Parents enter the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process full of hope and fear. It’s a foreign land with its own language, laws and culture. The process is not intuitive; it doesn’t feel natural. We don’t parent our children with boxes to check that say: “present levels of performance”; “identifying academic and functional needs”; “developing goals that are measurable and appropriate”. It feels both very serious and surreal.
If we stop and take a moment, we can find our true starting place, and from there make decisions with our child’s school team about what, when, who and how our child will receive supports and services to help them learn and be part of their school community.
Before your next (or first) IEP meeting, sit down with your partner or close friend and consider these three things;
1. Know where you want to go
2. Identify the biggest obstacles to getting there
3. Consider what your child could do
When asked, most parents say vague things about what they want for their child. “I want them to be happy, healthy and have a job.” Is a pretty common statement. But how do you define happy, healthy and having a job?
Break down each quality so that you know what you value and so you have a clear picture of what happy, healthy and working really looks like. Start with these questions:
* What is a healthy and real weight for your child?
* How often and in what ways are they exercising?
* What do they eat and what do they understand about making good food choices?
* Is your child happy with lots of time alone? Or do they want more social time?
* Does your child have hobbies, activities, and passions?
* Do they have friends? Want friends? Know how to be a friend?
* What if they want to have a boy/girl friend or get married?
* Is any job OK or do you want them to have a career?
* Is volunteering an acceptable alternative to employment or do you want them to have both things in their adult lives?
Knowing where you are going means you can align your dreams with what your child is doing at school.
This is a critical step and one often overlooked in the race for action. But without a picture of what and where you hope your child is going, how will you know when he or she gets there?
Sit with your spouse, partner, family member or good friend and write or draw a full picture including all major life areas. First write about what your big dreams are for your child; does it include college, travel, career, love, children…When your children are little, it is your dream but as they grow up, it needs to become their dream. Keep these conversations going throughout their childhood.
After you document the big vision, write about what you want during the next year. This is the time to be very specific about the school day, homework, chores, relationships, activities. If your child is old enough, please get their input. It’s so important to include our children in their lives intentionally and meaningfully.
(In part 2 of this article, we will cover questions 2 and 3.)