My daughter just turned 21 and all of a sudden I’ve become very reflective. Next year at this time she will have aged out of the system and no longer be in school. Today my mind is wondering off thinking about all of the IEP’s we have signed (and not signed) through the years. When my daughter was young and we were just starting out on this journey I honestly didn’t understand just how vital my role as a parent in the IEP process was. I would go to the meetings and listen to the reports and proposed goals from “the team”. When it would be my turn to speak I would mention all of the things my daughter was not yet doing and then the meeting would end and everyone would leave. The IEP would come in the mail, I would sign it and file it away until the next IEP meeting.
Sometimes my daughter would meet her goals, sometimes she wouldn’t. Then one day it dawned on me that if I became an equal member of my daughter’s IEP team she would have a better chance of reaching her goals. I needed to step up to the plate and become much more involved than just signing the IEP. School staff are not miracle workers ( but some of them do come close to it) and they alone can’t make every child reach their IEP goals. I, as the parent on that team, needed to be aware of the goals my child was working on and help them work on them at home. Just because my child is on an IEP doesn’t give me a free pass in helping them succeed. We help our typical children with their homework and the same should be true for our children on an IEP.
If a goal on your child’s IEP is that they will learn to zipper their coat then it should be the parent’s obligation to work on it at home. If a goal is that they will learn to write their name you should be giving them opportunities to practice at home. If another goal is that your child will learn sight words you should be exposing them to your child at home. I understand that home is not school. At home there is laundry to do, toilets to be cleaned, dinners to make, meltdowns and unexpected disasters to deal with. If the goals on your child’s IEP are really important to you however, they need to be worked on at home. You don’t need to sit your child at a desk for hours and drill things into them. Take some extra time to teach your child how to zipper their coat when you are going out. Have them practice writing their name with a new set of markers. Put up some of those sight words around your house. Ask your child’s teachers and therapists for suggestions. Find out how your child is being taught at school and how they suggest you do things at home.
There have been times on this journey when I have been more involved than others with my daughter’s IEP. That is just how life happens. As a parent of a child on an IEP you can’t be 100% devoted to it 100% of the time. Looking back now however, what I realize is that the times when I was more involved my daughter did better. When I became an active member of my daughter’s IEP team her IEP’s became more individualized with more meaningful goals that were usually met.
Summer is quickly upon us and the school year will be over. That however doesn’t mean that your child’s IEP and goals should go away. Summer is a great time to work with your child on their IEP goals. Get creative and make it fun. Have them practice writing their name in the sand. Let them practice getting dressed in the morning. Blow bubbles and see how many you can count. Be aware of the goals in your child’s IEP and sneak them into their summer activities.
I know firsthand that you as a parent are cringing at the thought of summer vacation. It only takes a few days until you realize that it is going to take every ounce of patience in your body to survive. Your only mission is to make it from one day to the next let alone be thinking about IEP goals. Trust me when I do say however that the more I was actively involved the better my child did. Take a deep breath and know you can do this. Be strong and at the end of the day whether it takes a margarita or a cup of hot tea so be it.