Sweaty palms. A wrinkly piece of notebook paper. A pencil skirt and some wild eyes.
That’s about all I had, walking into my very first IEP meeting ever.
OJ had aged out of his Early Intervention “Individualized Family Service Plan” at the age of three (which is standard) and now he was on to the big leagues… IEP (Individualized Education Plan). It’s the education game plan for kiddos who are Obviously Not Ordinary 😉 Children with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, learning disabilities, emotional delays, vision & hearing impairment, will need and IEP. And that’s just naming a few.
What’s an IEP?
The IEP describes the goals the team sets for a child during the school year. Also, special support is spelled out to help achieve the goals. Parents can and should work with teachers to develop this plan — the individualized education program (IEP) — helps kiddos succeed in school. This is called: The IEP Meeting.
Why is the IEP meeting stressful?
IEP meetings can be extremely overwhelming for parents. The special education process is hard to navigate and sometimes it doesn’t feel like an equal partnership between teachers and parents. There seems to be so many of them and just one of you. I mean, this is the stuff is legally binding. Your kid’s teachers have to stick to this plan to ensure your child gets the education they need and deserve. The thought that comes to my mind every IEP season: “you don’t know what you don’t know”. What if you’re missing an important piece to this plan but it didn’t occur to you to have it put in the IEP because you were unaware you even had access to it? Pressures on, right?
This post will help you take a deep breath and power through IEP meetings like Rocky Babloa vs Apollo Creed (the rematch, not the first fight where Rocky gets KO’d).
Here are seven ways to Not Lose Your S**t at the IEP meeting:
1. Try not to take comments personally
It might seem like you are under attack but try not to take teachers comments as a dig to your parenting. They are trying to work with you not against you (at least they should be). I know it’s easier said than done but if you go in there like a bull in a china shop, your points of discussion could be discredited right quick.
2. Stay Organized
- Review current educational documents. If you already have an IEP or IFSP (individualized family service plan), then look through them.
- Make sure you have the most recent copies. If you don’t have the most recent one, ask for it.
- Formulate and organize your questions and write them down. I make a list for everything: Q’s about goals for each sub-area (occupational therapy, speech/language, reading, etc).
- Research appropriate goals for same-age children. This can be a good reference point and kind of put a frame around what you should be working toward vs where your child currently stands.
3. Know your “Hot Buttons”
Is there an area you feel most sensitive about with your child at school? Take heart. Know what stirs you up so that when you go in to the meeting you can remain calm in the heat of the moment. For me, this has been Social Work. I have strong opinions about where we should be heading and how to get there. I’m actually very fortunate that my boy’s school Social Worker is brilliant and usually we’re on the same page about goals.
4. Try to get some exercise in
On the day of the IEP meeting, I usually try to get some kind of exercise in. Just something to get my blood flowing. We all know the benefits of exercise but it really does help to clear the mind. When I take a run or go for a walk, I feel immediately more focused. Or if you live in Michigan like I do, you can do some yoga stretching because the weather is too damn unpredictable. You’ll be jogging and all of a sudden you’ll hit a wind storm or torrential downpour.
5. Meditate in the car
OK try not to LOL at the mental image of yourself “OM”ing in your mini-van. Don’t knock it till ya try it! I swear this works. Try to visualize yourself; confident, capable and getting what you ask for in the meeting. Get to the meeting site 30 minutes before the meeting to do a quick meditation sesh. Here’s how:
I use the “Square Breath” technique –
- Inhale 2 3 4
- Hold 2 3 4
- Exhale 2 3 4
- Hold 2 3 4
Focus on the breath and the count of four, repeat the same process until you reach a relaxed state.
6. Pop a Magnesium
Before the meeting (or anytime really) I like to take a Magnesium supplement to help calm my nerves and ease any muscle tension. Magnesium is a proven stress reliever and there are many different kinds available for different uses. I use a drink called CALM, every single day. I love this stuff. More on the magic of Magnesium on a different post.
7. You know what? Lose your s**t!
You’re here to get your kid the services he needs and deserves. It’s OK if you’re a little fired up. If you feel like your voice is not being heard, make them hear it! In a deliberate and focused way, of course.
Wrightslaw is a website that has some amazing resources for spectrum families. Here is a wonderful post about IEP meetings for additional reading:
What are some ways you decompress before the IEP meeting? I’d love to hear it!