So your child has been approved for their first ARD. Either your child has just started school, received a new diagnosis, is new to their district, it’s time for a yearly review, changes need to be made to their educational plan, or your child is transitioning out of special education, or out of public school, or your child is having behavior challenges that get in the way of their education, or your child has mastered or isn’t making progress on their educational goals. Whatever the reason may be, these types of meetings are extremely important in laying the groundwork or foundation for your child’s educational journey moving forward. The Autism community is quite large in my area, and I have yet to meet a caregiver that was 100% ready and confident going into their first ARD meeting. If you’re having trouble gathering your thoughts before your child’s big day, my intention is you find some sort of solace in reading the following. You are not alone.
The night before our first ARD was, in a word; strenuous. I had spent the day going over files from testing, reviewing websites deemed “helpful” for newly diagnosed parents, in regards to; “what to do/say while attending your ARD meeting, and making notes of everything I wanted to say and express; expectations, data collection, and most importantly, asking if my son was going to be safe, and if placing him in special education was going to be beneficial for him or would it be more of a “baby-sitting,” program. I felt alone. I had never done anything like this before, and the pressure of holding my son’s educational journey literally in the palm of my hand, was all too much to bare. I was speaking for someone who was completely non-verbal, but as his mother, I knew what he needed, and I knew what I wanted to see as far as setting him up for success. This entire process; working with teachers, administrators, principals, etc. to formulate goals and create a plan of action, is called an IEP: Individualized Educational Plan. The very foundation for your child’s education. Your ARD can be overwhelming, seeing faculty members in attendance that you’ve never even held a conversation with. However, everyone has a purpose in ensuring your child is successful in their school year. There is a method to the madness, I promise. The following is a list of people that should be attending your Admission, Review, and Dismissal Process;
- you- as the parent
- your child- (they are not required to attend, unless they are 18 years of age).
- your child’s general education teacher
- your child’s special education teacher
- your child’s principal, asst. principal, or school counselor
- District Educational Diagnostician or Child’s Specialist
Anyone can be invited to attend an ARD meeting through yourself or your school, however it needs to be printed in writing and distributed to your child’s school before the ARD meeting. Should anyone be unable to attend the ARD, you are to be notified in writing, and it should be recorded in the meeting minutes. Translation is also provided should you or your child need it. Understand that your child’s school, may be different than their “zoned” campus. I encourage everyone to do their research on your designated school districts policy surrounding your ARD meeting and IEP development. Do not feel intimidated by members of the faculty. If there is something you do not understand, ask for clarification. If you need a moment to read something over, take your time. Get copies of everything and keep for your records. I promise, your child’s records will grow and grow while on this journey. There’s no time like the present, to start getting organized.
I chose to not have my son in attendance while attending our first ARD meeting. I wanted a clear head, and to not be distracted by a potential meltdown, or outburst out of pure boredom. Advice was given later that I should have brought a picture of my son, and placed it in the middle of the table so that everyone in attendance could learn his face, and know who they would be working with. We went over different goals and objectives surrounding vocabulary and social skills, transportation, and potty training just to name a few. All the right things were said, it all sounded great! The teacher assured me she’d be doing her part. Looking back, I was naive to think it would all be taken care of in accordance with the timeline I was given. I felt confident the school/teacher would not let me down. Again, another learning experience was on the horizon. I waived the 5 day grace period (ARD was on a Friday), given to caregivers to go over paperwork and ARD information, and my son started school the proceeding Monday.
My son started PPCD towards the end of the 2017 (February), school year. Every day I asked the teacher and teacher’s aide how he was doing, and was told; “good,” “great day.” Again, my son was not speaking. This was the only line of communication I had to go off of. I asked my son every day to tell me about school and if he was enjoying it, and every day during that time I was looked at with a blank stare. School ended towards the end of May, and I felt no significant change had occurred with my son. I was happy he was able to be apart of a classroom, with some type of structure, but mad at myself for not “following up,” with his teacher. Mad for not diving into his curriculum and asking for concrete records showing his progress, or lack there of. I simply took his daily “green star,” as all things are just rainbows and unicorns.
Over the summer I received a call that we would be starting the school year at a new school, (something that would become our new normal). Again, I relied on classroom information to come from the school, instead of me jumping in and asking the important questions myself. Waiting is not my strong suit, and I was still all too new to this to understand what I was doing wrong. The first week was hard, extremely hard. Every day was a constant; “not a good day,” or “we’re having trouble with…” How could this be? How could he have such highs from his previous classroom, to the exact opposite the next? The main difference, was my son’s teacher. She was so open, and honest. She had a willingness to help us, not discredit us, or tell us everything we’ve been doing thus far was wrong. She had been in my shoes before and gave me a whole new insight on the educational system. I knew I needed to call for a REVIEW ARD , for my own sanity, my son’s well being, and just to meet all the new faces my son would now be revolving around. After submitting your request for a review, the school has (x) amount of days to respond and get the meeting into place. Once I knew our review date, I again took all the necessary steps to ensure I would be heard. I brought a small binder of paperwork from his previous school/ARD, (something that has grown to an extra large file folder, and will continue to grow), and read notes from what I wanted to see from the school, for my son moving forward. I couldn’t tell the faculty exactly what I wanted, but I definitely knew what I didn’t want. I worked closely with his new teacher, as she ensured a plan of action to get my son on track. I checked in constantly with her and the school. I’m sure they were tired of me, but I wanted them to know who I was- I would not be taken advantage of, and I would not back down when it came to my son’s education. If there was a plan made, I wanted to see it followed through. If it was in his tailored IEP, then it needed to be followed!
The things I’ve learned up to this point, and being a parent of a special needs child, are all eye-opening. There will be people that try and coddle you, patronize you, and try and pull one over on you. Unfortunately even in your own school system. I promise you, they are not all bad. The relationships I’ve formed with the “good ones,” are priceless. They have showed that they truly care not only for my son’s education, but his well being. Get involved with your child’s school. Make yourself known to the faculty, offer to help teacher’s and aides with whatever you can offer. Partner up, and work hand in hand with guiding the curriculum that fit’s your child’s needs. Don’t be afraid to call for a meeting first. A perfect time to go over things you might not understand, or just want to express. Teacher’s are more open to meetings than you would think. Take control of your ARD meeting and allow your voice to be heard. Do not leave your meeting with a “lost” feeling. Speak up, and be the voice your child can’t be. It’s a long journey, but it’s all worth it when you see your child reaching milestones you never thought possible. You are not alone in this process, I promise. I’m here for you, let’s chat soon! ❤
Reference Websites helpful for ARD meetings:
**Make sure you read over your district/state policies to help better understand the ARD process**