Max's annual IEP (Individualized Education Program, for the uninitiated) meeting happened yesterday. It's our seventh one, which I guess makes me a veteran, though a very young-looking one. I took the day off from work, not because it takes so long (about an hour and a half) but because I always have a lot to process afterward. These are some of the tactics that have helped me get the most out of IEPs over the years, and helped me to best help Max:
Try to discuss goals ahead of time with the team
Max's teacher and therapists have emailed in recent weeks to share their thoughts on goals for Max, and find out what mine were. It is incredibly helpful walking into the IEP knowing them, and being prepared to discuss them. If you have assessments from experts, share them ahead of time, especially if you're going to pushing for additional therapies or other support. You can also request a draft of the IEP ahead of time; it's a good thing to do if you have concerns and you want a specialist to weigh in on it.
Make a list
Basic, yes, but key: Bring a list of questions. I type mine out so they're easy to read at a glance and because it looks I-mean-business official. My wish list is also on that paper—an extra session of occupational therapy, a way for Max to do homework on his iPad or computer.
Sneak a peek at your kid before the meeting
When I popped into Max's classroom, I got one of his I'm-so-happy-all-I-can-do-is-giggle reactions, just the fuel I needed to go on. Also: During the conference, I opened a photo of Max on my iPhone, and left it facing up on the table. Just in case, you know, I forgot why I was there...or anyone did.
And by this I do not mean a flask of mojitos, not that there's anything wrong with that. Say you want the district to pay for a speech app for your child. Gather your ammo, whether it's copies of letters from private speech therapists or the neurologist or copies of progress reports from the last two years that show your child hasn't made great progress in communication. Discuss your request ahead of time with your district coordinator so she can (hopefully) back you up at the meeting. If you know you are going to be in for a battle over a device, service or support you want, you have a right to bring an advocate, psychologist, behaviorist, attorney,
psychic. And if you do not agree with the IEP, you do not have to sign it right then and there. Truth is, sometimes administrators don't necessarily have your child's best interests in mind—they might have the budget's best interests in mind, something I learned the hard way years ago at another school when I first asked about getting Max a communication device and was told "no." If you choose, you can put your concerns in writing and request another IEP meeting. Also: If you've had clashes with your school over services, you have a right to record the IEP meeting if you give 24 hours notice; that tape could come in handy should the school not completely follow the IEP.
But keep an open mind
Max has come a ways in terms of using both hands (his left one is the stronger one); he's instinctively picking up toys and objects with both of them and I no longer endlessly plead "Use both hands, Max! Use both hands!" But Max completely lacks supination—the ability to turn your arms so they face wrist-sides up (think soup-ination, like you're holding a bowl of soup). I don't know when this will kick in. Max receives two sessions a week of OT at school, and I got it into my head that an additional group session would be good for him; he's so social, and I figured watching other kids using their hands and arms in therapy might encourage him. What went down at the meeting: The head of the OT department explained that he does basically get group OT when the OTs are in the classrooms. Another pointed out that it wouldn't be great to pull him out of class for yet another therapy session. I listened, truly listened, and ultimately agreed with them.
Feel the love
During the meeting I'll look around the room and think about what each person has contributed to Max's progress; it makes me feel good, and helps lighten the intensity of what we're doing. And if someone's making me anxious, I picture them in their underwear! OK, I don't really. I just get them in a headlock.
Anticipate the downer moments
There was lots of Good Stuff to talk about. I had to restrain myself from giving a standing ovation when the nurse announced "Max is potty-trained!" Math skills are coming along. Max is reading sentences, and typing them out on his iPad. He is increasingly using his iPad in conversation to ask questions, including ones like "What is your favorite kind of party?" (Which evidently stumped the guy who recently measured Max for foot braces; Max's answer is "Cars 2 party!" and when he gets around to asking me I will unhesitatingly respond "toga party!") But then we discussed Max and his understanding of time and money. And his wonderful teacher gently said she's not sure he is truly getting what they mean. Even though hearing her acknowledge that was hard, I'd figured it would come up and that helped temper the sadness. Max learns best from repetition, so we agreed Dave and I need to work more on helping him with those concepts at home. Heck, we don't even own an analog clock; one old-fashioned, non-digital Cars 2 clock, coming up.
It's too easy to go home and get sucked into your bazillion to-dos. But take a moment to make a list of things you need to follow up on. Mine included talking more with Max's OT about a solution to helping him pull up his pants when he uses the bathroom, and being in touch with the school in September about getting Max a laptop with a touch-screen to do homework that way.
I put all the paperwork aside until the next day, so I could read it with a clear head. Then I went and got myself an IP: Individualized Pedicure, my reward for surviving yet another IEP.