Wait a minute. You’re probably saying to yourself that you have prepared. You have done your three-ring binder with all of the education records carefully placed into the right category. Each page in the binder has highlighted sentences, lots of sticky notes, statements that are sure signs of mischief on the part of the school district are carefully underlined – and double underlined .
Ok, but do you get a tight feeling in your throat, boiling blood, maybe a sagging feeling as you stick the keys in the ignition to drive to the school for an IEP meeting?
What else, you ask, is there to getting ready for an IEP meeting?
The Three Rs:
Respect for yourself;
Respect for Others; and
Respect for yourself
Why is it that most parents, in any setting other than an IEP meeting, have a tremendous amount of self respect? Why is it that their confidence and self respect seem to slide down the tubes the moment they get into the car to go to the IEP meeting?
“They make me feel stupid,” parents say.
Once, an attorney mother of a disabled child told me that she felt “stupid” at IEP meetings for her own child. How is that possible?
Simple: The special education language, the laws, the regulations, the school policies, and all of the other stuff that go along with special education administration seems so complex that learning how to navigate through it for a parent – any parent – seems impossible.
Here is the good news: Not only can you learn how to wend your way through it, you can also get results when results are justified. It is not easy, but it’s also not nearly as difficult as we first think. Cut this next sentence out and paste it on your bathroom mirror. Look at it every time you brush your teeth:
You are just as smart as anyone else sitting around the IEP table.
Respect for others;
Treat everyone with dignity and respect even when you think they don’t deserve it.
There are scads of explanations for why the method works. Most of us are familiar with phrases such as “what goes around comes around,” “Vibes,” “Good Karma-Bad Karma,” and so forth. Each of the phrases have something in common.
We human beings tend to treat others as they treat us. And, I might say, that treating others with dignity and respect begins long before you lay eyeballs on the school folks at the IEP meeting.
Maybe you have those mind bending one-sided phantom arguments in your head before the meeting. If you do, then you spend a lot of mental energy having a conversation with the folks on the school team – before the meeting even starts..
You might mentally call them ignorant, liars, or other colorful nouns and phrases. Do that, and you will have yourself whipped into a frenzy and ready for a fight by the time you arrive at the most important meeting you can ever have that will – I repeat – will affect your child’s ability to get an education for the rest of his or her life.
Ask yourself: Is it more important to “shove it up the other side’s nose,” or is it more important to get what your child really needs? I know what some are already saying: “I’m not going to kiss up to anybody,” or something to that effect. Treating another with dignity and respect has nothing to do with kissing up or bending over. It has everything to do with setting the stage for discussing your child’s education on a logical and reasonable basis.
Watch Court TV sometime. Notice how adversary lawyers address one another as Ms. Blah, Blah, Mr. Blah, Blah, Learned Counsel, and so forth. You should know that each of the attorneys would sell their own mother just to win an important case – and they ain’t kissing up to the opposition. They are using protocol and words as tools to win.
School folks count on you being hacked off when you arrive. That is the most common way they easily defeat parents and eventually get them out of their hair.
An old and true saying: The person who can make you mad is the person who can control you. On the flip side of that, the person you treat with dignity and respect is a person who cannot make you angry easily: you remain in control.
Responsibility for your child and your own actions.
Relying completely on someone else, or some entity, to provide what your child needs puts you in the weakest position you could possibly imagine. Your strongest position comes from deciding that you are responsible for your child’s education and your child is going to get whatever is necessary even if you have to pay for it yourself or develop creative ways of getting the needed services.
One mother I know in Oregon ran into a stone wall with the school system. Her son is autistic. She barely had enough income to survive. Each day her son was without services was a day forever lost to that boy’s chance at becoming independent. That mother beat the agency doors until she crafted a full program, including respite care, apartment rent, transportation, assistive technology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and too much more to mention here. The services were provided by Medicaid, other federal and state agencies that the school either did not know about or did not want to spend the time developing.
After more than a year of providing on her own, this mother again tackled the school with renewed confidence because she knew that regardless how the school acted, her son would get needed services. I cannot say that she met with 100% success with the school district. I can say that she was able to get a lot more from the school for her son than she ever did before.
Coordinating agency referrals and keeping all of the people continuing with her son’s services was not easy. This mother simply looked at it as the price she had to pay to see that her son had a decent shot at becoming an independent adult. Does she still get frustrated with the system? Yes, but she does not give in to frustration.
What she knows is that frustration can lead to passivity, and passivity leads to accepting “what is,” and accepting what is, leads to giving up.
“So,” you ask, “What is the magic? Is there a sure-fire way to get a good IEP – and get it implemented?”
No, because we are constantly dealing with human beings. If you use the Three Rs formula, though, you will immediately increase the odds in your favor.
Author: Brice Palmer, Benson, Vermont.