I remember being nervous, anxious, and somewhat excited for our first IEP Meeting. My son was about to turn 3 years old and was set to graduate from Early Steps. He was already in ABA therapy and I had already gone through my own processing of his autism diagnosis. We had just moved to Kendall, where we would be more supported by family and resources. And I thought we were prepared through the guidance and support of our current therapist. But I really wish I knew these 3 things before embarking on one of the most tedious meetings that would determine so much of my son’s future for years and years to come.
1. Invite Your Support Team. ALL of them.
Full disclosure: our first IEP Meeting took place prior to the times of COVID. It was in person and it was the most intimidating meeting I’ve ever been a part of. That speaks volumes when I work alongside judges for a living. Since then, we have had 3 more IEP meetings and they’ve been via Zoom. I think by now we are all aware of the love/hate relationship we tend to have with Zoom meetings–but when it comes to IEP Meetings, I LOVE THEM. Maybe it’s the screen courage or maybe it’s just “the new normal.” But above all, it’s convenient.
Because of this convenience, make sure you invite your child’s support team. ALL OF THEM.
*REALITY CHECK, Momma. It’s a sentence that still continues to taste like vinegar. I was taught this phrase by my therapist at the time and it will forever be embedded in me. When you feel the Momma Bear in you coming out (specifically during these IEP meetings), it’s helpful to remind yourself: WE ARE NOT ENOUGH TO SUPPORT OUR CHILD. Do not confuse this for you are not doing enough for your child. You’re still Super Mom and the BEST mother and advocate for your child. But we need our tribe. And the tribe includes those who are there teaching or supporting you and your child.
Our IEP meetings have included: UM/NSU CARD case manager(s), our BCBA, RBT, speech therapist, and occupational therapist. Invite any and all persons involved in the bettering your child’s future–it’s your right. The worst that can happen is that they’re not available. In a past IEP meeting, our speech therapist wasn’t available and they asked another therapist to join in to report her notes. It worked and was still as effective.
2. Avoid Rescheduling.
I didn’t realize how important this one was until our 2nd IEP meeting but the first one held via zoom. I don’t remember what prompted me to ask for a new meeting time, but I do know that the wait time for a new appointment was almost 3 weeks away. Seasoned parents of children with special needs already know that timing is everything. We are constantly on a cycle of getting something. Whether it’s getting a certain document, making an appointment to see a specialist, calling the insurance company, or trying to reschedule a missed therapy session–it’s always something.
If you’re a momma who has a child who even requires an IEP meeting you know the hurdles and hoops you have to make to reschedule an IEP meeting. And you know the waitlists and timelines that come with IEPS. I didn’t. But I know now. Slots at preferred schools go quickly and a valid, non-expired IEP is required for registration. The sooner you have your IEP, the sooner you can secure your spot at the best school for your child. AKA, JUST TRY NOT TO RESCHEDULE AN IEP MEETING.
3. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP AND ASK QUESTIONS.
My courage to speak up for my son didn’t come until at least meeting 3. Not because I was afraid or embarrassed. But because I trusted that the professionals running the meeting knew more than I did. And now thinking back on it–what a silly thing to think. Who could possibly know my son better than I do–who can know YOUR child better than YOU do?
When something is said that doesn’t make sense or you don’t understand (this will happen more than a handful of times) speak up and ask. Ask for clarification, ask for explanations, ask for details and compare your notes to what they’re saying. If you don’t agree with something, speak up and say it. IEPs hold so much weight when it comes to your child’s education. Not only are they being seen and followed in school, but your child’s doctor and medical insurance may need a copy for their own records and treatment plans as well. Make sure you know what’s going in the final draft and if you want something added or removed, don’t be afraid to ask for that.
YOU GOT THIS, MOMMA.
The list of how to handle these meetings can go on for days–but these 3 tips have helped me IMMENSELY since our first meeting. I know they’re intimidating, I know they’re stressful and I know they’re a lot to process. But you got this, Momma. We owe it to our babies to stand up for them and their future. And remember, this document does not depict who your child is–but it can certainly help pave the way for their education and livelihood.