14 Steps to Thriving at an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meeting

It is October.  That time of year where days get shorter, nights get longer, and we are all a bit more aware of what goes bump in the night.

October was also the time of year my family would go through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.  It was always a stressful, and sometimes scary part of our month.  As we focus on things that are scary this month in the lives of of our kiddos, we are going to tackle how to be successful at this.

IEPs can either be a Godsend or the worse hour(s) of your life that year.   We have been through both.  High Roads School in Maryland is excellent!  California and Florida, we had some significant struggles.  We have had successes and failures. 

Background: IEP’s are designed to make the learning experience beneficial to all students.  After all, we are different children with different needs.  A team of administrators, teachers, specialists, and parents work collaboratively to help the child succeed academically. When it works, it is a phenomenal process.

Problem:  IEP meetings seldom work collaboratively and, for a parent unaware of the bureaucracy of the district can be very overwhelming and frustrating.

How do we survive these necessary yearly meetings, while ensuring our children thrive? Here is what I have learned having done IEPs in three different states across America.

Track Progress in all aspects of life

1.       Track Progress:  If you have been following me, you know I believe in data collection and how it can be beneficial to us in all areas of our lives.  In regards to behavior, this has been essential to us understanding our son’s behavior and what effects it.  We track his progress socially, behaviorally, and academically.  Journaling, goal setting, progress reports, report cards, all help a parent understand the multiple levels of a child a better.  This is essential to know how to help your child in the school system.

2.       Review progress reports:  It is really easy to lose track of progress reports in the chaos of what comes home (or emailed from school).  But progress reports are a great way to see what your child likes, doesn’t like, struggles with, or excels at.  We need to know where we have been to know where we are going. This is a vital tool for preparing for you IEP. This is also a great way to stay in touch with teachers throughout the year.

3.       Research IEP Goals: Typically, a month to three weeks prior to a scheduled IEP, I research IEP goals.  This is easily done using a Google search of “sample IEP reading goals” or “sample IEP math goals.”  Do this for each subject.  I cut/paste the ones I think my kid will enjoy and have success with.

4.        Be realistic: Select realistic goals.  You cannot set realistic goals without the above steps completed.  More importantly, you need to choose goals that can be accomplished in the timeframe provided, while leaving room to grow.  Have faith in the child to meet expectations and goals.  Children are resilient and can do way more than we think they are capable of.

5.       Prep teachers/communicate early: Teachers are a strong voice in the meeting because they spend a lot of time with the child.  Don’t wait for an IEP to communicate your concerns, joys, and goals.  They will be more likely to advocate for the child if they believe the parents are working on the same team and not against them.  The education team will likely meet a week or two prior to your scheduled meeting.  Give the teacher your views and goals.  This will help incorporate your ideas prior to the meeting scheduled (and save you time in the long run).  I usually explain this in person and then do a follow-up email to the teacher.

6.       Include social goals: This is really easy to forget when you are surrounded by teachers and administrators who want to focus on academics only.  But school is more than just academics.  Social goals are essential to classroom management, lunch, recess, PE, games, turn-taking, and so much more. Include social goals in the IEP and see how much your child grows both academically and as an individual.

7.       Get rough draft: Most districts will send a rough draft of their meeting home in order to streamline the meeting with the parents.  Go through this with a fine-tooth comb.  I used a highlighter system to show what I agreed with and what I did not.  I also tabbed the pages I wanted a further discussion on.  Most IEPs are lengthy, so this made it quick to refer to things for discussion and help ensure the meeting focused on the more important issues.  I also make changes.

8.       Return revised draft with your changes/edits: Return the changes you made in writing to both the teacher and school prior to the scheduled meeting.  This will ensure the school has time to make the needed changes, or prepare for why they disagree.   

9.       Bring any medical information that supports your views: If you have a doctor’s evaluation, therapy notes, and recommendations, etc. bring them with you.  Make sure those evaluations address academic recommendations.  Some districts do not look at medical information when determining goals because they are not academic.  However, almost all those specialists, are qualified to address academic goals and likely know how to help your child the most.

