School is finally out for summer, but our jobs as advocates is never over. I have reposted this blog from January 16,2010, just so we remember to exercise our mommy/daddy muscles.You know muscle memory is a wonderful thing. Once learned it is very easy to remember just like that karate form (beautiful isn't it!) BTW both the boys and I actually studied this from of Kenpo for years, but never did get to this level. Restarting our studies is something I have wanted to do for awhile.Unfortunately there are no Parker Kenpo schools in my area anymore. Maybe someday.
We have all heard the stories. That mother who screams and yells at their child’s IEP meeting. The one who every professional talks about, that ”crazy” mother who just won’t listen when they talk about her child. Yeah, that “crazy” mother, who they delegitimize because she got frustrated and yelled at them. You know the one that thinks she knows better than them about her child. I have talked about the condescension of the professionals, it is a pet peeve of mine. Personally there are times I think that some of us would probably like to punch out these professionals so they are lucky if all we do is yell, but I digress. So what do you do though if you are faced with a problematic situation? How to do you channel your frustrations? How do you get for your child what they need? I call it embracing your “inner bitch.”
Throughout our lives we have been taught to be nice. To play nice. To talk nice. To be pleasant and friendly. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I learned a good lesson. Who cares what others think? You need to do what you need to do for yours. That is what I call “embracing your inner bitch.” Now I had always had that attitude, you might say, because the people in my little hamlet were none too happy when collegeman came in district and I didn’t care, but I learned to have that attitude with the professionals too, on the rare occasion that it was necessary.
Now this is a good thing. You use your frustration and your anger to embrace what you are going to need to do, but you do it in a way that is calm, intelligent and very thought-out. You leave the yelling and the kvetching and the breakdowns for home, facebook or twitter (as long as someone from your district isn’t following you on social media). So the question becomes how do you get what the children need without throwing a fit?
To start with, come in prepared-very prepared. Read the law books available from different law sites. I like Wrightslaw. Their books are succinct and to the point. They guide you through the process with wonderful examples. I also like their website. There is a lot of information available. Also go to your state education department, they should have guidelines for special education accommodations. In fact, in my state there is even a special section on autism. Check the federal government’s website. Remember an IEP is based on the Individual with Disabilities Education Act and a 504 plan is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Make sure you are well versed. Learn the lingo. Learn the difference in the two laws and how they apply to your children.
Next, get the medical information in order. Make sure you have a diagnosis letter with you and a letter outlining the supports the doctor recommends. Now this is not a guarantee but it is a good place to start. The schools do not have to take the recommendation into consideration, but it is good to come armed with something that shows you are serious. It is also good to have this information if you decide to go to a due process hearing. The school will know you are not coming alone and that you have back-up. (Doesn’t always work, but at least the school is on notice). If you had outside testing done, in addition to the testing done by the school, make sure that is with you too, and that it has been sent into the school before hand. Don’t let them use the excuse that they haven’t seen the testing, to delay helping your child. If you can work it out, it helps that the doctor or psychologist is there at the meeting or at the least the committee should call the outside doctor during the meeting. Even if they say it’s not necessary. I would insist strongly. (This is why the state regulations are very important to understand)
The next thing to know is what services are available in your school district. Your child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which they are making academic progress. This does not mean that they are getting As. Children get promoted to the next grade who get Cs as well. Also if they can function in a mainstream environment with support, like an aide, then they should be in the mainstream. That would be the LRE. However, if your child still cannot learn and still has meltdowns and still cannot function in a mainstream setting then it might be wise to seek some specialized program for them. Now you must, with a BIG MUST, understand the programs available in your state.
Here, in NY, the Education department has to certify any program. You are obligated to try to keep the child in state. We are very close to two other states with programs, so I am not talking residential placement, but for that you have to look instate as well first. Get a list of the appropriate programs and talk to the directors; go see the programs with and without your child. The school is also supposed to go view the programs. There is an application process that the school has to abide by for each school. Make sure that they do, request to be copied on all paperwork. In fact see if they will give you copies of the applications. Call the programs to make sure that everything is being sent the way it is supposed to. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”
The last step is to prepare the IEP to fit the program that the child is entering. Make sure that the goals are realistic and that there is also some growth allowed too. Don’t let them make everything too easy. If the child reaches their goal, they don’t need services anymore, right? There should also not just be educational goals, but social and emotional goals as well and very very important, EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING goals. These executive functioning issues are the bête noir of our children’s existence, I have remarked on that several times in the past. It sounds simple, but if the children don’t learn how to organize, and process for themselves, they will be lost in their lives.
So these are just a few things to remember in preparing for that IEP meeting. You don’t have to yell. You don’t have to threaten. You don’t have to knuckle under. What you do is learn, organize, and collaborate with those who work with your child. Unfortunately if all else fails sometimes we do have to go the route of hiring a lawyer. It is not pleasant, but it may be necessary. Hopefully for all of you it will never come to that. It didn’t for us, because I followed the above rules.
So put aside that societal contretemps of being the nice girl, whom everyone has to like. The one who has to please those around her to validate her self-worth. Use your intellect. Use your strength. Use your ability. Use your wisdom. Use your power. Embracing your “inner bitch” is a good thing. And if necessary you make sure they learn what the word “BITCH” really means.
Until next time,