Setting Learning Priorities for Your Child
with Beth Liesenfeld
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Beth Liesenfeld 0:03
So say that you have a long list of challenges and emotional regulation is one of them. When you're not emotionally regulated, you're probably not going to learn, you're probably not going to have great attention. There's a lot of things that that interferes with. And actually, by making that one of our priorities, we're all of a sudden influencing a lot of the other challenges. So that's going to make the most impact.
Penny Williams 0:30
Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started.
Welcome back to the beautifully complex Podcast. Today, I have with me, Beth Liesenfeld of the IEP lab. And we are going to talk about school on school struggles. And what we can do as parents to actually help kids to be more confident in school to feel better about school, because it's not just about academic success. And so we're going to cover several different things here in this episode, around setting your child's priorities. And what you really need to focus on which can be so overwhelming and so hard when you start thinking about all the things that your kid is struggling with, at one time. So really excited to have Beth here and to share this really insightful wisdom with you, and hope that it is going to help you with your school meetings and with helping your child find their path for success when it comes to school. So I'm so happy that you're here, Beth, I'm really excited to have this conversation with you to learn from you. Will you start by letting everybody know who you are and what you do?
Beth Liesenfeld 2:05
Absolutely. And thank you so much for having me on. I love what you're doing. And I think we mesh really well with our mission statements together. So my name is athletes and Feld, I am formally trained as an occupational therapist. And I've worked in several different settings, I worked in early intervention outpatient clinics, and then also transitioned into school setting. And when I got into the school setting, I was in two different districts. And the last one that I was in doubled in size in the five years that I was there. And the cool thing about that was we had a pretty good reputation for special education services. So I started to see all of these IEPs come in from around the country of people who are moving to our specific district to get services. And I started to be able to see themes in not so supportive, IEPs, and really supportive IEPs. And also, I just started to notice and my ad meetings per year, that even with the same school team, every IEP meeting had a really different feel, sometimes we would come out of that meeting with such a great IEP.
And everybody was so excited to implement this and try it out and see how we could help this kid. And then some of them just fell really flat, and they didn't feel inspired. I don't feel like the team was super excited to implement this IEP there was like tension. And so we started to pay attention with the themes of what made these IEP meetings and the success of that child really amazing. I realized that it started to be the education of the parent, and not that parents have to know at all. But there's a couple of key things that if parents communicate this with their team, they can make the difference between an IEP that's like, okay, and you get pretty good progress from that, or you get this amazing progress. And your kid feels really supported at the end. So I started the IEP lab about a year and a half ago, and I have the parent IEP lab podcast. And I just really love taking that insider's perspective of what actually happens in the schools and those themes that I saw, to help parents navigate the system and not feel like they have to fight against the system, but they have the keys to really understand how to work with it. So they're not fighting all the time. So it's been really fun.
Penny Williams 4:21
And it does feel so contentious this process so often. And I think some of that just comes from the structure of these meetings and the fact that the school has a number of people, and you might be you know, one parent, maybe two parents, but you don't have this whole army of people behind you on the opposite side of the table. Right? And so you get that sense. I think just walking in the door sometimes that can make you sort of have your guard up and feeling like you really have to fight for your kid. And then you know many times we do go through meetings where we do have to fight for against right, where we're not being heard necessarily, in the ways that we hope to. So I'm really glad that we're gonna give people some strategies here to make these meetings more successful, I always dreaded them so much. And I would feel sick beforehand. And the more meetings I did, actually, the less confident I felt because of the experience, because we had such a hard time getting what my kid needed. And there were reasons for that, and there are many, but I think that our experience is pretty typical of the experience of parents in the United States, trying to get accommodations and services for their neurodivergent kids. And so we have to step in and be helpful to our kids, right. So our kids are struggling in school, we want to help them. And we need to figure out a path to do that. And that's what I find that no parent knows, we do not know what to do other than show up for this meeting, that we've been informed of right, this time, this place this day, be there. And it can be really uncomfortable just from that vantage point. And so giving parents an idea of what to do, what the process looks like, where to start to break it down, I think is going to be so useful.
