I remember the first time I was gaslighted at an IEP meeting. It probably wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time that I remember. I was working in a local district, and I had been there a lot. This particular district had a horrible reputation as far as discipline issues, particularly with minorities and disabilities.
So once again, I found myself in a Manifestation Hearing with a client, the IEP team, and some school board members. And, dammit, I was prepared. I had read IDEA and PA code on discipline many times and had been through more of these hearings than I cared to remember. And once again, the school board members attempted to circumvent the law, doing whatever they pleased. I protested. Then I showed them the code, and what the discipline code says as far as kids with IEPs. They didn’t care. I had two hearings back to back, and they pulled the same crap in each one. I remember longing for an attorney to be there.
I kept saying, “You can’t do this, it specifically states that….” and they repeatedly told me that I was wrong.
I started to doubt my knowledge, my memory, my sanity.
After those hearings (and I got my concerns in the record, in writing) I immediately emailed an attorney friend who is well versed in all of this and told him what happened. He confirmed what I knew–I was right, and they were violating the law. In hindsight, I don’t think I could have done anything differently, but the experience stuck with me and was a learning experience.
It happened to me again this week, and an advocate friend said that it’s been happening to her. So I thought, hey, let’s do a post on it.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting became a pop culture term in the 1940s due to the film with Ingrid Bergman (photo above). There was a play before her movie, but her movie made it popular. She is being manipulated by a man who wants to drive her crazy, and one of the things he does is that he is constantly lowering the gas lights. When she asks if the lights have been lowered, he denies it. He says nothing has changed and it must be your imagination. In her mind, she is certain that the gas lights are actually dimming. But since he is saying they are not, she starts to question her sanity.
Wikipedia defines gaslighting as: Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
So, now are you starting to nod in agreement? It’s basically a situation when you know that you are correct, but are being repeatedly told you are wrong.
Examples of gaslighting that I’ve experienced in IEP meetings:
- If you get the child an IEE, that the evaluator can never have met or worked with the child before. (not true, IDEA says nothing about this)
- That only “life skills” students are entitled to a 13th or 14th year. (um, no)
- That even if a behavior was determined to be a manifestation of the child’s disability, further punishment/discipline can take place.
- That ESY is ONLY FOR REGRESSION.
Has this happened to you?
You’re in an IEP meeting. You’ve done your research, you’ve studied, you’ve read. And now you are being told something that you are just certain is not true.
Sometimes I do believe it’s ignorance. But sometimes I just can’t help but think that it’s deliberate and that they really are trying to convince us to go along with “their way” even though they know it’s wrong. It’s maddening. It does make you question your sanity and your knowledge and your confidence. It can happen to even the most seasoned advocate. A former supervisor I had, she had decades of experience. But one time was in an IEP meeting the team was so adamant about what pendency or stay put was, she really started to doubt herself. So, she excused herself, made a quick call, and confirmed what she knew was correct.
So what can you do? I mean, short of standing up and mimicking the woman from this commercial, what can you do?
Avoiding gaslighting at IEP meetings
- Go in prepared. You know what your sticking points are going to be. So have your data ready. If you are going to ask for an IEE, have that section printed off from IDEA. If you are debating ESY, print that off and bring it.
- Ask them to prove to you their point. For example, I could not find anything about the IEE thing for the meeting I have on Monday. So I told mom to email them: Please show us where it says that IEE evaluators must never have met the child before. Put the onus on them.
- As usual, don’t sign anything besides an attendance sheet. Follow up with data and documentation later, with your after-meeting email. Whatever you needed to look up–laws, testing protocols, etc., look it up and send to them after the meeting.
- Try to remain confident. This is why the IEP process must be a year-long process and ongoing. If you throw together a bunch of information the night before, you’re more likely to doubt yourself and fall for this.
- Allow people to save face. They may genuinely not know. Be polite in calling them out on this. This is about getting your child what they need, not getting staff in a “gotcha.”
- Get a second opinion from an advocate, in our group, or do more research when you get home.
- Go with your gut. Too often, moms are talked out of their gut instincts. Nothing needs to be finalized in this meeting, right here, right now. Table it until you have time to research and regroup.