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Navigating IEP Season During COVID and Beyond

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It’s IEP season!  If you’re like me, you probably just finished up your IEP or are gearing up to go in for yours.  Chances are that if you have a child with autism, ADD, ADHD, speech delays, Down syndrome, epilepsy, rare disease, etc., you’ve probably been in an IEP meeting for your child.

IEP meetings can be daunting. They are very emotional and can leave you drained for days both before and after your meeting.

If you’re not familiar with an IEP, let me give you a quick rundown.  IEP stands for Individualized Education Program/Plan.  Typically, when your child turns 3, you can contact your school district in your area to set up an assessment.

The assessment can be for behavioral issues, speech delay, or any other type of delay.  The district will give your child a full evaluation to see if they qualify for additional services. If so, they will go over the various services they are willing to offer your child.  They will then go over a plan of action on what goals you collectively want to have your child reach, and it is specific to them.  If you agree to it, your child now has an IEP.

My son Carter has an IEP for OHI — other health impairments — and although he is only 8, I have sat down to at least 10 IEPs. In this time, I have learned quite a few things about how districts like to work and how to be the best advocate I can.

For starters, read your parental rights.  The district is legally required to give you a copy at every IEP, and any time you request one.  This will be a key for you should any issues arise from your child’s IEP.

Did you know you can request to have an IEP meeting anytime? I was taken aback when I was speaking with another mom at school, and she said, “we’ll just get it on her IEP next year.” It does not need to wait until your annual.  Maybe your child had new health concerns — request an IEP.  Perhaps they are regressing or progressing quickly — ask for an IEP.  You want to change goals or take something out — ask for an IEP.

My biggest pet peeve is when a school district says they will not allow something.  What happens 99% of the time is the parents accept defeat and do not bring it up again. However, the other 1% is what you should be doing. Fight them.

I have personally gone toe to toe with our district on four different matters. For three of them, I was able to advocate independently; however, thanks to COVID and state restrictions, this last IEP now has me needing to hire legal counsel.

You know the old saying, you get more bees with honey? Yeah, not with the school district. The squeaky wheel gets the oil here. I am not saying everything has to be an argument; however, when it comes to your child, if their needs are not being taken care of, you need to fight for them!

Trust me, it angers me that sometimes all we do as parents of kids with disabilities is fight with people. It legitimately should not be this difficult to get our children the services they need.

Your team will be the ones that help you through each IEP and school year. You must get to know these people because you will be working with them for quite some time. Your team typically consists of your child’s special education teacher, OT, PT (also known as adaptive P.E.), speech, school psychologist, the principal, district nurse, and any outside vendor helping with ABA or something of that nature.

I have found it helpful to give your special education director a heads up about what you will be asking for in your annual IEP. They are not always at your IEP, but often what they say goes, so it helps to keep them in the loop. By doing this, you can typically find a solution to any issue you may be having, and trust me when I say it makes the meeting go by a lot quicker because they know what you are requesting ahead of time.

If you have a child with health conditions and do not have the district nurse on your child’s team, get them on immediately. They will fight for you like no one else, and when it comes to what the school wants vs. medical, know that medical always has the upper hand.

Now, this next team member gets the short end of the stick most of the time, and it’s because their boss sends them to do a lot of their dirty work, and that is the school psychologist.  Buy them a gift card of some sort and a thank you card, because trust me when I say they genuinely want what you want for your child. The issue is they are typically the ones to give you bad news, and they are always the one who deals with your heightened emotions and outbursts. Not speaking from experience here or anything. *wink*

Your special ed teacher is probably the team member you will see most. Like the school psychologist, they get the short end of the stick a lot. Be sure to volunteer if you can, and send them thank you notes because you’d be surprised by the lack of appreciation they get.

When you go in for your next IEP, I hope what I have shared may help you a bit.  No one knows your child like you do, and if you feel they need something, well, it’s worth fighting for.  If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask!  Many times, other parents in your class may be able to assist you and tell you what they did to get various services for their child. They can also help point you to an advocate, should you need one.

If there is one thing I hope you take away from all of this, please know that you are so strong. When you advocate for your child, you’re not just advocating for them, but for every child that comes after them.

Getty image by Stock Rocket.

Originally published: October 13, 2020
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