School Accommodations Setting Up Productive IEPs
by Karen Sunderhaft
IEP meetings can be emotional, and it is difficult for parents of ADHD children to hear and understand everything that is said if they are keyed-up or anxious. Keeping IEP meetings positive is tricky, but it can be done.
Katie Wetherbee - a former special-education teacher and mother of a child with special needs - started HOPE Educational Consulting, in Ohio, to show families how to do just that. Here is her advice.
Prioritize your child's needs.
Before the meeting, write down your child's academic, social, physical, and emotional problems, in order of priority. Request that the top three problems in each area be addressed. Some things may need to wait, but don't budge on the ones that are most important now.
Write everything down.
Keep a daily log of time spent and of the specific activities you do at home with your child to support his needs in school. For example, monitor the time spent on homework, or on completing daily tasks. This will show the team how hard you work. It will also make it easier to set up programs at school that can work in conjunction with routines at home.
Do advance work.
Find out which teachers will attend the IEP meeting. If you know that the speech therapist will be there, e-mail questions to her ahead of time. If you prepare well, the meeting time, about an hour in most school districts, can be used more effectively.
Make it personal.
Nida Parrish, a proud parent of seven-year-old Collin, always brings along two items to IEP meetings: a photo of her son and a piece of his artwork. "Collin is artistic, and it may be a side of him his teachers don't know about. Bringing something personal sets the tone for the meeting and allows everyone to be on 'Team Collin,'" she says.
Prepare a presentation.
Bring a written list of questions and subjects to discuss, so that you don't forget anything important. When Collin started kindergarten, his dad created a presentation that illustrated his concerns. It ended with two photos of Collin, side by side: One picture showed him smiling and the other showed him crying. The family left the slide up and asked, "What kind of year will we make for Collin?"
Invite a friend.
Ask a friend or family member to come with you to act as a second set of ears and eyes. Your surrogate can take notes, so that you don't miss or misunderstand anything important. After the meeting, while everything is fresh in your mind, review your friend's notes, jotting down questions.
Have an open mind.
An education lawyer, from Ohio, explains that parents must have faith in the system. "Parents may get stuck on a specific reading program that they feel their child can benefit from, and insist that it be included in the IEP. But there may be another program that would better suit your child's needs. Your goal is to explain that Johnny can't read, and to ask for the 'best' program the school can recommend."
Parrish was surprised to learn, before her IEP meeting, that the school had assigned her son a teacher she thought might be problematic. Instead of entering the meeting upset and defensive, she asked why the school thought this would be a good match. Nida agreed with the school's assessment.
Designate a go-to person.
At the meeting, determine which participant you feel most comfortable with, and ask him or her to be your contact when questions arise. Select someone who interacts a lot with your child.
After the initial IEP meeting, request a 60-day review with the team to see how the year is going. This can be arranged with the team or written down in the section of the IEP titled "Summary of Services."
Keep everyone on the same page.
After the meeting, send everyone an e-mail or a letter summarizing the meeting goals and listing the people assigned to do specific tasks. This will serve as a record of the meeting and ensure that nothing was overlooked.
Most people who work with special-needs children do it because they love the kids. It isn't an easy job. Send a note that includes examples of how a teacher's actions made a difference.
Catalog the journey.
Keep a notebook or file for each school year. Include copies of correspondence, the current IEP, test results, and samples of your child's work. This will help you keep the documents organized, and create a record of the progress your child has made through the years. Refer to the notebook often, to remind you of how far your child has come, and of the new goals you want to help her work toward.