Whenever I am asked to present to public school educators or special education administrators on the subject of the rights of children with disabilities, I try to remind them that, in every profession, continuing education should be embraced and appreciated. This is because I have found so many problems when teachers feel threatened by a parent’s request to bring in outside expertise in their child’s disability.
In fact, many of the Connecticut special education disputes in which I’ve been involved have been exacerbated by a special educator becoming defensive when new information is brought to the team.
So, in an ongoing effort to demonstrate that ALL professionals should be open to learning, I thought I’d share a little “eureka” moment I had recently, which will allow me to be a better special education attorney.
Whenever parents bring a lawyer to an IEP Team Meeting, there is a natural tendency on the part of the educators working with the child to become overly effusive about how well the kid is doing. In the past I’ve written about The Sudden Blossoming of the Represented Child. While, sadly, this is often done in a way that misrepresents actual progress, I also realize that for many teachers, their training and nature tells them that they should be trying to reassure the parents that everything will be okay.
Still, it can be very frustrating for me to sit in these meetings. After having been given a laundry list of very serious concerns that the parents have, to have to listen to team member after team member go on and on about how great things are can be tough. Sometimes, it even involves visuals, like “and here’s this BEAUTIFUL drawing he just did yesterday!” or “he wrote this whole paragraph by himself!” Other times, it’s just anecdotal, as in “oh, last week he said the cutest thing!” and “did we tell you about the way he greeted the Principal in the hallway the other day COMPLETELY UNPROMPTED!?”
It gets a little annoying, and the cynic in me can’t help but wonder when they’re going to start waving their lighters in the air as they let me know about the Nobel Prize the child just won.
As I was sitting through just such an IEP Team meeting recently, a really basic question seemed like the only way to cut through. And it worked. So, here’s the tip: when your child’s IEP Team is giving you the pep rally, listen patiently. Then, when they’re done, just ask this simple question: “and what are your concerns about him?”
I think you’ll be amazed at the responses you get. They might say “we don’t have any” (which might prompt a follow-up question on your part of “are you saying you don’t believe he needs an IEP any more?”), but more likely, they’ll just start talking. And talking.
At which point you should be listening. And taking notes.