From Mom to Advocate: 15 Moms share their “A-ha!” Moments in the IEP process.

iep mom advocate

IEP Mom Advocates

IEP Moms are just the greatest. I’ve found that if you talk to Mom-Advocates, who I define as being pretty well versed in the IEP process, most can describe an exact moment when they realized that they couldn’t just be “Mom” anymore. That they had to become an assertive advocate.

I thought I’d ask some Moms what changed it for them. When did they have an “A-ha!” moment? What was the moment they went from Mom to Advocate?

My pivotal IEP moment.

I’ve told my story before on the blog, but I’ll quickly tell it again. I was already taking a certification class to become a Special Education Advocate. I had more knowledge than many parents, but still had a lot to learn. I went to my first IEP meeting, “armed” with all my new knowledge. I had written down my IEP parent concerns. I verbally participated in the meeting.

At at the end of it all, the Special Ed Coordinator looked right at me and said, “I appreciate all your input today, Mrs. Lightner, but we will not be making any changes to this IEP.”

I was floored! I was being gaslighted at an IEP meeting and was completely unprepared. I still didn’t grasp the concept of PWN, so I hadn’t asked for one.

Needless to say, she tapped a sleeping bear and since then I’ve told tens of thousands of moms how to write a parent concerns letter and ask for a PWN.


Moms Share their Pivotal IEP Process Moments


For me it was reading the regulations. With an area of minimal ( if any) sources for help, I needed to know what the regulations said…not what a staff member interpreted them to be.

Michelle

This may sound really basic, but being new to the IEP process we thought we had to nod our heads and agree with what “they” said. I went to an educational session on managing your IEP presented by a lawyer/advocate. She taught me that my child has rights and she empowered me to stand up for those right and to think out or the box for my child-cause what child with an IEP fits in the box anyway!

Sara, Tennessee

I think it was when I realized that school officials didnt themselves know everything about IEPs and services provided to students with disabilities. My son spent his kindergarten year in a behavior classroom at a different school than our home school, and they told us when transferring us back to our home school that transportation would no longer be provided to him as we were within a certain distance to our home school. After attending a meeting with a parent information group about IEPs we found out this simply wasnt true and the person leading the talk said that our district “should know better”. We did arrange later with our home school to get transportation included, but it really surprised me that administration officials really believed this to be true, as i dont think they were being intentionally deceptive. I learned form that point on to really watch and try to stay on top of goals etc, not let the school delete things (from his IEP) from one year to the next without a discussion as to why.

Angela G

When our district reported me to child protection services for hitting my child, I felt so betrayed. I had gone to our case manager and asked for help to remedy my daughters school refusal and add some services to help with her issues in school. They are just concerned about the money and have no care for the children they are hired to educate. I do not hit my children. We hired an attorney and are focused on our child being placed out of district. Our lawyer is firm but fair.

N.J.

My “A ha!” moment in the IEP process came 2 years ago. I have 2 boys who have been diagnosed with ASD and ADHD and both had IEPs. I was having issues with both teams and needed help getting supports for the both of them. A friend of mine told me about our local PTI and I reached out to them. I learned so much from them and it lit a fire within me! I started googling everything and found wonderful websites (such as A Day in our Shoes and Understood) and finally started understanding the IEP process. The day I could sit down and UNDERSTAND the parental safeguard procedures was my biggest “A HA!” moment. I really don’t feel like an “advocate” as I still have a lot to learn, but I feel empowered!

SG, Florida

That ah ha moment came when a principal told me I could afford the therapy my child needed so why should the school pay for it. When I pushed, repeatedly, for her to tell me why she thought I could afford it, she finally admitted it was because I was white and “looked affluent”. Never mind that we were at a Title I school, never mind that she had no clue of my financial status at all! We could not afford the dyslexia tutoring, we were barely hanging on at the time, living month to month. That’s when I realized I had to do all the research, learn all the laws, and learn what would be best for my child. That principal was later asked to leave the district because of racism and not treating students equally when it came to punishment and child find testing.

Melissa

Making a statement like; “this is not a negotiation table!” then realizing later on, that’s exactly what it is!

Tennessee

My “A Ha!” moment was when our principal came to find me in the playground after school to suggest I hire an advocate because she felt that the SpEd Department of our district was not providing necessary services and not treating us as an equal partner. My other “A Ha!” moment was finding the resources in this website-A Day in our Shoes. Thank you!

Michelle R

My “ A ha” moment was going to mtg after mtg and realizing that my child’s school was just pushing him through. Doing the bare minimum and inflating grades. I knew that I wanted to be an advocate. I knew I had to make sure that I was doing all I can for my child.
Fast forward a couple years and now I approach IEP mtgs like business mtgs. I speak up and do not let anything slide. I hold them accountable and make sure they follow through. I feel empowered now.

Mom in Florida

My daughter’s kindergarten transition was a nightmare. I had planned on using a state voucher (Autism Scholarship) to send her to a private center. We began the summer before kindergarten and quickly realized the center didn’t have any appropriate intervention and didn’t train or support their staff (the director had a degree in drama). We reenrolled in school and it was her seizures that were the issue. The special education director held my daughter’s start date because of her emergency med. That was when I first started pushing and contacted an attorney. It wasn’t until the summer after that I finally gave in and put an attorney on retainer. The attorney later encouraged me to take Advocacy training. I remember he said”you are made for this”❤️. He was on the board of COPAA and told me about their SEAT training and offered to help me however he could. I completed that training and did my practicum with our attorneys firm.

