This is going to be a very candid and open post, partly because I haven’t posted in awhile & I am itching to write & partly because I’ve had 3 “captain crunch” drinks so take it as you will.
I have home schooled our SN 6 year old for almost exactly 1 year. She has been in several schools over the years (since she was 3 actually) and all but 1 have been HORRIBLE experiences. After my medical emergencies this past year coupled with some IEP & safety issues with school we decided to pull her from public school over Christmas break 2 years ago (2017) – She has hit a plateau academically with me in home school and she thrives with the socialization of school, so we have decided to put her back in public school starting next week.
I am FREAKING THE HELL OUT. My anxiety is at its maximum level. Partially because she has been home with me for a year and partially because I am “gun shy” over our horrible experiences from our previous schools. Regardless, this is what is in her best interest. She LOVES school and thrives in a school and peer to peer environment, so I’ve got to put my big girl panties on and deal with it.
As any SN parent that has dealt with the public school system knows, we have to setup an IEP (individual education plan) and have an ARD (Admission, Review, Dismissal) meeting to make sure your child meets the qualifications for a special needs classroom or services. This can be and usually is a very daunting task. You are meeting with a group of total strangers to discuss your child’s most intimate details and how they learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they can and can’t do etc. For the NT parent it is a tedious process, I can’t imagine what it is like for another SN parent. Anyone that has read any of my blog posts knows that I suffer from bipolar, BPD, and anxiety.. we had our little human’s ARD meeting today & I had to take an extra xanax before hand and have now had 3 “captain crunch” drinks afterwards to take the edge off.
DISCLAIMER-**I do not recommend this to anyone & this is not a normal thing for me, today was an extremely edgy and tough day for me. I know not to mix my meds with alcohol on a normal basis & NEVER drink when I am in total control of our little human or when I need to drive anywhere **
Back to topic – I am an overly prepared person and am a list maker. Both of these things help to calm me down. There isn’t a lot in my life that I can control, but I can control these two things. So, I am going to give some pointers below that I have learned from my experience in helping to plan for my daughter’s IEP’s & participating in her ARD meetings. I hope my experience will somehow help others be more prepared and less anxious going into meetings. I am by NO MEANS an expert in this, these are only my personal experiences in the Texas and Arkansas school districts.
- First and foremost, have a NOTEBOOK or 2 or 3. If you don’t have one yet, start one NOW. This notebook should be everything paperwork wise involving your child. At every Dr’s appt. request a copy of their notes, copies of their diagnosis, testing used, and results. Therapy evaluations & notes. Any specialist appts & referrals. Make copies of ANY medication referrals or scripts as well as any specialist referrals. Keep copies of EVERYTHING. Ask for copies of EVERYTHING. Every Dr appointment, specialist referral, reason for the referral, medication list, therapy evaluations, ongoing therapy lists, medication changes & why, IEP’s, school notes… literally EVERYTHING. You never know what will help get your child the services they need. Also, if your child is on SSI or medicaid and/or if you get updated insurance/medication lists & payments I would suggest keeping a separate notebook for these items. Any documentation that you receive from ANY state or federal agency needs to be kept. Go to walmart & grab some $1 tab folders and a $3 hole punch and get to work. TRUST ME. If you don’t have a lot of paperwork then you can keep it all in one big notebook, but it’s easier if you have it in 2 separate notebooks. Keep you “legal” paperwork in one notebook & separate it out by SSI / Medicaid/ SNAP / Insurance / Medication and keep a separate “Medical” notebook separating it either by Doctor/Hospital like I have or however you see fit. Because we have been seen by several clinics/doctors/hospitals, I have ours separated by hospital/doctor. So my medical notebook is separated like this: Pediatrician; AR Childrens; Dennis Developmental; Texas Childrens; Genetics/Gene RX; Children’s Health/Dallas; IEP’s/ARD.
- Keep your child’s pertinent information in the front of your medical notebook. This includes;
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of Social Security Card
- updated shot records
- updated picture (within 1 year)
you will need copies of all of these things if/when your child starts school or joins a new program. It’s MUCH easier to go ahead and have copies of these at your disposal than trying to round them up at the last minute.
