‘Tis the Season for IEP…

By Susan Fleming

IEP season is here and while I’m by no means a veteran, there are a few things I’ve picked up. I invite you to consider these three things that you do not have to do at your child’s IEP meeting.

  1. You do not have to be grateful to your school for “allowing” your child to go there.

The school is not doing you a favor by “letting” your child go to school. It’s the law. We as a society have said we value education. Your child goes to school because children go to school. You don’t have to get a golden ticket from Willy Wonka. Having a disability doesn’t make you a non-learner. It makes you a learner who also experiences disability. During your meeting you might pick up on subtle bias, subtle resistance, like this is a lot of trouble for the school. If you pick up on it, ignore and move forward. This is what schools do. Your child is a learner. Learners go to school.

  1. You do not have to laugh. You don’t even have to smile.

I’m not saying you have to be rude. I’m really a fan of not being rude in IEP meetings. Calm professional has worked well for me. But not especially friendly. This is a serious meeting impacting my child. In our first IEP, a member of the team tossed off a “witty” comment—one comment that was amazingly able to insult both of my children. I was the only person in the room not laughing. I then said in a firm, polite manner (see calm demeanor) that that comment was not respectful to either one of my children. It killed the laughter. But I set the tone, and I can happily say that no ridiculous insensitive comments were made after that. And then we moved on. This is your child’s meeting. No one else’s.

  1. You do not have to agree with anyone else in the room.

One of the things I say to people preparing for their first IEP meeting is that it’s not going to be like a movie with good guys and bad guys. If you do have an obstacle in the meeting, they aren’t exactly going to look like Darth Vader. They will probably look and talk like a nice person that you could easily chat with at a cocktail party. You likely will have chatted before the meeting started—about weather, weekend plans, etc. And then during the meeting something is going to come out of their mouth that will make you want to scream. Or cry. Or bust out laughing. (We’re all different.) This can be hard and something you might prepare yourself for. Sudden extreme emotions. Before my daughter’s IEP’s I practice by listening to radio talk show hosts I don’t follow, just to practice disagreeing with people, even being stunned, while still breathing in and out and keeping my stride. Follow the path. No one has to agree with you but you.

And if I had a quick number four I would say that you do not have to bring cookies to your IEP meeting. I’ve done it twice but now I’m feeling differently about it. But that’s your call. (You should definitely eat cookies afterwards.)

You’ve worked hard and done your preparations. Remember who you are, who your child is, and especially remember all the people who’ve done this before you. Everyone’s pulling for you. Good luck!