Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why you should never apologize in an IEP meeting

It is natural for a parent to be embarrassed or feel responsible when others bring up inappropriate behavior displayed by their children.  The instinctive reaction to this emotion is to apologize.  Never apologize for your child’s behavior during an IEP meeting.

The desire to discuss parental responsibility for your child’s actions should be avoided during an IEP meeting.  The apology shifts focus away from understanding your child’s behavior, to you becoming a scapegoat.  An example of this exchange would be:

Teacher: “Lately I have noticed that child, has been having difficulty staying still in class and following directions.”

Parent:  “I know, and I am so sorry.  It’s not just at school- it’s happening at home as well.  Things have been hectic lately.  I promise I’ll try harder.”

At this point the IEP teacher will either accept the statement at its face value or will say something to assure the parent that it’s OK.  In either event, the discussion has moved away from your child.

Not apologizing is a very difficult thing to do, but it is important.

Always keep in mind that the IEP meeting is about your child and not you.

IEP meetings are one of the only times in your child’s life when a panel of highly educated professionals will come together to address their needs.  This means that if it is not discussed, it will probably never be understood.

An example of refraining from apologies would be:

Teacher: “Lately I have noticed that child, has been having more difficulty staying still in class and following directions.”

Parent:  “I have noticed that too.  Maybe we should discuss the types of behaviors we’re seeing and develop a plan to address them.”

In this case, the parent has kept the focus squarely upon the child.  Additionally, they have encouraged the team to engage in a discussion that is likely to produce a positive plan of action.

It is frustrating when others do not understand or relate to the difficulties you experience. Children who have disabilities can face frustration on a daily, or even hourly basis.  They often do not have the social and language skills to express their frustration.  When this happens, it is highly likely the child will engage in some type of maladaptive behavior.

Parents should keep this in mind when others share descriptions of these behaviors with them.  Remember, these type of actions are typical, and something that is expected when a child has a disability.

Being a scapegoat is draining--it is something that can deeply affect a parent's identity.
If you are one of these parents, I feel for you. It is my hope that this information will help you and your child through the IEP maze.

I also know that if you refrain from apologizing and begin trying to learn from these experiences, things are likely to get better.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do in these situations, please watch this video I made concerning the topic:

Remember, you are not alone.  There are others who are struggling with these same issues, and if you need additional assistance, I am always an email away.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Free Salt Lake City IEP Workshops

Special Education services are provided under Federal law.  This means that a child should receive the same type of services anywhere in the nation.  Meaning, the same services should be offered in Los Angeles as they are in Salt Lake City.  This is not the case.

Let us consider the state of special education in the state of Utah: Between 2002-2016 there have only been 7 administrative hearings in the state challenging special education programing.  Based on national averages, this number should be 7-14 per year.  Until now, no one has been standing up and asking what they are entitled to.

 The CDC states that Utah has the highest rate of autism in the country.  According to the number of children receiving special education services for Autism in Utah, they are tied for 36th.  This statistic and the following ones, can be found in this Department of Education Report.

Utah has the highest highest dropout rate in the nation for students with disabilities. The percentage in Utah of students with disabilities who do not graduate because they dropped out is 32.3%; the national average is 11.7%.

Utah ranks 46th in the country for the rate of Special Education delivered in segregated environments. This is almost twice the national average.  Under Federal law children are required to receive special education services in the least restrictive environment.

When children are segregated they can not learn from their typical peers.  Often these services are sold to parents as special programs in special settings.  Where their children will receive customized care tailored to the common experiences that they share with others who have the same disability.

What they really are is an attempt to limit disturbances these children bring to the classroom.  Separate but equal is not equal.

Only Texas and the Washington DC rank lower than Utah for compliance with federal special education law.  (25 other states also fall under the same status). Put simply for a state that holds itself out as caring for families Utah is doing a despicable job taking care of those who have disabilities.

Something has to change.  The lives of thousands of children and their families are being neglected. An entire generation of children with disabilities are being put out into the world without the skills necessary to survive.

I am currently the only special education attorney in the state of Utah who represents parents.  My efforts alone are not enough to change the way special education services are offered in the state.

As a result I have started to organize parents at a grassroots level to educate them on how to get the most from their child's special education program.

