Last week was my 13th IEP meeting. I remember my first one. It was at a small early intervention pre-school in my school district. I may even still have it in a file. :) I left that first meeting much how I left the evaluation where Jack was given his diagnosis. With my head spinning. Despite any intention by the school, most parents get through their first IEP meeting and think..."What the hell just happened?" I did and I was absolutely NOT ok with not understanding what was happening. So I started to drill in. I started reading, asking questions, taking notes. I did what I do...I become obsessed with understanding this so I could do better, in this case at supporting my son. And after a lot of reading and talking and thinking I started to change how I manage IEP meetings. And manage I did. I came into my second and third IEP meetings like a CEO. After a lot of mistakes, more reading I finally figured out how to do this and make it MUCH more succussful. I'm going to share those big take aways here.
I remember the time I spent hitting my head against a wall with requests for OT or changes to speech therapy goals. So much time spent frustrated, angry...I mean really just pissed off. I exploded in carpool once when I figured out that some wording in Jack's IEP changed his services and I hadn't understood that during the meeting. You can bet your ass I NEVER would have agreed to it otherwise. But the other thing I figured out was how much worse it felt when I tried to push. When I became demanding. And how much easier things were when I steered the ship with the current instead of against. I was successful at doing that when I took my eye off the finger and instead focused on what the finger was pointing at. Let me tell you what I mean. As with all kids you get to know them better as they grow and develop. Their personalities, preferences. And in the case of Jack, his needs. A little bit more about how his brain is working and putting things together. That's when I realized I was really limiting myself be focusing directly on "services" in his IEP meeting. What I really needed to be focusing on were his needs. And not the secondary, this will make him behave better need. The real root cause primary need. Once I started to direct the conversation at the IEP table away for achieving some academic goal that is cookie cutter, and toward actually what Jack needs to be successful everything changed. How we wrote speach therapy goals changed. The reason for OT services changed. The goals around communication and engagement changed. Math changed...everything changed. I was no longer demanding speach therapy goals so Jack could answer questions with no visual prompts. Now I was asking how do we get Jack to share what he needs? I was comfortable saying; I don't care if he can subtract on paper, show him how to use a calculator. One better - show him how to use the calculator on his phone. I wasn't pushing for solving word math problems as IEP goals. Instead I was asking how does Jack know if he has enough money to buy something. Everything changed. This required a shift in how I was thinking about what Jack really needed. I was able to pull back layer and not just shift to functional skills, but also about why the goal was needed and making that need the focus. Why did that help? Because as soon as I started doing that instead of hearing, "no, your child doesn't need...." I started hearing, "well maybe we could try...". Y'all that's huge. Meetings become collaborating brainstorms. And they contnued through the school year in informal and then formal ways. It made IEP meetings more interesting, creative, productive and successful. And Jack was able to make more progress. Digging into those primary needs takes some time but it's time well spent. The other thing I started to do is I really started to talk about his strengths. What he does well. And we used as much of that as we possibly could to structure his goals. Specially by being able to identify the accommodation, or support that would be used for him to learn the skill. It was a game changer. And my IEP meetings are...dare I say, enjoyable now. I bring food, we brainstorm, we get creative. Do we still disagree? You bet. But not nearly as often and not nearly as intensly. Usually because the disagreement is met on both side by a different suggestion instead of a flat out denial. I also really changed the energy I had in those meetings. As I said, I started coming like a CEO. Initally I was a dictator like CEO. Now I'm more of a servant leader...what do we all need to make this happen? How can I support that getting done? Again, game changer. When you shift how you engage with the school and the teacher the IEP meeting changes. I only wish I would have started the whole process like this instead of wasting years with trial and error. But that's also why I wanted to become a coach, and help parents with this. I'm in the middle of putting some training together on this topic. And of course there is my coaching package; Empowered Advocate. And on Dec 3rd I'll be running an hour-long workshop for my local community on the topic. I'm excited to have this new training getting started soon too. Look for it for purchase in the coming weeks. These practical techniques really made a big difference for us in not just how we engaged with the school, but also on how I felt about the whole process. I would love to know how you manage your IEPs. Have the been successful or torturous? What have been the biggest struggles? What have been your biggest successes? Please share. And don't forget to share this post with others that might benefit. Here's to more successful IEP meetings! Jennie
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