66: How to Prepare for the IEP Meeting | Leeza Woodbury

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Summary:

Leeza Woodbury has been through five rounds of IEP meetings for her 5-year-old son, and has many more to come. She shares her tips, tricks, and resources for managing the process successfully.

Quotes:
  • “This is such a big learning process for parents because the school systems, they do this all the time, but for us as parents, this is often our first time. There’s a lot to learn.” – Emily Melious
  • “The biggest thing that has helped me has been networking with other parents that have IEPs in our district.” – Leeza Woodbury
  • “There might be more options on the table, and if you have that understanding of what you want to have happen ultimately going in, you’re more likely to have a meeting that you’re happy about.” – Emily Melious
  • “This is what Mothers of Misfits is all about is just creating that community of folks who are right out there on the front lines every day.” – Emily Melious
Highlights:
  • 1:32 – Leeza’s son
  • 3:33 – What should parents ask for in terms of the IEP?
  • 8:04 – How to prep for an IEP meeting
  • 11:04 – What to do when you don’t agree with the IEP you’ve been given
  • 18:55 – IEP Resources
View Full Transcript

Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.

[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Welcome back everybody. So glad you’re here for another episode of Mothers of Misfits. Really excited to talk to Leeza Woodbury today. She’s a mother to an outstanding autistic kiddo. She works full-time as a dietician working in school food service, focusing on California and Texas, and she enjoys meeting other parents and collaborating on ways to help each other and help our children thrive. Leeza, thanks so much for coming on.

[00:00:44] Leeza Woodbury: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to chat.

[00:00:47]Emily Melious: I met Leeza and contacted her through LinkedIn because I was scrolling through my feed, and I saw this video from a mom, who was Leeza, and she was talking about the highs, the lows, the struggles of preparing for an IEP meeting. And I just checked the stats on that video, I think you posted it just like a week ago from this recording and it already has 695 views.

[00:01:14] And that’s just confirmation that, man, we as parents, who have those IEP meetings know how hard it can be. So I wanted to ask you, before we jump into what you’ve learned about, you know, what works and what doesn’t with the IEP meeting, tell us a little bit more about your son. He’s five, right?

[00:01:35] Leeza Woodbury: Right. Yeah five and a half. The most awesome little kiddo ever. He was diagnosed autistic at three and a half. We had started receiving services for him, like speech around 19 months, because that was kind of our first indication was a speech delay. But yeah, we’ve been working on supporting him with speech and OT in school and we jumped right into the special day class for preschool at the local school district at three.

[00:02:02] So we’ve been there about two and a half years. And I think this will be my fifth IEP in those two and a half years. So I feel like I’ve definitely gotten a lot of exposure over the years and have definitely been kind of muddling my way through it, for sure.

[00:02:18] Emily Melious: So for those parents who aren’t even at the point yet of having an IEP, can you talk about how you got that for your son?

[00:02:27] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah, Yeah, so in California, we can get services for our children under the age of three through the county, it’s called regional center. And our pediatrician had referred us to regional center to start getting speech and OT and kind of getting support for delays that we were seeing. And once he turned three, basically the county was like, we’re cutting you off. You have to go to the school district now. And here’s a phone number and they’ll call you. So I didn’t really know what I was jumping into. I was a little hesitant at first, but that’s kinda how it started.

[00:03:03]Emily Melious: Speaking from experience, I can appreciate, and we chatted a little bit before we hit record, how this is such a big learning process for parents because the school systems, they do this all the time, but for us as parents this is often our first time.  There’s a lot to learn. And you actually say that one of the biggest pitfalls for parents is not realizing how much we’re capable of asking for, which is so true. And I’m still figuring out what that is. So can you talk more about that? Like why do you say it is that we go in and not even really understand all that’s available to us?

[00:03:39]Leeza Woodbury: Right. That’s a great, great question. And I feel like it’s a question we will always have as we’re supporting our kids through the IEP process. Cause there’s no like, booklet that is given to you that’s like, here’s all the accommodations you can ask for. Here’s all the supports we offer. And I’m kind of in an interesting place because I used to work for school districts as a food service director.

[00:03:59] So I saw the district side in working with budgets, so I do understand that point and why they might not be as forthcoming with information. But from the parent perspective, it totally feels a little bit unfair that there may be services that would benefit our children that aren’t being offered. And I feel like I’ve kind of come to this point where, the biggest thing that has helped me has been networking with other parents that have IEPs in our district, because then I can be like, oh, what supports is your daughter getting in the gen ed class? Or what supports is your kid getting for inclusion?

