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Five Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Learn From Them)

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"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." -- Lewis Carroll

faces of 3 people who feel regret

When you attend an IEP meeting, you represent your child's interests. You have two goals:

  • to obtain quality special education services for your child, and
  • to build healthy working relationships with school personnel.
But many parents make mistakes that derail or delay their child's progress toward these goals. If you are aware of these mistakes and how costly they can be, you are more likely to avoid them. (Tape this list on your fridge!)

1. Failing to make a long-term plan for your child’'s education and the future.

Some parents don't think about the future until it arrives. These parents don'’t have long-range goals for their child. They don’t think about what they want their child to be able to do when he leaves the public school system. They don’'t have a plan.

Imagine your child as a young adult. What do you think your child should be able to do? Do you envision your child working at a job and raising a family? Will he be a member of the community?

What does he need to know, what skills does he need to acquire to prepare him for “further education, employment, and independent living?”

Your child'’s special education is a long-term project. When you have a plan, this will help you focus, anticipate problems, and prepare for the future.

Your plan should include academic and behavioral, social, and emotional goals, including hobbies, personal interests, sports and fitness, family, friendships, and the community. Your plan should be revisited and revised as your child grows.

2. Not understanding your child’'s disability.

Some parents don’t understand their child’'s disability, how the disability affects their child’'s learning, or how their child needs to be taught.

When parents don't undertand their child's disability, they don't know what services and supports the child needs. They don'’t know if their child is making progress. They don’'t know the steps they must take to ensure that their child receives an appropriate education.

3. Allowing school authorities to make decisions about your child’'s education.

Many parents assume school personnel are the experts on all children and will make good decisions about how to educate their child. If you give over decision-making authority to school authorities, this will rarely lead to a good outcome for your child.

What will happen if the school has low expectations for your child? What will happen if you accept the school's low ’expectations?

If you don't ensure that your child receives an appropriate education and learns the skills he or she needs to be an independent, self-sufficient member of the community, you will have to deal with the outcome long after childhood ends.

If you are tempted to lower your expectations, consider this: Children internalize their parent's low expectations. Low expectations lead to low achievement.

4. Failing to keep your emotions under control.

As a parent, your emotions are likely to be your Achilles’ heel.

If you are like many parents, when you learn your child has a disability, you turn to health care specialists and school personnel for help.

If you and the school disagree about what is appropriate for your child, you may feel shocked and angry. You may feel betrayed by the system you trusted. Once lost, trust is hard to regain.

5. Not documenting events and conversations in writing.

"“I told the IEP team that my child was not making progress. The team agreed and said they would provide more services. They didn't provide more services. Nothing changed."

If the school did not provide additional services to meet your child's needs, how can you provide they offered to do so?

The most common mistake parents make is not writing things down when they happen. When you write things down in a letter, log, or journal, you are taking steps to protect your child’'s interests.

If the issue is important, the best way to document events and problems is by writing short polite notes and letters to the school. Describe what happened or what you were told. Use facts, not emotions. Your written notes will become part of your child'’s file.

Be sure to keep a copy of all correspondence for your records.

Source: The information in this article is from Chapters 1 and 2 in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition by Pam Wright and Pete Wright.

Revised: 09/13/21

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