"The Invitation"-5 tips to eclipse fear at your next IEP meeting!
You’ve aced summer and survived the back-to-school rush. Or, if you’re like me, you’re proud you survived! Now, barely into the new year, you get The Invitation. It comes in an ordinary envelope, but it fills you with uncertainty.
It’s an invitation to an IEP meeting. (shivers)
IEP meetings can be intimidating. It feels like the entire faculty is on one side of the table, and on the other side is little you, with your notepad and a lukewarm coffee. The test data has a weird scoring scale. There’s a secret language with a ton of abbreviations, and the forms…so many forms! How do you keep up, let alone communicate how you think your child’s story before adoption affects her learning?
Everything in an IEP meeting has its own system, outlined by the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act). These 5 tips will help you prep for your next IEP meeting without fear!
1. You don’t have to go alone. You can bring anyone to an IEP meeting, as long as she knows and is familiar with your child. That can include a therapist, pediatrician, or even a close friend. (IDEA Section 1414(d)(1)(B)(vi)) Even if you just need moral support, take a friend—just make sure you let the school know in advance (preferably in writing, like an email). Ask that friend to take notes for you-it helps you avoid getting emotional or forgetting your questions because you’re inundated with information.
2. Take a treat--it will go a long way. IEP meetings are scheduled at weird times and sometimes run long. If you take a treat with you, it can contribute to a positive mood that sets the stage for collaborative work. For a morning meeting, a box of coffee from a donut shop & some banana bread. During school, protein snacks--trail mix or cheese cubes. For an after school meeting, cookies or mini muffins to get past the afternoon lull. Remember when Karyn Purvis told you all about how eating can help calm the brain & stimulate thinking? That advice holds true for an IEP team just as much as it does for kids from trauma-informed backgrounds!
3. You’re an important part of the IEP team. IDEA insists that parents get to have meaningful participation in their kid’s education. (20 USC 1400 (c)(5) & (d)) If the school tests your child because they suspect she has a disability, they need to get your signed permission in advance. If they call a meeting, you should receive a written invitation in advance. If the time they scheduled doesn’t work for you, you can ask for one that does (keep it in writing!). A school can’t have an IEP meeting for your child without inviting you. And before they can offer your child special education or related services, they need your informed & written consent.
4. You don’t have to sign the IEP at the meeting. (Whaaaat?) It’s true! You can always ask to take it home and think on it. Most advocates insist that their clients take home an IEP draft for review. If your IEP team says otherwise, keep it friendly, but ask them to show you their policy in writing, and get a copy of that policy. If you can’t take a draft home, you might need to talk to an advocate before you sign anything. Special education attorney Pete Wright offers great advice here.
5. You are your child’s best advocate. Children from hard places carry their past with them, and it can show up in strange places. Kids adopted internationally have higher rates of behavioral disorders, physical and cognitive delays, and speech and language impairments. Don’t be afraid to ask for an evaluation if your child struggles in one of these areas! Always put your concerns & evaluation request in writing, and sign and date it. It helps to address it to your child’s teacher, hand-deliver it to the school, and follow up in a day or two by email. If something in the IEP doesn’t sit right, trust your gut. Speak up, ask questions. Ask for the data that the team’s recommendation is based on. Ask what approaches they’ve used with other international adoptees.
These five quick tips won’t solve every challenge in an IEP meeting, but they can go a long way towards helping you feel more confident. You’re the most important part of your child’s IEP team!