5 Things That Can Help You Stay Calm During an IEP Meeting

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For me, staying calms equals winning.

When my son was younger, I could easily be close to tears before I even walked into an IEP meeting. Many of us know what an emotional rabbit hole this journey can be, and as parents ,we are coming from a much more vulnerable vantage point than the Principal, Director, teachers, therapists and entire team. Hopefully, they care deeply about your child (most do), but since they aren’t emotionally invested the way you are, they have a different perspective.

1. Listen before speaking.

Let the team speak first. Let them give you the update, express their thoughts and give you their intended direction before saying anything. Remember, listening is not agreeing. It’s demonstrating strength and control over your emotions. An overly emotional person can struggle to work collaboratively or if needed, disagree respectfully.

2. Address one person at a time.

After listening, think and speak thoughtfully. Try not to be impulsive or blurt anything out. When you do speak, look directly at the person you are addressing. This alleviates the potential “them vs. you” mindset (on both sides of the table) and moves the conversation to a more one-on-one discussion. For instance, if you have something to say regarding your child’s speech, look and speak directly to the speech therapist.

 

3. No matter what you hear, continue to stay calm.

Sadly, in some cases, you might hear the most outrageous statements or flat out lies during an IEP meeting. This can be absolutely infuriating. It will be all you can do not to yell out, “Do you even have a degree in special education?” But don’t do it. It might make you feel better momentarily, but it won’t help.

Before my son went to his current school (which is amazing and they have always had my child’s interests at heart) I sat in a meeting where a psychologist told me my son’s IQ scores were low because the demands from 3-year-olds to 5-year-olds increase. Huh? Basically she said, “He was smart when he was 3 but now that he’s 5 he’s not smart anymore.” And she said it with a sad face, like, “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.” Of course, it turned out she was wrong, but at the time I just wanted to scream at her sad face.

4. Stay calm and know the truth will come out eventually.

5. Be firm and friendly.

If you disagree with anything said during the meeting, go ahead and speak your mind, but in a firm and friendly way. For instance, if you hear, “We feel the three year evaluation isn’t needed because services aren’t going to change…” Instead of saying something like, “Why would you not do the evaluation? Isn’t it the district’s responsibility to evaluate every three years?” You could say, “I understand you feel it won’t make a difference, but we might not always be in this district so I’d like to have the full evaluation in case something changes. Can we set a date for the full evaluation today so I can let my son know when to expect it?”

This is less confrontational and allows them to meet the requirement without assuming there was any malice on their part (which there may or may not have been, many school districts are great, but sadly, some are misinformed and/or have no budget for special services so are constantly coming from a place of resistance).

Ultimately, staying calm and non-emotional is hard. As a parent, it’s practically impossible to distance yourself from your own child — from what is essentially your own heart.

However, once you recognize your vulnerabilities as a parent, you can take steps to listen, speak slowly and stay calm to stand your ground during IEPs. By doing this, you can emerge from the IEP meeting as a valuable and necessary part of the IEP team. And that, in and of itself, sets a course for your child in the right direction.

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Thinkstock image by MariKu

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This Actor on the Autism Spectrum Has a One-Man Show About His Life

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George Steeves is a professional actor on the autism spectrum who wrote and is starring in his own one-man show about life with Asperger’s syndrome. He studied at California Lutheran University in Los Angeles.

When I worked as a video producer at The Mighty, I got to work with George on a video adaptation of one of our most-read stories: Lamar Hardick’s “When People Say, ‘You Look Tired.'” The experience made me want to learn more about George, so I asked him to do a quick interview with me. Here’s what I learned:

What was your early childhood like?

I was very oblivious as a child… When I was a toddler, my mom sensed that something was “off” because my motor skills seemed a bit impaired and I didn’t make eye contact much. When I was 3, I couldn’t communicate well. All I knew how to say was, “Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty.”

My mom placed me with different psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, therapists, etc. At first I was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (PDP) and ADHD. Then I received a diagnosis of Asperger’s when I was 11 years old. Growing up in the 90s in rural Virginia, people didn’t know what Asperger’s was.

What was that like?