10.   Bring and be an advocate: You know your child the best.  You are their best advocate.  Don’t be afraid to be their advocate.  The school is not always right.  Just because they are professionals, does not make them a professional regarding your child. If you disagree with a plan or part of the plan, you have the legal right as the parent to address that.  If the school does not agree with your plan (which happens a lot), it is ok to take it up to the district level.  If you do not feel you can be an advocate, invite an advocate with you who is willing to step out and address your concerns.  

11.   Take notes: During the meeting, it is essential to take your own notes.  Multiple times things discussed to be included in the IEP were conveniently left out and official meeting minutes did not reflect the discussion.  Keep your own written record of minutes.  This will be essential as the school year goes on.  

12.   Know your rights: Contrary to what most parents think, the school is not the final authority on an IEP.  Parents have significant rights. You can request a meeting whenever you wish.  You can join a meeting via phone/zoom.  You can invite anyone you wish to the meeting.  You have the right to agree or decline the school evaluating your child for services. In some areas, you have the right to a private education paid for by the district. You have the right to request an evaluation for services (due this prior to requesting the service and save yourself a headache). You have the right to ensure the goals and assessments are measurable. You have these rights and more.  Know them and be empowered.

13.   Do everything in writing: All requests for IEP’s and evaluations need to be done in writing.  Any time you have questions, do it in writing.  Any time you disagree with how things are being done, do so in writing.  Email is excellent for date and time stamps.  We also time-stamped and date all mailed and a student brought home correspondence.  This has saved us in multiple instances.   Legally and inter-personally this will help in preventing issues, miscommunication, and problems as the school year continue.

14.   Keep copies of everything: This is essential.  We once had a school who was supposed to do speech therapy with our son pull the page out of his folder in order to state they did not have to provide services.  We luckily had a copy of the signed IEP on hand and were able to inform them of both their breach in contract and the following needed changes in order to avoid further issues.  Every email and mail correspondence needs to be maintained. 

IEP’s do not have to be scary.  They do take time, but ultimately, they can lead to some amazing growth in your child and in your community.

For more ideas on how to help with IEPs, take a look at my Facebook page.

6 Steps to Taking the Fear out of Finances

October starts this week.  A time of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins.  Kids are discussing who to go as for Halloween – if trick-or-treating is even going to be something they can do.  Fear is abundant as we look at the last quarter of the year, fiscal health for the holidays, and the fear of sickness.  All things scary. 

This month I am hoping to tackle some of the scary things I get asked about when it comes to parenting a special. The number one questions I am asked about is what happened when we found out about the life-changing diagnosis; I recommend checking out The Moment for more on that.

Today, I am going to attempt to tackle one of the scariest things people deal with in life – finances.  This is a constant fear for most, especially as the unemployment rate rises in America. I was blessed to have parents who taught me the value of work and a dollar.  Because of these lessons, I graduated with my undergraduate degree debt-free and paid off my student loans for graduate degree 2.5 years early.

Understanding finances starts young and should be taught in all households.  A good understanding of finances will lead to less stress, less debt, and a healthier economy.

How do you teach finances to children?  It can be hard, especially if you do not feel comfortable with finances in the first place.  So here are six steps we use with our kid to help him understand finances as he gets older.

1.       Talk about it: One of the most common things I hear from young adults is they do not know anything about finances.  And really, why should they? We stopped teaching it in schools and 62% of America is in credit card debt with 62% of credit card debtors as college graduates! I often encounter people who explain their collection accounts, late payments, and bankruptcy due to being “young and immature.”  This is really a claim of ignorance.  If we want our children to be out of debt, we have to teach them from the get-go.  We have to let them know that food they eat costs money, that light they are using costs money, and those clothes they like cost money.  That money only comes from hard work.  There is a balance.  Talk about it.

