I was going to write something more uplifting today, but…
Well, between the comments here and on our local Autism Parents group on Facebook, there was the question of what can be done to “Fight the Man”, as it were. So, in the interest of offering up some tips that we either already knew or learned in the most recent process:
- Know your rights. It sounds so simple and stupid, but it’s true. Here in Maryland, we get a booklet entitled “Parental Rights: Maryland Procedural Safeguards Notice” with every IEP meeting notice (or we’re supposed to, and don’t always, but heaven knows we have enough copies already). We have the older pink one, and now we have the latest blue one. This booklet is about 30 pages and contains the instructions on how the process is supposed to work, including how to appeal if you don’t agree with the decisions made by the IEP team. Read it. Seriously. Know what’s in this book, and ask questions if something’s not clear.
- Enforce your rights. You are part of the IEP team and have the right – under the law – to meaningfully participate in the process. (Memorize that phrase and use it whenever you feel that you’re being shunted to the side. “I have the right to meaningfully participate in this process as a full participant of the IEP team.” It’s very useful.) This means that you have the right to insist on a meeting time that is convenient (within reason) for you to attend and participate. That you have a right to proper notice before meetings, including a complete attendee list. That you have a right to access to all of your child’s records, and you have a right to copies of any documentation to be discussed at a meeting sufficiently in advance to review them. And if they violate these rights, you have the right to insist on rescheduling the meeting, including stopping a meeting in progress. They cannot meet without you if you want to participate.
- Record the meeting. Notify the school-based team that you’re going to audio-record the meeting. It keeps everyone honest, for starters, about what’s being discussed. But also, you can go back and review it. What we also find helps is providing them with a CD of the audio afterwards, and insisting that it be added to your child’s permanent record, so that if you do have to go to due process, you can have it admitted as evidence.
- Document everything. I hate doing things over the phone. If I have something to say to the IEP team, I email them. I have a written record of what I said, of what they said… and as with recording the meeting, no one can say later, “I didn’t say that!”
- Remind yourself that the standard for service levels and placement is “appropriate”. Not “best”, not “most appropriate”, but “appropriate”. I know a lot of parents who go into the IEP meetings insisting that Option A is the best thing for their child, and are shocked that they don’t get it. The team is going to keep going for “what is appropriate” and if you tailor your language to that, you’ll get better results.
- Make sure that your goals are SMART goals. In our experience, the school loves to put down “informal measurement” as how they’re going to verify if your child accomplished a goal. NO. Concrete evaluation methods, or have them state that they will prove out a goal “by data collection”. A paper trail and observable data is your friend.
- Consider bringing an advocate. We’ve had an advocate for the entirety of the Monster’s IEP process, and it’s one of the best decisions we made. (We dealt with his IFSPs by ourselves.) It helps to have someone who knows the system, who speaks the language that the professionals speak, and will help you keep on track with crafting goals and pushing for services. The biggest thing is that an advocate is not as directly emotionally invested in your child as you are – Heaven knows that I’m as likely as the next person to get emotional and let my passions turn the team against me, and thereby hurt my child’s case.
- Get to know the IEP team. Despite how contentious the process has gotten at times, we are friendly with most of the team – his teachers, school administrators, and specialists who deal with him on a daily basis. Most of the folks you’ll deal with during the IEP process do care about how your child is doing and do care about your child’s outcome, and they’re going to want what’s appropriate for the child as well. We’ve found that if you keep in touch and don’t treat (all of them) like the enemy, most of them will work with you in good faith.
So… does anyone else have lessons they’ve learned that they think should be added to this list?