5 Ways Parents Can Advocate With Kindness for Better IEP Outcomes
Many families are struggling with gaining access to medical and school support. The waiting periods are excruciating and many times, the only access to services and support is through the school district. So, by the time a family figures out about evaluations through the school district, it has been years of waiting for medical appointments, constant letdown, and repeating their child’s history over and over.
Once a parent begins their special education journey, they have already heard one horror story after another from other families. The advice is to keep your wall up, be careful what you share, and keep a lawyer on standby. Then, if you spend time in special education advocacy groups on social media, all you hear is the adverse outcomes, the push-back by the school, and the school doesn’t truly want your child to attend there.
What if we were honest about all aspects of the special education IEP process, such as how schools make educational decisions, what data schools need to move forward, what information is essential for parents to share, and how parents must provide detailed information about their child at home?
Many parents enter the special education process understanding that the school will automatically know their child’s needs and manage their education as they would. What parents need to realize is that without their collaboration and input, there is no way for a school to get the complete picture of their child’s specific needs. So, what can parents do to build collaborative relationships with their school while having tough conversations about meeting their kids’ needs?
1) Be Proactive
Parents, it’s essential to be involved in the IEP process, documenting decisions, following up to ensure the IEP is implemented, and not waiting for your IEP team to share information. A school has many students to care for, and it would be impossible to ensure things are moving forward with your vision in mind without you inserting yourself respectfully into the process. You can do this proactively, kindly, and assertively without hurting your relationship.
2) Maintain focus on your child’s vision for the future
Take time to sit down and think about your child’s future with optimism, hope, and knowledge of your dreams. Then write it down and revisit it often. This vision will help develop your parent input each school year, what assessment data you need to monitor closely, what observations to share from home, and how to help guide your team in developing goals to work on skills towards that vision.
3) Prioritize Your Concerns.
Keeping a running list of your child’s strengths, concerns, interests, and vision for your child’s future can be helpful. Then, use this list to prioritize the skills (2-3 areas) you need to work on over this next school year.
4) Maintain Flexibility and Openness with Decisions
When you focus on only one outcome, it makes it difficult to hear others’ suggestions. As parents, we must first determine how our child learns, what motivates them, and what lagging skills are present. We must be flexible in trying different strategies to see what works best for our child. So, having open and consistent communication with your child’s IEP team is critical.
5) Listen & Ask Questions
Parents need to understand that they have more control over the IEP meeting than we realize. Do you need additional time to process the information given? You are allowed to ask for breaks within the IEP meeting or schedule another meeting to discuss further. If something doesn’t make sense, ask as many questions as needed to understand. Listen to what everyone is saying and then ask questions to clarify!
If there is one piece of advice for parents, it is to communicate often, clearly, and put your thoughts in writing. With practice, you will find the best way to insert yourself into the IEP process and manage your child’s IEP from home. It’s vital to remain emotionally neutral, have a support system to be there for you, and remain as open as possible as you build teamwork with your school.
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