Special Needs Awareness and Advocacy 

photo of sticky notes and colored pens scrambled on table

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I hated that time of the year, May to be exact, you know…IEP meeting time.  Some years it felt like it had become a waste of time.  I would have the challenge of rearranging my work schedule to attend two separate meetings for my twins.

An IEP or Individualized Education Program is a document created through the child’s team of professionals that is developed for public school children who need special education or services. It can contain services such as speech or occupational therapy, assistive technology, transportation accommodations or even extra time on tests just to name a few.

In the beginning I would take off one day and complete them back to back, but that became mentally draining and exhausting.  Some parts of the IEP wasn’t exactly clear to me, some of it felt like rhetoric, at times I felt as though it was just a document that nobody read, full of empty promises, and not nearly enough resources.  Some school years it crossed my mind to not even go, but I knew the team understood my passion for my girls and me not showing interest in anything they had going on at school was not of my character, so I made my way to every IEP meeting, sometimes reluctantly.

I remember my first IEP meeting, after the completion of pre-school. I was divorced by then and my ex-husband kind of always left those sorts of things to me. It was definitely a year of change for us and the first time the girls were away from home.  They stayed with my Mom until they turned five years old and ready for pre-school. Believe me, she gave them an excellent start and they were ready, but they still had special physical needs and issues with developmental delays due to pre-maturity.

I remember that first meeting like it was yesterday, it was very intimidating and daunting for me.  Sitting at the table with so many professionals with large stacks of multi-faceted evaluations, psychological reports, different test scores, measurements, goals and objectives was scary and to be honest, I hadn’t fully prepared. I didn’t know that I should, I didn’t even know what to expect. During those days in the early 2000’s information wasn’t so readily available. I would receive the book Whose IDEA is it? every meeting, but let’s be honest, it’s not fun material. I felt I had to feel my around to figure out things, and to be perfectly honest, the whole mother, mother of twins, mother of special needs twins was sometimes overwhelming.

I made it through, 12 years times 2, yearly IEP and 504 meetings, and add about an extra 5 along with special testing and mediation for Dominique during 9th grade that I will talk about in a later blog. It is important to attend yearly meetings and sometimes review meetings to make sure that your child receives the free and appropriate education that they are entitled to along with the services that will enable them to succeed. Your voice is important in the decision-making process, no one knows your kid like you do.

I am in no way an expert, check out wrightslaw.com that has a lot of resources on the topic, but these tips were helpful for every meeting:

  1. Make every attempt to sustain relationships, I have teachers who still call my girls regularly and check on them and they are excellent resources
  2. Keep the focus on your child’s needs, not the districts resources, or your expectations
  3. Knowledge is power, prepare for the IEP meeting and learn as much as you can regarding the law, you can contact a special needs advocate or resource center for assistant, we have a local center who were always readily available to answer my questions, and at times, made calls on my behalf.
  4. Request a draft of the IEP before the meeting, that way you can read it, make changes or suggestions, and be familiar with the document before you go into the meeting and the teacher doesn’t have to read it to you
  5. Request copies of any documents regarding testing, evaluations, scores etc., before the meeting so you can review and prepare questions
  6. Make all requests in writing. Brush up on your writing skills and write letters, not just for complaints, but compliments too
  7. Remember you do not have to attend the IEP meeting alone, there are advocates or parent attorneys who can help and advise you (for fee and free)
  8. Believe in yourself, you are smarter, wiser and stronger than you think

I would tell my team at each meeting, you guys have B.S., B.A., M.E, or PhD., after your names as titles, I have the most important initials after my name, M.O.M, and no one knows my children better than me!

colleagues cooperation fist bump fists

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