[00:04:37] And I’m like, oh, I never heard of that. That’s a great option for my kid. So networking has honestly been the biggest help for me. And other parents are the biggest resource, especially other parents that are very involved. IEPs are so intimidating, especially your first one. I remember, like, I was so nervous. I was like shaking, like before the first one I had like my little stack of papers, I didn’t know what was going to happen. And I remember there’s this teacher that walked by and she’s like, oh is it your first IEP? It’s going to be okay. Like she knew I was like, based on how I looked, I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to go. But yeah, that’s how I’ve learned because like I said, there’s no booklet, you can’t call the sped director and be like, hey, tell me everything you think would be great for my child, because you’re not going to get that list, the magic list.

[00:05:28] Emily Melious: So true. And I naively went into our first IEP meeting and just the whole process of partnering with the school, which by the way, I think the teachers are amazing and they really do want to help. They have their own constraints and own issues as we do. But I think I made the mistake of relying on them too much.

[00:05:46]You really have to go into that meeting knowing what you want to get out of it, and you have to be prepared, and it takes a lot of work. And we’re going to talk about everything that you put into preparing for that. But you can’t assume that, okay, I’ll go in and I’ll just listen and agree to what they propose because it’s probably actually not going to be exactly what you want for your child.

[00:06:08] Not because they’re coming from a bad place but just, you know your child best. There might be more options on the table, and if you have that understanding of what you want to have happen ultimately going in, you’re more likely to have a meeting that you’re happy about. Has that been your experience as well?

[00:06:26] Leeza Woodbury: Right. Yes. I agree with everything you just said. So I was the same way with the very first IEP meeting, not really knowing what to expect both before the meeting and after the meeting. You know, when you sit down for that first IEP meeting, it’s a table full of strangers or people that you’ve met only once to do the assessment, telling you about all of your children’s deficiencies and challenges.

[00:06:49] I don’t think they come from a negative place intentionally, but it feels very negative because a lot of the time they’re like, okay here’s, here’s what they’re struggling with. Here’s what we’re going to help with. It’s not highlighting the positive is like, hey, they really excelled in this area. Like, that’s a strength, like we’re going to play off of that strength so that we can help these other challenges. But yeah, I mean, as the IEPs go on, I am learning that being prepared is going to play in my favor because, if I’m not prepared, I feel really overwhelmed during the meeting.

[00:07:20] It’s a lot of information coming at you and it’s really hard to process it because you’re not only dealing with the emotions of what you’re hearing, like you’re hearing other people talk about your child. That’s already gonna make it an emotionally charged situation. But then you also have to be practical and analytical of the information you’re being given. And you have to put on your speech hat, your OT hat, your every other hat, and think through these goals. How it’s going to impact your kid. Is it realistic? Is it, you know, are they capable of other things at home that they’re not seeing at school? It’s just, it’s a lot to process and a lot to manage.

[00:08:00] Emily Melious: You lay it out so well, that’s exactly what it’s like. So let’s just go into your process for preparing for the IEP meeting. What do you do to get ready?

[00:08:10] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah. So I, I approach it kind of like it’s a project I have to do for work. But I’m a list person, and I also like to collaborate because I understand that I am not an expert by any means in any of these areas. I’m just, just a mom. But what I do is I will ask for all assessments and propose goals in advance.

[00:08:34] I like to see those goals prior to the meeting. I like to be able to review them, look at my own notes, look at his previous progress reports, and I also send those goals and assessments to his private team. So I will have his private speech therapist and OT review those goals, A, and see if they make sense. And B, see if they align with what he’s working on outside of school, because medical, you know, clinic-based speech and OT is completely different than what they’re allowed to work on at school.

[00:09:05]So that’s kind of my first step. I gathered that feedback, and then what I do is I will send all the feedback from the private team to the school team. I CC everyone on the IEP team. I’m like, hey, this is what the private team is recommending tweaking these goals or what they would like to see. And they make it a really collaborative effort.

[00:09:25] I also, from that point, is I’ll create a list of questions that I want to ask, you know, what is next school year going to look like? Or how does, you know right now we’re, we’re working with, is he going to be in this special day class or gen ed? What is the school day gonna look like? What are transitions going to look like? Who’s going to go with him? You know, all of those questions that I want to know, I will list out those questions and send it to the IEP team in advance, because the more prepared they are for my questions, the more efficient the meeting can go, and there’s no surprises. So I feel like that is what has helped me prepare the most because then I’m prepared, they’re prepared, they know that I’m coming in. They know I’m coming in prepared. And that has helped in my favor because typically there’ll be a little more open with me because they know that I’m going to ask questions.

