The IEP Process: Part 1 (Don't miss the previous post on IEPs)
The first thing I did when we were moving was contact the school district and ask to speak with the special education director. I was fearful of the process once more but felt better prepared.
I spent over an hour talking to the special education teacher and I was impressed that she had given me that much time since I was not even a resident of the school district yet. I had so many questions and she answered every single one of them. When I did not understand, she would back up to make sure I was following along. When I was writing notes for reference, she was making sure I had the correct information. In addition, when I called a second time with more questions, she still had time to help me navigate and understand the process fully and what our options could be and what evaluations would be needed.
Once we moved and I got the girls enrolled in school, the team came together and we began the process of an IEP and getting the girls ready for school.
The first thing they did was gather information about our family and the girls individually. There were parent interviews, questionnaires, and dialog. I was encouraged to share my fears, my expectations, and goals I had for each girl.
I was impressed with the evaluations and the therapists. These women could be working doing private therapy because they are that good! It was especially reassuring to find out that the physical therapist has an adult daughter with Down syndrome. Now how neat is that!
Once again, the special education teacher took time to talk through the different placement options for Nina. I asked more questions and she also asked me good questions that got me thinking. Tracy, you will never know how much I value and appreciate all the time that you were willing to give to our family. It made all the difference!
After evaluations were completed, an IEP meeting was set. I asked for the draft before the meeting so I could go through it and know what we would be talking about and discussing. They had those to me as promised.
I feel it is important to make a side note here. Some may wonder why it is so hard for parents to deal with IEPs, especially when they are meant to help their child. But this is why, (at least from my personal experience while reading Nichole's drafts). An IEP focuses on the child’s weaknesses and as a parent, it is overwhelming to see all of your child’s weaknesses wrapped up together with all the positives and strengths left out. Emotionally, it is tough, really tough. Having the draft before the meeting helps a lot! You can read it, deal with it, and remind yourself what the goal of an IEP is: to help your child in their weaknesses. Then you take a deep breath, remind yourself of what an incredible child you have, how many strengths they have, and you are ready to get the ball rolling and plan an IEP.
A good team will make sure to bring up the strengths of the child at a meeting, because they will know it is important for the parent to hear that too. Once again I will say, the reason it is not written as part of the IEP is because if it is a strength, help and intervention are not needed.
Before the IEP meeting I sat down and wrote down a list of goals I wanted for Nina and Nichole to work towards in the following year. I included speech, gross motor (physical therapy), fine motor (occupational therapy) social, emotional, and developmental goals. For Nichole, I also wanted to make sure it was written in her IEP that she
The morning of the IEP meeting, we were ready with coffee, donuts, and feeling excited to talk about what the school year would look like for our girls. While the IEP meetings are quite formal, all the therapists and teachers were very gracious, friendly, and we were all working together to develop a plan that would help Nina and Nichole reach their fullest potential.
When we got to the goals, I was encouraged that the goals I had written were almost the same goals they had. That is what you call being on the same page!
Once we were done, we were excited not only about the school year, but about the team! I do not take this for granted. I am incredibly thankful for these wonderful people that loved our girls and saw their beauty and potential. Incredibly thankful.
And to all those parents out there, I highly recommend the book, "Wright’s Law: From Emotions to Advocacy." A must read if you ever have to sit through and IEP.