Some thoughts on Dads, IEPs, and PTOs

This is a repost of something I originally wrote in the summer of 2007. Three years old, but just as relevant now as it was then.

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Last summer (2006) in the post “Men must attend IEP meetings”, I quoted Charles Fox of the Special Education Law Blog on the important role men can (should) play in the IEP process. With the beginning of the school year and IEP season looming, I felt it appropriate to reprint Fox’s quote:

Fathers and men too often fail to realize that sometimes just showing up at a meeting in support of the child can make an enormous difference. In my list of essential advocacy points, I list that ‘men must attend meetings.’ [number 11] I was actually accused of being a male chauvinist for stating this position at a parent training.

What was lost in translation was not that women are incompetent advocates because nothing could be more untrue; rather, that the dynamic of the meeting can often go differently if the father, uncle, grandfather, brother or even male co-worker or friend comes to a meeting or mediation.

This post was brought back to mind for me by the blog post Gender Bias and Autism Dads at About.com:Autism

Have you ever been treated like a second-rate member of an IEP or school meeting? Of course, right? But how about a second-rate parent? Have you ever had to say, “Umm, I’m here too” or “Hey, I’m also the parent” when the faculty (in my case, all or predominately female) ignore you completely and speak to the other parent without acknowledging your existence. Or even worse, have you ever endured the cruel “Dad” jokes, when these so-called professionals assume the mother does all of the dirty work (cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking care of the child, therapies, researching, fighting school districts, etc.) while you escape to the normalcy of your 9-5?

Fortunately, I’ve never had to endure this. The IEP teams we’ve worked with over the years have all been true professionals, treating us as equals in the process. If anything, most were pleased to see a father taking such an interest. (Of course, it has helped that through the years I’ve had jobs that gave me the flexibility to attend.)

To be honest, I’ve had a more difficult time trying to be an involved father in the PTO’s of my non-autistic son. I seem to be the only father that the mothers had ever seen express an interest in being part of the PTO. This made for some interesting, sometimes uncomfortable initial meetings as they tried to figure me out. (It took me a while in one group to get them to stop calling me Mr. Miller!) Eventually, I became just one of the gals (in a manner of speaking 😉 ).

I know that, statistically speaking, mothers tend to be the primary care givers and the ones who must work through the IEP process and all that it entails. I also know that divorce rates among parents of autistic children are high, again with mothers typically (not always) the ones who must take care of the autistic child. *

But I’m here to tell you – and I know a few guys out there who will back me up – that autism dads are here, and we care, and we’ll let our IEP teams know that we’re here and we care if they try to ignore or marginalize us.

On the subject of autism divorce, check out First National Program Launched to Combat Divorce Rates in Autism Community in Medical News Today and the Family First page on the NAA site.

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If every child had an IEP

For many years I have wondered, “Why doesn’t every child in school have an IEP (individual education plan)?” I first wrote this question nearly 5 years ago. At the time I was content to let the question stand on its own, but over the years it has never been too far back in my mind.

Lately, the question has evolved in my mind to become, “What would school be like if every child had an IEP? Not because they are disabled, but because every child is different?” I think I’ve found an answer, thanks to an item shared by David Gurteen (@davidgurteen) that I found in my Google Reader feeds.

In Put the child in the centre, Robert Paterson gives some performance details from the Alice Byrne school – very impressive performance – and then goes on to describe what he sees as the key to this performance (emphasis mine):

At Alice Byrne each child has their own learning plan that is built with all the staff who are connected to that child, the parets and the child.  All have a part in this plan. Weekly the staff discuss each child and share what they observe. Alice Byrne has put the child in the centre. The family has been brought in as well.

As Robert says, any school can do it. It may not be easy for them to make the change, but it isn’t – shouldn’t be – about easy; it should be about better. (Sound familiar?)