Having gone through the IEP process again this week, I’m sharing some thoughts. I’m no veteran, by any means. I know everyone’s experience is different, but here’s some mom advice based on my experience.
As parents, we may hear, for the first time, during the course of an IEP, the results of various tests (assessments) our child has undergone for the school district. If the test results are not explained in layman’s terms, we can get lost. It is up to us to ask for clarification. The experts can be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to tell them to make it clear what those results mean and how they will be used. Let them know if you disagree with something that is said.
The test results can be disheartening. They can be harsh to digest, especially in front of a bunch of strangers who are detached. Be prepared for that. Don’t let emotions get the best of you.
Parents know their child in ways that expert testers, teachers, and therapists do not. We are experts in ways the school could never be. The experts’ scores are mere snapshots of our 24/7. How we achieve what is best for our child is based on our backgrounds, our emotional state at the time, and our confidence levels. Don’t let your confidence waiver.
Don’t bring cookies or offerings to the “team”. This is not a tea party. Don’t think of making friends. This is advocacy, plain and simple. Bring your papers, your evidence to back what you believe your child’s functioning levels are and evidence of what he/she needs.
Coming from my background in litigation, everything is adversarial and anything can become adversarial. In my limited trekking around the blogosphere, I’ve seen polite parents who hesitate to disagree and get taken advantage of, and aggressive parents who don body armor and call out school administrators to the parking lot for the slightest perceived affront, earning themselves discontent where there would otherwise be none.
I don’t think there is a middle ground though – instead the best strategy is to listen to everyone, ask questions and take time to reflect on what was said and written. Sometimes, you just have to have patience to get to a place where a good IEP happens. It takes time.
I know the concept of the “IEP team” is one that works together to achieve the child’s best interest. That concept is an ideal, a theory. I do not believe it is a reality at the beginning of any IEP journey.
Instead, especially early on, I see the “team” as three, separate “sub” teams. One is the “family” team, the parents and the child. The second is the “expert” team – the psychologists, therapists, and teachers, who test the child to determine appropriate services. The third is the “school district administration” team that has a funding budget to, in theory, achieve FAPE for each child.
For all the sub- teams, there are three integral components to achieving an IEP that creates FAPE. Honesty, respect and trust. None is a given. Everyone must earn respect and trust through honesty, before FAPE can become a reality.
Tests (assessments) are strange. All the experts use them and they are written and designed by other supposed “experts”. But some tests don’t necessarily fit or add anything to determining a child’s needs. Don’t assume tests are accurate or always help just because they are “tests”.
For example, here are a couple of questions from the assessment given to me for my 6 year old high-functioning autistic son, just a couple weeks ago:
Can your child fix a bowl of dry cereal? This includes getting the bowl, cereal, and milk and pouring both cereal and milk into the bowl.
My kid HATES cereal and I don’t eat it or keep it in the house. So whether he could fix a bowl of cereal is irrelevant to our lives.
When your child is hungry or thirsty and sees a bottle or bared breast, does he move toward it?
Okay, why is he fixing cereal and going for the boobie in the same test? If he is moving toward either a bottle or a bared breast, I gotta call ABA, because he’s six years old, people!!!
I kid you not – these two questions were on the same test. Yes I know they are geared toward multiple age groups, but really? Maybe I should’ve combined them. He grabs the nearest breast – squirts milk into a container, and pours it into the bowl with the cereal. Then he eats it. Double points?
My answer choices were Yes/No but that’s not how I responded. There were a few scribbles in the margin, legal objections, question marks and a lot of N/A (not applicable). Luckily, the psychologist who asked me to fill out the test agreed there were problems and threw the test out, electing to spend 40 minutes discussing my son’s strengths and weaknesses as an interview on the phone with me, and separately, with our ABA case supervisor.
I was honest. I didn’t try to “assume” any answers from his early childhood. She was honest in saying that the test didn’t always fit and she respected my feelings. That made me trust her.
School Districts have limits to their budgets. They must serve X amount of special needs students. The best case scenario is that the cost of a child’s needs does not exceed the money the school has estimated and set aside per child to “equal” a FAPE. If, however, a child’s needs exceed the school district budget, the district can: (A) be honest and try to work out a plan, or (B) lie and tell the parents the child’s needs are not as great as they are or can be met without appropriate tools or services. If something about the offer does not ring true, your instincts are probably right. It may be a misunderstanding, or lies may be coming your way.
Initially, in any school setting, parents should have a healthy lack of trust. Ask yourself questions:
- Who determined what your child needs and how strictly did the testers follow the test parameters?
- Do the test results shock you or approximate what you believed all along?
- Are you evaluating the test results with your heart or your head? Do the tests show your child to exceed levels you believe he/she is currently capable of as you have witnessed?
- Does the offer address what you think your child needs?
- Are the goals addressed, before the offer of FAPE, adequate or do they seem to complex, convoluted or backward for your child?
- If the test results show a higher or lower level of functioning than you believe your child has, ask for a second test to be conducted by another source. This simply may be a way to cut funding.
I am learning to respect those for whom I have held mistrust for in the past. As I review their assessments, goals, and intent, I’m seeing more focus on my son as an individual and less as a number. We are not at “trust” yet but the honesty has increased and so has the respect. Maybe, we’re on the right road.