Friday, April 18, 2014

Putting Advice to Work

Several months ago, your blogger was featured in a webinar from ADDitude (the magazine folks who also have an informative website) on "Determining if Your ADHD/LD Child Needs an IEP or a 504 Plan and How To Go About Getting It." Like any presentation, especially those not in front of a live audience, it wasn't clear to whether the information provided would actually be put to use by parents.

So, it was good to receive an email last week from a mom who wrote,

"I wanted to take a minute to thank you. I have an 8th grader finishing up middle school and heading to high school next year. He has been struggling since elementary school. In 7th grade I was finally able to establish a 504 plan for him. Two years later, his grades continue to slide and he goes up and down. They give him extra help in reading, then he does well and they pull him out of the extra help classes. It’s a vicious cycle. I have been pushing for reading and writing help since September.

"In October I listened to your Attitude Webinar on IEP and 504 and what to ask for. I stuck to my basic points: ADHD qualifies a student for an IEP [an Individualized Education Program] under OHI [the category of Other Health Impaired]. After several meetings and finally getting the school board involved, they tested him again and agreed that his reading and writing were seriously deficient. The school has agreed to the IEP and he started in the facilitated reading and writing classes the day following our meeting...

"It was that key piece of lingo …“IEP qualifies under OHI” discussion you talked about in the webinar that I needed. I followed your advice to stay calm, listen, be nice, state what you want and stick to a few key points. It’s interesting, I do this all day in my “day” job, but when it comes to your kids, your emotions get in the way. I decided I was going to strategically approach it like I would negotiate anything else and it worked! THANK YOU."

This mom was right on target that we need to take the skills we use in the workplace and other aspects of our lives and put them to use with our children. It is very difficult to stay calm and focused when dealing with your child's school and the more your child is struggling, the more difficult it is to use your skills to help
them. That is why the respected special education attorney Pete Wright, who runs the Wrightslaw website with his wife Pam, titled his basic primer for parents, From Emotions to Advocacy. This is why I always suggest a few key points to parents attending an IEP or other significant meeting about their child:
  • Don't go in alone. Bring at least one person with you who will stay calm and focused and help you to do the same. You have the right to bring anyone you want with you - a spouse, a friend, an advocate, but if you plan to bring an attorney you should let the school know so they have the choice of having their attorney present. Otherwise, they may require the meeting to be rescheduled so their attorney can attend. This is one reason why most attorneys don't generally attend IEP meetings.
  • Take notes. If you can't focus or participate while taking notes, have someone with you (who can be the person mentioned above) who can do this for you. 
  • For formal meetings, like those of the IEP team, ask for a copy of the attendance sheet that will passed around. Chances are you won't use it for anything, but it sends a signal that you are making a formal record of the meeting in case you need to appeal the decisions reached. 
  • Come in with a list of the issues you want to address. Just like the most effective shopping trips start with a good list, you will be shopping for services and supports for your child. While you might learn things or hear ideas that will change your mind about items on your list, at least you won't forget to raise important points.
  • Don't be pressured to agree to anything or to sign anything at the meeting. While services under an IEP will not begin until you sign off on them, taking a few days to consider things is perfectly reasonable and will allow you time to think about what your child really needs. 
And, as the mom who wrote the note mentioned, "stay calm, be nice, state what you want and stick to a few key points." 

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