[00:10:20] Emily Melious: To your point, it’s also a emotionally charged conversation. And you might think you’re going to be very rational or clear thinking in the moment, but you probably aren’t going to be, which is why having your list of questions, things you want to cover, goals for what you want to accomplish in the meeting, having all of that written out when you are cool, calm, and collected. So in that moment, you can make sure you refer back to that and stay on track in the conversation, is so important because you will feel a lot of emotions even just inside of that meeting. And I’ve, I’ve gone blank. I’ve just, my mind has gone blank. And I found myself just kind of agreeing because I, I just felt overwhelmed in that moment. And talking about agreement, what has happened when, and how have you navigated when you haven’t agreed with what they’re proposing?

[00:11:13] Leeza Woodbury: So that’s a great question. So I definitely used to feel pressured to sign off on everything at the end of the meeting. And I have learned that you don’t have to, all you have to do is sign the attendance sheet. You don’t have to sign and approve anything at the end of the meeting. No one tells you that.

[00:11:28] Emily Melious: No one tells you that. Right. And the way that the conversation is framed, it can feel as though that is the expectation.

[00:11:35] Leeza Woodbury: Right. And I have even been told, and this is certainly not reflective of our current IEP team because I have a fantastic case manager, but I’ve always kind of been given the impression of like, sign off on it now, and then we can hold another IEP meeting or we can make changes later.  No, just don’t sign off on it and then come to a conclusion, like you said, when you’re like less emotional, more rational. Cause I will type up meetings on a Google sheet during the IEP meeting. And then I like to compare their notes of what they’re sending me to be included in the IEP to mine. And I like everything we talk about to be included in the notes. Even any documents or attachments or questions that I sent, I asked for it to be included in the IEP packet.

[00:12:20] Emily Melious: That’s really smart. Something that I learned recently, you just referenced it, I actually did not know that you can call an IEP meeting anytime you want. At least that’s what is the law in Pennsylvania. I really didn’t understand that it’s a living, breathing document, and at any point that that is no longer working, even if you have agreed to it, you can call a meeting, you can make adjustments.

[00:12:43] Leeza Woodbury: Exactly. It’s like, how are you supposed to know what to ask for because you don’t see your child at school. I mean, yeah, you can volunteer in the classroom, but you’re only getting very brief snippets, and I’m sure they’re different when mom is there. You know, or dad or whoever is supporting them. And it’s like, how are you supposed to know what supports they need exactly unless they tell you? And kind of one thing that has actually been a blessing that has come out of distance learning, we’ve been distance learning since COVID and still are until the end of the school year, is I’ve really gotten to see what he’s like during school.

[00:13:17] Now I imagine virtual school, he’s different than a classroom full of kids, but I’ve been able to experiment with accommodated seating. So like different types of seats that help him, different types of fidgets. And I’ve been able to really hone in on what works. And so we’ll be able to transition those and so I know to ask for those types of accommodations for school, but otherwise in a typical school year, I would have no idea.

[00:13:44] Emily Melious: That is another excellent point. So many of us as parents are getting to see things that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and that does make us better advocates for them. And we know the kinds of environments in which they’ll thrive. I’ve heard from so many parents and students that in some ways COVID has been a more effective learning environment for them because they’ve had the ease of those home accommodations that in many ways, they’re more comfortable in their home environment.

[00:14:10] And interestingly enough, those kids that might’ve struggled in the traditional classroom, are doing better. But such a good point that, as parents should take full advantage of this opportunity to observe our kids, and maybe even try some things out in the comfort of our home, and then we can make those formal recommendations to the school systems.

[00:14:32] Leeza Woodbury: Exactly. Yeah, and I’ve even sent pictures and videos of him using the, you know, different seats that I’ve bought. Cause we do OT and speech during school. So I’ve been able to sit in on those sessions as well, and that’s one thing I’m really going to miss next year when they go back in person is not having that collaboration time with the team or being able to like in the moment, be like, oh, that works. Like let’s do it that way. Cause you are the therapist or the teacher’s hands when they’re distance learning. So I’m going to miss that next year where I’m not going to be able to see what he’s doing during speech and OT. And I actually came up with the idea that I’m going to ask for that as an accommodation in his IEP to build in collaboration minutes monthly with a team. So we’ll see if they approve it.

[00:15:17] Emily Melious: Love that. And how are you juggling all of this? Because you do work full time. How are you doing that and sitting in for all of these learning sessions? This is a lot, and I know all of us have tried to, you know, we’re figuring out how to fit it all into 24 hours. How are you doing it and staying sane?

[00:15:37] Leeza Woodbury: Coffee.

[00:15:39] Emily Melious: Yes. Thank goodness for coffee.

[00:15:41] Leeza Woodbury: Coffee. That’s the big answer. No it’s just, I mean it’s been a year at this point and just building it into my day. I mean, I can’t say that it’s been a walk in the park and it’s been easy and like there’s no issue and that it doesn’t totally stress me out because that would not be the truth by any means. But yes, I mean I do work full time and I am the primary caregiver for my child. And that’s, it just is what it is in this situation. And I actually love having him home. I feel like I have such a deeper connection getting to see a different side of my son.

