When “I, the Parent” Walk Into an IEP Meeting

My heart races and I start to breath heavy as I walk from my car to the meeting room. Through the years I have been to a lot of IEP meetings for my daughter but each and every time, each and every meeting, I’m still anxious. I wonder if anyone else in the room is sitting there with their heart beating out of their chest. I wonder if anyone else in the room was unable to sleep the night before.

As soon as I walk into the room I can gauge the tone of the meeting. If the room is packed with people already seated and waiting for me I instantly put up my guard and expect the worst. If there are “surprise” guests that weren’t listed on the invitation letter I instantly become suspicious. If I’m handed a pile of reports and test scores as I sit down I instantly become overwhelmed.

If however I walk into the room and I’m not the last one there and I’m asked where I’d like to sit my defensive instincts are lessened. If I see there are “surprise” guests and told why they are there my defensive instincts are lessened. If I’m asked if I’ve received and read the reports my defensive instincts are lessened.

The thing that bothers me the most about these IEP meetings is that I have always been under the assumption that “I, the parent” am an equal member of the team. Everything I read online and in books insists that I am. In reality though that’s not the truth most of the time. “I, the parent” am the one walking into the room filled with school staff. There are a lot of you, there is only one of me. Sometimes you have had team meetings that I wasn’t invited to. My feeling of being an equal member of the team is diminished before I even sit down.

All of this was true until recently. Something changed. I suddenly became an equal member of the team. It was no longer “I, the parent” it was “”us the team”. It took a while to figure out but I finally understood. When “I, the parent” sign that IEP I expect the school staff to be held accountable for each and everything on it. “I, the parent” however, acknowledge that school staff is holding me accountable to help make it happen. This is a two way street. The best advice I can give a parent is that they too need to be held accountable. This isn’t going to work unless it’s a whole team effort. Let me say that again, whole team effort, school staff and “I, the parent” working together.

And yes I know all of that is great when everyone is in agreement with goals, objectives and services. “I, the parent” am always going to want more for my child. The truth however is that is not possible. It’s all about the money thing and don’t you dare disagree with me. So being the realist that I am I am going to need to be creative and ask you to help me find ways to make my child succeed without speech services and OT services every day of the week. School staff it’s time to start thinking out of the box and help me sleep easier at night. Parents it’s time to wake up and become realistic. It’s only when school staff and “I, the parent” are truly committed that the IEP team becomes a united team. And yes that takes a lot of effort from everyone involved.

I expect a lot from the people working with my daughter. I understand however that just as I’m not able to give 100% everyday neither are they. I recognize also that my child is not their only child. They have lots and lots of children on their caseload. I do however expect that when they are at my child’s IEP meeting they are there for my child and her individual needs. “I, the parent” am there only for my child. I have been up all night and my heart is beating in my chest. Together as a team great things can happen.

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