Attending a meeting on behalf of a disabled individual is a daunting task. Annual meetings are held to determine services, reevaluate educational goals, discuss results of evaluations or to decide on a course of treatment. These meetings are often very hard on caregivers (parents) as they can directly impact the course of both the lives of the individual and caregiver.
Sadly, caregivers often express that they feel like helpless victims to the actions of everyone else in the room. However, with proper preparation, like using the tips listed in this article, caregivers can view these meetings as opportunities to engage professionals to obtain a better quality of life for the individual experiencing a disability.
Every disability meeting is important.
Treat each and every meeting like a business appointment with serious consequences because that is precisely what these meetings are. Thoroughly review any paperwork that was made available for review prior to the meeting. Dress for the meeting thoughtfully. If professional dress is required of the meeting’s participants it is for the caregiver as well.
Know the purpose of each meeting.
Many meetings involving caregivers are fairly pro-forma but this is not always the case. If the meeting has a title, know what it is. Special education and disability service agencies use many acronyms and abbreviations and they can be quite confusing. Ask for definitions of terms until their meaning is clear.
Know who is running the disability meeting.
Everyone in the room has an agenda that may or may not be obvious to the caregiver. Ask for an introduction of everyone in the room and a small explanation of the services they provide to the individual. Before the meeting, skim any paperwork provided and match people with their respective paperwork. Avoid writing down information that is readily available in material provided at the meeting.
Know the purpose documents before you sign!
It is never advisable to sign any paperwork that has not been reviewed and more importantly understood. Treat every paper that is signed as a legal document with far reaching consequences.
Stay on topic at the meeting.
Caregivers tend to become overwhelmed at meetings and sometimes feel that other professionals over simplify the needs of the individual. Do not waste time discussing matters that are not germane to the meeting. The goal is a productive meeting not a pity party.
The individual with a disability should be present at the meeting.
Whenever possible, bring the individual with the disability to these meetings. Nothing keeps the focus on the individual more than the actual person who precipitated the meeting. Many times, the participants in the meeting have had almost no contact with the individual so having the individual physically in the same room can be quite an enlightening experience.
Be gracious and polite to everyone at the meeting.
People work in the disability services industry because they want to help people. No matter how constrained budgets become or understaffed a facility is, no one wants to watch an individual with a disability suffer. These meetings may be contentious but no matter what was said in the room, a parent or caregiver should thank each person individually for his/her time.
Attendance of annual meetings is just one of the many unpaid jobs that parents and caregivers of disabled individuals are faced with. Although the meetings’ outcomes are not always what caregivers want, they can improve their opportunities for success with a little preparation. When caregivers view themselves as active participants in their individuals’ future, everyone on the treatment team benefits.