Jenny Kessee, Ohio

My aha moment came the first time I watched my attorney ask the Asst Superintendent for Special Services for a private sidebar in the middle of an IEP meeting. I had told her in advance about an important ask, and when an opportunity came up at the IEP meeting, she strategically and collegially asked him to step outside with her. They came back in 5 minutes later and the answer was yes. It was at that moment that I realized, “A ha. My attorney is his peer. The Case Manager is my peer. A lot of these decisions are above our shared pay grade.” Since then, things have been much smoother and much more successful. Not to mention more cost effective; my previous attorney wasted a lot of time and money arguing in public forums, with poor results.

Mom in NJ

Me: Can a GPS be added to IEP for elopement?
District: No that would never go in an IEP because it’s a “life decision.”
Me: No one in American has a GPS in their IEP?
District: No
Me: Can I have a PWN on that?
District: We don’t use those.

Kathy S

I’ve had several A Ha! Moments. The first was in pre-school. It was a public pre-school for special ed kids. I was so naive and still in shock that my child had a disability. I thought the pre-school program would know what to do to get my child caught up and all this would all go away. HA. I trusted everything thing they said. They were the experts after all. The special Ed teacher had been there for a long time and everyone told me how amazing she was. Some parents had even dropped private therapies because her program was that good. This teacher even had a sweet cutesy last name like some stereo typical loving and kind pre-school teacher in a movie. I still look back at pictures of me walking my son in on the first day and my eyes are all wide and hopeful. My son was so tiny and sweet. I felt so fortunate to have such a great program a block away from my house. My son had a 1-1, PT, OT, SLP. GREAT! I went along for awhile waiting for the progress to happen, but I soon began to suspect they weren’t really helping him as much as they should be. He had a 1-1 but I soon saw that she was really helping the “amazing” sped teacher more than my son. Like the teacher used my son’s needs to get an assistant for herself. I also noticed the amazing sped teacher seemed to kiss up to and fawn over other parents and their kids, while being dismissive and curt towards me. How come she didn’t like me? I was always so nice and agreeable. I never complained or caused her problems. It became clear my son wasn’t getting anywhere. When I started questioning what they were working on and requesting things, I was told by this “amazing” special ed teacher, “Other parents have purchased things from our wish list” (she pointed to a wish list of big ticket items posted on a wall. I’m not talking disinfectant wipes. I’m talking $$$ items. I hadn’t seen that list before) “You haven’t bought us anything from it yet. We also like home-baked brownies.” She wasn’t kidding. I was getting a shake down. She was like some a mob boss disguised as a sweet “amazing” special ed teacher. It was a HUGE wake-up call for me. I realized then that this was all a big game and I was losing at it. I needed to learn the rules of the game and I needed a strategy and fast. I found Wright’s Law and went to town. I also put my son in private therapies (where he made actual progress right away). I showed the private therapists his IEP and they laughed at it. So I started bringing the private therapists to my IEP meetings. The Amazing Pre-school teacher did not like the private therapists scrutinizing the IEP and suggesting goals. Too bad. I challenged everything and made sure I got what my son needed. I set up a secret tier reward system sort of like ABA. If my son made progress, she got her brownies. The better he did, the bigger her reward. If she slacked off, she got nothing. I never bought her the big ticket items because she never quite earned it. I realized she was delusional and her amazing reputation no longer matched her reality. (Other parents started to challenge her as well) She retired when we moved on to K. I learned the value of rewarding. But I make sure I do it for appreciation of a job well done. Not for a quid pro quo. My son has worked with some truly amazing people over the years, and it’s not a game with them. The process is so much easier when you’re working with good people that do their jobs well. But you need to know how to handle the not so great people in order to get your child what they need. Because a school year is a long year when things aren’t going well. I’ve learned about progress reporting, data collection, PWN, SMART goals, evaluations, parent concern letters, follow up letters, requesting, documenting, recording meetings, observing, how to not come off as a threat, how to build working relationships, how to be strategic for a long game and not knee jerk. How to be respected instead NICE and AGREEABLE.(Oy) My son is in HS now and I am still learning the IEP process every day. I found a Day In Our Shoes his Freshman year when I hit a glitch with the school. It was another turning point for me. I actually had someone tell me on the side that I was an amazing advocate and asked if I had taken an IEP advocacy class. I hadn’t. It was all Wright’s Law and A Day In Our Shoes. Thank You!

SVE, New Hampshire

Last year, my son’s Freshman year of high school … His teacher walked into the meeting a few minutes late bc of my son. She carried on and on and on about him negatively – like beating a dead horse. I STOPPED the meeting and informed the school that I was taking my child home with me AND that he will stay home with me until we have a CC with an administrator from downtown.

Fast forward to present – this past Tuesday we had a CC – every single adult started with how great my kid is, blah blah blah … But when it came down to figuring out accommodations – “we just don’t have the staff to support him” … He is home now. He will eventually begin home-bound services through the public school.

Christine Hire

The moment I found the courage to believe in myself as the #1 expert on my child and his needs, everything changed. I stopped clamming up when challenged by school district employees and really starting advocating for him. I found my voice. I finally realized that all my sleepless nights reading everything IEP and special education law- related I could get my hands on had really paid off because I now knew more about IDEA and IEPs than the district employees did, so they could no longer manipulate me into giving my son less than he needs.

Bre Evans

I’m dyslexic. When the school psychologist and his teacher told me that dyslexia “isn’t a thing anymore.” I realized that because your title has a profession attached to it doesn’t mean you’re a professional at your job.

Nicole, NY
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