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.