When “They” Say…

By Kathy Everett, Alpharetta, GA

I.E.P.

Those three little letters instill fear in the hearts of many parents who have a child with a disability. Others have no clue what they mean.

In the past 22 years, I have attended hundreds of IEP (Individual Education Program) meetings. Some were for my own daughter, Jennifer. Sometimes, I provided a hand to hold or a friendly face in the crowd for other parents who needed it. The process of creating an IEP can be long and confrontational, short and cooperative — or anything in between. The key is for parents to know what to say when “they” say (fill in the blank).

In my journey, I have learned many things that I share with other parents to help them on their journey. When a school member says something you disagree with for your child, your response is key. Here are some of the most common comments said at IEP meetings and what you can say to counter them.

We’ve never done that before.

Well, let’s see how we can figure out how to do it.

She will get more attention in a small group setting.

The average self-contained class has eight students all with significant special needs while the general education classroom has an average of 20 students but statistically only one will have significant special needs.

Your child requires more attention than I can give in my class. I have 20 other students that need my attention.

I understand and it sounds like you do not have enough support in the class to help with all of your students. Then maybe a paraprofessional is necessary.

Or

All students need to be challenged and you should not feel like you are the only one who can teach my child. I am sure there are several other children who would love to help out my child. We all know that helping someone else learn reinforces what is being taught. Peer tutoring is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the class to learn.

It isn’t fair to have a child in the class who is learning have to teach someone else. It isn’t their responsibility.

We all know that kids learn from kids. Kids build competence by teaching someone else because it reinforces the skills they are learning themselves.

He needs to be with other kids that are like him. He will feel always left out and unable to really compete with his peers.

My child needs to be around age-appropriate peers in real life situations to learn how to get along with others in the real world. Research shows that all children benefit from inclusive classrooms.

She really needs adaptive PE (or art or music).

I understand my child has limitations; but she will benefit from access to the general curriculum, just like all of the other students do. And, in a class like PE (or art or music) just learning to follow directions or changing clothes is a skill my daughter needs for life.

They need to be in adaptive PE so they don’t get hurt.

Don’t you have any other children that ever get hurt? My child needs to learn how to play in social environments. What can I do to help you have the supports so that he can safely participate? Let’s work together to plan what supports will help him participate safely.

She is so far below grade level, she cannot even….

I understand my child can’t…. That is why we have differentiated instruction. The curriculum needs to be modified so that she can continue to progress and learn.

He is not at the level of the other children.

I know he isn’t at the level of the other children. That is why he has an IEP. I don’t expect him to be at the same level as his peers, but I do expect us to use a modified curriculum where we can identify the supports that are necessary and helpful for him to learn.

We are concerned about her life and/or job skills. That is why she needs to be in this class.

I really appreciate your concern. There are many things I can replicate at home and I can teach my child. But I cannot recreate a high/middle/elementary school environment. My child needs to experience that just like any other child. I will teach my child life skills. I can take my child to the grocery store. I need her to learn how to be around other people.

In communication, one of the most important things to remember is to keep the conversation focused on your child and his needs. It’s what he needs, not what you want for him. It sounds simple, but the key is semantics. Always think about how you phrase a question or statement to encourage the response you want. I never ask if something can be done. I ask how it is going to happen. It is important to be knowledgeable and realistic about what your child can and cannot do. Know the law — but use it sparingly. Honestly, you and the educators want the same thing: for your child to learn in a healthy, caring environment. Sometimes, we just have differing philosophies of how to accomplish that. Good luck and remember an IEP is not carved in stone. It can be changed.

Editor’s note: Kathy Everett is a certified teacher in both general education and special education who directs her own consulting business, Kathy Everett Consulting, to assist parents in navigating school systems. She also has a daughter with Down syndrome.