Beth Liesenfeld 6:29
And you bring up a good point that there's so much stress around that one meeting. And the reason why my business is called the IEP lab is because nothing is going to be set in stone. And there's so much pressure around getting it right in like one or two hours for the rest of the year for your kid. And I think that's an unreasonable expectation. And I'm not saying that that's the parents having that expectation. But that kind of gets like put on the parents that we have to get this done. But there's so much that you can do outside of the IEP meeting, to really make that meeting less stressful, and then just say, oh, yeah, let's try it. And we'll figure it out if it's not working later. And knowing those parent rights, and some of what we're going to talk about today is like what you can do before the meeting, like we're talking weeks before the meeting, to get ready for that and just feel like you've said what you needed to say. And so takes the stress off at least a little bit with that meeting.
Penny Williams 7:24
So let's dive into your three part process. Where do we start?
Beth Liesenfeld 7:29
So I think providing priorities is really important to the school IEP team. And the cool thing about being able to sit in all those meetings is, we have a couple of really great people who knew enough about the system, parents who knew enough about the system that they communicated these priorities to the team before we met. And there was a couple of times where I was like, man, as an OT, I don't know what I'm doing with this kid anymore. Like, I don't know what my role is moving forward. And I feel bad taking them from language arts to work on writing, if that's not a good skill to work on right now. And so there was a couple of times where I was like, should I discharge this kid? Should I stop seeing this kid? And we came to the meeting, and the parents shared these priorities. And I was like, Oh, I know what I'm doing. Now. I know what my part is trying to get them there. And so it can be really, really life changing, because a lot of times the school team doesn't know what you want.
And I remember starting schools, and starting to ask the parents like, where do you want to go? What do you want? And that is not something that happens in schools very often, but it does happen in outpatient therapy. And so parents were looking at me, like, Do you not know how to do your job? And I was like, Yeah, but I still want to know what you mean. So that's why priorities are so important. So the first step in like, determining what like your two or three priorities are that you're going to communicate to the team. The first one is just a brain dump all of the challenges that you think your child has in that environment. And before you say like, oh, I don't know, the educational environment, like I'm not there. So I don't know what the other challenges are. I'm really interested to see what you say about this penny, but I feel like parents know more than they think they do. When they have time to think about it. Yeah. So if you think about what information is coming back from the school, you've gotten phone calls from the school, what are they about? Is there a certain pattern where they don't like this type of teacher? And that's creating problems? Like what is it that you're hearing back from teachers at parent teacher conferences, things like that, where you know that this is an issue and make sure like, you do it over a couple of days, and just come back to it and say, oh, there any other challenges that came up? And make sure that you brain dump all of those challenges?
Penny Williams 9:45
And I would add to that, that we need to think about things that happen at home, that are triggered by school and learning to because we're so often told that, oh, if your kid isn't in my care in my physical presence, it's not a school problem. It's a home problem. But there's so many home problems that have carried over or been triggered by school. And I think it's important to think about those as well. And to fight for them to be considered.
Beth Liesenfeld 10:21
Absolutely. And we talked about this in one of my workshops, where it's like, what data can you collect? Because information and data is so important to the school system and how it works. Yeah. And it's like, take some data, like, are we dysregulated every Tuesday? You know, is there something about Tuesday that's happening? And then you can ask more informed questions to the school team of, hey, Tuesday's an issue, like, what's happening on Tuesday? Oh, they have music class, and it's overwhelming and it's overstimulating. Okay, like, we can work with that we need to accommodate that. But without that kind of record keeping on your end, and it doesn't have to be something complicated, it can be really helpful to then bring that data to the team to feel like you're heard, right?
Penny Williams 11:04
Absolutely. And I found that I had to keep records, I had to start taking those notes. Because when things are hard, it feels like everything's hard. And everything's bad, right. And then when you try to pull from your memory specifics, they're not really there anymore, because you're just overwhelmed by this big, dark stormy cloud. So I found that I really had to be taking some notes, just jotting things down really briefly. It wasn't journaling. I wasn't writing in a diary, right? I wasn't cataloging the whole day, I was just writing down things that I knew that were important, and that I would need to reference later.
