Last week was one IEP, one that we knew was going to be more involved because some of the school representatives had expressed different desires for Brianna's placement than what we were wanting. We also knew there would be three schools represented, which inevitably adds to the length of the meeting.
Here's a few thoughts on how we prepared for Brianna's IEP, and some things to consider when preparing for your own. We have another two IEPs next week for Aleksa and Wesley, so this is not only fresh on our minds, but also something that we are about to do two more times next week.
Though we have six children with special needs, since they are all 1st grade and younger this year, we haven't been at the IEP thing for long! It's helpful, though, that in 2003 I graduated with my bachelor's degree in education. Though my focus was elementary, it gave me a basis for understanding the basic IEP process as well as where to look to learn what I don't already know. I'm thankful for this basis, because it has really helped us to know where to start when we needed to look deeper.
So-- Here are a few things that I'd suggest for any parent going in to an IEP, especially if you know that there may be some differences between what your desires are for your children's education and what some of the school personnel may want.
FIRST AND FOREMOST: Know that whatever happens, this IEP is a work in progress. It isn't something set in stone for the rest of their lives. It is a very important first step, but it's not the end of the world. I have a hard time with this, simply because we have 6 IEPs and I don't want to have to have more meetings than necessary as we redo IEPs that aren't working out.
1- Ask for a draft copy of the IEP and request to have it at least 48 hours ahead of time, even if it isn't nearly complete. If there was any testing or evaluating done on your child that will be presented in the meeting, ask for that as well. Also, it was helpful for us to ask who was going to be attending the IEP meeting. Our meeting notices only named a few people, but many more were invited yet unconfirmed and not written on the invitation because of that.
2- Get someone to help you. If you don't understand the IEP or the process, ask someone for help! Look at parent advocate organizations and even ask your children's school if there is an organization in cooperation with the school system. Other parents can be a great help, especially if they are from your district or a nearby district that uses a similar layout for IEPs. Our IEPs in our county are very different than those where James used to attend school and different from others in other states as well. All the same information is on an IEP from any area, but it's laid out very differently in each area. Find someone to go over the IEP with you before hand, and someone to attend the IEP and help explain and ask questions with you at the meeting as well.
3- Consider the goals. Aside from the goals on the IEP, consider what things you want your child to be doing a year out. What Math, Reading, Social-Emotional, and Self-Help skills do you want your child to accomplish over the course of the year? What goals do you want your child to accomplish in the areas of gross and fine motor skills, as well as speech? Write down where you want your child to be in a year. Then look through the IEP. Match up the goal subjects and see what your thoughts are regarding the goals that are on your page and those on the school's. We found that several of our goals and the school's lined up fairly well, and would accomplish the same result. We also saw that a few of their goals weren't on our list of things that we wanted her doing, and since they weren't steps to further education, we asked for one to be changed and in the second area an additional goal was written for that subject area to address the concern we had.
4- If you're asked to come up with some goals for your child, consider looking at developmental profiles to see what gaps your child may have in those areas. Also, look up your state educational standards, and even modified standards to see what things your child would be working on at grade level or even several grades above or below to get a bearing on what you want your child to do in the future and what things need to be done between now and then.
5- Consider placement. This is the last thing discussed at an IEP meeting, generally, but you should think about it ahead of time.
a- Do you want a self-contained classroom, full inclusion, or some combination of the two?
b- Will therapies be push-in or pull-out (served in the classroom or in a different room) or a combination, or will it be left to the discretion of the therapists and teachers?
c- How will time out of the main classroom be handled? If your child will have a combination of different rooms, which rooms will provide what aspects of the IEP, and how will it be determined what times each room will provide each? (for example, if your child will be in a regular classroom but pulled out for reading block, how will scheduling be handled between the two classrooms? Will the exed teacher adjust to the regular ed schedule? Something to discuss...).
d- How will your child get to and from school? A bus, walk, or be driven? If they will ride the bus, will they need a carseat or restraint or will they ride in a regular seat? If they won't ride the bus on a regular basis, but will ride it for field trips throughout the year, will they need a carseat or restraint at that time? All of this will be written into the IEP.
e- How much therapy and services will your child receive, and what types? Occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, behavioral consultation, technology consultation, adaptive PE... Consider the amount of time that your child needs to work on each area, as well as the amount of time that it will take away from other educational tasks. Determine which is more important and go from there.
6. Pray, and bring snacks! Those are my favorite two parts of the IEP. In addition to being a time where the entire team gets together to discuss the coming year for your child, it's also a great time to rely on God, on prayer, and on His peace. It's also a good time to thank the team working with your child by treating them to a little snack. It's also another way to break up the meeting a little bit and have two minutes of social time together instead of working straight through with everyone being serious the entire time. Sometimes a little cookie or muffin break is just what is needed in the midst of an IEP!
7. TRUST. This one comes from friends, and IEP members that they keep saying to me. I have had people say things to me about my family and children that have made this very difficult. And that makes it hard for me to let my guard down at a meeting and TRUST that the entire team has my child's best interest at heart. I am trying, very hard, to trust that everyone wants to see my kids succeed! And this is the hardest part of the IEP for me. Don't get me wrong, I trust every person that interacts with my children on a regular basis! The IEP team consists of more than teachers and therapists, and people aren't perfect. It's difficult to have an IEP meeting with someone that you may not get along with, but it is also part of life... part of dealing with people :) Another area where PRAYER comes in even stronger.
If you have any other IEP tips, PLEASE SHARE! If you're reading this on FB, consider sharing your comments on the BLOG instead of on the FB link so that others looking back at the post later on can find your comments!