Most Michiganders think of March through June as the beautiful time of year that the ugly winter makes way for the long-awaited Spring. For mamas of a child with special needs, this is also known as the dreaded IEP season.
An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document required to be completed for a student who will be receiving special education services. Per federal law, IEPs must be completed, at a minimum, once per year. They can also be completed anytime there needs to be a change in the services a child receives. The IEP process is derived from the IDEA Act which ensures students have the least restrictive environment to learn.
An IEP also can be one of the most dreaded meetings in the life of a parent. Essentially your IEP meeting is an invitation to talk with a group of people about all of the things your child isn’t doing that they should be. It’s a difficult moment in time that any dissolutions you have about your child being the first board-certified neuro-surgeon with Down syndrome are instantly crushed as page after page of reality is pushed into your face. Within my group of friends, we refer to moments like this as “having my bliss bubble busted”.
IEP meetings can also be difficult for new parents that may not know or understand all their rights in regard to their child’s education. I still remember walking out of my first meeting feeling about two feet tall because I didn’t understand half of what was said to me. I had no idea what my rights were. I had no idea that I could give my own recommendations. I had no idea what I was doing in general, and the stress from that ignorance alone was enough to put me in tears.
Your IEP doesn’t have to be this way.
There are many Michigan resources available to us that help us navigate the world of state and federal laws in regard to special education services. You and your child have rights, and your job is to be as knowledgeable as possible to understand those rights. Here are my suggestions to get yourself an honorary IEP PHD and walk into your next meeting with confidence.
- Your first stop should be with the Michigan Alliance for Families. This is a statewide resource for families of children with disabilities to ensure they have all the resources necessary to get the best education for their child. The MAF website includes a plethora of free resources to learn everything there is to learn about IEPs and Special Education Rights. I highly recommend subscribing to the Michigan Alliance YouTube Channel for their many free webinars that are given in English, Spanish, and Arabic. A good one to start with is IEP 101.
- Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service is another great resource.If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you need some backup getting the services your child needs, MPAS is there to help. This firm is very skilled and knowledgeable in the rights of individuals with disabilities. The mpas.org website is also a great resource in general. I found an amazing amount of value in “Special Education: An Advocate’s Manual”. This is a free guide offered by the firm that is written in easy to understand language giving you great tips and tricks to know and understand about your rights specific to both Michigan and federal laws.
- The last resource I recommend is the IDEA Website. If you really want to learn about the history and specifics surrounding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, this site will get you the information you need. Since everything IEP related comes from IDEA, this is a good site to get familiar with.
As nerve wracking as IEPs can be, and as hard as it can be sometimes to have your bliss bubble busted, the most important advice I can give to my fellow parents of a child with a disability is to remember that your child’s education team wants the best possible outcome for your child as well. You may disagree, you may have different opinions of what that looks like, but you both want that child to thrive. If someone has an idea that you do not instantly agree with, give the benefit of asking “why” they think that idea will benefit your child. They may have some insight into something you haven’t thought of yet.
On the flip side, never forget that YOU are your child’s best advocate. You know your child better than anyone, so be prepared to fully partner with the IEP team and ensure that your child’s needs are met.
Now get some childcare for your other children so you can go give every bit of focus you have to that meeting. Plus, this way, you can go have yourself a well-earned drink of your choice afterward celebrating that you did the best you possibly could for your child today.
Photo credits to Sara Demick of www.sarademickphotography.com