Beth Liesenfeld 11:42
That's amazing. One of my favorite tip is like, Can you print out a calendar and stick it by your door, your front door? Or your garage door? Like, can you just like write a note really quick on how the transition went from home to school, like, whatever is most convenient for you, right? And that's so important to do. So you've got this, like brain dump of challenges, right? So you've got this, like probably pretty overwhelming list of what's happening and what you feel like needs supported. And so the next step that we're going to look at is look at some of these skills that are missing or some of these challenges. And is there one that sticks out that if you built the skills around that specific topic, it actually would influence a lot more skills. And so let me kind of explain that. So my favorite example for this is emotional regulation. So say that you have a long list of challenges, and emotional regulation is one of them. When you're not emotionally regulated, you're probably not going to learn, you're probably not going to have great attention. There's a lot of things that that interferes with, as we kind of go up the pyramid of Maslow's hierarchy, if you're familiar with that. Yeah, so that's like a basic need that we have to address. And actually, by making that one of our priorities, we're all of a sudden influencing a lot of the other challengers, so that's going to make the most impact. And then the other thing is attention, right? So so many people with attention challenges, it's like, well, they might actually be able to learn that topic. Maybe they're struggling in math, right, and they need to build their math skills. But if they can't regulate their attention, all of a sudden, yeah, there's no way that they're going to be able to really learn and challenge themselves and keep up with that math, right? Because if you miss a step, it's like starting all over again. Yeah. So can we focus on those attention skills, or accommodate them? Or do something to help that attention? And then it's naturally going to create access to these other skills that they're trying to do as well?
Penny Williams 13:46
And there are really some foundational skills, some things that affect a lot of things, right? Executive functioning, different aspects of that come to mind for me, yeah. Because if you have poor time management, every single class is going to be hard. Yeah, getting your homework home, done back to school turned in is going to be hard. Right. And so sometimes building one skill can improve a lot of the challenges. And it's really important, as you're saying, to prioritize that, like, where can you get the most bang for your buck? And sometimes that's the exact top priority that you should have, because of what you're talking about, because one thing can also improve other things.
Beth Liesenfeld 14:34
Absolutely. And so sometimes too there are skills that you can narrow and kind of take out of the running for your priority list where you just might think that they're not ready to build those skills yet, and we just need to accommodate them more than anything. I think the schools do a really bad job. I don't rag on schools too much because I think it's a systematic problem. But I do think that we We push for like maintaining the standards that are put out by each state. And sometimes kids just aren't interested in that right now. They're not focused on it. They're not concerned about it. But yet we still like push them to try to make those standards and try to make that progress happen. And I think trying to be as student centered as you can, with their asking how to make friends, right now, should we start looking at social skills? Because they're kind of concerned and asking about, why is this happening? Why does nobody like me, like, maybe they would be interested to hear about some appropriate social skills or help them navigate the social setting in school.
So you also need to look at that, but the last thing in this three part system is narrowing down those priorities to two to three things. And really, that's best done and communicated to the team by writing a vision statement. And so this can be taking that social skills example, it's like, oh, okay, like we want Johnny to be able to participate in small group setting when he has these projects in the classroom, and really feel like he's part of a team, that's a great vision statement, right. And that can include more skills than that, so that you can kind of incorporate that two to three priorities that you have into that vision statement. And that is the part where when you communicate that before the IEP meeting, and you say, I'm excited to like, come to the IEP meeting and see what you guys have for this next year. You know, I wanted to share our vision statement and our priorities for the next year. And all of a sudden, people get really excited, because they can kind of see in the IEP team, like, how can they get that kid to get there, and you're harnessing some of that problem solving and passion for kids that everybody went into education to explore and to do.
