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.