[00:16:18] Emily Melious: It’s pretty special to have lunch every day with your kids. We often get them for breakfast and we get them for dinner, but having that midday check-in and reconnection is just cool.

[00:16:28] Leeza Woodbury: Absolutely, or just go in the backyard with the dog or, you know, ride your scooter, bike around the block, get some sunshine. It’s a nice break because typically I’d be in front of my computer all day, so it’s actually a good mental break for me as well. Cause it forces me to get outside, get some fresh air, you know, make sure that I’m taking care of myself as well.

[00:16:49]Emily Melious: I want to go back to the IEP meetings and ask you who you like to have in the meeting with you, if anyone. As you talked about the school district brings quite a few people. And again, that can feel intimidating if you don’t know that’s going to happen, some of you have not met before. After several rounds, you probably are going to start to recognize faces, and they’re going to be part of your team from the school system side. But who do you like to come with you, if anybody?

[00:17:16] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah. So other than our first IEP meeting, my husband came with me. I actually have not brought anyone with me to IEP meetings, for a couple of reasons. First at the beginning, I didn’t know anyone that could, or would, or should go with me. And then, it’s gotten to a point where I do have an education consultant. I’ve opted out of having her come with me to the meeting. Just because I feel like it’s better to have her support, like right after, when I can just like have a brain dump and be like, here’s what happened. Here’s what I’m thinking. Talk me through this. But one person I am bringing to our IEP meeting tomorrow is our private speech therapist.

[00:17:56] She did a completely virtual AAC assessment for us last fall. And so that was a really incredible experience. But she’s actually coming on my behalf to speak to the team about how the AAC has helped my son and how to incorporate it into the school, because the AAC has really been a pain point between me and the district. So I’m not really sure how that conversation is going to go, but she will be coming because I feel like her specialization and expertise in this area is really going to help. But other than that, I feel like because I do send the goals to the private team in advance, I don’t necessarily need their support in the meetings.

[00:18:38] Plus it’s expensive to pay for them to also attend the IEP meetings. So, I feel like if they can educate me, then I can, you know, stand up in the IEP meeting as I need to.

[00:18:51] Emily Melious: It’s wise to utilize them, not just before, but also after. I’m curious to know what resources you’ve found helpful. You sound like a researcher by nature. So where have you found great advice, maybe communities, I know you’ve networked with a lot of people local, but where might other parents go to get some more confidence and clarity as they prepare for their own meetings?

[00:19:16]Leeza Woodbury: I feel like my education consultant has been a huge help. It’s with this company called Special X and they’re based in Los Angeles, but I know that they are expanding across the United States. They are truly a whole child support system for families of children with different abilities.

[00:19:36]They can help you with health insurance stuff. They can help you with education stuff. My education consultant has really walked me through how to prepare for the meeting. She has provided me with resources of accommodations I can ask for which, huge help, because then I’m like, oh, check that one off. Let’s ask for that, that, that, like I have a list of like 15 that I’m like, this is fantastic. I didn’t know I could ask for specialized paper for my son, because he has spacial awareness issues so he means like bolded lines, like I had no idea that’s something I could ask for. And so that has been my biggest resource.

[00:20:13]As I mentioned before, networking with other parents in our district has been extremely helpful, especially parents of children who are older than my son. Cause they’re like a couple of grades above so they like, oh kindergarten, this is what you can expect. This teacher does this, you know, ask for it this way.

[00:20:31]So that’s been super helpful. But yeah, I would say Special X has been the biggest resource for me. Of course I’ve done a lot of Googling and looking for resources and stuff, but I feel like none of it is specifically tailored to my son. So that’s why I feel like Special X has been the best and then secondary to that, parents in the district.

[00:20:52]Emily Melious: I found a lot of great resources actually offered through our state as well. And there are state based communities that we’ve plugged into. And they had a local chapter that gave me exactly what you just described, which is connection with parents who are further down the line and have more experience.

[00:21:11]They even provided me with templated emails or letters. That was huge. Cause I was, I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. And going to those meetings, meeting other people, not feeling crazy. I think the other big thing about this whole process is you can feel very isolated and kind of like, am I being overly emotional? Am I being rational and realistic? You really second guess yourself a lot. And you can feel like, you know, am I doing the right thing? And you can really torment yourself, and it feels so good to hear from other people who are in the same situation, have done similar things that you’re not the only one. I mean, this is what Mothers of Misfits is all about is just creating that community of folks who are right out there on the front lines every day, advocating for our kids. And Leeza, I have learned so much today and feel so encouraged and more empowered. Your son is so fortunate and blessed to have you in his corner. Thank you so much for coming on.

