“Although it sounded good in theory, I wasn’t sure how on God’s green earth we’d put it into practice, but I knew that we had to. That it was time to begin to plant the seeds of self-advocacy — to introduce Brooke to the process, to allow her to begin to participate in what I fervently hope that someday she will lead. There had to be a way.” [Part One]
“As the recording played, I looked around the room. Every single person at the table was taking notes. Every one. They were writing down what Brooke was saying. The literacy specialist was crying. And it hit me. In that moment, the room was filled with the most important thing I could have asked for – RESPECT.” [Part Two]
“Not only does she need to know, but she needs to ultimately take ownership of the process. *She* has to be able to identify what she needs in order to make something accessible or comfortable or safe for herself, AND she needs to be able to ask for it.” [Six Years Later]
In the disability advocacy world, “IEP” can be kind of a dirty word. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is what gives disabled students their right to a public education. Yet the development and implementation of said IEP can be fraught with frustrations, arguments, anxieties for parents of disabled children, especially when parents and educators disagree on what’s best for the student. I hear about IEP struggles a lot. So I admit, when I saw a post in my Facebook news feed that said “Oh, my friends, this morning’s IEP meeting was nothing short of revelatory!” I at first thought the post was written sarcastically. But, it wasn’t.
IEPs can be weird for the students, too. I always felt like my IEP was an explicit reminder of how my education diverged from that given to my peers. Some of the goals seemed to not make much sense. It is weird to go to an IEP team meeting with your parents and all of your teachers talking about you-even weirder to be a little kid at Grandma’s house knowing that your parents and all your teachers are talking about you somewhere else. Fortunately, my IEP team meetings were relatively friendly. For some students, an IEP meeting means getting stuck in the middle between parents and teachers arguing about their educational needs.
Students should attend their own IEP team meetings, right? After all, the student is the most important member of the team. This makes sense in theory. But in practice, sometimes students aren’t invited. Other times, they’re invited, but they don’t know how to participate, or aren’t given the chance. Some students are invited, but choose not to attend because all the people arguing about their education is too much.
“Self-advocacy” is another weird minefield for disabled students. All humans self-advocate, even screaming babies. Disabled students are told that we should advocate for what we need. Yet in the same breath, we are told to obey authorities. If we self-advocate in the “wrong” way, we can get in trouble. This is especially true for neurodivergent students who don’t self-advocate in the typical way-nonspeaking students, or those whose speech is atypical. These students may have “behavior plans” in their IEPs that try to extinguish the very actions these students use for self-advocacy.
In the below triad of posts, Jess from Diary of a Mom shows us how her autistic 9-year-old daughter “Brooke” was introduced to the IEP process and formal self-advocacy. She shows us not only that it can be done, but how following Brooke’s lead created a culture of respect that flowed through the entire IEP team. In the third post, Jess tells us, six years later, how she and Brooke’s educators continue to collaborate with Brooke to foster her self-advocacy. Each post reflects the core belief that Brooke is a competent agent and that, ultimately, she will begin to take charge of her own environment. If more nondisabled parents and educators held this philosophy, the dreams of disabled students would be a lot closer to their grasp. Read the posts below: The Best IEP Team Meeting in the History of the World, Part One The Best IEP Team Meeting in the History of the World, Part Two The Best IEP Team Meeting in the History of the World, Six Years Later