Friday, April 6, 2007

Real Men Go to IEP's


In the US, the central event in getting a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for your child is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting. In theory, the meeting is a convocation of all the people that are involved in your child's education, including the parents as equal partners. Teachers, OT's, SLP's, the school principal, autism specialist, etc. are all to join together with you to come up with the most appropriate plan for the coming year(s). Unfortunately, in practice one often feels as if they were on trial in a courtroom in a dictatorship. Many things go on behind the scenes, many are pre-scripted, and it often feels futile to raise any objections to what the "court" has already decided. I've been thinking about these meetings while reading some of the things one of my fellow bloggers has been going thru (read her March 28th and April 4th posts).

In retrospect, one of the decisions that I made early on that has served us well over the last two years is that I decided to go to absolutely as many IEP's as possible for my son. This proved difficult at times last year, as the school seemingly dragged out meetings (taking hours to talk about things we could have covered in less than 30 minutes, then trying to cram discussion of all of the accomodations into the last 30 minutes). They would then seem incensed when we would refuse to be steamrolled and insist on scheduling another meeting to finish discussions in a deliberate manner. As the school fought us tooth and nail for everything we thought was appropriate, we had several meetings a month for a few months, all scheduled during business hours. As a lot of these meetings were scheduled at short notice, I was fortunate that my work was willing to be flexible and give me vacation time when I needed it.

I fully realize that having both parents attend IEP meetings is not physically possible for many people. People that don't have understanding bosses, not wanting to upset the apple cart at work in a job that you need for the health insurance, being a single parent, and loads of things I probably haven't thought of conspire against having both parents able to show up (once, we couldn't get a sitter for our kids, so even though I took off work I had to stay with them while Liz went to the meeting). But if you can swing it, I think it makes a world of difference.

First of all, one can usually forget about the IEP meeting being a friendly meeting between friends wanting the best for your child. At it's best, the IEP meeting is a business meeting, And "Friends is friends, but business is business" as one of my old bosses I worked for in college used to say. So even though you may consider yourself on good relations with the school, this is still a business meeting where bargaining of (potentially costly) services takes place. It's always good to have another person on your team sitting there while everyone is talking. If nothing else, the person can help to check facts, keep notes, and help you remember all of the points that you wanted to bring up. It's harder for them to distract both of you at the same time (not that they'd purposely do that).

Secondly, if one parent goes to the meeting, it is almost always the mother. Mom's make up the vast majority of the front line personnel that deal with the schools, both on a daily basis, as well as in IEP meetings. It's just the way it is. So the school system is set up to deal with females, for the most part. And when they want to "play politics" and manipulate you in a meeting, they are all set up to manipulate the mom. They aren't as set up to intimidate men. They try to use women's inherent nature to "get along" more than men to get them to agree with things that "the rest of the team sees as reasonable". They also try to manipulate the mom by subtly reminding her that it's really in her best interest to get along with the teachers, who she has to deal with every day, so she shouldn't complain too much in the IEP meeting. Also, if only the mom is there, it's much easier to paint any individual disagreement as the intransigence of "one person", you.

Third, it's easier for Liz and I to play "Good Parent, Bad Parent", or it's variant "Knowledgeable Parent, Parent who needs everything explained to them" (I can play dumb well). These two things allow Liz to keep up her good relations with the teachers while I am painted as the rough around the edges, bull in a china shop parent. Liz can sit there reading her notes while I point out how what they are proposing violates what I understand about what is supposed to be provided under IDEA (the law that governs services to disabled kids). At particularly emotionally trying times during a meeting, it's easier for us to be tag team wrestlers, spelling each other while one of us continues to press them (n.b., while I think fighting and military metaphors are inappropriate when referring to treating and accomodating autistics, unfortunately they are often all too appropriate when it comes to dealing with school systems).