The public school system in Virginia was terrible, and my mom knew I wouldn’t survive, so I went to a small private school called Woodland Academy (15 people in my grade). I still got picked on, but it was more for being the only boy in my class.

At what age did you start doing theater?

I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was in sixth grade and did my first play. Of course, there weren’t many opportunities in Virginia and Pennsylvania, but then I ultimately moved to Los Angeles when I was 19 to start college at CLU. Then I started pursuing acting professionally when I was 21.

What was auditioning like in LA?

I would get so nervous, but as I got more practice the nerves would go away. Even though I couldn’t get an agent at first, I had booked 20 projects in my first year.

What was your first professional project?

I did a SAG short film called “The Wolf,” so I became eligible to join the union, which helped me get an agent and manager.

What made you want to do a one-man show?

I was watching an episode of “Oprah’s Master Class” with Whoopi Goldberg and how she did a one-woman show, so I thought, “Maybe I can do a one-man show!” So I started to develop the idea about struggling as an actor but then found a producer who convinced me to make the show about life with Asperger’s. The show ended up being based off a song I wrote, “Magic 8 Ball.” The story is told through a Magic 8 Ball. I talk about the trials and tribulations about growing up with Asperger’s, not being able to communicate verbally, being teased, verbally auditioning for American Idol, coming out to LA to join an acting class that ended up being a cult, etc. It’s basically me running a marathon trying to make a career and trying to find everyone else’s validation and in the end, I realize the only person I need to validate is myself.

How’s the experience been so far?

It’s a therapeutic experience. I’m reliving being a child, experiencing heartbreak, failed auditions and the like. I’m really hoping my story will inspire others. We have such a divided nation right now. We have a leader who made fun of a disabled reporter, and the appointment of our Secretary of the Department of Education broke my heart. My community isn’t feeling very supported right now.

Doing this play saved my life. What I say at the end of the show is that it’s not a mistake for me to be here and it’s not a mistake for any of us on the autism spectrum to be here.

What’s the show’s final line?

“Please take the time to know us, please don’t put us into a corner, we are just like you.”

George’s show “Magic 8 Ball (My Life With Asperger’s)” plays at the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood, California. For more information, head here.

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My Advice When Asked, 'Should I Disclose My Autism Diagnosis?'

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Recently I celebrated my 39th birthday. I was born on June 5, 1978. Autism is classified as a developmental disability, which means I was born with what is known as Asperger’s syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder), but I wasn’t diagnosed until almost three years ago at age 36. Celebrating birthdays are now a much more significant experience because I now have the opportunity to make more sense of my beginning as I continue to build a better life for myself and my family.

Over the past two years, I’ve shared my story through blogs, radio and podcast interviews, and articles. I’ve also recently released my first book this year.

Since being diagnosed with ASD in 2014, I’ve had the privilege of not only sharing my story with the world but also sharing my suggestions with those in the autism community, particularly the parents of teens, young adults and other adults recently diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

In the last several weeks, I have been asked by several people a question about disclosing my autism diagnosis. While I believe that to be a personal decision that can be best made in the context of a great community of support and love, I will share three things I believe should be considered if you are thinking about disclosing your autism diagnosis.

Go with your gut: Pursuing an autism diagnosis after early childhood can be a difficult decision. It can become even more difficult as you enter into adulthood. In my own experience, pursuing a diagnosis at age 36 was difficult because of a lack of resources available to adults. First, it was hard to find someone who could and would diagnose me with ASD. Second, it almost always becomes a matter of financial capability. Wanting to pursue a diagnosis didn’t mean I would be able to afford the assessments that can range in the thousands of dollars.

This is why it becomes even more complicated when deciding whether to disclose your diagnosis to family, friends, employers and/or educational institutions. The time and financial resources you’ve invested in receiving a diagnosis will inform your position on whether or not to disclose. Pursuing a diagnosis as an adult is hard work, and I have found that when deciding to disclose my diagnosis publicly, I had to consider the investment I had made in getting the answers I was seeking.

Disclosing your ASD diagnosis is extremely personal, and for some they may see the potential problem in making it public knowledge. There is still a large portion of our culture that either because of ignorance or intention, fail to be accepting or accommodating to those with neurological differences.

