What You Need to Know About Your Child’s IEP for Bipolar
Attending your child’s IEP meeting can be stressful to say the least. But if you stay calm, and give the teacher plenty of notice about what you need from her or him, it can be a very positive experience.
I have been a special educator for over 20 years -10 of which I taught students with Emotional Disturbance at the high school level. In addition, I went through the entire process with my own daughter who has Bipolar Disorder. I’ve heard all the faux pas and jokes about how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I’ve helped hundreds of families make it through the IEP process unscathed. All I ever wanted as a teacher was for families to talk with me about what they needed ahead of time so that I could prepare properly. We all want a good meeting, after all.
Here are a few things I can tell parents from someone who has been on both sides of the table.
1. Set up an appointment with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year just to meet them and let them know what your expectations are. That way, you’ll both be on the same page and no one will be surprised the day of the meeting. Also, this gives you an opportunity to meet when the stakes are not so high and there’s no pressure on either of you.
2. Always use a calm and neutral tone and positive wording. No need to be brash or rude to the teacher who may be fulfilling her district’s edicts or, may be new and not fully prepared for what you may be asking. Always remember to be the better person and you’re more likely to get the often-harried teacher to go the extra mile for you and your child.
3. Ask for the IEP draft several days before the actual IEP meeting. No matter what some teachers would say, this is your right. This gives you plenty of time to review the document, make any corrections or suggestions for accommodations and services you think your child needs. It also reduces the time spent at the actual meeting with a large group of school personnel. Give the teacher time to make the changes or updates or make counter suggestions prior to the meeting date.
4. Bring cookies. As a special educator, I used to have water bottles and chocolates on the table for my IEP guests. But in case your child’s teacher doesn’t think of this, you should. Food reduces the tension of the meeting, and lets everyone know you are not his or her adversary, but that you are all part of a team aimed at helping a child. Food brings people together and calms the atmosphere.
5. Gently correct any mental health slang or non-person-first language. It’s okay to tell those in attendance, in a gentle way, that you will not tolerate you or your child being disrespected by poor word choice or attitude because of the nature of your child’s disability.
Not Enough Education for Educators
Keep in mind that educators are, unfortunately, like the general population when it comes to mental health. They are woefully unprepared and untrained to work with students with Emotional Disturbance. They might talk about your child’s behavior as if your child is out to ruin their day. As a parent of a child with a mental illness, it does fall to us to educate teachers, family and friends as to the nature of our child’s disability. People just do not get it. It’s so hard. I know this.
I will be sharing further tips about your Parental Rights and Safeguards and the actual IEP meeting in the coming weeks. I hope this will be helpful for many of you.