My 8-year-old son, Max, has autism. That means every year I get to attend IEP meetings, sometimes two or three. I’ve been very lucky with Max’s school. They have been great with services and very kind to me. Every year I go in expecting a battle that never happens.
I guess the truth of the matter is I’m probably still carrying around a lot of baggage from attending my own IEP meetings so many years ago. Yeah, in my case I think it’s pretty safe to say the quirky doesn’t fall far from the tree.
As a parent, IEP meetings still aren’t fun, but as a student? I’d rate it as a mild form of torture. You may think I exaggerate, but a room full of people discussing what was wrong with Jenny? Pretty much the opposite of a good time. Actually, it’s hard for me to imagine a room full of people talking about you in the third person and it not being horribly awkward at the very least, but I digress.
I’m not sure when they started to have me sit in on the meetings, maybe the third or fourth grade, but I don’t think any good came from having me there. I’m sure everyone meant well and that they were frustrated, but they didn’t seem to understand that I was frustrated too. I’m not trying to blame anyone else for my academic failings, but I can’t help but feel if they were actually trying to help me, they went about it in all the wrong ways.
So as someone who has been both the subject of, and a parent at an IEP meeting, here is my list of helpful hints for how to treat a student in an IEP meeting. (Although I guess it’s more of a ‘what not to do list!’)
Don’t assume the student isn’t trying. I doubt the phrase, “If you would only just apply yourself,” has ever had the intended effect on anyone. I actually had a teacher tell me that she wasn’t sure if I actually had a learning disability or I was just lazy. Nice!
Don’t do tests and then ignore the results. Definitely don’t mention tests the student spent hours taking and say you aren’t going to pay attention to them because you don’t agree with the results, or you just don’t know what to do with them. I was tested so much I started to feel like a lab rat from whom they always withheld the cheese. If you aren’t going use the results, you are just wasting everyone’s time.
Don’t underestimate the impact bullying has on a student’s ability to focus on schoolwork. This one is a biggie. Imagine you have a job where you feel like everybody dislikes you. You feel unsafe and wake up in dread every morning you have to go to work. Do you think you are going to be be able to focus on your work very well? I don’t think so.
Try to learn a little bit about the student. Don’t just assume. One year my high school guidance counselor showed up at my IEP meeting with all these pamphlets on teen pregnancy. She actually said she thought it was just a matter of time. She said this right in front of my mother and what felt like half the school’s staff. Not only was it deeply embarrassing, but if she had ever gotten to know me she would have realized how painfully shy I was with boys. At that point I’d had about as many dates as Laura from the Glass Menagerie.
Finally, don’t downplay the student’s gifts or dismiss their interests. These will be the very things that keep the student in school and motivated, and who knows… could lead to a future career!
A single mom to two boys, one with autism and one neurotypical living smack dab in the middle of Minnesota. She blogs at http://www.jitteryplanet.com/ and is on Twitter as @jitteryplanet