Disclaimer: I won’t pretend to be an expert on the IEP; I’m not, and have no wish to be one. However, I’ve been to a few now, and wish I’d known some of these things before going to my first meeting. Hopefully, these suggestions will be helpful to another Asperger parent out there.
Here’s the Wikipedia definition of IEP, or Individualized Education Program:
In the US, the IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability who is found to meet the federal and state requirements for special education… The IEP refers both to the educational program to be provided to a child with a disability and to the written document that describes that educational program.
In other words, if a child needs extra help or assistance in school, an IEP needs to be written up, detailing the issues and steps taken to address them.
This, of course, means a meeting with school officials. Oh so fun. On their timeline, of course, not yours… so a wait may be in order, of anywhere from two weeks to months.
Nothing happens over the summer, so don’t be taken in by that put-off like I was. 😉
To accomplish anything, you’ll need ammunition, in the form of a diagnosis, previous teachers’ opinions, guidance counselor’s opinions, and/or doctor/psychologist recommendations. A parent’s word is not worth a whole lot – they have been exposed to too many crazy parents looking for special treatment – on its own, but if you have backing, you’ll fare better.
Before you go, there are a few things you need to do or consider doing:
- Ask for books to prepare for the IEP, like the Developing Quality Individual Educational Plans handbook (this is a FL book, other states may have different titles). Your local CARD Center will have them, if the public schools do not. They’re a tough read, but will outline what should happen at an IEP meeting, what you are entitled to, and suggest ways to phrase ideas (how to speak “teacher” and other officialese).
- Think about who you’d like to bring to support you. You are entitled to a guest. I recommend asking an expert from CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders); you’ll be treated better, taken more seriously, and an outside party will keep school officials on their toes. These experts also know exactly what to say, and how to say it. They’ll ask great questions and help ensure good treatment for your child. Another option is having someone available for phone conference during the meeting (like a guidance counselor from a previous school). I don’t recommend going completely alone (without even a spouse or family member); I did this once, regretted it, and will never do so again.
- Make a list of what you’d like to see happen. IEP’s are about setting hard, trackable goals and timelines, not just talking about fair treatment. After all, this is a way of holding people accountable, it’s an official document, and none of your child’s teachers may be present (or all of them!). A few example of things that may be set in the IEP: Pragmatic Speech, or Speech Therapy (often the therapist will be present at the meeting), to be held once a week; Extra time to turn in homework; help with organizational skills (to be specified, with goals); and so on.
- Ask – or don’t ask – for your child to be evaluated. In our case, this meant a full workup from speech evaluation to IQ testing. The IQ test may invalidate the magic 130 Gifted number, if it comes up short (or may grant you the 130, it’s a roll of the dice). This may or may not matter to you.
- Often being interviewed by a social worker is just part of the process, as scary as that sounds. I found our social worker to be friendly and helpful; she was obviously on our side, and not representing the school or trying to undermine us in any way. In fact, I got a call from her months and months later, asking for a copy of our snapshot brochure for her present clients.
- Keep pushing for the IEP. Our first IEP meeting took forever to set up (eight months), and only happened because we involved people – and pressure – from outside of the school. This will be particularly true of children with high test scores and good grades; after all, they must be succeeding, right? Wrong.
- Keep in mind that anything put down here cannot be easily erased, no matter what they tell you. Don’t let anyone try to con you into signing the pre-prepared draft – which can be changed, so don’t feel pressured – by promises of easy or quick changes. To change the IEP, another meeting has to take place, and their motivation to see it happen will be even less.
It sounds like a lot of bother, and it is. It sounds like a pain, and it is. To me, it looks like the over-documented, over-administrated product of too many lawsuits and finger-pointing. Our world is what it is.
And we have to go through with it – unless you are in a private school – in order to get help for our children. But once it’s signed and finished, our children get their speech class. They get help with skills they currently struggle with. They get their sensory breaks – if they need them – or physical therapy, or whatever it is you’ve fought so hard for.
Good luck out there!