2.       Teach work ethic: Chores are an excellent way to teach work ethic.  Having chores for as long as I can remember, taught me to balance, allowed me to work multiple jobs in college while going to school time and a half (and having a social life), and how to creatively think through problems. Work ethic will benefit children, families, and communities.  Good work ethic is reflected in showing up on time and completing the task on time the right way with a good attitude.  This should be reflecting in their chores and school work.  Teaching these young will help ensure our children have this ingrained in them when they enter the workforce.  A good work ethic will lead to better opportunities through more recommendations, higher bonuses, and promotions. 

3.       Teach giving: This is essential and often left out of finance conversations. If you don’t want to give money, try volunteering. This is a great way to change perspective and priorities. Financial giving is financially sound. This helps encourage budgeting by helping you shift priorities.  We practice a 10% rule with my son.  It is an easy number mathematically for him to understand.  Whenever he gets money (for work done or as a gift), we immediately take 10% and save it for whatever he wants to give to.  Sometimes it is the church, sometimes it is the zoo, sometimes it is buying a meal for a homeless person.  He gets to pick.

4.       Teach saving: This one is hard for most people in our instantaneous world.  We are gratified instantly in almost all we do in the first world.  We watch as three bubbles pop up on a screen showing a response to our message. We can stream almost any movie and binge-watch entire seasons of shows.  Waiting is not something Americans, and most first-world people, are comfortable with.  Saving is something that can actually financially save you.  To help our little one, we also immediately take 10% of his money and put it into savings. This is what is used for unexpected expenses as adults (the car tire blew out or pipes blew).  This account can also be used to save for vacations, new toys, and special experiences.  Our son is saving toward a trip to Sea World to meet marine biologists and a loftier goal of adding a red panda exhibit to our local zoo. 

5.       Teach taxes: As a political scientist, I find teaching this concept is really difficult.  Taxes are often taken right out of the check upfront, so when you calculate a budget, this number is very important. Taxes are designed to pay for things like that pothole-free street you drive on daily.  Taxes pay for that public library and park you enjoy taking the kids to.  Taxes pay for those firefighters who fight fires so you don’t have to.  Taxes are helpful to each community.  Taxes are paid either upfront or on tax day, but they are paid.  We teach our son this but taking 10% of his income immediately and setting it aside in a Taxes account.  This way, when he breaks something in the house (which is inevitable), the money to fix it is there.  He paid his taxes, so that glass/towel rack/doorknob, etc. he broke can be replaced.  The household tax teaches him about the income tax and where that money should go. A great resource for kids on taxes and finances is Finances 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss.

6.       Teach budgeting: Budgeting is hard.  It takes self-control and patience.  When practiced regularly, it is actually quite easy and helps prevent that dreaded debt we all hate so much.  Teaching our children this valuable tool is life-changing. Budgeting ensures you always have enough money for what you need and those things that are important for you.  It also helps you shoot for a goal.  If your hourly $10.00 job is insufficient, it gives you a goal target for where you want to be.  Below is an excel spreadsheet that we use for our kiddo that helps.  It is filled in with an example. Sometimes seeing the budget in black and white helps change a concept to concrete practice.

For more ideas on how to help kids become the best they can be, take a look at my Facebook page.

12 Date Night Ideas on a Budget

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Remember those days when you first met your partner and everything in the world was seen through rose-colored glasses?  That person could do no wrong.  All you wanted was to spend every last minute with them.

Then you got married.

Then you had kids.

Then you realized being an adult requires more work, patience, and determination that you ever thought possible.

Where did all the romance go?  With the doctors’ visits, the football practices, the late-night homework sessions…oh, yeah, and the cooking, and cleaning, and the working two full-time jobs that sometimes take even more time.

This is particularly difficult for those who have children with special needs.  It takes longer to trust other people watching your kids.  If you are lucky to find someone qualified, they usually charge an arm and a leg for their services.  As one of our daycare providers in Maryland once said, “We charge more because we know we are the only ones in the area who does this.”

