Saturday, November 11, 2006

Educate Yourself!

While speaking about my book in front of another large group of parents and professionals a couple of weeks ago, I was again reminded of the importance of telling parents the power of these two little words: EDUCATE YOURSELF!

Wherever I go, one or more parents always expresses their frustration over how to get their children the services and resources they need through the Individualized Education Program Team meeting (IEPT). Yet, when I ask if they have educated themselves about the law and their children's rights before going into the meeting many stare at me as if I've lost my mind. Far too many parents think that it is someone else's job to educate them during this exchange, and that professionals will do it with a huge, kind-hearted grin while sharing all the valuable educational goodies in their possession. Wrong.

It is your job to do your homework before you ever set foot in that room. Not knowing the terms of the game leaves your at a great disadvantage, and your child's future at risk. How can you expect to create an effective IEP when you don't understand the terms of that meeting? Not doing your homework keeps you from advocating effectively, and ultimately, hurts your child. No one has as much to gain from preparing well for this meeting as do you and your child.

Navigating the educational system, especially as it relates to the Individualized Education Program Team Meetings (IEPT) is not for the fainthearted. That means you had better be prepared BEFORE you enter that room. If you expect the school to tell you (and generously offer) everything that your child is entitled to (think of it as a gambler showing all their cards in a big stakes poker game), you will be seriously disappointed.

The reality is that school districts are dealing with serious budget concerns that are increasing yearly and they are working overtime to figure out how to balance those huge deficits. These problems aren't going away- and while it is not your responsibility to carry their budget concerns on your back, it does make it even more important that you educate yourself to get your child what they are entitled to by law.

(Note to Professionals: While I respect the big budgetary challenges facing you in today's world, please do not to place the burden of your budget needs on the families who are working hard to get their children the services to which they are entitled by law. Your anger/frustration about this issue is often missplaced. You should be directing your concerns to the governmental/educational agencies and politicians that have placed your districts in this position, and denied you the resources you need to meet the legal/educational rights of these and other children (parents can do this, too). Balancing your district's budget is not the job of the parent. Most already have more than their share of responsiblity on their plates and many are struggling under the weight of it all. It is a demanding role that parents cannot walk away from).

Never forget that knowledge is power. No where is this more evident that in an IEPT meeting. The reality is that parents are their child's best advocate, and that effective advocacy requires that you take time to prepare well for meetings and appointments. If you leave it someone else, your child loses.

Now take a deep breath- and go prepare well. Your actions will make you an Increasingly Empowered Parent (My new definition of the IEP). See the difference?

To help you do your homework, here's one great, family-friendly resource to help you better understand the law as it impacts children with special needs.

You can get a lot more great resources and lots of IEP info/tips in my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs.

You do have my book, right?.

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