3. Know your rights. Every state is a little bit different. Know your rights BEFORE you go into you ARD meeting. I suggest googling “insert state here” IEP/ARD rights and do a throughout reading before going into a meeting.
4. If you are not comfortable doing this on your own, TAKE SOMEONE WITH YOU. This can be a parent, therapist, friend, advisor, or child advocate. As I said before, ARD meetings can be a daunting task, you do not have to go into them alone.
5. MAKE LISTS. After making a notebook, this is the second MOST IMPORTANT THING that I can recommend for being prepared for an ARD/IEP meeting. I always make 4 lists:
- Strength’s & Weaknesses: list your child’s strength’s and weaknesses as you see them.
- Age appropriate Can & Can Not Do: Things that are age appropriate that you child can and can not do with or without help
- Concerns: Any concerns you have for your child for the upcoming school year. Mine included safety concerns and transitioning from home school to public school, but they can range from how will they eat in the cafeteria (also on my list) to how will they interact with NT kids in other classes like GYM or Art.
- Your GOALS for them for the upcoming year. This on is HUGE. This is what an IEP is largely made up of (along with therapy goals) – ours included learning ABC’s, counting to 10, color recognition, advanced shape recognition, cutting with scissor, following 3 step directions, completing a 2-3 step project etc. You need to list LITERALLY everything you hope to see your child accomplish within the next year. TRUST ME, your IEP team will thank you for this.
- Request a copy of the completed IEP AT LEAST 1 DAY BEFORE YOU SIGN IT. Sit down with a highlighter and a red pen and go through it line by line, word for word. If something doesn’t sit or read right, highlight it and reword it. You DO NOT have to sign something until it is CORRECT for your child. It is much easier to go through everything in the comfort of your own home than with someone standing over you waiting for you to sign it at the school. I know this from personal experience.
- Find out / get explanation of what other services your child is eligible for (PT/OT/SP) our daughter is eligible for all three through the school district, so we can actually pull her from her outside therapy IF WE CHOOSE TO. In most states, the school has 30 days to evaluate your child for these services. If your already have evaluations on file EVEN BETTER, then they can start their services sooner! (see REASONS TO HAVE A NOTEBOOK!) **you can continue to receive outside services AS WELL as school services!! Our little human currently has PT/OT/SP M & W from 1030-12 & Equine/Riding therapy on Tuesday @ the same time. Should we decide that we want to keep her in all of those therapies, then we can choose to pull her out of school for those time frames and THEY CAN’T BE COUNTED AGAINST HER AS UNEXCUSED ABSENCES, as long as you have an ongoing therapy log & it is setup in the ARD meeting. As it sits now, our little human has seemed to plateau in her therapy (except her equine therapy which she LOVES) so we will be pulling her from all but her tuesday riding session. She is slated to start ABA therapy in march & we *may pull her out for that, depending on how she is progressing in school. (I know I know, ABA is a VERY controversial subject in the autism community right now, we are still doing research into the matter)
So there you have it.. my list of how to survive and thrive in helping to build your child’s IEP and ARD meetings. This is by no means an extensive list, but one that has helped me in all of my meetings. Today’s was the most extensive one I have ever been through. Normally there are 3-4 people in an ARD meeting, today there were 8.. I almost threw up, but I didn’t. I took some deep breaths, held onto my carefully prepared notebook & lists and moved forward. I will say, even though there were so many people in the meeting, they all did a great job of making me feel at ease and comfortable as well as making me feel like they will take great care of my little human when she does begin school within their district. I do still have my anxiety and panic over it, but it always helps when the people that you are working with seem to have a true passion and drive to love and care for your child. So, with that being said.. We will tour our new elementary next wednesday, meet her teacher & staff and hopefully our little human will start her new school adventure next thursday :: GULP ::
Is there any advice you would add to this list? Any other tips and tricks you would give to anxious parents like myself?!