IEP Professionals: Take a Moment to Connect with the Parents by Christen LaChance
Special education is known for having tight timelines and strict deadlines, so it’s no surprise teachers, therapists, administrators, and evaluators all across the field are feeling the pressure.
Sometimes, in the midst of IEP meetings, typing up reports, taking data, and spending time with students, it can be easy to get lost in the “to do” list, and lose sight of the true work we are doing.
If you’re involved in the special education evaluation process, this is for you (I’m looking at you, diagnosticians, psychologists, and therapists!)
I’m a former special education teacher and case manager who became a diagnostician at the IEP table. I know this pressure all too well. I promise you, school staff, if you take just a few minutes to connect with the family regarding the evaluation before the IEP meeting, you will see different results.
Many of you may wear the professional hat as well as the parent hat. If you don’t, imagine being in their shoes for just a moment. It can be scary and nerve-racking waiting for the results of the evaluation.
Here are four tips on how to make sure empathy is in the forefront of the special education evaluation process.
1. If you’re the evaluator, pick up the phone and call the family.
Leave a message and schedule a callback time if you need to. Simply emailing a large document, or sending an envelope home in the student’s backpack, isn’t enough to connect with the family. Sure, it may be “compliant”, but remember, they are worried about their child being successful in school and beyond. They have trusted you to find eligibility for services, and they may have a lot of questions. Putting them at ease well before the IEP meeting can help you form a positive connection.
2. Assure them of the strengths of the child
Chances are, the parents are already aware their child is struggling well before the evaluation takes place. Remember to speak specifically about the strengths of the assessment. It can make their day knowing someone saw a spark in their child. Highlight the strength, and consider making a suggestion on how to foster that. (Example: I noticed Jimmy has strong memory skills! He will probably respond well to flash cards at home.)
3. When speaking to the family, use real-world terms
Special education is full of all kinds of acronyms, terminology, scores, percentiles, and even graphs. Remember that most of the time, parents aren’t going to be familiar with all of them. Take the extra minute to explain them so they understand what they’re looking at in the report. This does not mean talking down to them, it simply means giving them context in a way they will understand it. Trust me, parents are always thankful when you take the extra moment to explain it. This helps them walk into the IEP meeting more confident.
4. Make sure they actually agree with the findings
You can avoid most issues if you make sure the parent is on the same page as you, the professional. Hopefully, all is well, but if they happen to disagree about something, this will give you time to remedy any changes prior to the IEP meeting.
I know that completing special education evaluations is already difficult, but I can assure you that weaving empathy and kindness throughout the process will result in better IEP meetings, and better relationships between school and home. Pick up that phone, focus on those strengths, and remember the impact you are making!
About the Author:
Christen LaChance is a licensed diagnostician that specializes in psychoeducational assessments for special education services. Christen works with children, teens, and young adults in both schools and private settings. She specializes in specific learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders in Texas. It's very possible she wrote this while eating chips and salsa.
Connect with the author: www.christenlachance.com
If you liked this and want more IEP strategies, then you’ll love these episodes of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast:
- #126: Special Education Doesn't Need to Be So Cold
- #61: Relationships Make or Break IEP Progress with Markeisha Hall