Finally, having a male in the room on our side changes the way they treat us. They're just more civil. This is not just my feeling, but has also been related to me by two different advocates we have had, as well as our lawyer. Somehow, they think it's OK to bully a woman alone, but don't do it as much when there's a man with her. An old, sexist hangover if ever there was one, but I'll use it if it helps me get the necessary accomodations for Buddy Boy.

11 comments:

daedalus2u said...

I completely agree with you. I go to as many of my sons' IEPs as I can. It does change the dynamic when a male is there.

Daisy said...

We go as a team, too. Since I work for the school district, we usually work out our "script" in advance. That way it looks like it's Dad's idea, and the other teachers don't get snippy about my suggestions. Tricky, eh?

Club 166 said...

Funny you should use the word "script", Daisy.

I find these meetings to be as much theater (usually theater of the absurd) as anything else.

Lisa/Jedi said...

Thanks for the great IEP strategy tips :) My husband has similar difficulties to yours when it comes to scheduling IEP meetings, as he is also a physician. I usually call him at work the minute the envelope arrives in the mail (or school gets wind of it) so that he can rearrange patients, because we've similarly found it very helpful to have both of us there. The only time just one of us went (for a meeting called illegally, at the last minute, with no notice given to Brendan's school) Charlie went on his own & steamrollered them into calling another meeting within the legal guidelines for notifying all parties involved. Almost every time we meet, someone comes into the waiting area & announces our son's meeting by calling for "mother" & is blown away when no fewer than 7 people stand up & file out :) We have a minimum of 3 people from school, us, & all of his therapists attend his meetings (so far, lawyers have not been necessary). His teachers bring pictures of him as well as examples of his work, & it's never failed to remind them that they're making decisions about a real person, not just a statistic.

Club 166 said...

I like the pictures strategy.

Last year when we had (yet another) outside evaluation done, we put together a large 3 ring binder for the evaluation team (school records, examples of work from school and done at home, etc.).

On the cover we put a 5" x 7" picture of Buddy Boy, for exactly the reason you stated. Even though they were going to observe him for a couple of hours, we wanted to remind them of his humanity the whole time they were compiling their report.

kristina said...

It's the emotions that take over for me. I think it's really important for one parent not to go----someone else can take notes and will inevitably notice something that you don't, and be someone who can talk to about it afterwards. And, since it is usually 1 parents and a couple of administrators, one does not have to feel so alone. Jim and I try sometimes not to sit next to each other........

Daisy said...

Husband just looked over my shoulder at the post's title: he commented, "Real DADS go to IEPs." Yes, they do. And Kristina, we often bring an advocate and bring my mom to take notes. That way we can focus on addressing and changing their, um, 'script'.

Joeymom said...

My husband goes to as many of our meetings as he can, too. In fact, when he gets tired of the school folks not returning our phone calls, he calls and leaves the message himself. It's worse than trying to buy a used car. We're still looking into a professional advocate- we can see that we're we're been steam-rolled, but since we're doing everything all these books say we're supposed to do to avoid it (short of hiring a lawyer and advocate), we have run out of ideas of how to make it stop. What a waste of resources that could be going to therapy, teachers, and educating, to have to hire lawyers. But there it is. We were told we should do whatever we felt was necessary for our child... so I have another round of calls to make on Monday. :P

David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction) said...

This real man is practically writing his daughter's IEP....

bigwhitehat said...

I think I know more about IEPs ARDs and BIPs than the some of the teachers do.

I usually walk in to the conference room early and warm up the DLP projector myself.

I get an advanced copy of the paper work and prepare questions the night before. You should see the way that stirs up some of the participants.

farmwifetwo said...

Mine has opted to leave it for me. Once upon a time that would have upset me, now I don't mind. I drag my Family Support Worker from Community Living (disability people) and when she sees I'm frustrated, she takes over. She laughs that I probably know the system better than she does now.

It works for us, it may not work for others. We discuss it when I get home and I get final say in any decisions regarding the children.

But, I'd never go alone. I have a couple of times..... so I refuse to attend now unless she can too.