Alright, you have done your prep work, research, and you are ready to sit down with your child’s IEP team and find the supports that will make your child successful. I’m going to start this with a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.” If some of them seem like common sense then you are ahead of the game.
Bring materials with you
Have your materials organized
Have outside OTs, PTs, SLPs and other experts attend the meeting
(If a couple) Sit on opposite sides of the table
(If single) Sit at the head of the table
Have a notepad handy and take notes
Dress like you are going to the gym afterward
Attack everything they team members say
Bring cookies, muffins or other snacks
Agree when told that your child doesn’t listen, sit still, etc.
First off, if you dress nicely they will take you more seriously. It seems elementary, but I have seen folks show up on clothes that looked like they had never been washed. I’m also going to give you a mantra to help you stay calm. “Whoever loses his/her temper loses the battle.” Its okay to be strong and firm, but yelling and screaming will derail all the positive work you have done in a second. If you have materials, bring them and make sure they are organized. Bring your child’s other therapists if they will attend. They can help you make a good case for your child receiving more services. You need to be able to see everyone’s faces to gauge reactions, thoughts, etc. As a couple you can do this most effectively by sitting on opposite sides of the table, and if single sit on the end.
You can’t attack everything people say and expect them to take you seriously, or even want to work with you. That’s the key to the IEP team. You have to get everyone on your child’s side. I’m not saying be a milquetoast, but respect everyone’s right to their opinion. You can change their minds later with the right tools. I’m going to capitalize and restate this one for you: DO NOT BRING COOKIES, MUFFINS OR OTHER SNACKS TO YOUR IEP MEETING! Some administrators may view it as a bribe, others may refuse on principle, but the main reason not to do it is because the IEP meeting is a business meeting, not a social event. The last one is a bit of a paradox, since I’ve told you not to attack everything they say. However, allowing people to have their say and agreeing with them are two different things. You can listen to them respectfully and still not nod your head or say “Yes I have seen that.”
The key, in my opinion, is to start the meeting positively. We are very friendly with our child’s IEP team. Typically it will start with a review of information, and this is a good time to present your child’s PLOP. Make sure it is entered in the IEP. This puts a positive view of your child right up front. Other people on the team will also add their observations at this point. This is a good thing. It starts the process that I like to call “puking.”
Working with our kids is hard. As parents, we know that. Just because it is hard, however, doesn’t mean it is impossible. However, in the beginning of the meeting I want you to listen. Be an active listener. Ask questions, make notes of rebuttals or ideas and show genuine interest. The puking can go on for over an hour, due to some weird group speak phenomenon I have witnessed. When the puking finally peters out, then and only then can you go to work. It may take a while. We have had IEP meetings lasting 3-4 hours. Don’t worry. Take all the time you need to make sure they are done puking all over the conference table, then you can start working on changing their attitude.
As an advocate, you have to be the catalyst. Since the people reading this probably don’t have a law degree, we have to figure out how to be catalysts in a positive way that makes people want to help us. The first part of that is listening. The second part is responding. Its tough to get through the puking without getting mad, but remember whoever loses his temper loses the battle. Remain calm, and make notes about how you will address these issues.
Your time to shine is when the team starts going through the modifications and supports. This is where you start asking for things, and when a team member objects using their “puke,” you simply use your notes to refute their argument. For example, one IEP meeting we attended, the consensus was that our son didn’t listen. We know that, as he has an auditory processing deficit. However, we had to let them puke that out for a good half hour. Once they were done my wife said “He has auditory processing deficits. He may not understand what you are asking him to do.” Then it was like a light bulb came on.
The real misconception with autism and autism spectrum disorders is that these kids are behavior problems. In fact, most kids on the spectrum have sensory issues and their “behavior problems” are due to overloaded sensoriums that lead to them acting out. This is the key point we need our IEP teams to understand and support. When they are puking, listen to the complaints. Are they complaining about behavior? If so, you should always put that back on them. “What was happening when he had this behavior?” “Who was in the room?” “What was the class doing?” The hope is that you can find what triggers and overloads your child’s senses and give him support then, because that’s when he needs it.
Okay, this one is long enough. Next up: What to do if things don’t work out at the table.