Under The Bar: They Are NOT Angry Birds! You Are the Parent
Originally published December 4, 2011
This is a guest “Under The Bar” post by The Special Education Meathead. This person wishes to stay anonymous due to special education policies, parents, administrators, and other teachers. This person intends to tell things their way so parents are better informed of what their choices are.
“They Are NOT Angry Birds” are insightful articles. The site feedback and support for Dave and his family’s struggles have hit a chord with many readers in both profound and private ways. After I read the first Angry Birds article I got in touch with Dave. I tried to encourage him to work in an advocate role to better support families and children with disabilities. It was very exciting to see that “They Are NOT Angry Birds” has evolved into a reoccurring piece in order to impact numerous families.
Special Education Meathead
As a special education teacher, Dave’s articles continue to make me think and evaluate my professional and parenting roles. My professional area of expertise is students with emotional disturbance/behavior disorders. This category encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders ranging from Asperger’s Disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, ADHD, depression, sensory issues, mood disorders, conduct disorder, etc. Unlike a typical learning disability, disabilities within this arena extend to many areas of the child’s life besides academic school performance. These needs often include structured and unstructured learning times, problem-solving, and interactions with peers and adults throughout the school day.
Behind these students are parents who are often overwhelmed, frightened, and unsure how to best support their children. Men experience their children’s disabilities in a different manner than women. Regardless, man or woman, you are the parent. You will be with your child through all the struggles, joys, transitions, successes and apprehensions of their journey. There are no right answers; there is no right way to do things. At the end of the day, you know your child best. With that authority, knowledge, and experience comes responsibility to yourself and your child.
As the parent, your primary responsibility is to your child. You are not the teacher, doctor, therapist, best friend, etc. You are the parent, the loudest advocate for your child. With this role comes the responsibility to interact appropriately with the professionals trying to support your child. Unfortunately, the eligibility and IEP process is overwhelming, and many parents struggle to make sense of the process. The easy answer is that the purpose of these meetings is to identify how to provide a free and effective education for your child while meeting his or her individual learning needs. Here are some tips to help you navigate this process and advocate for your child.
- The IEP meeting is a time for professionals and families to come together and identify how to best support the child. The IEP should be a collaborative effort with all parties actively involved.
- The IEP should be written as a general draft and not presented at the meeting in its final form simply for signatures to document compliance with special education laws. Your input in areas of concern, strengths, and needs is critical. Use this opportunity to elicit suggestions on what you can do in the home setting to support progress in school.
- The contents of the IEP must reflect the targeted areas of need identified in the eligibility report. Areas of testing are based on teacher and parental input. Typical areas that are assessed are IQ, achievement, and observation. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Are behavior rating scales appropriate? Autism rating scales? Sensory evaluations? Auditory processing? Occupational therapy concerns? Speech or language issues? As the parent, you help shape what areas will be evaluated. If you have concerns about a specific area, begin the dialogue with the special education teacher or school psychologist prior to testing to determine a plan of action.
- Eligibility is determined every three years. You do not need to wait until the next eligibility is due. If there is a nagging issue of concern or worry you have, call and speak with the special education teacher or school psychologist. Discuss options and possibilities to further investigate your concerns.
- Special education may be only one component of the overall needs of your child. As the parent, it is your responsibility to explore options for private services outside of school, if appropriate. Doctors, psychosocial rehab, developmental therapy, counseling, etc., can also help. Referrals and service delivery options can be discussed more effectively with the school psychologist or social worker within the school to point you in the right direction.
- The eligibility report is essential in order to document special education eligibility. However, it is also a tool to gain insight into your child. At the meetings, the report is reviewed and the best efforts are generally made to “translate” the information so families better understand the contents. The meetings can be overwhelming, uncomfortable and intimidating.
- As the report and subtests are reviewed, make sure you thoroughly understand the information. Oftentimes some of the subtests and complete testing data can give you essential information and insight into how your child operates. This is profound and vital information that can positively impact parenting and structure within the home.
- After the meeting, if you are still unsure of the information you heard, call the special education teacher or school psychologist. It is your child and it is your responsibility to fully understand the assessment information. These phone calls are sometimes more beneficial because information can be shared and translated more informally than in a meeting with every professional under the sun occupying space. Every professional comes to the table with his/her own interpretation of information as it relates to his/her area of specialty. A quality evaluation and IEP will ideally synthesize the information from all parties and develop an effective learning plan for your child.
- Doctors are medical, not education professionals. They cannot write a prescription for an IEP, accommodation, or modification. Oftentimes parents turn to their medical professional for all of the answers. If your child is suffering from a cold or strep throat, absolutely. If there is a reading or learning disability, the doctor is not acting within his or her area of professional expertise to determine educational interventions. If a clinical diagnosis needs to be made and medicine prescribed, the physician is the professional in charge of those areas. The doctor can be a critical member of the IEP team, and his or her input should be welcomed and valued. Still, interventions and implications within the school setting remain educational issues. The family physician, psychiatrist, and counselor should be encouraged to participate in the educational process and share information freely to collaboratively support your child and to impact his or her own treatment plan for the child.
- Sometimes parents struggle to face the realities contained within the testing information. Coming to terms with the true nature of your child’s disability can be devastating. Understanding long term implications and mourning the loss of some of your expectations and dreams for your child can be heart-wrenching. But lashing out at the school or teachers is counterproductive and will not change your child’s needs. Working calmly as an advocate for your child is essential.
Anger is often a symptom of an underlying issue. Communication can resolve those issues most of the time. Reach out in a concerned and proactive manner to the educational professionals. Problem-solve, identify solutions and develop a plan. Letting anger fester undermines the overall goal of supporting your child. Rarely does a professional act out of malice, indifference, or anger. It can happen, but if there is a conflict, spend some time asking yourself what exactly are you angry about and how do you want it resolved? Have a plan of action, not a sharp tongue. Oftentimes parents do not know what it is they want. That is completely understandable. Spend time thinking your desires through, and write down your issues of concern so you are prepared when speaking with any school professional.
- Special education is a process. Procedures must be followed, interventions attempted, data collected, and the least restrictive environment must be considered along with access to the general education curriculum and setting. Oftentimes this process is equally as frustrating for the professionals supporting your child as it is to you. Opportunities for professional judgment are frequently reduced, and requirements for extensive and detailed documentation tend to take over.
- Have an outline of your concerns and questions, along with ideas of how to address these concerns. Present them to the special education team with the understanding that you are the parent and you know your child best.
- Be open to the concept that the school or teacher may embrace your ideas and thoughts or perhaps they might need to be tweaked or adjusted to be properly implemented in the school setting.
Special education is an overwhelming and frustrating yet beneficial process for students with disabilities. It is also a process that mandates parental participation and input. The spirit of the laws is to encourage collaboration amongst professionals and families to provide a comprehensive plan of support for your child.
Understanding the process can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Your child’s special education teacher, school psychologist, and special education team should be a source of support and information for you as well as your child. Reach out, empower yourself and embrace the process.
You are the parent. You love your child unconditionally. You know your child best. In the not-so-distant future, you will be standing next to your child at graduation, celebrating the joys and challenges that life brings you both.