[00:22:14] Leeza Woodbury: Thank you so much. I’m glad I was able to share and hope that I can help somebody out there on this crazy journey.

[00:22:23] Emily Melious: I have no doubt you did. Thanks again.

[00:22:25] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.

Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.

[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Welcome back everybody. So glad you’re here for another episode of Mothers of Misfits. Really excited to talk to Leeza Woodbury today. She’s a mother to an outstanding autistic kiddo. She works full-time as a dietician working in school food service, focusing on California and Texas, and she enjoys meeting other parents and collaborating on ways to help each other and help our children thrive. Leeza, thanks so much for coming on.

[00:00:44] Leeza Woodbury: Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to chat.

[00:00:47]Emily Melious: I met Leeza and contacted her through LinkedIn because I was scrolling through my feed, and I saw this video from a mom, who was Leeza, and she was talking about the highs, the lows, the struggles of preparing for an IEP meeting. And I just checked the stats on that video, I think you posted it just like a week ago from this recording and it already has 695 views.

[00:01:14] And that’s just confirmation that, man, we as parents, who have those IEP meetings know how hard it can be. So I wanted to ask you, before we jump into what you’ve learned about, you know, what works and what doesn’t with the IEP meeting, tell us a little bit more about your son. He’s five, right?

[00:01:35] Leeza Woodbury: Right. Yeah five and a half. The most awesome little kiddo ever. He was diagnosed autistic at three and a half. We had started receiving services for him, like speech around 19 months, because that was kind of our first indication was a speech delay. But yeah, we’ve been working on supporting him with speech and OT in school and we jumped right into the special day class for preschool at the local school district at three.

[00:02:02] So we’ve been there about two and a half years. And I think this will be my fifth IEP in those two and a half years. So I feel like I’ve definitely gotten a lot of exposure over the years and have definitely been kind of muddling my way through it, for sure.

[00:02:18] Emily Melious: So for those parents who aren’t even at the point yet of having an IEP, can you talk about how you got that for your son?

[00:02:27] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah, Yeah, so in California, we can get services for our children under the age of three through the county, it’s called regional center. And our pediatrician had referred us to regional center to start getting speech and OT and kind of getting support for delays that we were seeing. And once he turned three, basically the county was like, we’re cutting you off. You have to go to the school district now. And here’s a phone number and they’ll call you. So I didn’t really know what I was jumping into. I was a little hesitant at first, but that’s kinda how it started.

[00:03:03]Emily Melious: Speaking from experience, I can appreciate, and we chatted a little bit before we hit record, how this is such a big learning process for parents because the school systems, they do this all the time, but for us as parents this is often our first time.  There’s a lot to learn. And you actually say that one of the biggest pitfalls for parents is not realizing how much we’re capable of asking for, which is so true. And I’m still figuring out what that is. So can you talk more about that? Like why do you say it is that we go in and not even really understand all that’s available to us?

[00:03:39]Leeza Woodbury: Right. That’s a great, great question. And I feel like it’s a question we will always have as we’re supporting our kids through the IEP process. Cause there’s no like, booklet that is given to you that’s like, here’s all the accommodations you can ask for. Here’s all the supports we offer. And I’m kind of in an interesting place because I used to work for school districts as a food service director.

[00:03:59] So I saw the district side in working with budgets, so I do understand that point and why they might not be as forthcoming with information. But from the parent perspective, it totally feels a little bit unfair that there may be services that would benefit our children that aren’t being offered. And I feel like I’ve kind of come to this point where, the biggest thing that has helped me has been networking with other parents that have IEPs in our district, because then I can be like, oh, what supports is your daughter getting in the gen ed class? Or what supports is your kid getting for inclusion?

[00:04:37] And I’m like, oh, I never heard of that. That’s a great option for my kid. So networking has honestly been the biggest help for me. And other parents are the biggest resource, especially other parents that are very involved. IEPs are so intimidating, especially your first one. I remember, like, I was so nervous. I was like shaking, like before the first one I had like my little stack of papers, I didn’t know what was going to happen. And I remember there’s this teacher that walked by and she’s like, oh is it your first IEP? It’s going to be okay. Like she knew I was like, based on how I looked, I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to go. But yeah, that’s how I’ve learned because like I said, there’s no booklet, you can’t call the sped director and be like, hey, tell me everything you think would be great for my child, because you’re not going to get that list, the magic list.

[00:05:28] Emily Melious: So true. And I naively went into our first IEP meeting and just the whole process of partnering with the school, which by the way, I think the teachers are amazing and they really do want to help. They have their own constraints and own issues as we do. But I think I made the mistake of relying on them too much.