In the special needs’ world, it is extortion at its best sometimes.  According to MarketWatch, in America, 29% of people aged 18 to 34 are more than $500.00 in debt from overspending on dates spending an average of $1,596.00 a year on dates! Just dates.  For those math folks, that is $133.00 a month and $33.25 a week. 

Watching my parents, who married at age 16, had their first kid at 18, lost a child, had 7 more, and have gone to college (earning JD and PhDs) while raising us, I learned a successful marriage requires date night. My parents did it at least once a week – leave the kids and spend time with your spouse. So, when I married my husband, we agreed this is a requirement for our marriage too. Thank God, he agreed!

How do you find time for romance in the chaos without breaking the budget?  First – make a budget.  When you have a good budget, you can really enjoy things more.

Also, for those who qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.  We use this to help with grocery shopping, errands, prepping for holidays and so much more.

Before You Get Started

Before you get started, make sure you are scheduling this and putting it on the calendar. This is a priority. Then take turns planning them – surprise each other. Use this time to talk to each other (not about work, kids, or household). No excuses – date night is a priority. Never make excuses outside date night. I promise you date nights in your marriage will help you in parenting, relationships, and life in general.

Here are 12 creative no cost dates that helped our marriage cultivate instead of breaking our budget:

Without a sitter

1.       Movie and Wine: When we first married, this was a great one!  We would move the couch out of the way, lay down some pillows and blankets, and start a fire.  The lights low, the cozy setting was perfectly matched with our favorite wine and a good movie. It is important the movie is something you both can enjoy.  Some of our favorites are The Princess Bride, The Greatest Showman, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future series, and Indiana Jones series. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

2.       Craft night: This is one of my favorites! My husband got me a subscription craft kit for Christmas.  Instead of doing the craft alone, he does them with me.  We like Adults and Crafts.  For $33.00 a month, we get everything we need for a great date night.  Once the kids are in bed, we enjoy time creating together.  The nice thing about this date night is it can happen over multiple days sometimes.  Certain crafts require setting/drying time, so date night becomes date weekend.

3.       Themed movie marathons: This is a fun one that can also extend beyond the single night.  We like to do movie marathons.  Movies with sequels are great, but you are not limited to just this.  We did a marathon of watching all Disney Animated movies in order.  Our next one will be to watch all their live-action movies in order.  This is also a great time to binge your favorite shows! This is great because it lets link back to our childhood, and often springs great conversation. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

4.       Play video games: So many times, I hear wives complain their husband spends his time playing video games instead of investing in them.  Use this.  Before I met my husband, I did not know video games had stories…like movies!  Apparently, they do – and some are really interesting.  Husbands, play the stories.  Wives, watch the story (and your beau) conqueror all cheering him on.  Not interested in the story, I paint or do a craft while listening sometimes.  I am with my spouse, participating with him, and learning more about him. 

5.       Game night: This sounds like a cliché, but there is truth in this.  Games have the power of sparking great conversation, building trust, and bringing the gift of laughter.  We particularly like this night when we find new or unusual games (but the classic Sorry, Boggle, Scrabble, and Chess is just as good).  Some of our favorite games are Shut the Box, Liars Dice, Vertell’s, and Qiddler

6.       Read books: I am an avid reader as it is, but it is so much more fun reading with my hubby.  I like things like novels where he likes ghost stories.  We have both really enjoyed historical pieces as well. This often has given us ideas for travel, routines, and date nights.   We often switch between the two.  Or, my favorite is when we start with his ghost stories and finish with my devotional or scripture reading. 

7. Karaoke: There is something special about getting crazy in front of a mic with your special someone. No matter your skill level, this is a great date. Not ready to show off in public, show off in the safety of your living room with those you trust the most. Laughter is guaranteed no matter what on this date.

