When our daughter was in early intervention, several of her therapists spoke very candidly with me about what would happen when our daughter transitioned from an IFSP (see previous article here) to an IEP (individualized education plan). They told me I’d need to be ready for “the fight of my life”. I was warned about how difficult it would be to get the school district (any public school district) to give my daughter all the services she needed.
As the day for the first IEP approached, I thought I was ready. I believed I had thick skin and that I could fight hard enough to get whatever I felt my daughter needed. Boy, was I wrong! Sitting there listening to explanations that there simply wasn’t enough funding for all the services my daughter needed, I felt helpless. It felt to me that those on the IEP team were merely doing their jobs. They didn’t seem to care about my daughter as I thought they should.
The Emotional Battle
For years, I had to prepare myself emotionally for each IEP meeting. In some of those meetings I was able to hold it together until the end of the meeting. Then I’d fall apart as soon as I walked out of the room. At other meetings, I couldn’t hold it in, and I started bawling during the middle of the meeting. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t going in there planning to be pushed over. I went to each meeting with carefully thought-out ideas and what I believed were good solutions. My opinions and ideas were always shot down. This happened with several IEP teams in different schools and different school districts.
For a couple years, I’d been trying to get the school to change the classification on my daughter’s IEP. Even though I had a diagnosis from a doctor, the school didn’t see the need to change the classification. However, to me it was important for my daughter’s future, even if it didn’t change her services significantly.
Finally, I decided I was ready for a showdown. My daughter was now in middle school, and I realized her public education was more than half over. This time, my husband and I sat down together and made a plan. The school requested our daughter attend the IEP meeting, which we hadn’t done before. Considering what happened in that meeting, I wish she hadn’t been there.
This time I wasn’t going to back down. Things got very heated. Angry words were exchanged and no progress was made. In fact, I felt like we lost ground. I felt worse about that IEP meeting than any we’d ever had before. Now not only was our daughter not getting the services we believed she needed, I was not on speaking terms with the special ed teacher. We lasted through the rest of that year, but I regret the loss of potential progress that could have been made.
Finding a New Strategy
This year I knew I had to change my strategy. I needed help. I spoke with our daughter’s ABA therapist. She offered to attend the IEP meeting and present the data she’d been collecting on our daughter for the past year. I was looking forward to having another person who really knew my daughter at the meeting.
I didn’t want to stop there, though. I had to learn exactly what the school was legally required to do. This time I needed to go in with facts, not just emotions. I contacted the Utah Parent Center, which provides support and information to parents of kids with special needs. They have representatives (most of them parents of special needs kids) who will speak with parents about their individual situations and then attend the IEP with the parents. Through my conversations with the Utah Parent Center, I also learned about upcoming changes to the law which would affect our daughter.
Finally Some Progress
I couldn’t believe the difference in this IEP meeting. I have been fighting for years for specific changes to be made. Finally, after we presented all the facts, the IEP team agreed to the changes we had requested. They weren’t aware of the upcoming legal changes, but because I was, we were able to begin looking ahead and making some plans for our daughter’s high school and post-high school experiences. I left that meeting feeling much more confident about the current IEP and more reassured about the future.
Tips for Having a Successful Student IEP
Here are the things I have found to be most helpful in having a successful IEP:
- Check your emotions at the door. This one is so hard, but trying to be objective will help everyone come together to make applicable goals.
- Do your homework. Get as much info as you can about what is required legally as well as what resources are available. If you live in Utah, the Utah Parent Center is a valuable, free resource. Other states have similar resources.
- Bring reinforcements. As a parent, you are allowed to bring anyone you want to the IEP. Invite those who know your child well and also those who can advocate for your child’s best interest. Thinking outside the box about those who would be beneficial in an IEP meeting could make a big difference.
- Be realistic and prioritize. Understand that the school likely cannot provide everything your child needs. Decide what is most important and fight hard for those items.
In my experience, being a parent of a child with special needs doesn’t get any easier as the child gets older. We get worn down and at times wonder how much fight we have left in us. One important thing I have learned is we have to use the resources we have and allow other people to help us. I hope your IEP experience is one that leaves you feeling empowered and hopeful for your child’s future. If you have comments or suggestions regarding IEPs, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to comment below.