Mom, mother, moma bear, mommy here are just a few names we answer to on a daily basis. But we are more than those names, we are protectors, providers, encouragers and the most importantly we are advocates.
There are so many times parents do not realize their power to change their children’s lives especially when it comes to their education. At times we may feel intimidated during school meetings. Simply because we do not know our parental rights, the terms they are using, or we just flat out don’t know what to expect. The same pep talks we give our children to not be afraid to ask questions when they don’t understand is the same advice we need to exercise during these IEP meetings. It is perfectly fine to ask questions to get a better understanding of what the goals mean and what the course of action entails. You need to know your rights because this is your child, no one will have the level of interest or passion the way you do as a parent.
I can remember my first IEP meeting and it was very intimidating, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know my parental rights, or what was suppose to be provided or what I could request and just getting acclimated with the lingo used within the document. I vowed to myself never again will I feel like I am helpless and give up my power. I would be prepared for the next meeting and ask questions.
First I obtained the Parental Rights Handbook for my school district. I studied it page by page. Knowing your rights is extremely important, and here is where the power lies. Parents are able to make requests for evaluations, for support and importantly a right to heard. I began to use sites like Understood.com , Pathfinders for Autism, and Autism Speaks as resources. Treat the IEP’s like its a project assignment at work. I sat down at my kitchen table with a red pen in hand and went to work, making notes on things I didn’t understand and noting questions I wanted to ask. I went through the IEP with a fine tooth comb and when I was done I compiled my comments and questions in a four page front and back document. I was ready for my IEP meeting! I even tasked my husband with reviewing the document and to compose his own questions.
The day came for our IEP meeting to review the evaluations conducted by Ralph’s current teacher, his speech pathologist, psychologist and occupational therapist. During these meetings typically there is a county representative and it is facilitated by the principal. Let’s just say when I walked in I was ready. The principal gave an opening and said, “you can ask your questions along the way”. I interrupted and said, “I have lots of questions and concerns, so I took the liberty to consolidate them in my own document after reviewed each evaluation, and I have made copies for all of us to follow along”. I passed out my document which was neatly typed and stapled, the look on their faces around the room was priceless. It was my meeting not theirs, it was my child not theirs, and who better to represent my child but me his mother. I meant business, my husband smiled and said, “she is very organized and always prepared!”. The meeting went very well, progress was made and when we were finishing up the staff told me they appreciate parents like us. You see we have to advocate for our children, we have to prepare for these meetings and work as a team. We were able to get Ralph in the right learning environment at Phillips School in Annandale, Virginia. I know every situation may not allow you to come together and be on the same page but always remember it is about the best learning environment for your child.
In April of this year I was asked by Phillips School to give a five minute speech about our experience at Phillips since it was our first year. By no means am I a great public speaker. I felt honored that out of hundreds of parents they asked me. It turns out some of the teachers follow my blog and sent it to the schools president, Piper Phillips Caswell. She read my post about our first year at Phillips. And my dedication from day one I vowed to work as a team with my husband, the school and staff to do any and everything possible to help my son. My speech was just that advocating for my child and for kids and families just like us! It doesn’t take money to be heard or social clout, it takes passion, drive and persistence to be heard. It takes the power of the pen to reach others, to plant the seeds of hope and for a better tomorrow to get help you need to build and share your dream. I always tell my daughter, “We are not made to be quitters, we just have to stop, take a deep breath and try again! Because we can do anything!”
2 Chronicles 15:7 “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”