Is Relying on Outside IEP Help Always the Right Way to Champion Your Child?
If you’ve been following our “Parent’s Guide to the IEP” blog series, you know it’s important to familiarize yourself with the law regulating your child’s Individualized Education Plan, and to understand who belongs on your child’s IEP team.
But do you know when calling in outside IEP help is the best thing you can do for your child?
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we have been working with IEP teams for more than 20 years. We’ve learned a few things about how parents help contribute to the IEP team by knowing when and how to “call in the reinforcements.”
Assume and Expect the Best from Your Child’s IEP Team
Remember: Education professionals genuinely want parents’ help writing the IEP.
Therapists, teachers, and administrators know your child as he or she is at school. But you, as parent or guardian, know your child as a whole person. You bring knowledge and insight to the IEP table that can help the team put together a truly effective plan. Proactively sharing this information makes you a more powerful advocate for your child.
And education law mandates schools seek your input. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) puts parents at the top of the list of required IEP team members. It also requires schools use multiple methods, if necessary, to ensure you’re afforded the chance to participate.
For these reasons, assume everyone at the initial IEP meeting wants what’s best for your child, and wants your help in achieving it. We generally don’t advise you bring your attorney or other professional legal advocates to this first meeting. Their presence tends to put everyone on the defensive, limiting open dialogue and creative problem-solving.
At the same time, you should recognize that, as we all do, IEP team members have a tendency to rise and fall according to expectations. Don’t be afraid to let them know you expect their best efforts on your child’s behalf!
Add Clarity, Not Contention, to the IEP Process
Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, you may well need other IEP help.
For example, if IEP team members can’t answer all your questions or address all your concerns, don’t hesitate to look for people who can. The school district should provide you with contact information for your state’s department of education so you can get an outside, independent opinion.
In the event you can’t agree with the rest of your child’s team about appropriate goals and interventions, you may need outside support. When choosing someone to help you advocate for your child, look for somebody respected for her or his expertise and credentials, not for a reputation as a fierce opponent. A good advocate’s input brings clarity, not contention.
Although the IEP process can become emotionally charged, keeping your cool and maintaining positive, respectful communication is the best way to ensure a successful outcome. Do your part to ensure your child’s situation doesn’t become notorious for being riddled with angst and adversity.
Educators and therapists can feel “scared off” by situations in which they feel their actions will routinely be under a microscope, regardless of their professionalism and good intentions. We’ve seen more than one student go without services because a “high profile” status caused excellent therapists and educators to keep their distance. Even the most confident, dedicated clinicians are sometimes unwilling to risk professional exposure by letting themselves be drawn into a potential battle.
Parents’ Involvement Can Be “The X That Marks the Spot”
Parental involvement in the IEP process can make all the difference in a student’s success.
Here’s a case in point. One of PTS’ occupational therapists (OT) was once working with a boy who struggled with severe attention issues. He wasn’t able to finish activities without repeated cueing to stay on task.
Fortunately, the boy’s mom told the OT how much her son loved the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. The therapist started using pirate-themed handwriting activities and had the child dig for foil-wrapped “golden” chocolate coins. Suddenly, a student who had literally been running out of the therapy room kept asking if he could play “just one more game!”
It’s a perfect example of how parents help contribute to the IEP team. The OT was never using less than all her skills and training to try and produce positive results for the student. But Mom’s firsthand knowledge of how to engage her son’s imagination and harness his enthusiasm proved to be “the X that marks the spot!”
Stay Focused on an Effective IEP with PTS
At PTS, we’ve been privileged to work with some of the most gifted, child-focused professionals imaginable. No one goes into special education in search of fame and fortune. No matter how challenging the process becomes, try to remember everyone at the table—including you—is committed to helping students with disabilities and disorders.
Open communication, working toward shared goals, and a willingness to “tweak” things when a student isn’t moving forward as quickly as expected are the hallmarks of a successful IEP team. When you work with your child’s team to put a truly effective IEP in place, you’ll be rewarded by seeing your child make progress.
Want to know more about how you can best give your child’s therapists the kind of IEP help that makes a world of positive difference? Call us at 610-941-7020, or visit us online.