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TEAM BUILDING ADVOCACY
By Peggy Lou Morgan

Special education services are administered by the IEP (Individualized Education Program) team.  The IEP team, consisting of parents, teachers and other educational professionals (speech therapists, occupational therapist, administrators, etc.), get together to create goals and make important decisions relative to a child’s education. The impact of the decisions on a child’s present and future life can be profound.

The process sometimes becomes a battlefield for parents and teachers alike. I recently saw a coffee mug on the Internet that read “I survived an I.E.P” which describes what many parents experience.

During my son’s early years in school, I acted as guardian for persons who experienced a wide variety of disabilities.  I attended numerous meetings similar to the IEP meetings for my son.

“I could leave one of those meetings where I had been listened to, wearing the same outfit and the same perfume and carrying the same briefcase to an IEP meeting for my son. I would start out listening to the reports. The first time questions were asked, the sense of “How dare you question professional educators, you’re only the dumb parent!” was communicated by attitude and/or body language. Comments about my lack of objectivity were common. My own requests and suggestions were rarely incorporated into the goals. I left most meetings feeling defeated and embarrassed at how defensive I had become.” Excerpted from Parenting Your Complex Child (1)

When conflict arises between IEP team members the real victim is the child.  Valuable time is taken resolving conflicts.  A child is less likely to accomplish as much as a result.  Conflict at school can affect every area of a child’s life.

According to A Parent’s Guide to Special Education:

“Children behave differently at different times of the day, and the timing of their behavior may provide you with important clues.  For example, if your child misbehaves in the morning before leaving for school, it could mean it is school-related and you need to investigate what may be occurring. ***Behavior problems occurring immediately after school are an indication that something happened at school that may be bothering him.” (2)

What happens at school impacts an entire family.  When my son, Billy Ray, was in school it took a long time to figure out why he was agitated before and after school.  Additionally, if he had a bad day at school he would refuse to go to school for several days.  It was not only affecting our home life but my employment because of his refusal to attend school.

Children do behave differently at school than at home.  Thus, trying to present the type of activity or environment a child needs to the school may be difficult.  When he is expected to perform activities that are uncomfortable, the resulting behavior (for example, throwing himself on the floor in a meltdown) may not communicate what he intends.  He may be saying by the only way he can (his behavior) that the activity doesn’t work for him.

At the same time Billy Ray was having major behavior issues at school, he could control his behavior during a daily activity at home, feeding the horses.  I frequently said to school and medical personnel “if only we could figure out what motivates him to self control in this activity.”  It seemed that no one believed me that he could do this activity.

Nothing was working for Billy Ray at home or at school.  I decided to work on home and see if I could come up with answers to what might help.  I was using the program Social Stories and symbol software, eventually modifying to visuals that worked best for him.  The first one I did was a Feeding the Horse Visual.

During the next IEP meeting I took the Feeding Horse Visual.  I wanted to share our progress at home. The reaction of the team members amazed me.  Comments were made about how independent he was in that task. The Director of Special Education for our district and the Autism Specialist made an appointment to come to our farm to observe Billy Ray in activities that were working at home.

That incident demonstrated that the school personnel were not able to see Billy Ray as I saw him.  He was involved in sedentary activities that he could not handle.  They saw the behavior that communicated it wasn’t working for him and couldn’t see his abilities due to the behavior.  I could tell them but it was not as easy for them to grasp until they saw pictures and later as I provided documentation.

As Heidi Ostrom, Director of Special Services at Silver Falls School District, says, “if a parent says her child swim but every time we try he starts to drown it is hard to believe he can swim”. 

It was a turning point in my relationship with the team.  I began to try to see what they saw when they looked at Billy Ray and to try to communicate my son in ways that could be absorbed more easily.  Instead of going to meetings with demands for services it was helpful to bring support of his ability to use those services appropriately.

I also had to look at restoring the relationship with the team.  The “dumb parent treatment” disappeared when the team saw Billy Ray in a different light and accepted my understanding of him.  In the beginning, I had to bite my tongue when I wanted to get defensive.  Getting stuck in conflict AGAIN would not bring the hoped for results.

I looked at ways to help Billy Ray build relationships while demonstrating his strengths.  For example, we didn’t do the apple for the teacher or Christmas presents just to be doing it.  However, when we did activities at home that would be interesting to his teacher, Billy Ray might take a picture to school to assist with show and tell.  When we made cinnamon rolls for family and friends during the holidays he took his teacher one with a picture showing him kneading the dough or rolling it out.  This made the teacher feel special but also showed Billy Ray’s participation.

If you are preparing for an IEP meeting, try to put think about how your child might appear to school the school staff. You might try the following:

“Consider whether she is getting the appropriate education and other services. If possible, make a photocopy of the IEP so that you can mark up one copy with changes that you think are needed in terms of life skills and academic skills.

“Make a list of any goals you would like added to the plan and your concerns about any existing goals. Resist the temptation to shoot for the moon with too many far-advanced goals. You are more likely to get cooperation if you keep the changes as reasonable as possible, at least while you are trying to rebuild your relationship with the team. Later on, you can ask for other meetings as needed.

After you have made the goals list, think about information you need to support the changes and goals you would like in the plan. If you have pictures of your child doing tasks that demonstrate similar or beginning skills needed to accomplish the goals you will request, use them as support. These illustrate that he has some basic capability or experience to grow from.” (1)

It is not necessary to compromise every point; however, remind yourself as disagreements evolve that nothing will be solved by conflict.  Your child will achieve the more if the team works together.

(1) Excerpt used by permission of the publisher from "Parenting Your Complex Child" by Peggy Lou Morgan © 2006 Peggy Lou Morgan, published by AMACOM, division of American Management Association, New York, New York. www.amacombooks.org

(2) Excerpted by permission of the publisher from “A Parent’s Guide to Special Education” by Linda Wilmshurst, Ph.D.,ABPP, and Alan W. Brue, Ph.D. NCSP Â © 2005 Linda Wilmshurst and Alan W. Brue, AMACOM Books, Division of American Management Association, New York, NY. www.amacombooks.org

© Peggy Lou Morgan 2007
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This page was last updated: March 29, 2011