Mary Romainec has a pretty unique way of negotiating the IEP process for children with Aspergers and Autism. She has been through the process with her own son and her own perspective was in part formed by her employment history. That’s because Mary has worked in business for many years as a buyer for a large company. So she views the whole process of the IEP as a business negotiation and she’s had some pretty impressive results from taking this point of view.
Firstly she discovered that the school district representatives, whilst generally supportive of her son, were not actually the best people to advocate on his behalf. When it came to “The Company” (Mary’s son) the best negotiator was Mary herself (whom she described as being the CEO of her son’s company). Because in actual fact the school district had to consider its own needs in the negotiation (which relate to funding, finance and the like) and it’s clear that they are not exactly the same as Mary’s sons needs.
So with that in mind Mary feels that it is really important to treat the IEP meeting as you would a business process such as a meeting or negotiation. And here are 6 key tips for doing this:
1. Don’t bring donuts and coffee – Mary has known parents to take this homely approach in an attempt to keep the process “all friendly”. But this is not appropriate in the IEP arena – the aim is to be firm and polite, but making friends is not the point of the exercise. So don’t try to make friends it’s not necessary, and can be counter productive.
2. Leave emotion at the door – Without doubt the IEP process is hugely emotional for parents, as is the raising of all children. They are OUR child and of course it is driven by emotion. However this emotion needs to be “turned off” at the door when entering the meeting. So that negotiations can be open but matter of fact.
3. Be prepared – This means doing your “homework” on what your child needs and what you want from the IEP. It can also mean talking with outside professionals for help. For example Mary paid for a 20 minute session with a local Special Educational Needs attorney who was able to advice her on the IEP proposals she had been sent by her son’s school. It also means talking with the school ahead of the meeting – to get their findings and reports (as often this is just left until the meeting).
4. Dress to impress – As you want to be taken seriously in a professional meeting it’s important to not just turn up in dirty t-shirt, ripped clothing etc. It is important to project an air of professionalism.
5. Be forceful and not aggressive – Mary was clear that she is always very clear, firm and consistent in what she is asking for, and what she’ll agree to. However personal name calling and verbally aggressive outbursts can undermine parents and what they are trying to achieve.
6. Make the school district aware – Another really interesting tip that Mary shared with me was that she wrote 9 letters over the course of 3 weeks notifying the school district what her son’s needs were. She advocates physical letter writing as a great way to get noticed and also for the audit trail it leaves. Verbal conversations and meetings do not have a clear audit trail and can be misinterpreted or even denied. And you want a very clear of trail of communication about your child.
I hope these 6 tips were really helpful. You can find out more about Mary at her website www.maryromaniec.com As well as in my upcoming interview series (more on that soon).
P.S. Please add your comments and questions below this article.