With a sitter

Movies and dinner are great.  But search out happy hours, Taco Tuesdays, and specials first.  The occasional, movie, fancy restaurant and trampoline park are great.  But do not make these the go-to.

8.       Coffee/Brew dates: These are so much fun and cost as little as $5.00 a person. We like to find a local brew company or coffee shop and enjoy the local fare.  This is great for nights that have trivia or open mic. If nothing else, it is cheap entertainment supporting the local small businesses in the community to reminisce about for years to come.  

9.       Painting with a Twist: This is a great night out as a couple.  Creating art (with someone to help if needed) and some wine/beer of your choice.  You both get to be a little goofy and come home with a souvenir at the end.  This is usually a splurge night for us as a couples event can range from $15.00 per person to $50.00.  It is best to look in advance to ensure you like what is being taught to make in advance. We especially like to do this on fundraising nights as we know the proceeds help a local non-profit.

10.       Dinner at a bar: This can also be a splurge night.  But we like to go during happy hours and specials.  With the right happy hour and special, we can spend less than $50.00 in total.  This is a great way to sample new places.  It is also fun to re-enact the first date or enjoy the simple pleasure of trying something new on the menu together.

11.   Fishing/hiking: We love the adventure of the outdoors.  A great hike (even in the winter with some hot chocolate) or sitting on the side of the bank with a book while he fishes are perfection. This FREE activity lends itself to experiencing nature, getting much-needed vitamin D, and feeling like you accomplished something together. Fish at the end of the day is also a great FREE meal.

12.   Beach day: There is something about the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand that brings a peace in the sole.  The sun, surf, and sand are a great way to get out and be silly.  We like to pitch a tent and then enjoy playing in the water, watching dolphins, and building sandcastles. 

13.   Bonus Sex: I debated putting this here, but I think it is vital to all marriages.  All marriages.  Going too long without sex is detrimental to the foundation of the marriage.  Many marriage counselors, pastors, and your parents (who are still together after decades of marriage) will all say sex is essential to the relationship.  Sex reinforces the foundation, reconnects intimacy, rebuilds, and strengthens relationships and so much more! For more on this, check out this great article on healthy sex in marriage, and this article on why married sex is the best sex.

10 Goal Setting Steps to Success

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is something about the cooler weather and beauty of the leaves turning colors that bring a refreshing change in perspective. Nature is discarding the old to make way for the new.  There is a fresh beginning in the atmosphere as school starts across the country and fresh excitement builds.

Starting a school year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals.  Remember those New Year Resolutions?  If you haven’t checked in on them yet, now is a great time.  Never made a resolution?  Now is a great time to set some realistic goals.  This is a great time for students and parents alike to set up goals for the year.   This is a great time to set up a vision.

Where do you start?  How do you set goals that will make a lasting impact? Should they be long term or short term? 

Let’s demystify the practice of great goal setting.  Here are 9 simple steps to goal setting and achievement.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr

1.      Evaluate/Discover Your Why: Goals, by nature, are to help you become a better person, better at something.  They are a progression toward success.  Before setting a goal, it is essential you discover your strengths and weakness.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  What skills do you have?  What skills do you need?  What are your fears?  Weaknesses? Passions? Values? Knowing where you are starting from is essential to know how to get where you are going.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail Big, To Dream Big – Denzel Washington | Goalcast

2.      Dream Big: Life is short.  What is the point of goals if we are not dreaming big!  Some questions to ask might be if today was your last day, what three things would you like to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Why is that important? What does success look like in 3 months? 12 months? 5 years? Make a mission statement.  Have a word to ground you this year. Put that mission statement and word in a place you see it daily.  I use my planner and have the mission statement and word as my wallpaper on devices.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3.      Triplets: Setting goals takes utilizing little action steps.  I use the triplet technique.  What three things will I do every morning and every evening?  What three ways will I connect with my family and friends?  What three things will I avoid? What three ways will I reward myself for success?