My advice is to always go with your gut. Don’t underestimate the power of your ability to make the right choice for you. If you have made your way through the world without a diagnosis of ASD, then you know how to make the right choices for your own life. Trust yourself enough to decide if disclosing your diagnosis is good for you. After all, choosing to invest in getting a diagnosis is an investment in your own self-development and growth, so learn to trust yourself.

Give consideration to your goals: If you have pursued an ASD diagnosis, then perhaps you have done so with a goal in mind. When I decided to pursue an official diagnosis, I had determined that one of my goals was to learn more about myself, but that wasn’t the only goal.

As a husband, I have a goal of being the best partner I can for my wife. I wanted to know how and more importantly why I processed the world the way I did. Getting a diagnosis was important because I wanted to strengthen our relationship.

As a father, my goal was similar. I wanted to learn how to maximize my time with my boys. I also had the goal of using my new-found knowledge of self as a way to teach them how to be more kind and compassionate.

As a pastor, I have a goal of finding the intersection of my faith and service to others with my diagnosis. I wanted to discover how to share my life with others who may have little to no knowledge of how to allow their faith to inform their love for all of humanity and their ability to see the image of God reflected in every human life.

In reality my goals, which are many, may not be your goals but I do think it is important to keep your goal(s) in mind when deciding to disclose. The overarching theme of my goals was to learn how to place myself in a position where I can reach my potential as a husband, father, and pastor. I suggest strongly considering how, with whom, and when (or if) disclosing will help you maximize your potential. In my humble opinion, disclosing your diagnosis shouldn’t be about others and their opinions of you as much as it being about an opportunity for you to be at your best in every possible situation.

Go slow: If you’re an adult who has recently been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, chances are you’ll need some time to reflect. When I was diagnosed, it didn’t come as a surprise, but it did increase my sensitivity. I found myself becoming more sensitive about my innermost thoughts and feelings, dreams and hopes, struggles and suspicions.

All in all, I discovered that a diagnosis at my age came with a liberating sense of freedom as well as an overwhelming flood of emotions. I needed time to sort it all out and to study more about ASD and how it might be impacting my personal and professional life. It was because of this flood of new facts and feelings that I decided to take it slowly. It was a few months before I starting to disclose my diagnosis, but my timeline might not be yours.

If you’ve decided it is beneficial for you to disclose your diagnosis, just remember that you’re not obligated to tell everyone immediately or even at the same time. Consider exploring how to take your time with different groups of people. Remember you have the power not only to determine the purpose of disclosing your diagnosis but also the pace at which you decide to do it.

With or without a diagnosis or with or without disclosing your diagnosis, know that your value isn’t tied to how others perceive you. Your journey is your own to both navigate and narrate, so however you decide to tell your story, tell it with confidence because your story matters.

Stay strong.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Autism Pastor.

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Thinkstock image by Wavebreakmedia

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Paramount Pictures Wants to Turn Book About Autism, 'Neurotribes,' Into a Film

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Paramount Pictures has acquired the rights to Steve Silberman’s 2015 book “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.” The project has been set up with “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels and his company Broadway Video.

Silberman’s book discusses a broader model for accepting and understanding autism as well as goals for a more accessible and inclusive society. He follows the lives of several individuals with autism and their families’ journeys. Silberman also unfolds the history of autism, covering the story of Hans Asperger, the father of Asperger’s syndrome and Leo Kanner, who covertly tried to suppress knowledge of autism.

“NeuroTribes” won the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, the most prestigious non-fiction award in the U.K. The book was also highly reviewed by critics such as The New York Times who called it an “ambitious, meticulous and largehearted history.”

Similar positive feedback followed Silberman’s Twitter announcement of “NeuroTribes” being optioned.

Correction: The Mighty removed a section of this article which featured criticism that Silberman’s book did not show a diverse representation of the autism spectrum. According to Silberman: 

[T]he entirety of chapter two, “The Boy Who Loves Green Straws,” is a nearly 40-page in-depth profile of a boy named Leo Rosa who very likely meets the blogger’s definition of “low functioning,” though I avoid the phrases “low functioning” and “high functioning” in the book as much as possible because I believe they’re both clinically inaccurate and terribly dehumanizing and stigmatizing. I also profile Leo’s wonderfully supportive parents, and in fact profile parents of profoundly affected children throughout the book. 