Penny Williams 16:57
I am noticing that that really is setting a more positive tone. So rather than going in saying my kid can't do X, Y, and Z, and you're not helping it, this is what we hope to get to this is our goal. This is our vision for our child, I love that I did learn, after a few years with my son, that I needed to communicate what was on my mind ahead of a school meeting. So that I was giving them time to formulate a response to look into things to see if they can see what's on my mind what I'm talking about. Because I found when I walked into the meeting, and I just sort of dumped things that they may not have all been expecting, a lot of times, I would just be sort of shut down immediately, if they didn't know what I was talking about, or they hadn't noticed it. So by giving them a list of kind of what's on my mind, and what I want to cover before I went in, really helped for them to give it more thought and to be more intentional in their response to those things. And to realize that there is another perspective, we're not coming to a school meeting just to be told what they want, and what they feel like needs to happen. The parent is supposed to be part of that, as well. And I think it really helps to remind the team of that when you come in early with, here's my piece of the agenda, right is is what's on my mind for my kid.
Beth Liesenfeld 18:25
Absolutely. And again, like communicating that before the meeting, it kind of like takes your huge advocacy effort of that one meeting. And now you're spreading it out over time a little bit. Right. And then after the meeting, I know a lot of people are like, they're not doing what's in the IEP. And so there's so much that you can do after the IEP meeting to to say, just a reminder, like, this is the vision statement that we had for our kid, how are we doing? Do we need to change the plan, because there's so many ways that you can change the plan. And you don't have to let that stress build up until the next IEP meeting, you can ask for an amendment, you can ask for another IEP team meeting to talk about what's working what's not. And I think, again, like spreading out your advocacy efforts to realize that it can be a year long thing with a little burst of effort and energy at that meeting, of course and stress, of course. But yeah, like communicating early and kind of being one step ahead of the system. So you know what's coming is just so helpful to kind of spread out that stress a little bit.
Penny Williams 19:27
Anytime that you know what an invitation to meeting was sent home and I was not expecting it. And I wasn't sure what was going on. I would always ask, like, immediately ask Yes, I can be there for that meeting this time works for me. What are we talking about what's going on? So that I wasn't blindsided either. When I showed up to a meeting, and for me and the way I work and the anxiety that I have, I needed to be able to prepare myself, at least mentally and emotionally for what was happening before I showed up at the table. So you can always ask questions. I think that so often parents don't want to rock the boat, they don't want to upset educators, they feel like it's their process, and we're just along for the ride. And it's okay to ask questions. It's okay, even to challenge things when you don't feel like they're the right fit for your child, it's really important for parents to know that, I also wanted to circle back to what you had just mentioned, which was when the IEP isn't being implemented, this was a huge problem for us.
And I find that it's a pretty consistent problem for a lot of the parents that I coach, and it's a real struggle. And especially when kids get older in high school, you might be juggling from three or four teachers up to eight, or nine teachers, and getting everyone on the same page is hard in and of itself, but then they don't all have the same experience with your child. And so I find that they question whether or not one accommodation or another was needed. And then there's this whole communication issue, like I always gave a summary of, of my son's IEP to every teacher at the beginning of every school year, because I knew that wasn't being provided to them, I knew it was very overwhelming way too much to read, it would take me a long time just to pull out the nuggets that they need hid and put them in one page. And so I was trying to get as prepared as possible for everyone to be able to implement. But a lot of times, it still didn't happen, despite calling more meetings, despite trying my darndest. Right. So what does a parent do at that point?
Beth Liesenfeld 21:46
Yeah, of course, it depends on the situation, right. And you writing that summary in the beginning of the year is really amazing, because a lot of times the general education teachers don't even have access to the paperwork, which is absolutely terrible. But sometimes that little summary is like the difference, right? There's a couple of things that you can do. And I'm not gonna say that they work 100% of the time. But sharing that vision statement with all of the teachers together in an email, is also kind of bringing them into the team. I think that because we're only required to have one general education teacher at the meeting. And a lot of times in the middle school in high schools, we would get the same teachers that wanted to show up to those IEP meetings. But it wasn't always everybody. So yeah, obviously is a problem. Like there's teachers that love this stuff and love that problem solving aspect and that accommodations and figuring out what's working. And then there's teachers who either don't understand it, they don't have the education, or they don't understand how to modify things. So it's easier for people.
