'A Tongue In Cheek Humor Column For Parents of ADD and/or LD Children'
By Roberta Mann, Pseudoanalyst Extraordinaire
Today's Topic: Preparing For A 504/IEP Meeting
(Individualized Education Plans)
Being a parent of an ADD/LD child is not easy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that you, a mere mother or father, are about to take on a roomful of professionals in the field of educational disabilities, and attempt to advocate for your child. They are warm, in a reserved, professional manner, objective, or so that's the way the legend is told, with an underlying subjectivity that leans toward their own agenda. Their agendas could range from how they come off in front of you and their peers, or, more likely, the district's financial bottom line for special ed services. Or maybe they had a fight with their spouse this morning and left the house, forgetting to drink their coffee! You, on the other hand, are subjective, sometimes angry as hell at one or more of these so-called professionals, nervous, a little tired from the anxiety you suffered last night about the meeting, and absolutely smitten with love for your child. Sometimes even blinded with love. Otherwise, why would you even be there to begin with?! The professionals are there because they HAVE to be. It's their JOB that they get PAID for. To you even that can be a very annoying fact, as you are there for the sole purpose of helping your child, because you WANT to be.
Being prepared for an IEP meeting is crucial. You want to be prepared for anything that these professionals might toss your way. I prepare by being organized to a 'T.' For me this means the tedious job of doing 'dailies' with my son, 180 days a year, right after school. We sit down at the computer and he rattles off the problematic events of the day, peppered with some good times. I type and ask prompting questions to jog his memory for the troubled parts of the day, and get a fair picture of his side of the whole story. The problems that he can solve himself or by himself with a little help go to the psychotherapist. The blatant legal violations get the immediate attention of our special ed lawyer (there's only so much one person can do alone!). All others are for me and the next parent/teacher or IEP meeting. We schedule P/T meetings 4 times a year, mid-marking period, to keep up on all the changes and new problems that arise, as children's needs do change, and should be addressed more often than yearly. Don't you think so? This also gives Dan half a marking period to catch up with what he's missed due to poor or misimplemented modifications and generally bad inclusion implementation. Makes report cards easier to believe, too.
The next step is the collection and review of all school work that's been allowed to come home, either by the teachers, or by my 13 1/2 year old 8th grader. The papers he brings home are few and far between. I suspect he may be making a nest in his locker with the brunt of them. He has learned that work well done has its rewards, but that bringing home work that he's not proud of has some pretty cool rewards of its own. Any grade of C or below that he feels was unfair or is upset about is gone over by me with a fine tooth comb, looking for what modification or strategy might have been able to prevent it, while enabling him to still learn what the rest of the class had learned. I jot down notes like a madwoman in my Trapper, and relate which specific LD was involved in the work that was not well done.
Ahhhh...my Trapper. In this black Trapper Keeper, with 'Rad Dog' printed all over it, along with neon pink, yellow, orange, green, and blue surfer graphics (a gal HAS to maintain her own identity SOMEHOW!), the real magic occurs. I take a computer generated copy of his schedule. I leave enough space between each class so that I have added plenty of room for me to address each teacher's subject. I then write in my notes of modification/strategy ideas that I feel are either necessary for that teacher to implement or to be made aware of, as there have been instances in which those issues have already been discussed and are in his current IEP. I remind myself to be open to other's ideas that could remedy the problems that have arisen. I hate to admit it, but I do know that I am not perfect or always right.
Gee...do I sound like I have it all together? Well then, I've fooled you but good! For as soon as the meeting is scheduled, my mind begins to reel with an incessant internal dialogue from Hell! All confidence is temporarily suspended. I lay awake nights and have that meeting over and over again, imagining all the different twists and turns it could take. I have had some INCREDIBLE imaginary meetings where I reign triumphant. In other 3 A.M. delusions I have been carted away by the authorities in hand-cuffs, kicking, screaming, and foaming at the mouth. I have been spotted on IEP meeting days pulling into a gas station and bewildering the poor, unknowing attendant by rolling down my window with purpose and saying in a commanding voice, "Fill it with the blood of my enemies!" This always gets a chuckle out of Dan.
By the time the meeting day arrives, I am ready. I have asked Dan if he cares what I wear, so I won't embarrass him too badly during these sensitive, impressionable, early teen years. He has already given me his now stock response to this query, "Screw 'em if they judge you by the clothes you wear!" I am well satisfied that this is my child. I am now driving to the school in my most comfortable clothing, trusty Trapper by my side, with 'music therapy' in progress to bolster my confidence. I suggest Queen, 'We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions,' which kicks butt for this purpose! Arriving at the school and in the parking lot still in my car, it's now time to become spiritual. The Lord's Prayer is followed by, "God, please let this meeting go well for Dan. Please let what's right and best for him happen, whether it's what I want or not. Amen." Standing in the office, nervous, sweating regardless of the enormous amount of Sure I have just sprayed on, and trying to look nonchalant as I pick up this or that notice and scan it with feigned concentration and interest. And wonder...as in, "I wonder why Dan never brings any of these home!"
At last the we are done with the greetings ritual, and all are in the conference room. Dan has been reminded by me privately out in the hall of the cardinal rules:Those are my rules. I know this sounds a little paranoid, but if you've been through the drill enough times, you'll realize that anything you or your child says can and will be used against you at one time or another, with the possibility that they will attempt to turn you and your child into an impromptu play about contradiction. I have actually had the misfortune of seeing a flip joke-comment I made during one of these meetings turn up under the heading of 'Parental Input' regarding my son's behavior on an IEP. Rules are definitely called for if you want smooth success and no nonsensical surprises when the paperwork comes back.
- NEVER contradict me in front of these people!
- When asked a question directly, answer with a simple yes or no whenever possible. (No wonder they think he has a socialization problem!)
- NEVER volunteer information! If asked for a specific example, if unsure of answering ANY question, or if you feel there's something you need to add, say, "Mom, may I speak to you in the hall for a moment?" We'll go out and discuss it PRIVATELY first.
For me, by the time we are actually all sitting together in the meeting, the event is anticlimactic. I have everything I could have in front of me and have done everything I could do. It then goes as it goes. I imagine it goes according to the will of God, so I won't drive myself insane about it later.
Afterwards, as Dan and I round the school's corner headed to the car, there is a fairly balanced share of high-fiving and ear-to-ear grinning, along with a few, 'Sorry I couldn't pull that off for you.' At last we are in the car. It is over. Pulling out of the school parking lot, Dan is thirsty, I need a cigarette BADLY, and the conversation dissolves into a discussion of who has a bad case of 'teacher hair from the 70's.' The world is ours again for this brief moment. Then we get home, it's time for dailies, and the dance begins again.
So, that's how I prepare and cope for IEP meetings, with daily organized time and care...wait...I don't think you can clinically call what I do coping, though. Those sleepless nights are more like obsessing...aren't they? Actually...maybe I don't know what I'm doing at ALL!