[00:05:46]You really have to go into that meeting knowing what you want to get out of it, and you have to be prepared, and it takes a lot of work. And we’re going to talk about everything that you put into preparing for that. But you can’t assume that, okay, I’ll go in and I’ll just listen and agree to what they propose because it’s probably actually not going to be exactly what you want for your child.

[00:06:08] Not because they’re coming from a bad place but just, you know your child best. There might be more options on the table, and if you have that understanding of what you want to have happen ultimately going in, you’re more likely to have a meeting that you’re happy about. Has that been your experience as well?

[00:06:26] Leeza Woodbury: Right. Yes. I agree with everything you just said. So I was the same way with the very first IEP meeting, not really knowing what to expect both before the meeting and after the meeting. You know, when you sit down for that first IEP meeting, it’s a table full of strangers or people that you’ve met only once to do the assessment, telling you about all of your children’s deficiencies and challenges.

[00:06:49] I don’t think they come from a negative place intentionally, but it feels very negative because a lot of the time they’re like, okay here’s, here’s what they’re struggling with. Here’s what we’re going to help with. It’s not highlighting the positive is like, hey, they really excelled in this area. Like, that’s a strength, like we’re going to play off of that strength so that we can help these other challenges. But yeah, I mean, as the IEPs go on, I am learning that being prepared is going to play in my favor because, if I’m not prepared, I feel really overwhelmed during the meeting.

[00:07:20] It’s a lot of information coming at you and it’s really hard to process it because you’re not only dealing with the emotions of what you’re hearing, like you’re hearing other people talk about your child. That’s already gonna make it an emotionally charged situation. But then you also have to be practical and analytical of the information you’re being given. And you have to put on your speech hat, your OT hat, your every other hat, and think through these goals. How it’s going to impact your kid. Is it realistic? Is it, you know, are they capable of other things at home that they’re not seeing at school? It’s just, it’s a lot to process and a lot to manage.

[00:08:00] Emily Melious: You lay it out so well, that’s exactly what it’s like. So let’s just go into your process for preparing for the IEP meeting. What do you do to get ready?

[00:08:10] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah. So I, I approach it kind of like it’s a project I have to do for work. But I’m a list person, and I also like to collaborate because I understand that I am not an expert by any means in any of these areas. I’m just, just a mom. But what I do is I will ask for all assessments and propose goals in advance.

[00:08:34] I like to see those goals prior to the meeting. I like to be able to review them, look at my own notes, look at his previous progress reports, and I also send those goals and assessments to his private team. So I will have his private speech therapist and OT review those goals, A, and see if they make sense. And B, see if they align with what he’s working on outside of school, because medical, you know, clinic-based speech and OT is completely different than what they’re allowed to work on at school.

[00:09:05]So that’s kind of my first step. I gathered that feedback, and then what I do is I will send all the feedback from the private team to the school team. I CC everyone on the IEP team. I’m like, hey, this is what the private team is recommending tweaking these goals or what they would like to see. And they make it a really collaborative effort.

[00:09:25] I also, from that point, is I’ll create a list of questions that I want to ask, you know, what is next school year going to look like? Or how does, you know right now we’re, we’re working with, is he going to be in this special day class or gen ed? What is the school day gonna look like? What are transitions going to look like? Who’s going to go with him? You know, all of those questions that I want to know, I will list out those questions and send it to the IEP team in advance, because the more prepared they are for my questions, the more efficient the meeting can go, and there’s no surprises. So I feel like that is what has helped me prepare the most because then I’m prepared, they’re prepared, they know that I’m coming in. They know I’m coming in prepared. And that has helped in my favor because typically there’ll be a little more open with me because they know that I’m going to ask questions.

[00:10:20] Emily Melious: To your point, it’s also a emotionally charged conversation. And you might think you’re going to be very rational or clear thinking in the moment, but you probably aren’t going to be, which is why having your list of questions, things you want to cover, goals for what you want to accomplish in the meeting, having all of that written out when you are cool, calm, and collected. So in that moment, you can make sure you refer back to that and stay on track in the conversation, is so important because you will feel a lot of emotions even just inside of that meeting. And I’ve, I’ve gone blank. I’ve just, my mind has gone blank. And I found myself just kind of agreeing because I, I just felt overwhelmed in that moment. And talking about agreement, what has happened when, and how have you navigated when you haven’t agreed with what they’re proposing?

[00:11:13] Leeza Woodbury: So that’s a great question. So I definitely used to feel pressured to sign off on everything at the end of the meeting. And I have learned that you don’t have to, all you have to do is sign the attendance sheet. You don’t have to sign and approve anything at the end of the meeting. No one tells you that.

