Going back to school with an IEP.
Ah, the new school year, it’s here! If it hasn’t started already where you are, chances are your first day is coming up soon. When you’re a parent who has to live the “IEP life” it can also bring with it a lot of anxiety and dread. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
There was a time when I was a nervous wreck putting Kevin on his van. But looking back on this list, I did so many things wrong! I wasn’t proactive at all, nor did I have a plan for when things went south. That was a horrible year for us, and the year that I said “Never again!” And it’s been pretty good ever since. Sure, we’ve had setbacks and staff changes and things that happened out of our control, but we rebounded. Sometimes it took longer than I would have liked, but we did. And most importantly, he did.
Resolve to make this year different. Here are 19 things parents can do to get their IEP year off to a great start.
How to alleviate back to school anxiety with an IEP.
- Use this as a chance for a fresh start. Regardless of what has happened in the past, resolve to let everyone start with a clean slate. I’m not saying forgive and forget, if you or your child has been horribly wronged, but give them a chance to do the right thing. Chances are that many of your IEP team members are new this year, so be positive. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, once. Remember, previous team members may have told your new team negative things as well, so dispel it! Be polite, courteous, and make them wonder why anyone would ever say that you are difficult to work with.
- Don’t be a drama mama. Not every situation requires that we amp up to 10 right away. Take a deep breath. Evaluate the situation. Is it a non-negotiable or significant safety issue? Stay level headed. I see a lot of words get tossed around in the Facebook group like “That’s a violation!” or “That’s illegal!” Ok, it may be, but there’s no need to be so dramatic all the time. Drama mamas yell “That’s an IEP violation!” when it may be more productive to say to yourself, “Ok, they are not following the IEP, and my child is not receiving XYZ. What can I do to help fix this?” If someone tries to engage you in petty behavior, don’t.
- Keep good records. Document, but only for yourself in the beginning. New school years can be hectic. Therapy sessions may be missed. Scheduling snafus will happen. Like I said above, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, once. Keep good records so that if things do not get on track within the first two weeks or so, you have the data.
- Review the IEP. Re-familiarize yourself with it, particularly if you haven’t looked at it in a while. What are your non-negotiables? Certain things like life threatening food allergies, insulin, or elopers. Some things cannot be skipped even one time. Make notes of what you want to keep a high priority and what needs to be changed.
- Be solution oriented. Don’t just approach your team with problems. Have a few solutions ready for them to implement.
- Use the IEP process. There are 5 portions of the IEP process that are particularly conducive to parent participation. Use them. Be fully engaged in the entire IEP process, and stay away from doing things that are not helpful or part of the process. Examples would be cc’ing people on emails who really do not need to be involved, ignoring chains of command and stuff like that.
- Stay child focused. When evaluating situations, stay away from what staff members did or didn’t do. Stay focused on what your child did or did not receive, that they need, per their IEP.
- Be Proactive. I can’t say this one enough. Be proactive with what you are dealing with, as well as your child. What are your concerns? Why are you anxious? Why is your child anxious? Sit down together and make a list, and start punching away at that list. Fix what you can on that list. Everything from trying to do a meet and greet with the teacher, to doing a dry-run of getting ready for the bus in the morning. Whatever it takes, practice it. Take care of what you can take care of.
- Remind yourself that feelings are temporary. We all experience a whole range of emotions, both good and bad. And none of them is permanent. The newness of back to school wears off in what, a few days? Remind yourself and your child that whatever negative feelings you are experiencing right now, they will fade away.
- Start the year on a friendly but involved note. You want to be your child’s advocate and you want to stay on top of things. But you don’t want to be a nag or a pain in the ass, right? If there are pressing issues that need to be taken care of, take care of them in a polite but firm manner. Don’t nag or pester. Be persistent and a pain in the ass when you need to be, when the issue is critical to your child’s immediate health and well-being. But be patient when you can be. Bring them your Snapshot IEP.
- Focus on what you can control. I’ll say it again: Focus on what you can control. I can control what I do, but that’s about it. I cannot force people to have the same sense of urgency about my child that I do. I cannot force people to call me back. I cannot force people to email me back, schedule an IEP meeting, send me a PTE form or anything else. And again, I don’t want to be a pain in the ass. Set deadlines if you have issues: “I will email/call you again in 1 week if I do not hear from you by then.” Then put it in your book and do it. Keep records. I also cannot control staffing changes, so we must just do our best and roll with the punches when it happens.
- Do not internalize things or take things personally. If someone does not call you, email you or set up your meeting, don’t take it personally. They may be avoiding you because they dislike you. There might be validity to that statement. Or, they might just be crazy busy as all teachers are at the beginning of the school year. Don’t take it personally. Give them a chance. The first few weeks of school are crazy. Remember Hanlon’s Razor.
- Expect success. Your child is getting a new teacher or new 1:1, and you’re dreading it. You loved the old one, so did he. But do not talk about anything except success in front of your child. “I’m sure you will like her as much as you loved Mrs. Smith, once you get to know her.” If your child hears you talking about it being a disaster, it may just become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Going back to number 1, do what you can to help your child envision successful scenarios rather than disastrous ones.
- But be prepared for setbacks. They happen. And we bounce back and recover. If it helps, walk through scenarios in your head and problem solve them ahead of time. Help your child do the same.
- Do stress relieving activities. As hokey as it sounds, they work! Have down time scheduled for yourself and your child after school and on weekends. Hiking, walking, a hot shower or bath, coloring, or baking. Whatever you find to be stress relieving and fun, do it.
- Don’t over burden yourself. If you and your child are already anxious about back to school, leave those few weeks open. Don’t schedule appointments or other nuisances that will detract from your down time. Allow yourself to focus on just back to school and recovering from the stress of it.
- Set timelines. If you do not think things are going well, keep great data and set timelines. “If this situation has not improved by October 1, I will do X, Y and Z to try to fix it.” Then put that in your planner.
- Remind yourself you’ve done this before. Because you have. And you made it through.
- Tell yourself, “Never again!” Other than fear of change and new things, there shouldn’t be any specific anxiety related to the IEP. A solid, appropriate IEP that is written and implemented should not change from year to year, other than the staff implementing it. So make sure you get your IEP where it needs to be, so that you can remove that bit of stress from your life. The IEP Organizer is a great way to monitor and track your child’s IEP and goals.
The IEP process certainly has its flaws, but it is the system that we’ve been given to use. Use it. You can use it to your advantage. Know your rights, read your procedural safeguards. Regardless of the history between you and your team, you can change it around. Focus on what you can control, and what is going to help your child.
Know when you are in over your head. A little nervousness and anxiety for back to school is normal. When it is completely interfering with your normal day to day activities, for either you or your child, that is not normal and you should probably see a doctor. So often I hear, “Well, if they would just follow the IEP….we wouldn’t have this anxiety!” And that might be true. But, I cannot force other people to do things. All I can do is follow the procedure for when my school is not implementing the IEP.
And you have to do something in the meantime. We can’t always just sit around and wait for them to do the right thing.
I’ve been advocating in a bunch of different districts with all sorts of kids. Time and time again, everyone from parents to teachers to admins tell me that they love working with me. Because they know that I know my rights, my clients’ rights, that I am not going to ask for anything that is not genuinely needed, that I come to the table with solutions. The only folks who I think truly do not like me are folks who probably need to find another line of work because they are so bitter or jaded or fried/burned out. Most teachers and administrators want to do the right thing for your child, the system is just not set up for them to be successful.
You can be the parent that they love to meet with, really, you can.