The educational career of my son with Down syndrome is only in its infancy, but already I’ve learned that if you want inclusion with proper supports, you can’t wait for school personnel to offer it. Often you have to negotiate for it. Many schools offer the fast food version of the IEP process. It’s convenient and cheap for schools to offer a one-size-fits-all approach to education, and too many parents don’t question this approach.
Have you accepted the fast food version of your child’s IEP?
I did, before I learned special education law and how to advocate for my son at the IEP table. Recently I realized my twin sons (one with Down syndrome and one neuro-typical) were receiving the same exact amount of speech therapy time at school. Both are in an IEP, but my typical son has an easily fixable articulation problem with s-blends. My son with Down syndrome, on the other hand, has been diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech and his functional language is just starting to emerge at age 5. I started talking to friends with children on IEPs in the same district and found out everyone got the same amount of therapy time.
“Have it your way!”—Nope. And I wasn’t “Lovin’ it!”
I have a good relationship with my son’s IEP team, but other than coming up with goals for my son I had never questioned their system. How would they respond when I asked for more than double the speech therapy time pushed into the general education classroom for my son with Down syndrome?
In the end, I got exactly what I asked for with no push back. How, you might ask? Through the power of negotiation! I don’t expect to get everything I dream for my son’s education, but I do plan on dreaming and negotiating and asking questions. And you should too.
Here’s how I plan to get the 5-course fancy meal version of my son’s education. I hope you find tips useful for your next IEP meeting:
- Keep your request clear and simple: We’ve all been in those IEP marathon meetings that seem never-ending. There’s so much to cover and decide. I recommend going in with a plan; a clear and simple plan. Better yet, give the IEP team your plan in writing before the IEP meeting. It saves time and emotional energy. Get a draft of the IEP at least a week ahead of time, so everyone knows where everyone else stands. There’s no big surprise when you arrive. I had been emailing my son’s IEP team concerns about the lack of progress on a functional language goal. As email discussions continued I realized the fix was more speech time in the general education classroom. When I called for an IEP meeting to amend the IEP the team knew what I was going to ask for because I had given them prior notice. The ask was clear and simple: I want double the amount of speech therapy time pushed into the general education classroom.
- Provide evidence to back up your request: If your child’s school is used to offering a fast food version of education, and you want more, you’re going to have to speak their language. Read that procedural safeguards booklet they give you at the end of each IEP meeting, and read up on research that supports inclusion. Also, look for evidence that supports your specific ask, and ask experts to weigh in. I brought in official guidance from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association that recommended short, frequent therapy sessions for children with Apraxia in a functional setting. I also got my son’s private SLP to write a letter stating that he would benefit from more speech time at school. I made all of this evidence part of my son’s official educational record. They couldn’t say the evidence for my request wasn’t presented to them.
- Decide what you’re willing to compromise: I went into the IEP meeting wanting double the speech time for my son, but I may have taken less if they were willing to give more. Our children’s education shouldn’t be negotiable, but the reality is we are all working in an imperfect system. If you have a good relationship with your child’s IEP team and they’re willing to work with you and meet you halfway, consider yourself lucky. Realize you may not always get everything you want, but make sure you make your position clear. After learning about special education advocacy, I’ve realized I want to avoid conflict when I can. Reserve confrontation for the issues that matter, and even then remain professional and respectful. I once threw around the “due process” threat a lot with friends…” if the school does XYZ, I’ll just take them to due process.” I’ve learned that it’s not that easy, and even if you win at due process, you often lose in other ways. It’s better to get what your child needs through the power of negotiation.
Disability Advocate & Blogger
Proud military wife and mother of 3; one who happens to rock an extra chromosome. Disability advocate and blogger at http://www.inclusionevolution.com