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Winter 2000 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Reprinted with permission. Parent Education Project of Wisconsin, Inc.
Information and Consulting on Special Education Issues
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Editors note: Anyone who has ever attended ARD/IEP meetings knows how stressful they can become. These meetings can quickly get out of control if you haven't done your homework. Even parents who are also in the field of special education, have noted that ARD/IEP meetings are very different when it is for their own child. These parents know their rights, the process, the "right way" to participate; but it can all go out the window with one comment about their child from a professional. Getting a handle on your emotions will make the negotiations more effective. One strategy I encourage parents to use is to schedule informal meetings with their child's teachers and therapists to discuss concerns and review any assessments BEFORE the ARD/IEP meeting. This allows all parties to know ahead of time any issues that need to be addressed. No one likes to be broad-sided. Besides, most of us need time to process and investigate options in order to have an appropriate response. Routine contact between school and home through communication notebooks, phone calls, videotapes, home visits, and classroom visits can prevent the buildup of misunderstandings. Frequent discussions between parents and staff clarifies expectations and takes the edge off the formality of the ARD/IEP meeting itself. The following article gives practical strategies for making your next ARD/IEP meeting successful instead of stressful.

BRING A BUDDY

A recent PEP-WI survey revealed that only about 18 percent of parents are bringing someone (friend, spouse, neighbor, relative, etc.) with them when they go to IEP meetings. From experience, we know that when the parent brings someone to the meeting who is knowledgeable about the child or who has special expertise, the tenor of the meeting becomes more mutually collaborative, more mutually respectful, and frequently more productive. Children's needs remain the focus; all members of the IEP team are more likely to work together to create solutions. You can improve the quality and effectiveness of your child's IEP Team meetings by bringing a buddy. Here are some ideas to help:

  • Pair up with another child in your child's special education program. You go to their meetings, they come to your meetings.
  • Make a friend at a parent support group (like CHADD, ARC, Family2Family, etc.). Agree to buddy-up at meetings. Better yet, attend a PEP-WI (Partners Resource Network) training or two together!
  • IEP Meetings must be scheduled at mutually agreeable times and locations. Recommend times and locations where you and your spouse or significant other can both attend. You have the right to a meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place.
  • If your child receives physical or occupational therapy or counseling outside of school, invite that service provider to attend the meeting. Use conference calling if needed.
  • Ask your child's aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent or other relative, who has a special understanding of your child, to attend with you.
  • Consider asking a sibling to attend. He or she "knows" your child in unique ways.
  • Invite last year's teacher, aide, or therapist to come.
  • Offer to share YOUR services going to someone else's meeting with them and have them come with YOU.

IF YOU THINK THE MEETING IS GOING TO BE STRESSFUL

If you think that your meeting with the IEP Team is going to be stressful, try these suggestions:

  • Start by talking about some areas you know you all will agree with. Find common ground. Example: I know you have found Jon's behavior difficult to control at times. We have had similar experiences at home.
  • Use AND instead of using the word BUT. "But" acts like an automatic switch inside listeners' minds. It "switches off" the first part of the sentence or message. Example: We need a plan to get my daughter's behavior under control AND we need to keep in mind that she also needs to experience academic success in the general education classroom.
  • Avoid using absolutes: "You always..., We never..."
  • Use positives to help move the conversation along. Example: "What if we tried...?" "Would you be willing to try this ?" "It sounds like it might be better if we..." "Have we thought about this?"
  • Allow your listeners to correct any possible misunderstandings you may have gotten. "Can you help me understand why you...?" "Tell me again why we are..." "Oh, okay, that clarifies that for me a lot".
  • Don't take a position. Deal with a need. Example: "My son needs to feel successful at school. How can we make that occur?"

Information from The Wisconsin Collaborator, PEP-WI, July 1999 published by Parent Education Project of Wisconsin, 2192 S. 60th St., West Allis, WI 53219-1568. Phone (414) 328-5520 and fax (414) 328-5530.