-Vizcaino is a mom of two very special kiddos with different abilities. She has a passion for helping parents of special needs children find the most suitable career opportunities in order to create a work-life balance that best fits their needs. Alexandra holds a BA in Labor and Industrial Relations from the Pennsylvania State University and a law degree from the University of Dayton School of Law. She is also a Certified Holistic Life Coach.