Kids have limitless possibility. For most, the degree of success comes as a result of early intervention and appropriate educational strategies and supports. No parent or provider should ever view a challenge as a hopeless situation. That’s true for the parent and school relationship as well. Yes, at times there are hurdles to overcome in communication and collaboration with those that you entrust your child’s education to; however in almost every situation the efforts that you make are well worth it.   The IEP is a more powerful document than most parents realize. A well written IEP can drive the educational program for a child and provide documentation needed should a situation arise where your child is not making the progress anticipated. Information within the IEP must be detailed and specific to truly capture the needs, strategies, supports and services necessary for a child to find success. Children whose private therapists work in collaboration with teachers consistently show the greatest amount of progress. A well rounded program that includes educational programming that target the child’s needs, evidence based interventions and components of differentiated instruction, can offer amazing outcomes.   YOU are your child’s best advocate! You are the only one that truly has a vested and passionate interest in the development and progression of your child. There are specific skill sets that will allow you to effectively advocate for your child during the IEP process. We offer some of those here:

1. Be well informed about your child”s needs Learn as much as you possibly can about your child”s disability. Find out what the best practices are and how your child”s needs can best be met in the school setting. You cannot begin to educate others, until you understand the disability yourself. Learn as much as possible to fully understand how the disability impacts the child.

2. Be Prepared It is vitally important to acquire the requisite knowledge to advocate successfully. Never stop learning. School districts receive parent education dollars through IDEA and many offer ongoing trainings for parents. Attend as many as is possible to learn not only more about your school system, but the federal and state laws that govern them. In addition, there are several trainings and conferences offered by specific disability agencies. A plethora of information can be gained by consulting with parents struggling with the same issue. Local parent support groups can offer feedback from parents who have traveled the path that you are now following.

3. Remain focused on the child Oftentimes IEP meetings can become heated situations. More progress can be made when collaboration takes place. This is unlikely to happen when tension is in the air. Remain confident in your attainment of knowledge, know that you are protected by procedural safeguards and focus on the needs of your child.

4. Communication The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the most important skill sets which a successful advocate brings to educational planning. Too often communication from the school is given in vague educational jargon. Their “lingo” is oftentimes through acronyms that are beyond the parent’s knowledge base. On the other side, parent’s communication tends to be highly emotional; at times focuses on what has happened in the past rather than the present situation; and sometimes fails to convey their true goal. By using effective communication strategies, a bridge can be built to close the gap between home and school.

5. Be proactive, not reactive It is important to be prepared for your meeting. Make a list of the items that you want to cover and what your objectives are. During a meeting it may be necessary to take strategic “breaks” to allow time for cool down, consultation, and regrouping. Sometimes it is more beneficial to terminate a meeting that is failing to move in a positive direction and protect the record and procedural rights.

6. Ask Questions If you don”t understand terms being used, ask for clarification. Be sure to completely understand the process, procedures, planning and interventions being discussed on behalf of your child. Getting the answers to any questions you may have will help to avoid a sense of frustration.

7. Remain Positive and SupportiveSometimes this is the most difficult step. You want to feel good about dropping your child off at school each day. The IEP Committee should be a “team” that works together to build a strong educational program for your child. You can be assertive without being aggressive. Working collaboratively with the school will help to build a two way trusting relationship. Remember: anger, hostility, aggression and frustration will not be productive in ensuring the best program is in place for your child. 2-way trusting relationships will maximize your child”s benefits.

Know your rightsKnowing what alternative actions you have available in advance of the meeting will help you stay focused on the course of the meeting. Your Procedural Safeguards will provide direction should the outcome of the meeting not support the needs of your child. Stay strong, know that the school must provide for his/her needs and be confident in your ability to passionately and vehemently represent your child.

The last quarter of the school year is here. As a parent, you can easily become frustrated as you look back on your child’s school progression. Report cards came out last week. How did your child do? When you look at their IEP goals, are they making progress towards mastery? Are the goals written too low or are they written in such a way that it’s hard to tell what your child has to do in order to master them?

Some of the things that you could do now, and not wait til the very end of the year, is:
– Especially if your child is transitioning to a new school, make sure the IEP really explains what your child needs. Remember that the teacher that will get your child next year knows nothing about them and will get their first impression from the IEP. If it needs changes, make them NOW. Don’t wait.
– The school board will be offering trainings over the summer for staff. If you think your teacher, paraprofessional, SLP, principal, etc needs training, ask them to contact the district to find out the dates of training and how to sign up. If you’re not sure if their staff has already been trained… ask.
– Look at the report card. If your child is getting all As and Bs and not really learning the things that you think should warrant the grades, ask how they’re showing what they know. Far too often kids make the honor roll and then move onto the next setting (middle or high school) only to move from straight As to straight Ds and Fs. You want progress to be real progress.
– If the report card indicates Ds and Fs, ask why. Ask to see work samples and offer feedback as to why you think your child is not grasping the concepts. Ask what the school is going to do different to help your child learn. When students fail to make progress, the school is required to take a harder look and make changes – although oftentimes the issue just continues without a change in approach. Then you end up with a kid who has had the same deficit year after year after year.
– If you’re not sure about progress ask for assessments to be conducted before the school year is over – you don’t want to wait until the end of the summer/beginning of next school year when there will naturally be some level of regression. You can ask for a Diagnostic Assessment of Reading (DAR) – forms A or B (one at the beginning of the year, and one at the end); a Rigby; GMADE or TOMA (math); and writing samples with a rubric.
– Seriously consider inclusion for next year – or more inclusion if your child is already included for some time each day. It’s best to start including your child from day one when ALL of the students are introduced to the new teacher and she/he reviews the plans for the coming year. If your child begins inclusion in October, they miss all of the introductory activities that the rest of the kids get to experience. Inclusion can be for an hour a day, the full day, or anything in between.
– If the school is telling you that your child isn’t meeting promotion criteria, ask why. The only mandatory retention year is 3rd grade, and that’s only if your child has not been retained before – and this is only if your child is on regular standards. Many kids with disabilities would be better off using the extra time they get in school at the end of their education to focus on employment and independent living skills.

Even though we only have one quarter left, we HAVE one quarter left. Make it count by actively engaging in your child’s education. Let your voice be heard and don’t settle for responses that make no sense to you. Reach out to organizations such as Family Network on Disabilities to help you figure out if what you’re told is in fact “policy” or “law” as parents are often told.

Good luck for a strong ending to the school year!