I have two children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. As you can imagine, they both have special needs that need to be addressed. As a parent, I can imagine how these IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meetings can appear to be intimidating. After all, you meet not only with the school administration, the classroom teacher and the resource teacher, but also with all the specialists as well as the "Head Honcho" that is responsible for the financial support behind the resources that will be provided to meet your child's needs. My husband would have probably felt like most parents if it wasn't for me knowing all the crooks and nooks of the system; I am also a teacher.
As a teacher, I have participated to numerous IEP meetings and have discovered that most parents don't have a firm grasp on their child's rights. In fact, I have witnessed several times that numerous services may not be offered as the school division representatives will go as far as the limits of their budget. School administrators may be asked to stretch the existing services by using them for as many children as possible for the same price.
I even witnessed an administrator using a fully funded level 3's financial support and split it in half, offering services to other children, saying to the parents that their child needed to become more independent. Well, guess what? That was a lot of nonsense. This poor child suffered dearly from this change. I have tried to fight for him but she threatened my position. A year later, the parents left following my suggestion to get all the information needed to know their child's rights. The next year, he was receiving all the services that he was entitled to, full time.
When my husband and I were told that our children were living with the Autism Spectrum Disorder, we knew it meant that they had special needs and that there would also be numerous IEP meeting during their school years. As an educator, I also knew that as parents, we would become our children's advocates, which meant that we would have to fight tooth and nail to avoid the same situation as that of my former student.
When our son's first IEP meeting came, we were ready. He is non-verbal, needed assistance with toileting and feeding, and obviously needed a full time teacher aid, which means a level 3. He also needed to be supervised at all times, including during recesses and lunch time, starting in grade 1. It was obvious to everyone involved that it was a "slam dunk", but we also knew that it would be different for my daughter when her turn would come two years later.
Most IEP that I participated in, as a teacher, were done according to the needs of children affected by ADD or ADHD. Others were regarding behavior problems or academic needs. One was to meet the special needs of a young boy with Multiple Sclerosis. When you meet the resource teacher, the specialists or anyone involved in the IEP meeting for your child, you will most likely be presented with three different levels of funding or resources: levels 1, 2 and 3.
- Level 1 is mostly provided to a class where either a large group of children is under the care of a teacher, if a few children with behavioral problems are in the same class or if there are numerous children in need of academic support.
- Level 2 is basically an aid that is provided half-time or is shared with multiple children. These children are either affect with ADD or ADHD or display serious behavioral problems which may require someone to focus on their needs. Since they are able to be independent in most areas; that support is not provided full time.
- Level 3 is usually provided to children in wheel chairs, non-verbal, who need assistance with everyday tasks such as walking, feeding or toileting. Other needs include blindness, being severely visually impaired or hearing impaired.
If you are not sure which level of support should be provided to your child, I would strongly suggest that you ask your doctor; the school may be only as truthful as the budget allows them to be.
Our daughter is verbal and is on the lighter side of the spectrum, contrary to our son who is said to be between the moderate and severe levels of the spectrum. I knew that it meant that her needs were not as obvious as her brother's. In fact, specialists were convinced that she would never receive the level 3 funding that I was demanding. They thought that level 2 would be in fact the support that she would receive from the school. Well, guess what?
- Write down all the facts and examples that describe the special needs of your child.
I politely asked them not to mention any levels during the IEP meeting and allow me to do my job as a parent, with my husband's help, of course. A few days prior my daughter's first IEP meeting, my husband and I consulted each other and ended up with three typed pages of examples showing the special needs or our daughter.
These were special needs that would not seem obvious at first but needed to be fully taken into consideration. The main focus was put on the safety issue. Our daughter cannot be left alone for a minute. She sees not danger in either: situations, objects or people such as strangers.
- Make copies for anyone involved in the process, as written information is "proof"!
Then, we had a few copies available for the school division representative, the school administrator, the resource teacher, the classroom teacher and the government representative that had provided our children with special services until they entered kindergarten.
These copies, were not only helping them in filling in all the required paper work to receive the proper funding, but also they could not say that certain things were not mentioned during the meeting. It was considered proof and was showing how well prepared we were for this IEP meeting.
- It's all about attitude; don't feel intimidated!
You may be nervous, but don't forget that you are there as your child's advocate. As parents, you are the people who know your child the best. You know them better than any specialist or business figure in the room. You live with your child seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. You should not be intimidated by specialists' jargon or their physical appearance. They should be the one to feel intimidated as your child is their customer. After all, isn't the customer always right? Let them sweat it out for a change!
- Don't let the budget win over your child's needs and resources!
I was prepared like a bulldog ready to show my teeth if need be. I was ready for those usual comments: "You have to be reasonable! We don't have the budget for all these services. Can't we compromise? Your child needs to become independent!" The truth of all of this is that these comments are all leading to one thing: budget!
- Your child has special needs and the "rights" that go with them too!
Well, the way I see it is, if your child has special needs, they have the right to special services. That is the law! Enquire about all the services that your child can benefit from. You will be surprised! They are not advertised, but they do exist. In fact, if you do not use them, the government may get rid of them. The funding is there as long as needed. Don't forget that!
- Don't be combative from the beginning, but be prepared to fight for your child's rights.
I am not suggesting going in there, ready to attack as you may also meet with people who know better than bargain the services for your child. Just be prepared and ready to fight for your child's rights.
As I have said, although all specialists believed that I was not going to get the support that I wanted for my child, they all agree that as parents, we succeeded and obtained the proper support for our child. We wanted to obtain level 3 and she was approved for it.
You will be amazed by all that you can obtain to meet your child's need as long as you do not "ask" for it, but instead "demand" it and "justify" it by giving them the proof they need. Write it all down to avoid forgetting important facts!
- Get all the resources and support that your child needs...no less!
It doesn't matter what services your child needs - occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy or the assistance of a teacher aid; they are all there to meet her needs. Never forget that!
- If you don't know something, ask and do some research...it is worth it!
And last but not least, never underestimate yourself as a parent. You do not need to be a teacher to obtain the proper support for your child. All you need is to be well informed and well prepared for the IEP meetings. The internet and government services are there to offer you the help and information that you need to provide the best services possible to meet your child's needs and help them grow and show progress while remaining what each child should be: happy!