Monday, April 5, 2010

IEP Meetings and the Mental Health Professional

 This post is part of the follow-up from the panel discussions that I had with the mental health folks.

I also want to get my "how fat I am" pics off of the top of the page.

Let's first start with, for the most part, having mental health professionals at IEPs are usually a positive experience.

Chances are, if you are a good therapist, you are a good IEP Team member.
Likewise, if you are a weak practitioner, you are probably a weak IEP Team member.
Think of you your co-workers that fit the above descriptions, and I think you get my point.

If things are unproductive, they often fall into the following categories:
  • Proud professionals arguing irrelevant details over WHO is right versus WHAT is right for the student.
  • Outside agencies coming in and having strong opinions based solely off of parent/student report. (Unconditional Positive Regard does not mean you do not fact-check. Even if your suspicions are RIGHT, see how EFFECTIVE you will be without honestly listening to everybody before you share them. We don't get paid to be right. Our job is to be effective.)
  • Forgetting the basic problem-solving and collaborative models.
  • Letting past experiences with educators bias future actions.
  • Having strong opinions over the merits of our educational programs despite the fact that they are always changing and staff is always turning-over.

I am not much of an Agenda-Nazi.
However, I do insist on following the basic problem-solving model.
This means that we do not discuss options or resolutions until we have all of our information on the table.

The following advice is not just true for mental health practitioners, but all IEP Team members.

The IEP Team needs to be able to identify Strengths, Progress, and Challenges.
As a mental health practitioner, please show up to the IEP Meeting ready to share (assuming you have the proper releases):
  • Least Important - All relevant DSM4 Diagnoses, and  data/rationale that lead to them.
  • Educationally and Socially relevant Treatment Goals.
  • Basic treatment plan and modalities.
  • Response to treatment plan.
  • Assessment and objective data regarding all of the above.
The underlying foundation is that we are less concerned with your opinion and more concerned with the facts that lead to your opinions.

If we all have our facts on the table, then we can problem solve better.

In my district, if you are the type of person that likes to write "To Whom It May Concern" letters whenever a parent asks, get ready to have a formal request for this information to be the immediate response.

Now, some of this information is priviliged, and you have professional discretion on what is considered relevant.
However, the amount that you share is directly proportional to how much you will be considered.

It is one thing to summarize or keep an IEP Meeting focused on educational planning and not let it become a family therapy session with an audience, but it is another thing to withhold information.

Think about it, if you need to withhold information to get the result you want, how confident are you that others will agree with you?

Medical doctors are the worse with this.
Three sentences on a prescription pad is not the Gospel.

Please do not complain to me when my staff does not accept prescription pad mandates or "To Whom It May Concern" letters on face-value.
I probably helped them write the letter requesting more information.
If you have seen one, it will look not-so-coincidentally like this post's bullet-items.

Once we have established Strengths, Progress, and Needs; the IEP Team needs to create an action plan to overcome every need so that the student may establish educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment possible.

I have found (and research supports) that once we precisely and accurately define the needs, the resultant plans are usually better

And, no, needs are not,
This student needs to get what we are asking for...

Needs are things like...
The student completes homework, but needs to hand it in whether she feels embarrassed by the quality of the product or not.
Regardless, let's look at every possible solution, and discuss the positives and negatives of each option.

Then, and only then, do we start to choose the final plan.

On face-value, this may seem like a slower process.

However, if you do not have time to do it right, do you have time to do it over?