[00:11:28] Emily Melious: No one tells you that. Right. And the way that the conversation is framed, it can feel as though that is the expectation.

[00:11:35] Leeza Woodbury: Right. And I have even been told, and this is certainly not reflective of our current IEP team because I have a fantastic case manager, but I’ve always kind of been given the impression of like, sign off on it now, and then we can hold another IEP meeting or we can make changes later.  No, just don’t sign off on it and then come to a conclusion, like you said, when you’re like less emotional, more rational. Cause I will type up meetings on a Google sheet during the IEP meeting. And then I like to compare their notes of what they’re sending me to be included in the IEP to mine. And I like everything we talk about to be included in the notes. Even any documents or attachments or questions that I sent, I asked for it to be included in the IEP packet.

[00:12:20] Emily Melious: That’s really smart. Something that I learned recently, you just referenced it, I actually did not know that you can call an IEP meeting anytime you want. At least that’s what is the law in Pennsylvania. I really didn’t understand that it’s a living, breathing document, and at any point that that is no longer working, even if you have agreed to it, you can call a meeting, you can make adjustments.

[00:12:43] Leeza Woodbury: Exactly. It’s like, how are you supposed to know what to ask for because you don’t see your child at school. I mean, yeah, you can volunteer in the classroom, but you’re only getting very brief snippets, and I’m sure they’re different when mom is there. You know, or dad or whoever is supporting them. And it’s like, how are you supposed to know what supports they need exactly unless they tell you? And kind of one thing that has actually been a blessing that has come out of distance learning, we’ve been distance learning since COVID and still are until the end of the school year, is I’ve really gotten to see what he’s like during school.

[00:13:17] Now I imagine virtual school, he’s different than a classroom full of kids, but I’ve been able to experiment with accommodated seating. So like different types of seats that help him, different types of fidgets. And I’ve been able to really hone in on what works. And so we’ll be able to transition those and so I know to ask for those types of accommodations for school, but otherwise in a typical school year, I would have no idea.

[00:13:44] Emily Melious: That is another excellent point. So many of us as parents are getting to see things that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and that does make us better advocates for them. And we know the kinds of environments in which they’ll thrive. I’ve heard from so many parents and students that in some ways COVID has been a more effective learning environment for them because they’ve had the ease of those home accommodations that in many ways, they’re more comfortable in their home environment.

[00:14:10] And interestingly enough, those kids that might’ve struggled in the traditional classroom, are doing better. But such a good point that, as parents should take full advantage of this opportunity to observe our kids, and maybe even try some things out in the comfort of our home, and then we can make those formal recommendations to the school systems.

[00:14:32] Leeza Woodbury: Exactly. Yeah, and I’ve even sent pictures and videos of him using the, you know, different seats that I’ve bought. Cause we do OT and speech during school. So I’ve been able to sit in on those sessions as well, and that’s one thing I’m really going to miss next year when they go back in person is not having that collaboration time with the team or being able to like in the moment, be like, oh, that works. Like let’s do it that way. Cause you are the therapist or the teacher’s hands when they’re distance learning. So I’m going to miss that next year where I’m not going to be able to see what he’s doing during speech and OT. And I actually came up with the idea that I’m going to ask for that as an accommodation in his IEP to build in collaboration minutes monthly with a team. So we’ll see if they approve it.

[00:15:17] Emily Melious: Love that. And how are you juggling all of this? Because you do work full time. How are you doing that and sitting in for all of these learning sessions? This is a lot, and I know all of us have tried to, you know, we’re figuring out how to fit it all into 24 hours. How are you doing it and staying sane?

[00:15:37] Leeza Woodbury: Coffee.

[00:15:39] Emily Melious: Yes. Thank goodness for coffee.

[00:15:41] Leeza Woodbury: Coffee. That’s the big answer. No it’s just, I mean it’s been a year at this point and just building it into my day. I mean, I can’t say that it’s been a walk in the park and it’s been easy and like there’s no issue and that it doesn’t totally stress me out because that would not be the truth by any means. But yes, I mean I do work full time and I am the primary caregiver for my child. And that’s, it just is what it is in this situation. And I actually love having him home. I feel like I have such a deeper connection getting to see a different side of my son.

[00:16:18] Emily Melious: It’s pretty special to have lunch every day with your kids. We often get them for breakfast and we get them for dinner, but having that midday check-in and reconnection is just cool.

[00:16:28] Leeza Woodbury: Absolutely, or just go in the backyard with the dog or, you know, ride your scooter, bike around the block, get some sunshine. It’s a nice break because typically I’d be in front of my computer all day, so it’s actually a good mental break for me as well. Cause it forces me to get outside, get some fresh air, you know, make sure that I’m taking care of myself as well.

