This post was originally posted at The American Autism Association at https://www.myautism.org/5-reasons-need-parents-iep-meeting/
IEP meetings are tough. But they are much easier when there’s collaboration from the whole team – classroom teachers, special educators, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Adapted Physical Education Teachers, Speech Pathologists, Applied Behavior Analysis Therapists and BCBAs can all make up an IEP team. That’s a long list of contributors, but it doesn’t name the most important members to the IEP team:
Never forget how important parents are to the IEP process. They are a vital piece, an important cog in the special education machine. In fact, they are probably more like the fuel than anything else – pushing everyone along to get their child where they need to be. They are typically the ones who start the process in action and they are the advocates that keep the machine going in the right direction. They are the first ones to notice when the machine is malfunctioning or when it needs some oil to run smoothly. Sometimes as a special educator our case management roles become very clinical. We know we have 10 days for this or 45 days for that, etc. etc. We know the laws in and out and we sometimes get stuck in the paperwork rut. We write an IEP, present it and take meeting minutes without batting an eye. We present “just the facts,” out of the sake of efficiency and time constraints as we know every minute outside of our classroom may mean WWIII has begun. But if we take a minute, (if we can find one) and take a step back, we can realize that the most important IEP team member is a student’s parents. The ones that know their child the best. And that is why I have written this post. To honor the parents that we sometimes forget, or overlook the important role they play.
Here’s 5 Reasons Why You Need Parents at Your IEP Meetings:
1. They Know Their Child.
Parents are teachers too. They are the ones up late into the night trying to get their child to sleep, and the ones who have learned how to calm their child in any setting. Don’t discredit how much you can learn from a parent by thinking that you know so much about their child. They are the ones who are with their child the other 17 hours in the day. Parents know the ins and outs, so use it to your advantage by learning a much as you can from them.
Parents can help you fill in your IEP by giving honest and reflective answers to student strengths, weaknesses, and parental concerns.
2. Family History
Parents give so much input to crucial family history that you would not otherwise be privy to.
Here’s an example…
I worked with a student who was autistic and non-verbal. He functioned developmentally at about 24 months. Although he had some pica behaviors, he was a relatively healthy individual. One day when I was working with him, he starred off into the distance, his head drooped down to his chest and then flung back up. He looked as though he had just fallen asleep and snapped back awake, except it looked a little different. I brought it up to his mother when I saw her later that day. She informed me then that her whole family had seizure disorders. Soon after that, her son was being taken to a neurologist for testing. Sure enough her son had a similar condition to that of his close relatives. From there, I learned more about seizures from the school nurse, began to take notes of any behavior that resembled a seizure, and reported everything back to his mother.
But what’s this show us?
Parents have an in depth understanding of their family. They know what their family has been through or what conditions that may be hereditary. Encourage them to share these conditions with you. If I hadn’t seen that first episode in my student, he may not have gotten the attention to his condition as soon as he did. The sooner parents divulge these situations the better.
3. Insight To What Happens at Home
Parents bring a different side of things to the table. You may never see the same child that they see at home.
Here’s another example…
The school my 3 daughters go to is so small that they have multi-level classrooms. Having a set of twins and another daughter just 1 year older, all 3 ended up in the same classroom this year. I was nervous and wished the teacher luck figuring that they would bicker and fight all day long. But what really happened? The teacher told me that the girls were perfect! Day in and day out the teacher would comment that they were fine and respectful in class.
But, what did I see?
When I picked them up from school, they would be yelling, screaming, and poking each other. They would fight from the minute that got into my car until the minute we got home. Total chaos.
But what can this teach us?
The children that go to school every day may be totally different children at home or in a different setting.
So, what can we do?
Listen, try to understand, and help where the parents have asked for it. IEP meetings are sometimes the only chance parents get to voice their opinions and feel as though they are heard. Take a step back and try not to be so clinical. Let the parent drain their emotions and feelings. And don’t stress WWIII is not happening in your room. It’ll be okay.
4. They May Underestimate How Important They Are!
Autism parents don’t get the recognition that they deserve. They are warriors.
They are tough and strong mommy and daddy bears. Unfortunately, they are the ones that get the looks, the sneers, or the “what are you going to do about that brat,” comments. As society around them judges their each and every move, be a confidant. Show and tell them often just how important they are. Explain to them that your job would be impossible without their collaboration. Parents have a wealth of knowledge to be shared about their child, but they might not even be aware of it.
Many autism parents believe that they are doing something wrong. They may live with the guilt that it is their fault that they have a child with autism.
Help your students’ parents realize that they are amazing by thanking and appreciating their help each step along the way.
5.They Will Be More Likely To Help You Later On.
Show your students’ parents that you care and they are much more likely to fight for you later on. Genuinely show that you have a vested interest in their child’s education. Build a rapport with the parents. Be as helpful as you can within your capabilities. Ask if they need assistance with any of the IEP process. Offer support that you are qualified to give and do not give out unsolicited advice. Autism parents receive far too much advice that they did not ask for. So show some tact and understanding.
Do what you can, help as you can, and your students’ parents are bound to give you the respect back in turn.
And because that respect is reciprocal, your parents will be much more likely to help you out when you need it.