The Mighty reached out to Broadway Video and has yet to hear back.

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When I Talked to Kevin Hart About Being on the Autism Spectrum

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A common problem I’m faced with, as a mentor to students with disabilities, is that a majority of them have experienced bullying. To help with that, I’ve often told them about celebrities who have overcome bullying in their childhoods. For that reason, people such as Bruno Mars and Jennifer Lawrence have become inspirations to them. Then, a movie came out called
“Central Intelligence” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart. Many of my mentees were inspired by the underlying message of the film: that you shouldn’t bully others.

Because of this, when I heard Kevin Hart was coming into town, I wanted to meet him in the hopes of telling him how this film had made an impact on my mentees.

But then something I wasn’t expecting happened.

Kevin Hart, who I met at a book signing for his new book, said when he arrived in that NYC bookstore:

“One of the things I did was never give up on my dream.” – Kevin Hart #NeverGiveUp

A post shared by A Special Community (@aspecialcommunity) on

“I’m the person that dealt with the word no for a long time. I’m the person that dealt with a lot of negativity and adversity that people don’t know about. I wanted to share this story so you guys could understand that regardless of your position in life… you’re human… One of the things I did was never give up on one thing that’s very simple, that’s my dream.”

To hear him say that truly resonated with me. Growing up on the autism spectrum, I was often told the word “no.” I was often told growing up that I couldn’t achieve amazing things in my life because of my disability. Although my path and Kevin’s path were different, I can now say as someone who has lived his dream of being an international motivational speaker, I’ve been able to live my dreams today just like Kevin.

When I got to meet him, I was absolutely speechless. He met me with open arms, giving me a hug, asking me about my story and then taking a photo with me to boot. I told him first about how I was told, just like him that I couldn’t things in my life but I persevered. I told him I could achieve greatness in my life. The three words he said to me still resonate after I said that:

“Yes you can.”

For a celebrity like Kevin to look me in the eye and tell me I could do amazing things in my life truly meant the world to me. While I continued to speak with him and told him how he inspired my mentees, he said, “That’s the greatest compliment I could ever ask to receive.”

It’s people like Kevin who truly made me realize the power of humility. Kevin, who had hundreds of people out to see him that night, gave me the time to talk with him. He didn’t rush me off, and every minute I spoke with him, he was actively listening to me like I was a dear friend who had known him for decades.

To Kevin, I thank you for treating me not only as a fan, but a friend in that moment. I hope we can only to continue to pursue our dreams in the future. You bring so much laughter and joy to so many people, and I can only hope to bring love and inclusion for our community. I can’t thank you enough.

Kerry Magro and Kevin Hart

A version of this blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

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When Reactions to My Son's Autism Diagnosis Become Teachable Moments

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“There is nothing wrong with him!” “He doesn’t seem autistic!”

It is OK if you thought this or said this to us. (People have — and then some!) I say that because it then becomes a teachable moment. It becomes a time when I can raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder, and brag about how awesome (AU-some!) my son Jr is. And maybe some tips on how to better communicate with him.

“What? He has no problems communicating!”

You are right! It isn’t a problem. His brain just works differently (perfectly) than those of us who are neurotypical. (Get used to that word — neurotypical and neurodiverse are huge parts of my vocabulary right now.) Little things can make a huge difference to Jr to help him focus on communicating, like not expecting eye contact, and not seeing the lack of it as disrespect. Or having patience when asking him a question, especially if he has to stop something he is already focused on. He isn’t ignoring you — he is walking his mind through the process of tuning out of one thing and switching focus to you.

 

“But he doesn’t flap like someone I know of with autism.”

No, he doesn’t.

Yes, he does.

It depends on the day/hour/minute.

One of my favorite phrases right now is “Once you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” It is a spectrum. It is different for everyone. The intensity of his reactions depend on a lot of things we don’t even know about yet.

He is a “typical” almost 7-year-old. He is a wonderfully unique, kind, loving boy of two nerdy and proud parents. He has fantastic friends. He will go far and do so much. It is our job to learn how best teach him, then get out of his way as he soars.

William has autism.

There is nothing wrong with him.

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