Down syndrome from a father's perspective.

7 habits for highly effective I.E.P. meetings.

7 habits of effective IEP meetings

Preparing for your child’s individualized educational program meeting.

As a parent to a son with Down syndrome it has been necessary for me to accept IEP (individualized education program) meetings as a part of life. When Treyton was just a couple months old the specialists from the Early-On program would come into our home and then at the end of the month or quarter we would receive an evaluation about Treyton’s progress. That was hard for Leigh Ann and me to get used to. Some may consider us high achievers, when we are given a goal we expect to attain it. We had to learn that the evaluations were not about us and, more importantly, they were tools we could use to help Treyton.

Plan B

My original plan for this post was to simply write about some of the things that Treyton does that make me laugh. The boy is filled with personality from head-to-toe and as long as the mess is not too big, he keeps the comedy rolling. But, an email from Treyton’s teacher reminded me of an upcoming I.E.P. meeting; as a result I began to prepare myself mentally and thought this would be a good time to talk about it.

Check your attitude at the door.

My official title at work is vice president of marketing but I have and still do spend a fair amount of time doing sales work. Attitude can have a big impact on the sales process. It takes perseverance, optimism, and understanding. When a salesperson goes into a meeting with the wrong attitude the entire atmosphere can change. Think about how much of the communication process takes place without words. When you assume someone has a chip on his or her shoulder about something you will make certain assumptions that may or may not have a significant effect on your sales effort.

Attitude affects a lot more than just the sales process and is certainly a factor for us parents as we talk about something as important as the development of our children. If you ask my wife I believe she will tell you that she really dislikes these meetings. She does not feel this way because we have had a bad experience. I think more of the issue is that when we look at Treyton we don’t think about a diagnosis, we just see our son. However, when you go into an IEP meeting it feels like just the opposite. At times it feels like that is all anyone sees; it seems like all the specialists see when they see Treyton is Down syndrome.

I work really hard at pushing aside my natural sensitivities so I can be fully present in these meetings. The only time that I will get upset is if it seems like a specialist is lumping Treyton into the “Down syndrome group.” I won’t tolerate any language such as “they do this” or “all kids with Down syndrome.” We are talking about Treyton and by law the IEP needs to be customized to his specific needs. As long as I see Treyton’s individuality being recognized things go smoothly.

The seven “habits”

I think most people have at least heard of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey if they have not already read it. One of the things I like most about the book is that you can apply its message to almost any area of life. I have tried and continue to try to follow these principles in my daily life but have also used them as the framework for more than one paper as I worked my way through college and graduate school.

Below I have listed each of the seven habits and then tried to apply them to the upcoming IEP meeting I have for Treyton. This is a work in progress and I imagine I will revisit these a number of times in the future.

Habit 1: Be proactive

Talk to the teacher and/or specialists well in advance of the IEP meeting. Find out what they want to cover during the meeting so that you can be prepared to have an educated discussion at the scheduled time. In my experience these meetings are much too short to learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses for the first time and then either respond or ask good questions about what you just learned. You will also be able to evaluate your child’s ability in the areas of measurement while he/she is at home. You can then bring up your observations to see how things compare.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind

These can be very emotional meetings for parents. Although it will be a challenge, do your best to remove the emotion from the meeting and try to approach things as objectively as possible. Remember that you want to help your child to be the person God wants them to be. It is great to celebrate progress but it is necessary to expose those areas of weakness in order to understand how we can help our kids.

Habit 3: Put first things first

Your child’s development is the most important thing. Don’t let personalities or anything else get in the way.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

If you are like me you will do whatever it takes to stick up for your child if needed; you love your child more than your own life. However, no one is attacking your kid. Even though the teacher/specialist does not have the same type of connection to your son or daughter as you do they still want to see them succeed. I take pride in being good at my job and teachers are no different.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

As you are sitting in the IEP meeting I am positive you are going to hear something that you question. I have had that happen; I have left more than one of these meetings with questions about what the teacher had said because I was too busy trying to prove my kid could do something that the teacher said he had not mastered. Sometimes it is a matter of me understanding how things were measured, other times it was a matter of me not understanding the terminology, and yet there were times that Treyton could do it but the teacher had not seen him. It is important to listen and ask questions about what is being said so you fully grasp the situation. I can’t help but think about some of the early speech therapy Treyton received and the fact that I had no idea what the specialists were doing.

Habit 6: Synergize

The teacher and specialists have a knowledge and skill set they have developed through experience as well as years of schooling. You have motivation and time with your child. Tap into that knowledge base and use your time with your child to reinforce what they learn at school and therapy.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

My background is in business but that doesn’t mean I cannot pick up a book or go to a workshop so I can learn new skills that will improve my ability to help Treyton. However, it is also important to take a break. Sometimes that break is to simply enjoy your child – just have fun without any “purpose” and forget about things like special needs or Down syndrome. Other times it is a complete break from your kids and everything else in life. Do not be afraid to “turn your brain off” every once-in-a-while.

The reason for it all.

Ask any parent and they will tell you that raising kids is extremely tiring. Well, when your child has a disability it is a lot more intense and that much more tiring. When you start to “drag” and feel the weight of it all pull out your favorite picture of your child to remind you of why you need to keep going. I know Treyton is worth it and your kid is as well.

treyton four years

Rob Arnold has been married to his high school sweetheart for almost 19 years. Together they have three daughters and one son. He earned his bachelor's degree in General Business from Grand Valley State University as well as an MBA in Strategic Management from Davenport University. He enjoys reading, hunting, scuba diving, and spending time with his family.