Happy Y Day! We are almost there! I can’t believe it. For the letter Y, I wanted to choose the best Y word….YES! And give you some tips on Getting to Yes in a culture of no. Because, the special ed world…at least in my region, it is a culture of no. Honestly, y’all don’t need to write to me and say “we always give parents what they request!” because
- a) I don’t really believe you and
- b) if it is true, congrats, but you are an anomaly and
- c) if it is true, that’s not a good solution either because not every parent request is valid.
But, back to the topic at hand…getting to Yes in the Culture of No. Know that none of these is a guarantee, but in combination should help you make some progress and less stress for navigating the IEP process.
- Use the process. There are over 1500 posts on this blog….all telling you how to better use the IEP process. There is a specific process outlined, including doing things in writing, using PWN, following timelines and whatever parental rights you have. Use them. Don’t do phone calls and drop in visits and other unexpected things, as they likely will not garner you results. IEPs are based on need, and so you just have to demonstrate the need and take it from there, using the process. Random calls, visits, emails and requests….nope! Use the process and always ask for it all on a PWN, yes or no.
- Educate yourself. Every state has a designated Parent Training agency for disabilities and special education. Find yours. Attend workshops. If you can’t, do webinars. If you don’t like webinars, read articles or watch online videos. If your state’s parent training center isn’t great, find a good one from another state, just make sure that you are clear on specific state regs. I am always linking to resources on this blog and a zillion other sites–the information is out there for the asking, really it is.
- Accept this new task and knowledge base. People tell me all the time, “Wow! You know so much about IEPs!” And my response always is, “I do, and it’s a knowledge base I wish I didn’t have to have.” We all do. I wish I didn’t have to clutter my brain with all this, but those are the cards I was dealt. Acceptance of this life is a big piece of the IEP process and it allows you to move forward more calmly, in my opinion, and less rattled. Get over the negativity, let go of the “but why us?! why do I have to learn all this?!” and move forward. There are no shortcuts either. Just attending to IEP issues once a year is not helpful, this is an ongoing process.
- Build your support net. Find your tribe. It doesn’t have to be in person, but it can be. If you see notices for support groups that are applicable, try them out. If they don’t work out, find a group online. Kids with IEPs make up 20% of the school population…so you are not alone in this, you just have to find each other. And support each other.
- Go with your gut. If you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, pursue it. Investigate it…and then use the IEP process to handle it. But most advocates and attorneys I know, they all just started out with a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. Pursue it, read up on it, see if your gut is right.
- Focus on what you can control. I cannot control my son’s chromosome makeup. I cannot control the behavior of others. I am not going to waste my time and energy on trying to change things I cannot, nor trying to understand the “why.” We don’t have time to speculate on the motive of others or wonder why things happen(ed) to my family and not someone else’s. We can only control what we can. This can also help build confidence.
- Make sure your support is productive. Validation and venting with other parents has value. But, don’t let it turn into wallowing and constant complaining without action. That will wear on you after time and it won’t help your child.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Confronting people and calling them out on their mistakes is not always easy. But remain professional, stay focused and on topic. Allow people to save face. Stay child focused.
- Know what you are requesting. Know the laws, know what’s available. Make sure what you are asking for is appropriate for your child and that you have the data to back it up. Remember that they do not have to provide you with a Cadillac if the Chevy will get you there. Choose your battles, or at least prioritize them. You cannot fight all battles on all fronts at one time. So just plod through your issues steadily and you will make progress, eventually getting what your child needs.
- Think about what you will do if you do not prevail. Despite all of our best efforts–you may lose. You may spend money, time, stress out your family, your other kids, risk or lose your job….and you lose at Due Process or an appeal. It happens. Unfortunately, the system has many ways in which it is stacked against parents. Always have your next step planned out the best you can. If they say no at the meeting, what will you do? If they say no to mediation or you do not get it in mediation, what will you do? These are our kids, our blood, our life…..and there is nothing more that parents want than to provide for them, provide them with what they need to be successful adults. But sometimes we are not given that. Life is not fair. This isn’t meant to bring anyone down, but to force you to ask yourselves these difficult questions. Sometimes knowing that we did our best, pursued every option we had and still did not win….sometimes that is going to have to be enough. Even if only temporarily, while you rest and regroup to take action again. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Slow and steady wins the race. Or, calm and steady, you don’t necessarily have to be slow yourself, the process and the timelines are slow enough! Several years ago I set my sights on a placement and program for my son. My son, on paper, did not match the child that was in front of you. Three placements that I wanted turned us down–and this was the private schools turning him down, not even my own district. But, I knew what he needed and I knew they were a good fit for him. It took me 18 months, which is a long time at the time….but now I can look back and it was all worth it. I had to do evals and more evals, lots of back and forth with the district, lots of visits to the private schools, asking them to reconsider their decisions, asking them to meet with me….and in the end it all worked. I focused on Kevin and the process and eventually we got there, and honestly, my relationship with his school and my district is good. It was a very turbulent few years, but I kept working at it.
My heart genuinely hurts sometimes when I think of all the kids in this nation whose needs are not being met–it really does. But I also have to remind myself that IDEA is really only one generation old….that just one generation ago, kids like my son were institutionalized or kept at home, not attending school. We do have much more work to do, but we have to acknowledge that we are making progress even when it doesn’t feel like it. We are not alone, we just have to do better at activism. And know that even when you raise the bar for one child, you raise the bar for all of them.