Springtime brings IEP review time for a lot of families of kids with disabilities, so it seems a good time to talk about how to approach the conflicts that so often arise in IEP meetings.
As a parent, you are your child’s best education advocate—until he’s old enough and informed enough to speak up for himself. You know your child’s strengths and challenges, and you can help identify and push for the resources your child needs to succeed. Here are some tips to help you advocate for your child at school.
Keep a paper trail.
Make sure to keep copies of all report cards, progress reports, evaluations, educational assessments, IEPs, medical records, homework samples and other documents. They can provide insights into your child’s learning issues and how much progress he’s making. Take notes at important meetings and keep copies in a file.
Read and attend workshops. Get insights from parents whose children have learning and attention issues. This way you’ll be familiar with your child’s challenges and possible ways that schools can help.
Get to know your child’s teachers as well as the school psychologist, speech therapist and anyone else who can help you help your child. Building relationships with these people will help keep the lines of communication more open. There’s less of a chance of misunderstanding if everyone knows each other.
It’s important to work with the school, but make sure you’re in agreement before you give your approval. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, request further testing or challenge the school’s decision regarding services. It’s a good idea to submit in writing any requests for additional testing. Keep copies of these requests that include the date you sent them. It might also be helpful to keep a log of whom you spoke to and when.
Remember that the teachers and other school staff members involved are there to help, even if you disagree with them. The process will go more smoothly if you listen and keep an open mind. Make a list of the topics you want to cover in important meetings. Take deep breaths. Consider bringing a friend or relative who can take notes for you and help keep you steady.
Remember that you’re in control.
Parents should never feel pressured by school staff to make a decision. Ultimately, you’re in the driver’s seat. So while it’s important to be receptive to the school staff’s thoughts, don’t agree to something you think goes against what’s best for your child.
Know the law.
Learn about your child’s rights to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Your child might have the right to extra time on tests and other accommodations or modifications. Keep informed about your school’s legal obligations to provide your child an evaluation and other services. You can also request that the school provide a parent advocate to help you during important meetings.
Talk to your child.
Understanding what your child is experiencing in school is essential to advocating for his needs. For example, the 30 minutes he’s supposed to spend each week with a speech therapist might only be 20 minutes because the therapist keeps showing up late. Asking your child detailed questions will also help him understand what it is he needs. This will help him advocate for himself when he’s older.
Know the lingo.
Find out whether the speech therapist and other service providers are “pushing in” (working with your child in the classroom) or “pulling out” (taking your child to a separate location). This is important because your child may say he didn’t go to speech that day, but it could be that the speech teacher pushed into the classroom.
Attend meetings regularly.
IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences are obviously good opportunities to get an update on your child’s progress, but there are also other times. When teachers host a publishing party so kids can showcase their work, this is a good time to see what’s been going on in the classroom. PTA meetings may provide insight into curriculum changes. The PTA can also help push for weekend test prep and other resources that could help your child.
Brought to you by Dr. Edward Pham, Parent and Child Advocate. Also, a Special Needs Parent working to make a difference.