3 Tips for Navigating the IEP Process from a Seasoned Mom and Educator

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As a teacher, I sat across from many parents during special education meetings. Back then, I thought I fully grasped what parents were feeling because I fully wanted to be their education partner and I truly cared about their children. Fast forward 10 years and I am now the parent navigating the IEP process.
 
Recently, having my second meeting of the week to review an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for my family, I got to thinking of a fun or thoughtful meme I could create to try and show what this feels like today as a parent or maybe even an educator in this process. I did a quick search and I am clearly not original – parents moving through this process are creative! I can relate to them all
sorry for what I said when I was mentally preparing for my kid's IEP meeting

Over the last two years I have experienced the IEP process as a parent and have found 3 things that could help families just starting out in this process.

1. Always trust your gut.

When you feel that something isn’t right and you are questioning whether or not your child is struggling or even qualifies for extra help, trust your intuition. Oftentimes the nagging voice that something is off with your kid is probably right on. I’ve followed my mother’s intuition at times when others have disagreed but it helped my children get what they needed quickly. Time is of the essence. 

2. View your child’s teacher and school as a partner in education.

Before I was a parent navigating the IEP process, I was a teacher. When I was a teacher I truly and whole heartedly loved my students. As a teacher it was hard to share that a child was struggling or that I suspected a learning disability because there can be a myriad of reactions from parents. And as a teacher, I always exhausted every angle I could to get my students what they needed. As a parent, it’s important to remember special education teachers, classroom teachers, specialists and therapists don’t usually enter the profession without a deep passion for helping. You are a team so treat each other as teammates and everyone will benefit. I loved this article from the NY Times about forging a solid relationship with your child’s teacher

3. Get support. You may not be able to walk this season alone.

If you have multiple issues to cover, multiple kids with IEPs, or if you just don’t have knowledge of the process – don’t hesitate to ask for help. You can ask a friend in the profession for help, you can hire a special education advocate who can represent you and offer support. In my state, The Disability Rights Center offers the ability to speak with an attorney with no charge attached. You may also want to reach out to another parent that has gone through the process already. Get yourself familiar is with FAPE, IDEA, and if you’re in NH like me, all things Special Education in NH

If you are starting this process later than you think you should have or if you have only just accepted that your child needs help, remember it’s never too late. You can choose to steer the ship any way you please. Find strength in your voice and ask for what you need now.  Every child has strengths and weaknesses and intervention doesn’t have to be forever. You can empower your child about their weaknesses and share the plan for becoming even better at whatever area they need help in.

The things you really need to leave out of this season is self blame, pity and worry. These feelings may come up but they will serve no one. Especially not your child.

The reality is if you are a parent of even one child with a disability, IEP season or beginning the IEP process can feel like a full time job. The process can be anxiety provoking, overwhelming, frustrating, sad, liberating, relieving, exciting and so on. Hopefully at the end of it, you and your child will feel content with the path forward.

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When I was 12, I received a coveted writing award at my 8th grade graduation. So right about now my 12 year old self is super pumped to be writing for Seacoast Moms! Writing loads of poetry helped get me through many challenges as a preteen. Nowadays I write often in advocacy and in relating to others and about newer, deeper challenges as a parent and as a woman. Expressing my feelings and writing about what I've learned while becoming a grown up may hopefully be relatable to other moms too. In college I was set on a law career but took one intro to education class and fell in love. I received my Master's in Education from Lesley College through a life changing program called Art Integration in the Classroom. During my years of teaching 4th grade I also coached for The Girls on the Run program and witnessed the importance of extracurricular activities, teamwork and movement for children. Once my daughters came along, I made the tough decision to pause my career and focus on motherhood. I became the organizer of my family (and chaos) as a stay-at-home mama. The trick I found to support my extrovert personality was to not "stay-at-home". My children and I quickly became involved with our community in Portsmouth, NH. Through involvement in the community over the years I suddenly found myself becoming skilled at event planning and fundraising. I eventually helped lead a nature playground committee at our local school which successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars over several years. Within our PTA I've planned many events and led our group members to think of outside of the box while using ways to connect with the community and secure sponsorship for The Ecology School Fund as well as The Nature Playground Fund. In the Spring of the last few years, I have been coaching young girls with Seacoast Lacrosse. Being a non-athlete growing up and with zero Lacrosse experience, I learned quickly. I can do anything with a lesson plan! I have a knack for empathizing with children and helping them see the importance of themselves, kindness and being a good teammate. Over the last few years, I've also navigated the health and special education field for both my daughters and I am an advocate for enhancing special education and for invisible disabilities and Dyslexia and awareness around mental health support and PANS/PANDAS awareness. Over the last 11 years as a Seacoast Mom the one thing that I've learned is that kindness can go a long way and that you truly never know what another mom or family could be dealing with. So offer a helping hand when you can, a compliment or an unexpected smile. It can and will change someone's life. I like to speak up when it's important and I truly believe we should skip the small talk and discuss the meaning of life. I love my family and friends and community fiercely.

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