The way we change this is by insisting that these children's special education programs be adjusted to conform with the law.  We address this by learning how to make a better Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

I would like to invite you to attend two free workshops I am hosting in the Salt Lake City area.  They are on IEP development and will be a great resource for parents who have children with IEPs.  If you cannot attend please share the links to the event page or this blog post with anyone and everyone who could benefit from this type of programing.

I am doing this free of charge because having parents demand more from their schools will make it easier to represent my clients.

If you are a parent who will be attending I highly encourage you to schedule or reschedule your next IEP meeting to be after September 9th.  Attendance at both events is not required but is highly encouraged.

Here are the links to the events

September 2
Sandy Library
10:30 to 12:30
A Collaborative Approach to Special Education 

September 9
Millcreek Library
1:30 to 4:30
Let's Prepare Together 

Join the revolution and demand the change you want to see in the world.

Friday, August 4, 2017

What's in a Label?

Labels are a necessary evil.

The first step to finding a solution is understanding what question you are attempting to answer.  

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a society got so fed up with life that they created a supercomputer whose sole purpose was coming up with "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything."  The computer took seven and a half million years to come up with the solution.  Take a couple of minutes to watch the scene unfold.


The answer to the question was 42.  What kind of answer is that?  As the computer states "Only when you know the question will you know what the answer means."

Receiving a diagnosis and being labeled can be just as frustrating as being told that the answer to everything is the number 42.  Often it is frustrating and for some people even traumatic.  If you have found yourself in this situation then you can relate to suddenly becoming "one of those people".

Many people will refuse to accept the diagnosis as being true.  They simply cannot deal with the stigma associated with how they personally view the diagnosis, or more likely how they feel the world perceives the categorization.

A diagnosis is not a scarlet letter.  It is not meant to ostracize or alienate the individual.  It is meant to supply a variety of questions that can now be answered.  Once the individual knows what questions to ask then they can prepare themselves to receive the answer.

As a person who has lived my entire life with a learning disability I understand and can relate to the frustration of this experience.  I have had to fight for myself on many occasions on how to deal with my labels.  I have asked myself if they are useful, if they define me, and whether they can be defied.  I understand the corresponding strain and exhaustion that comes with this endeavor.  

I also can relate to the stigma many parents and individuals experience when they are first diagnosed with a disability or when they have to reach out and ask for the assistance from another.  I have struggled over the years with how I relate to this information and how useful it is to share with others.  Even though this battle can be hard, it is important that it occur.  

It is only after a person deals with the stigma of their label that they can gain the benefits of receiving a diagnosis.

I want to share with you a few things I have learned as I went through this process.

While I was in law school I experienced an huge amount of stress that was centered on the stigma associated with having a learning disability.  When I reached out to my school they did not respond to me in a helpful manner.  This was completely different than any prior experience I had went through with other institutions of education.

This experience made me deeply analyze what it means to have a disability. 

My existential exercise helped me create a simple mantra. 

In order to understand the nature of a disability you must first understand that there is no such thing as a disability.

This has become a profound mantra in my life and one I share with others as often as possible.  

What I mean by it is that the being labeled as someone who has a disability does not change who you are.  A disability is simply a helpful social categorization of individuals who have experienced life on a different but similar path.  No two people experience their disability in the same way. 

Assigning a label to this shared experience is primarily helpful because it allows these individuals to learn from their common experiences and struggles.  This is important because for people with disabilities their life experience will be different than that of others.  It is simply a factual observation and does not express anything about whether the different experience is good or bad.

If you have a struggle with stigma, like I did, I would like to challenge you to actively strive to alter your perception.  

Choosing to not learn from the experiences of others will put you and/or your child at a needless disadvantage.  Furthermore, it perpetuates the problems that you most likely fear.

The best thing that happened to me was coming to terms with this stigma.  Doing so has allowed me to add my voice to the shared experiences of others. It has strengthened my confidence and allowed me to discover that my experiences and strategies are truly unique.  

Dealing with this stigma allowed me begin asking the ultimate questions and more importantly find the answers. When I first received my diagnosis it was about as helpful as being told that the answer to my life was 42. It allowed me to receive some accommodations in school but that was about all. Coming to terms with my label allowed me to learn from it. Suddenly I was offered a road map of the obscure nooks and crannies of my mind. I had discovered that even though I am unique- I also have a lot in common with others who share my label.

Please join me on this path towards being more open and honest with others about what is like to be in your shoes.  By doing this you will become an incredible role model for your child.  This will allow them to understand what environments are appropriate to share things in and which are not.