I have a friend who is new to the whole special education process. Her daughter is turning 6 and she just got an ADHD diagnosis. She was completely overwhelmed by terms like “504,” “accommodations,” and “IEP process.” As a mom of three boys with ADHD, Dyslexia, and other learning issues –challenges that affect their ability to perform in traditional learning settings — I am a VETERAN of meetings with the special education department. Through the years, some meetings have been smooth and some have been a knock-down, drag-out fight.
Here are some tricks of the trade to keep IEP meetings calm, cool, and successful:
1. Educate yourself. As a CHADD satellite leader, I hear parents say, “The school won’t do this” or “the school won’t do that.” It can be frustrating. To ease your disappointment and frustration, it helps to go into the meeting understanding what the school system CAN and CANNOT do for your child by LAW. This requires homework on your part.
Yeah, I know that is extremely time consuming, but you have to do it. There is no worse feeling than going into the meeting with a laundry list of expectations and being told that the school staff can’t do any of it. READ your rights and responsibilities. Call your special education lead for your school and learn everything about accommodations and technology that they CAN provide under their regulations.
2. Connect the dots. Your child’s evaluation outlines how ADHD is affecting his/her ability to learn. The school might refer to them as “weaknesses,” “learning issues,” or “learning disabilities.” Your IEP should have objectives and accommodationsthat directly address those learning issues. So, when reading the IEP, connect the dots to ensure that the needs are being addressed. For example, my son has working memory issues. If his objective is to solve 1-3 step word problems with one prompt or less (4th grade), then the following accommodation is put in place: He must paraphrase directions to the teacher, must have a visual aid of formulas and steps for all assignments/assessments, must highlight code words, and must have an organizer for story problems.*
3. Paint a picture. Everyone in the room may not be knowledgeable or accepting of ADHD. Sad, but true. As his/her advocate, you must get everyone on board about your child and the behaviors that must be expected and managed. When you recognize a “force” in the room that does not feel understanding, try not to explain everything in terms of ADHD. Switch your language to the constant behaviors of your child (which really stem from ADHD, whether they want to recognize it or not). Focus the conversation on identifying solutions that can help him/her manage successfully. For example, my son frequently gets frustrated when completing a task with a group. It is a challenge of his ADHD and executive functioning, and it’s who he is day in and day out. So, instead of saying, “Because he has ADHD, his inability to regulate his emotions and pick up on social cues and…,” try, “My son often has difficulty working in groups; it’s just a part of who he is. What accommodations can be used to manage that so he can stay on task and learn?” Again, focus the language on the behaviors or learning issues, not ADHD language.
4. Remind everyone in the room that you are all working together as a team for the child. Often, when I’m sitting in these meetings, I’ve felt like I’m being sold a used car. People are talking all around me, telling me facts about my child that aren’t too attractive, and then “selling” me all of the wonderful things that they plan to do. Hmmm. This can make you feel very intimidated and unsure, especially when you are expected to sign on the line and agree to the plan. It helps if I stop when the room feels hostile, or when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and state, “I want to work as a team to help my child. Tell me how I can help you, and how you can help me, so that s/he can be successful.” Or, using WE statements: “What objective should WE write to address this learning need?” These statements tend to “center” the room and remind all of us not to focus on our own agendas, but to work together to find effective solutions.
5. Bring a peace offering to set the “teamwork” tone. I have done all three of my boys’ IEPs back to back. Yep—we sat down at 8 a.m. and didn’t finish until 11:30am. I brought in coffee, water, and doughnuts to keep us all in a good mood. If you think it’s going to be a long one, bring chocolates or peppermints—something to keep everyone alert and attentive during the discussion. Besides, teachers and administrators are people, too – it makes a difference when we remember that and treat them that way!
I hope these tidbits will help you get through your IEP successfully! You might refer to *Chadd.org for a listing of suggested accommodations that you can request to address your child’s needs. Remember, if you’re not an advocate for your child, who will be?