“Being the Ripple Effect” by Surisa Rivers
Recently, I had a very interesting conversation with a wonderful parent advocate regarding why so many parents have a difficult time advocating for their children at IEP meetings. Based on her personal experience and also talking openly with many of the parents she supports, she believes that it boils down to whether the parents had read the child’s IEP and whether they actually understood what it says. If parents haven’t read the IEP or do not understand what it says, then going to an IEP meeting could understandably be very intimidating. When I thought about this, I realized how true this must be. Imagine negotiating a contract with someone (or, better yet, a group of people) who knew what everything meant within that contract, but you hadn’t read it or didn’t understand what you read. How could you be confident or argue for more or different terms in the contract? You couldn’t.
So, parents who want to be the best advocates for their children and (who really do know what their children need) end up not being able to express those things or are easily convinced to take much less than what they know is needed. This parent advocate shared that this happened to her at her first IEP meeting she attended for her son with Down syndrome; and that she will never forget the feelings of regret she had when walking out of the meeting. At that moment, she promised herself and her son that she would never attend another IEP meeting unprepared. Since then, she has developed into an amazing advocate and is able to overcome numerous hurdles created by a pretty dysfunctional school district. She shared with me during our talk that she is taking more courses and training to become a better advocate for her son and other families. This conversation inspired me!
I knew there was something fundamentally wrong happening at IEP meetings because I see so many bad or useless IEPs in the course of my work. And I have always assumed that this “fundamentally wrong” thing would never change until the school district personnel or leadership changed. This, however, is obviously wrong… when we look at all the examples in history of the greatest human and civil rights movements, it always starts from the individual and on the grassroots level. Change never comes from those in power. How could I have missed this point all these years as it applies to the Special Education world? Somewhere along the way, I must have lost faith in the power of the individual. Perhaps, over the course of so many years and seeing sad story after sad story where a child’s education and life are so fundamentally harmed by the negligence or indifference of IEP team members who know better, but did not do better — I lost hope. But fortunately, through my dialogue with this passionate and wise parent advocate, I see clearly now.
My mentor in life, Daisaku Ikeda, has a famous quote, that has guided me along my path of working for the happiness of myself and others: “A great human revolution in the life of one person can change the destiny of humankind and our planet.”
Based on this profound philosophy, I now see that, in reality, the inner revolution or change in one parent/guardian can change the destiny of a child’s life. There is no need to sit and wait for an administrator or teacher to change. Each parent has the power to change first, which must have a ripple effect that positively impacts the child’s classroom, school, and school district.
With all that said, I decided to provide this space as a way to create hope and a way forward for parents and guardians who are seeking to make a profound change in their child’s special educational experience.
For my first “share,” I’ve selected a short but effective video prepared by the wonderful folks at Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc. You can find the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwJAgrmAoFQ
If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org