[00:16:49]Emily Melious: I want to go back to the IEP meetings and ask you who you like to have in the meeting with you, if anyone. As you talked about the school district brings quite a few people. And again, that can feel intimidating if you don’t know that’s going to happen, some of you have not met before. After several rounds, you probably are going to start to recognize faces, and they’re going to be part of your team from the school system side. But who do you like to come with you, if anybody?

[00:17:16] Leeza Woodbury: Yeah. So other than our first IEP meeting, my husband came with me. I actually have not brought anyone with me to IEP meetings, for a couple of reasons. First at the beginning, I didn’t know anyone that could, or would, or should go with me. And then, it’s gotten to a point where I do have an education consultant. I’ve opted out of having her come with me to the meeting. Just because I feel like it’s better to have her support, like right after, when I can just like have a brain dump and be like, here’s what happened. Here’s what I’m thinking. Talk me through this. But one person I am bringing to our IEP meeting tomorrow is our private speech therapist.

[00:17:56] She did a completely virtual AAC assessment for us last fall. And so that was a really incredible experience. But she’s actually coming on my behalf to speak to the team about how the AAC has helped my son and how to incorporate it into the school, because the AAC has really been a pain point between me and the district. So I’m not really sure how that conversation is going to go, but she will be coming because I feel like her specialization and expertise in this area is really going to help. But other than that, I feel like because I do send the goals to the private team in advance, I don’t necessarily need their support in the meetings.

[00:18:38] Plus it’s expensive to pay for them to also attend the IEP meetings. So, I feel like if they can educate me, then I can, you know, stand up in the IEP meeting as I need to.

[00:18:51] Emily Melious: It’s wise to utilize them, not just before, but also after. I’m curious to know what resources you’ve found helpful. You sound like a researcher by nature. So where have you found great advice, maybe communities, I know you’ve networked with a lot of people local, but where might other parents go to get some more confidence and clarity as they prepare for their own meetings?

[00:19:16]Leeza Woodbury: I feel like my education consultant has been a huge help. It’s with this company called Special X and they’re based in Los Angeles, but I know that they are expanding across the United States. They are truly a whole child support system for families of children with different abilities.

[00:19:36]They can help you with health insurance stuff. They can help you with education stuff. My education consultant has really walked me through how to prepare for the meeting. She has provided me with resources of accommodations I can ask for which, huge help, because then I’m like, oh, check that one off. Let’s ask for that, that, that, like I have a list of like 15 that I’m like, this is fantastic. I didn’t know I could ask for specialized paper for my son, because he has spacial awareness issues so he means like bolded lines, like I had no idea that’s something I could ask for. And so that has been my biggest resource.

[00:20:13]As I mentioned before, networking with other parents in our district has been extremely helpful, especially parents of children who are older than my son. Cause they’re like a couple of grades above so they like, oh kindergarten, this is what you can expect. This teacher does this, you know, ask for it this way.

[00:20:31]So that’s been super helpful. But yeah, I would say Special X has been the biggest resource for me. Of course I’ve done a lot of Googling and looking for resources and stuff, but I feel like none of it is specifically tailored to my son. So that’s why I feel like Special X has been the best and then secondary to that, parents in the district.

[00:20:52]Emily Melious: I found a lot of great resources actually offered through our state as well. And there are state based communities that we’ve plugged into. And they had a local chapter that gave me exactly what you just described, which is connection with parents who are further down the line and have more experience.

[00:21:11]They even provided me with templated emails or letters. That was huge. Cause I was, I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. And going to those meetings, meeting other people, not feeling crazy. I think the other big thing about this whole process is you can feel very isolated and kind of like, am I being overly emotional? Am I being rational and realistic? You really second guess yourself a lot. And you can feel like, you know, am I doing the right thing? And you can really torment yourself, and it feels so good to hear from other people who are in the same situation, have done similar things that you’re not the only one. I mean, this is what Mothers of Misfits is all about is just creating that community of folks who are right out there on the front lines every day, advocating for our kids. And Leeza, I have learned so much today and feel so encouraged and more empowered. Your son is so fortunate and blessed to have you in his corner. Thank you so much for coming on.

[00:22:14] Leeza Woodbury: Thank you so much. I’m glad I was able to share and hope that I can help somebody out there on this crazy journey.

[00:22:23] Emily Melious: I have no doubt you did. Thanks again.

[00:22:25] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.

Speakers:

Emily Melious

Emily Melious

Talent Management Consultant | Career Coach | Podcast Host

HOST
Mothers of Misfits Podcast Leeza Woodbury

Leeza Woodbury

Dietitian | Momma | Program Director | Clean Wine Lover
GUEST

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