Where a dad of two great kids (one on the autism spectrum) muses about life.
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.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.