Everything About Vision Boards – How to Create and Use a Vision Board

4.      Vision Board: I love a good vision board!  I also, love one that is easily changeable.  A good vision board should show the END GOAL.  This will serve as motivation on those days you have no energy or desire to put in the work.  Those days will come. I use magazines, art, leaders, and celebrities I would want to immolate, and quotes on mine.  I have a financial advisor that had a voided check written out to him in the amount of $1,000,000.00 on his board with a glamourous house.  I have a friend who wanted to go to Harvard.  Her board had a picture of the school and the campus colors.  Once you have a board, put it where you will see it all the time.  My son has his in his room.  I keep mine in my planner (so I can see it no mater where I am).

SMART Goals – Quick Overview

5.      Set some realistic goals: Often I am asked if a student for school should focus only on academic goals.  I say no.  A student is a person; a person should focus on all aspects of their life when goal setting.  When setting goals, consider setting personal goals, family/friend goals, and academic/professional goals.  Each goal needs to be clear.  Have a purpose behind the goal.  The reason for doing something is essential to motivation to succeed.  Set the action steps up right then.  Set target dates to achieve.   I like to start with three goals in each category for the year.

Target dates are flexible, but help give a deadline to work toward.  These should be specific.  The key to goal setting success is specificity and motivation.  The more specific the goal, action steps, and target date are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

6.      Monthly focus/Action Steps:  Each month, I choose a new word to focus on that supports my yearly word.  I start the month looking at what I need to do more of and what I need to less of.  This helps me set my monthly smaller goals in each category (personal, family/friends, and professional/academic.   I also use this time to break each goal down into tangible smaller action steps I can reach in a month. 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

7.      Track Progress: It is easy to get discouraged when you do not see progress.  Good progress is slow progress.  Those who follow me, know I love tracking progress in all aspects of life. I bring this same practice into my goal setting.  Each month, I use the Habit Tracker for each goal I have.  This lets me know which days of the month, how often I am succeeding, and how often I am not succeeding at my goals.  This is a quick look at where I have succeeded and failed. I use this simple document (free download below). Each goal gets its own monthly tracking grid.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

8.      Reflect and Review: Achieving goals is a process.  We learn through reflection and review.  Without evaluating where we have been and where we are, there is no way to achieve accomplishing what we set out to do.  Weekly, my family reflects on what we are grateful for.  Life is hard and failure is a part of the process.  But focusing on this can be debilitating in a number of areas.  Finding one to five things a week you are grateful for, helps change that process.  Each month, we look at the top 5 things we accomplished.  Then we look at where we failed to make progress (or flat-out failed).  The Habit Tracker helps us evaluate.  But, we also discuss how we are feeling about our progress and WHY we failed or succeeded. I know I am pushing knowing the why, but reasons we do things helps us understand our success and failures. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

9.       Revise: Reviewing and reflecting on goals is not helpful if you do not take action on what you learned.  Use this time to re-evaluate and revise your goals.  Life moves at a fast pace.  What may have seemed doable a month ago, may not be impossible in that time frame.  You may need to move your action dates.  Or maybe, you realize a goal is not for you.  This is the time to see what needs to change in your goals, your life, and action to make success a reality.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

10.       Reward: I love rewards!  I am a firm believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the difficult.  Knowing there is a reward at the end of the line, is great motivation to keep moving when things get hard.  Sometimes it is a simple matter of making a deal with yourself. When a goal is achieved, or a significant milestone, reward yourself.  Lost weight? Get new clothes.  Learned a new instrument?  Set up a concert or video share? Mastered the sewing machine?  Share the product with your family and friends.  Rewards can be big or small. 

Goal setting is so important to self-growth, growth in business, growth in our relationships and so much more.  Teaching our children how to set and achieve goals is a life lesson that will benefit them in more than just academics.  Doing this together as a family will strengthen your bond.  Goal setting as a family also gives an added benefit of built-in accountability partners.