Collaboration between school representatives and parents is the foremost approach to accurate educational planning for children with special needs.
This process rests primarily on the principle that parental participation is mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). All parents can and should contribute meaningfully to their child’s education; as such involvement is integral to positive outcomes for both short term and long term results.
This means providing descriptions of their child’s strengths, areas of challenges, strategies that work at home, and preferences. The IDEA requires parents to be included in the educational process and to have a voice in their child’s programming.
Schools must include the parents in these meetings; however, some parents express feelings of frustration, pressure, or apprehension when attending these important meetings for their children.
Further, the IDEA is intended to provide an educational safety net designed to protect the rights of parents and their children with disabilities in the development of individualized goals, services, and educational placement. Procedural safeguards ensure that parents are involved with every aspect of the educational process concerning their children. Parent participation in this process is essential in providing for their child’s education.
Parents have the responsibility to act in the best interest of their child and are often concerned with both the short and long term goals for the successful growth of their child. The development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the core document that is developed by the required parties for the child.
All too often, parents walk away from those meetings with additional questions and confusion over the complicated issues within the field of special education.
Often parents of children with autism feel intimidated, unsure, or confused by the very process of planning for their children that was designed to support them.Teachers and other professionals can easily intimidate parents using specific vocabulary, specialized acronyms, complicated terms, and confusing explanations.
Having served as a special education teacher and administrator, I have seen many times where families physically and emotionally shut down in meetings and report feeling defeated by this process almost from the start.
As a parent consultant, I have learned from these experiences, and in many instances, supported parents in becoming more confident and empowered so they truly feel as though they are an integral and powerful part of the planning process for their children.
What can you do to feel confident and informed so you are able to effective participate and make an informed decisions?
Here are five essential tips for success:
1. Build Relationships
Get to know the teachers and administrators before your child’s IEP team meeting is held as a way to build a foundation for a long term and positive relationship. Volunteer and visit your child’s classroom. Be a participant in school activities.
By being engaged and visible on the campus and with your child’s teachers, you will have a sense of familiarity with some of the very people who will be participating in your child’s meeting. A positive parent-teacher relationship contributes to your child’s school successes and that of an effective IEP meeting.
2. Ask Questions
It is not unusual for parents find that they have many questions before the meeting actually occurs. This is the same whether it is the first IEP meeting or the 100th. My advice is for parents to write their questions down in the weeks prior to the scheduled meeting and bring them to the meeting.
More often than not, these questions will be answered during the course of the discussion. Throughout the conversation, you can check them off on your list, which will allow you to have a strong sense of satisfaction that your questions were on target and answered succinctly.
Additionally, during the meeting, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or further explanation. If after the meeting you find you have further questions, make an appointment with the director, principal, or teacher so that you can have another opportunity to have your specific questions addressed.
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3. Listen Intensely
Listening can be a show of strength in any social situation and communication is the key in developing and maintaining good relationships. Listening makes our communication partners feel worthy, appreciated, and interested, though listening can be a challenge as well. Active listening incorporates what we are saying with how we are saying it.
A conscious effort must be made to hear not only the words that another person is saying but also more importantly, the complete message being sent. Integrating equivalent body language, eye contact, and gestures with the actual words is essentially what active listening is all about.
4. Use Your Voice
When participating in an IEP team meeting, often used are complicated concepts, timelines, rules, and terminology. Most times, teachers and other participants do not realize they are using these intricate and abstract words and acronyms, which can be quite intimidating for parents.
I encourage parents to use “I” statements such as, “What I heard you say is…”, “I’m feeling a little confused by this part of the discussion, can you explain it again for me?”, or “I’m not sure I understand, can you give me an example?” to gently ask for the professionals to explain their point in more routine language so that the parents can grasp the meaning of the conversation.
5. Participate in the Team
You are an equal member of the IEP team. In sports, each player has an individual, yet specific and important role in order for that particular team to win the game. There is nothing different in an IEP meeting.
As the parent, you have a unique perspective on your child and your input is valuable to the end result and to your child’s educational goals. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You do not have to agree and there are times when you will agree to disagree. Express your viewpoints during the meeting. You are your child’s best advocate.
This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey