IEPs: Once More with Feeling
Sigh. Does anyone ever feel fully prepared for an IEP meeting? For those of you fortunate enough to not know that IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, I'm a bit envious. Although, if you're the parent of an ASD student who does not face an IEP meeting every year, the circumstances around that may not be ones to envy. Maybe your child isn't receiving services from your LEA, and you pay out of pocket for education and support services. Or maybe you're homeschooling, God bless you. In light of those circumstances, I should not complain about an annual IEP meeting. But oh how I do dread them! I always go in feeling like the underdog. I feel as if there's something more I should be asking for, but I'm never quite sure what it is.
This year I resolved to go in prepared. I pulled out last year's copy of Cameron's IEP and compared it line by line to this year's draft—which I had received a week before the meeting. It was the first time I had thoroughly read a draft copy before the meeting. Full disclosure: In the past, I've paid about as much attention to IEP proceedings as I did to mortgage closings. (Sign here please.) But now that Cameron and I are in transition, and I can count future IEP meetings on less than one hand, I felt it was high time I became an active participant.
It was so much easier than I had anticipated! I walked away feeling that some definite improvements were made to the plan, and all the participants at the meeting were in agreement with my suggestions. My approach was simple. I kept Cameron's biggest challenges in mind, and looked at how the IEP was (or wasn't) addressing these challenges. One thing that I'm trying to get Cameron to realize is that it's okay to speak up when he doesn't understand something. His default coping skill is to pretend he understands, and avoid further discussion. I asked for a goal to address this, and got it—in the form of a strategy requiring teachers to regularly check in with Cameron and ask him to explain instructions he's been given. I also feel it is very important for Cameron to understand his disabilities and be able to communicate them if the situation calls for it. My thought is that as Cameron spends more time in the community on his own, there may be instances when he will need to disclose his disabilities in order to get adequate assistance. At the airport, for instance, he may need to ask the gate agent for early boarding, otherwise ADD might contribute to missing the boarding announcement. The IEP now has a goal pertaining to his ability to ask for assistance and another goal to develop an understanding of his disabilities. Another issue addressed during the IEP meeting was my desire to give Cameron exposure to a more integrated environment. He's been in a separate special needs setting for nine years, and I'd like for him to have opportunities to socialize with neuro-typical peers. I asked for assistance in finding a peer mentor at our neighborhood high school. While this couldn't feasibly be documented in the IEP, the representative from the public school system was more than happy to pursue this for me.
Who knew that an hour of preparation before the IEP meeting would lead to such an overwhelming sense of relief and empowerment? Well, I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, "Duh! We do this every year!" But it's such a great feeling to get over myself and my hangups and get to some concrete improvements to Cameron's strategies. Planned improvements anyway. Stay tuned for progress reports.