8 tips for navigating the IEP process
Monday, May 16, 2016
I am the mother of 10-year-old twin boys. One of my sons has central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) and has had an IEP for the last three years. Along the way, I have learned a few tips and tricks that have helped me make sure my son was getting everything he needed.
Every child is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a child with a learning disability. Parents have to figure out what works best for their children. And I am just a parent, with no special training or degrees in this area. These tips are just things I gleaned along the way.
1. Ask a lot of questions
Just as in medical care, you have to be your own best advocate. In the area of special education, you have to be your child's own best advocate. If something doesn't sound right, ask for an explanation. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification.
This may sound simple, but in a room full of experts (school administrators, teachers, psychologists, therapist, etc.), it may feel daunting to admit you don't understand something. I asked so many questions around school the principal got concerned about me and asked who I was. That's when I knew I was on the right track.
2. Talk to everyone
I always ask people where their kids go to school and what they think of the school. I like to get a lot of feedback from different sources.
I ask my IEP team their thoughts on the best services for my child. I check in with my IEP team regularly, not just waiting for schedule meetings. If someone offers to connect me with parents whose child has an IEP, I call them and hear what they have to say.
The more information you have the better prepared you will be.
3. Find a compatriot at your child's school
One day the head secretary at my son's school whispered to me three little words: intensive instruction provider (IIP). I didn't know what she meant at the time, but she was handing me a gift.
She became my ally. I would call her and ask her things or whisper questions to her when I came into the school office. I also made sure to give her a small holiday gift and have my son personally thank her.
To this day, I still make sure to go out of my way to say hello to her. Being nice and offering a smile can go a long way when dealing with school personnel.
4. Take in as much as you can
I subscribe to a lot of web listings and Facebook groups that have to deal with learning disabilities. I do internet searches, read articles in magazines, and read blogs about learning disabilities.
But I don't read everything. Sometimes it gets overwhelming with the amount of information that can be thrown our way. Pick and choose what you want to read or listen to. If you don't have time that day, bookmark it for another day when you feel ready to deal with the information.
5. Utilize your resources
A lot of resources are available to parents of children with learning disabilities. I have several websites I really like that have provided me with useful information I took with me into my son's IEP.
6. Visit schools and programs
Every time I was offered the chance to visit a school or sit in on a classroom my child might be attending, I did so. This often meant taking time off work. But those visits were invaluable.
I once visited a classroom that was completely out of control. The teacher told me that was not the norm — it was just an off day. But it was enough for me to know I did not want my son in that class if there was the possibility even one day would be like the day I observed.
These visits also gave me a chance to ask questions. Take notes of everything you see and follow up with the school if you think of things later.
7. Decide whether to go public
I kept my son's issues to myself for a long time. That was my way of dealing with what was happening. But then I slowly started to tell people about it.
Talking about it helped. People heard I was talking, then they started asking me questions. The more I talked, the more I learned. This is a personal decision for you to make.
8. Talk to your child about the disability
My son is quick. He knows the minute someone walks into his classroom to observe him. And he has never been shy about talking about his limitations.
But I wanted to do more for him. I found a book about a child who had CAPD. We read it together, and he even took the book to school and showed it to some of his teachers. It made him feel good that there was a children's book about a real boy who had CAPD and who was now a successful adult.
If there is no book about what your child is dealing with, then write one. There are make-your-own-book kits. Or you can self-publish.
Always remember you are your child's best advocate. Ask questions, lots of questions.
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