Let’s be honest here: one of the most stressful things about parenting a child with special needs, Down Syndrome, ADHD, ADD, Autism, SPD, learning disabilities, dyslexia, et cetera, is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). There’s not a lot of people who love IEPs.
For a lot of parents, one of the most infuriating things about the IEP process can be conveying the needs of their child… It can be tough, as a parent, to hear feedback about their child’s performance in school. Furthermore, it can be a struggle to understand the legal terms of the process.
Before anything, do this
Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Everything will be okay.
Do your homework! Familiarize yourself with the legality of your state and their IEP proceedings. Get to know your kiddo’s diagnosis by talking to professionals in the field, or other moms whose children have a similar diagnosis. It can be overwhelming to go into an IEP meeting without knowing a whole lot about your kiddo’s situation, which is why you should do your research beforehand.
If there are things that you would like to discuss in IEP meetings, bring a notepad of topics, a pen, and some extra paper. Giving yourself the time to prepare ahead to talk about the nitty gritty of questions and concerns you may have will help the entirety of the process go as smoothly as possible.
Don’t be super defensive
When going into an IEP meeting, one of the biggest mistakes that parents make is that they are on the defensive.
It is definitely a great thing to advocate for your child, to love them, and to deeply care about them. While taking every remark personally and feeling attacked is a natural response to the happenings of the IEP process, it might not be the best response. Instead of being on the defensive, try a new way of communicating conflict management.
Direct and unemotional communication is key
When communication experts break down conflict management, they put it into four quadrants. It looks like this: (Insert picture of conflict management).
Experts agree that the most effective way of communicating during high-stress situations is to do so in a manner that is direct and unemotional, as it can bring about the greatest resolution. Not passive-aggressive, not angry, not defensive, but respectful, receptive, and direct communication is certainly the most effective. Spending time fretting about the particulars and taking offense to things may not be the best use of time, as it doesn’t allow for teachers, paraprofessionals, and caseworkers to get to the subject at hand, which is your child’s schooling.
Treat everyone in the room with the same respect you want for you and your child. Giving the school the opportunity to speak about your kiddo’s situation at school without getting emotionally charged is one of the greatest ways that you can help the IEP process along.
When responding to the difficulties your child may have in school, remember that they are not trying to offend you, but rather identify a roadblock your kiddo may have. Don’t take it personally. It’s not meant to be taken personally.
This is a simple rule that some people who are in emotionally charged situations do, but please don’t forget it: try not to interrupt. If you have questions or concerns to vocalize, write them down while the other person is talking. At a point where it’s more respectful for you to enter a conversation, state the questions or concerns you have, and try to be receptive to the response.
You are certainly under no obligation to like the suggestions or answers you may be getting, but it is still important that you remember how important it is that everyone gets a chance to speak.
Encourage your child’s independence
While it might be easiest for you to ensure that your child succeeds by working directly with and for them, it might not be the best thing for you to do. Allowing your kiddo to make mistakes and learn from them encourages their independence, self-soothing, and problem-solving skills. Ensuring that the individuals who are writing your child’s IEP understand the same thing, it can make things easier for your kiddo in the long run.
IEPs are difficult. Advocating for your kiddo can be difficult. However, if you are able to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and concerns in an effective manner without taking offense to constructive criticism, it will help the stress of IEP meetings dissolve a little bit.