Guest Blogs

Advocating for My Child: One Mom’s Learning Curve

I learned a strategy for preparing for IEP meetings — and found out about several components of an IEP that I’d never heard of — from these useful advocacy tools.

ADDitude‘s Back-to-School IEP Challenge is in full swing! Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to participate so far. I find it so helpful to learn what accommodations are being used by actual kids with ADHD. It helps make all the expert information I’ve read gel.

As I wrote in my post announcing the IEP Challenge, in my quest to become a better advocate for my child with ADHD, I’ve been studying up on anything and everything IEP. Assuming ADDitude aficionados like me know about ADDitude‘s ADHD at School ebook, I’d like to share what I learned from another resource, Nolo’s The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child. From the Nolo guide, I learned a strategy for preparing for IEP meetings, and found out about several components of an IEP that I’d never heard of. Here’s a description of each, as I understand them.

Siegal writes about developing an IEP blueprint: your dream plan for your child’s education. As you dream, don’t worry about what’s actually offered in your area, and disregard cost (reality will set in soon enough!). Once you’ve developed this blueprint, use it as a basis for developing the actual IEP (knowing that you probably won’t get everything you ask for). I love this kind of brainstorming exercise, but hadn’t thought about preparing for Natalie’s IEP meetings in this way. Doing so helped me see things differently.

Siegal also writes about including a child profile in the IEP — information about your child that might not be included as you create a plan fill-in-the-blanks style, but that might help teachers understand your child better. I plan to take advantage of this one! When I attended Natalie’s mini-conference (20 minutes in which to tell the teacher everything he needs to know about your child!) a few weeks ago, I came prepared with a list of six things to go over with the teacher, that aren’t in her IEP.

Here’s one example: Natalie may laugh when you try to discipline her. She can’t control this reaction. She’s not purposefully “laughing in your face,” being disrespectful — she’s anxious. Try reassuring her as you address the issue. For example, you might say, “I can see you are anxious. You’re okay…you’re safe here with me..or, you’re safe here at school…but we need to talk about…” Please don’t ask her to stop laughing or punish her if she can’t.

Why not write down my list of must-knows and ask that the resulting document be attached to the plan?

Likewise, he suggests a narrative be added to include statements that are helpful, but don’t fit in a goal.

Here’s my made-up example: The IEP team agrees that Natalie’s behavior deteriorates when she is anxious. The classroom teacher will report regularly to the special ed teacher and the parents about signs of such distress. If needed, the team will meet in about three months to discuss the need to add accommodations or pursue an evaluation related to reducing Natalie’s anxiety level. It’s not a goal, but it may lead to one. Having it in writing will serve as a reminder, and help hold those involved accountable for following through.

The other new-to-me IEP component Siegal mentions is a parent addendum. This is a statement made in writing expressing the parents’ disagreement, or partial disagreement, with a decision. It’s added before the parent signs the plan. I can imagine myself writing an addendum something like this: “I agree to the plan that Natalie will have two 40-minute pull-out sessions of special ed instruction each day. While I understand that the number of students the special ed teacher will be responsible for working with during each of these periods may vary, I believe that Natalie requires a student teacher ratio of no more than 3:1 in order to benefit from special ed instruction.” This is a way of documenting your efforts to advocate for your child in case legal action is required in the future.

Whew! This stuff is complicated. I hope I related this info accurately…maybe you’d better read the book.