The IEP Meeting for Your Asperger Child: How to Prepare for the Best Results
As I write this, I'm preparing for my son's annual IEP meeting. Unlike in other years, I'm actually very calm about it. You see, two years ago, I was in a battle with the school district over services for my son. They said that his behavioral and learning issues at school were due to an emotional disturbance and kept implying that something must not be right at home for him to act the way he did. It was only through great effort and advocacy on my son's behalf that they came to accept his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and offered appropriate school supports. So how did I make this happen? Basically, through hard work, understanding the law, preparation, and documentation.
Get a Private Evaluation and Diagnosis
At your request, the school district is required to conduct a psycho-educational evaluation for your child. If you have any reason to suspect a learning disability then you should request one in writing. This is one of the inputs used to develop the child's IEP. For example, if the evaluation shows that your child has dyslexia, the school should develop their educational plan to help the child learn despite this disability. The problem is that school district's have a vested interest in not finding a disability in your child. This is understandable. given that the districts have limited funding for special education services. They can and do try to limit the number of children in their programs. They won't tell you this, of course, because they're legally obligated to provide every child with a free and appropriate education, no matter what the disability. So if the district's evaluation of your child comes back showing that everything is okay, yet you know that something is wrong, you need to get a private evaluation of your child by a reputable source. Private evaluations are conducted by various organizations and people depending on the disability. You can turn to community resources for help in where to get the evaluation.
What I described above happened to my son and I. Until I had a psychologist evaluate him and diagnose him with Aspergers, the district insisted that he was just emotionally disturbed. It also happened to a friend of mine. Her son struggled with reading for years. The school district tested him and said that all was fine and told my friend to be patient. After two years of patience, she'd had enough. She had a private evaluation conducted and learned that her son was severely dyslexic. The district came around and is now offering appropriate services.
Learn About Special Education Law
It's imperative that you know your legal rights regarding special education. It's also important that the school district is aware that you know your rights. Nothing scares a school district more than the threat of a lawsuit. I definitely don't recommend threatening them but it does help if you show them through your actions and communications that you understand your rights. The most important thing to know is that every child, regardless of disability, is entitled to a free and appropriate education. They need to accommodate and teach your child. You don't need to hire a lawyer to know your legal rights. There are plenty of books you can read or websites you can visit to learn. Try the books shown here as a starting point.
Prepare for the IEP Meeting
Before the IEP meeting, you should have all test results as well as the draft IEP. Ideally, you should have time to review these documents prior to the meeting. I like to ask for them about a week ahead of time. Next, please don't attend the IEP meeting alone. Take your spouse with you or if you're a single parent, take a friend or another family member. It can be very intimidating attending these meetings so you need a friendly face. This person can also take notes for you. Now, go through the draft IEP and all test results and compile your questions and concerns. You should prepare an agenda for yourself ahead of time that covers all of these questions. This way, you won't forget to ask anything and you'll have a handy place to write down notes. I like to use a table format with two columns. The questions can be on the left hand side with a space for the discussion notes on the right.
It's important not to start with an adversarial attitude. Try to remain objective. I know it's difficult because I've been there, but the last thing that you want is to become emotional and yell or cry at the meeting. The agenda items should be stated as questions, not demands. Listen to what the district says and ask questions that show you know your child's rights and that you understand your child's disability. If you take on the attitude of working with the school as a team member to help your child, that will be far more productive than being adversarial. I'm finally at this stage with the school district and it makes things so much easier.
The last piece of advice I have is to document everything. Keep a binder that's organized chronologically to store every piece of correspondence you have with the school district. This includes emails, phone conversations, in-person conversations, reports, letters, and test results. After the IEP meeting, write a meeting re-cap. Send it to the school district and keep a copy in your binder. The school won't do this for you and it's important that you have a record of the conversation at the meeting. The reason for such meticulous documentation is to support your case in the event you need to file a lawsuit against the school district. Hopefully, this won't happen but if a couple of years pass you and realize that your child isn't learning despite the IEP, you may need to formally fight for your child's rights to an education.
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