by: Julie Beem
I was way too intimidated. At first I believed what I was told in IEP meetings, that everyone there had the singular purpose of wanting to develop the best IEP for my daughter, the one that met her needs completely. But I quickly learned that first off – the law does not require children get the “best” IEP or that their needs be “fully” met. And the school’s interpretation of “appropriate” (what IDEA does say is required) and mine are often not similar. The school has budgets, deadlines, staffing problems and so many other things they’re juggling. I am truly the one person on the IEP team who is an expert on my child and what she needs.
In the beginning, you trust them to truly help your child. Often that trust causes you to blindly agree to whatever the school representatives put forth in the IEP. After all, they’re the experts, right?
Then, one day…you wake up and realize that your child isn’t getting what they need in some way. Let’s face it. You’re angry. You feel betrayed, hurt, disillusioned. And the last thing you want to do is show up at a meeting (often by yourself) and “make nice” with a room full of people who you used to trust, but now feel betrayed by – it does all feel so very personal, doesn’t it? But wait, couldn’t you “get more flies with honey?”
So what does that look like? Well, here’s the clearest way I can share with you the secret: It looks a great deal like therapeutic parenting!
The most important mindset for a therapeutic parent: STAY REGULATED – is great advice for attending IEP meetings. Here’s why –the person who stays the most regulated is most connected to your “thinking brain”, so you also have logical thinking. And the person who stays the most regulated can help others stay regulated. So, the person who stays the most regulated usually has the most power in the room.
Please arm yourself with everything you need to know about IEPs. Visit the Wrightslaw.com website. Work with advocates. Understand what your child’s evaluations show and that getting the right evaluations is a huge key to getting the right IEP. But at the end of the day, staying regulated will help you stay in control of the IEP meeting.
Another therapeutic parenting tenet that works for IEP teams is the use of curiosity. As a calm, regulated therapeutic parent, we are often able to use our thinking brains to explore the meaning behind our children’s behaviors. So, if we stay calm during an IEP meeting, we can explore the reasons that an IEP Team is trying to present things the way they are or the decisions they’re trying to reach. Asking questions is a GREAT way to explore with the team what your child really needs.
Here’s a link to some of the best defusing phrases or questions I’ve seen about IEP meetings: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/10-defusing-phrases-to-use-at-iep-meetings#slide-1 Try some of these on for size – remembering to stay regulated while you’re asking and advocating. Staying regulated, curious and “therapeutic” may help the rest of the team from feeling defensive and they’re not likely to view you as either weak or overbearing.
In other words…you’ll be catchin’ those flies with honey.