Ask any parent of a school-aged child with special needs about all of the things they now know about the education process, and you'll get an answer filled with acronyms, legalese, and likely a somewhat glazed-over look as they spew out the information.
I've been attending IEPs (individualized education plan meetings; also referred to as 'ARDs,' back on the mother ship, or admission, review & dismissal meetings) since before M turned three years old. I remember the very first one and how frightened I felt. (BH, you probably remember my apprehension!!) I had NO IDEA what to expect and sort of felt like the meeting was the beginning of the end for my child. Fortunately, I left that meeting feeling like I was on the path to helping my child instead, which I continued to feel for the next 2.5 years.
And then...the moved happened. And though during the previous 2.5 years I'd learned about how hours of various therapies were calculated (trust me when I say it is crazy confusing!), or how I could request help at school with things as seemingly benign as potty training or washing hands, I was not prepared for the smack down that is California education law. I joined two local Yahoo groups for parents like myself; groups where the questions that are asked many, many times a day involve answers containing references to state assembly bills, federal special education laws and mandates (Wright's Law, IDEA, etc.), and information about the best special needs advocates and lawyers that you, too, can hire for $200+ per hour in order to go to due process against your school district that is disregarding FAPE (free and appropriate education) for your child.
So now when I go to meetings, I know that I need to be armed with way more information than I ever thought I needed, because this isn't necessarily just about what is best for my child, it's about what is best or most affordable for the school district, and ultimately the state.
I have another meeting with the district soon to discuss the fact that I am not in agreement with M's current placement. Yes, again. The good news is that they know I'm not just giving in to them. The bad news is that I need to be way more prepared for this meeting than I was for the last. I need to have all the right rebuttals to their claims of progress rather than just sitting there, wanting to cry, feeling that burning sensation in my throat, knowing that they are winning.
I spoke to the director of the private school I want M to go to. She sent me an excellent outline of questions I need to ask the IEP team...questions that put the ball in MY court rather than theirs. She has advised me to challenge their claims of progress by asking them how they can prove that it is truly 'progress' vs. natural, biological maturation. This makes great sense to me. I DO believe that any reported progress is simply maturation and him getting more comfortable with the life change that occurred when we moved.
Sometimes I fight this need to be in the know on all of this stuff. I delete some of the posts that come through from the Yahoo groups, thinking that I'll leave those questions to other people.
But as time goes on, I realize that I am becoming one of those other people. The need to learn all of that stuff that I naively assumed didn't apply to me now does. As happy as I was to leave college knowing that I didn't have to study things I didn't want to ever again, I know that I am now a student of the system, and I need to strive to be at the top of my class.