Its Your First IEP, now what?

Lately I have been asked by a few parents about IEP meetings and how to prepare. There is no hiding from the fact that these Individualized Education Program meeting can seem daunting especially to those who are new to a diagnosis or afraid of what their district has to offer.

When I first began my journey I had a number of great resources who had been in the field before and had suggestions but I knew I would have to make my own journey here as well. For those who know me personally, I am all in. I dig in, go head first, sometimes flailing about to find my way out. I can be outspoken, I can be aggressive and I can also be a pushover who doesn't know how to get what I want without crying.

Going into my first IEP, I had two schools of thought....listen or be listened to. Aggressive or be a passive pushover. I decided I would go middle of the road. Below are a few ways you can prepare for your first IEP meeting.

1. Educate Yourself: If your child has been in Early Intervention, you have resources from them regarding a parents rights. Read the abbreviated copy and know what your rights are. This is especially important for you as you begin to write your own wants for your child.

2. Bring Support: Support is good for a parent in any form. For me, the first IEP, I had my husband. If you are a single parent, bring a friend who knows you well and also knows about your child's diagnosis. Also, bring a photo. At our first meeting, one of the first things I did was share our daughter's photo. These children are not just numbers. They are not just children who are to be "educated". I find when the parents show the team who their child is, they find that they begin to grow a connection even before the child arrives at the school.


3. Write It Out: Write out everything you want to address. This can be as simple as the number of aides present in the room to the bus route and how long your child will be on the bus to and from school. Prior to my visit, I had heard negative stories about the school my child would attend so I brought up those stories at the meeting in front of the team. I know that every story has two sides and learning what the team had to say allowed me to take comfort in the classroom she would be in. Another fear for me was because of laws in the state, IF my child wanted or needed a hug or a snuggle, would it be permitted? Hearing that they would comfort her made me relax and understand that though there are laws to protect both the educators and the children, she would be loved. She is. 


4. Bring YOUR "A" Game: Have what you want for your child laid out. Make sure you know about the therapies you want for your child. When we went to our first IEP, I wanted a full day, I wanted occupational therapy twice a week, I wanted a behaviorist to be in the classroom assessing my child's needs and I wanted speech at least three times a week. I knew what I wanted so when the case manager presented her own ideas I could assess if they aligned with my wishes for my child. 

5. Bring Your Plan of Acceptance: Chances are unless your school has never ending funds and resources far beyond most districts in the nation, you will not be able to get everything YOU want for your child in your "A" Game. So have a plan of acceptance. For me, this was difficult because I like to have what I want when I want it. The program we are in does not offer full day and though it was recommended at both visits to the neurodevelopmental pedicatrican, it was not possible. The school did however work with me to put a plan in place so that we could see success. That being said, whenever I see the director of special services or the superintendent, I remind them of my want to have a full day program in place for my child and other children by next year.

6. Write a Letter: I wrote a letter about my child to introduce her to her team. It was nearly three pages long but for me sending a child who was about to turn just three years old I wanted them to know everything I knew as her mom. She had just begun to speak in June so by September she was not completely verbal. I wanted them to know as much as they could to make her transition seamless. 

I developed a listing for Seraphina and those who work with her to know her better. The following is information that I feel will benefit Seraphina as well as those surrounding her.

Seraphina enjoys:                                                       Seraphina’s Favorite Songs:
Animals                                                                                   Old MacDonald
Sensory Foam                                                                         Twinkle Twinkle
Shapes                                                                                     Its Raining Its Pouring
Puzzles                                                                                     5 Little Monkey’s
Songs (when she sings)                                                          
Bubbles (sometimes)
Art                                                                               Seraphina Copes by:
Balls                                                                                        Having a Calming Chair (beanbag)
Swinging                                                                                  Rubbing Mom’s Hair/Make Up Brush
Spinning                                                                                  Spinning
Baby Dolls                                                                               Swinging
Play Food                                                                                 Heavy Blanket
ABA with snack reward or positive rewards
Stickers

Seraphina’s Areas to Work On:
Imitation                                                                     Realistic Play
Expanding Language and Vocabulary                         Aggression/Frustration
Eye Contact                                                                 Being Away from Mom
Realistic Picture Identification                                    Reinforce Positive Behavior
Sitting to attend to a task                                           Speaking Skills/Conversation
Side by side/peer play                                                Direction Following    
Transitions                                                                  Cooperation
Fine Motor/Gluting (tactile)                                       Modeling Role Models


In her upcoming IEP I would like to discuss the following:

The proper programing for Seraphina. It is my belief that the following is in her best interest:
I believe Seraphina would benefit from an eventual full day program where she can model peers at her age or above that are typical children. I believe that transitioning to this program should not be done immediately therefore should begin with a half day program with additional in home therapy to allow for the parents to emulate the services provided at school such as ABA type, OT and Speech Therapies. It is my hope that Seraphina will have age appropriate and older peers to model behavior, language and coping skills to enhance her daily life and educational growth.

Our wishes for Seraphina are that she receives individualized OT at least 2x a week with a specialist.

Our wishes are that Seraphina receive speech therapy 2x a week individually as well as 1x to 2x a week in a group setting.

Our wishes are that Seraphina receive in home therapy 2x a week to teach us to help her become more independent in the home and allow for carryover from the school to home so we can assist in her learning plan to promote development to enable her to mainstream into a traditional classroom by kindergarten.

It is my hope that Seraphina will have social groups that will allow her to learn what is socially acceptable in a school atmosphere as well as that out in the world. It is our hope she will not only be paired with children with special needs but also with traditionally abled children. I am open to hosting playgroups within my home should this assist her.

It is my hope that there will be an open line of communication so that I can better understand the work Seraphina is doing in school and carry it over in the home.

It is my goal to partner with the teacher, the school and the special services teacher to make this an opportunity not an education. I am grateful already to the time, talents and efforts of the specialists that have been working with us through Early Intervention and I look forward to building a relationship with you as well. 


7. Take Notes: Take notes through the meeting to make sure that when you receive your copy of the IEP that your expectations align with what they will provide you in the school. If you cannot take notes have your support person take notes.

8. Ask for a Tour: For us, this was our first experience in this school. Our other children had attended a Catholic School and I was not sure where anything was. I made the mistake of NOT asking for this. Learn from my mistake. See the rooms where your child will have therapy. Ask to see the classroom. If there is therapy going on, there is a chance you cannot visit but if this is the case ask for an appointment to see the school at a later date.

9. Set Up A Follow Up: Perhaps this is new for you. Set up a follow up meeting that will allow you to assess how your program is working and bring up any concerns or modifications you may have. I suggest 8 school weeks. This allows the child to settle in and the teacher to get to know the child well enough to understand what he or she may need modified.

Walking into my first IEP, I remember feeling overwhelmed and scared. Though I thought I was prepared, I have learned that this journey is one that has to be modified and manipulated over time. Since our first IEP, I have decided to go and get ABA training for myself. I have found that this has better prepared me to walk into meetings and know what I need for my daughter. Though I would have never planned or prayed for a child with special needs, I am well aware that this journey is making my life better. She is making me a better person, a better mother and a better wife. She is bringing this family gifts I never dreamed imaginable as I watch my other children grow in empathy, compassion and understanding.

To you new mommies and daddies walking into your first IEP, take a deep breath, know that you are not alone and be the best advocate you can possibly be for your little one.

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