But I think you can do a couple things you can at those IEP meetings, or even if you want to send an email to teachers, sometimes accommodations aren't necessary in every single classroom. So to bring the general education, classroom teachers into the fold, and send a quick email, maybe once a quarter, it doesn't have to be like anything huge, or maybe it's twice a year. And you're saying, okay, they have these accommodations, which ones are really easy for you to do, which ones are harder, which ones do you think are working? And I have seen IEPs kind of split up accommodations and that accommodation section by subject. So sometimes physical accommodation, sometimes the lab tables and science are an issue. So those need to be accommodated. But that's not everywhere. And then sometimes there's a ton of writing in history. Okay, well, how do we address that in history where it doesn't seem to be an issue anywhere else. So you can advocate that those are separated out. But then also just the tone of your communication, having some way to communicate with them most middle school and high school teachers are really heavily in the email. And so that's helpful. But then bringing them in and inspiring them and saying, Hey, I need your help. What accommodations do you think are working, which ones aren't?
And that's a way of being a gentle accountability partner. You're not bringing on conflict, you're just trying to help them problem solve, what's working, what's not. And sometimes your advocacy is education to those general education teachers, right. Sometimes you're advocating for those consults, services, so that the special education teacher or the OT or whoever goes into that general education teacher and says, This is what this accommodation looks like. This is what we can do. Oh, I see what the issue is. Okay. Can we do it this way in is this the easiest way to accommodate? So I think just having a way to check in with them. I mean, if email doesn't work, then there's a lot of different ways to try to get some information back from them. And I think that's the hardest part of about middle school in high school is they have so many students. Yeah, but you can ask for, hey, I'm going to email you guys twice a quarter or once a quarter to like, check in with you. You know, this isn't IEP and we might have to change it later. So we might need your help and figuring out what's working and what's not. And the last thing is just like, again, to circle back to that vision statement is bring them into the fold. Like, what is their role in helping your kid get to that vision statement? You know, can you recruit their help? Because most people in the schools want to help genuinely want to help? Yeah. And so can we bring them into that vision statement? And say, like, I'm so excited to have him work with you and and see where we go. And this is our vision statement? And how's it going? what's working and what's not working?
Penny Williams 25:34
And I want to hear from that is really setting the tone of team collaboration with teachers, rather than this sort of, we're on one side of the table, and you're on the other, right, this contentious relationship. And that has always worked better for us than sort of feeling like we need to fight or battle or even, I've tried many times to say, at home, this seems to really help with this issue. What do you think? Could you try it at school, asking for the input of the other party can really set that tone, as well. And I love what you thought about asking, do you think this accommodation is working in your class, I'd never thought to ask that. And my son has graduated now. So the time has passed, but I will definitely be sharing it with others, because it's such a good nugget, that then you're bringing it to their awareness that they have this accommodation. And I think it's pretty obvious when you ask how it's working in their class that you don't feel like it is without having to say that. And so it can really just open conversation in a way that's going to be productive. It's really good, really good.
Beth Liesenfeld 26:44
And teachers can tell if you are asking questions to catch them doing something wrong, right? Or if you are asking to truly check in with them, and see what's working and what's not working, and the parents who asked questions, to learn themselves and to genuinely trying to help, those were the parents that I can even pull up the picture of three in my mind right now, of people that I knew were involved, that I knew were going to stay on top of it. And so I was responsible, right, I needed to be on top of it, but also just really wanted the best for their kids. And you could hear that in their questions that they weren't trying to get us they weren't going to file a lawsuit or file a state complaint at every turn, they really just cared about their kids. And that makes a difference for educators that they know that in your communication.
Penny Williams 27:31
We think so often about being open minded, but it goes to both sides of the table. You know, parents need to be open minded, that teachers may not know, what a kid with ADHD needs are what your kid would do better when they don't know that they can actually change the instruction for your child or the assignment for your child. But also teachers and educators can be creative as well. And I think because it's so systematic, we don't think about that so often that gets forgotten that, hey, you could be out of the box for this kid. And you could do something different for this kid. And it's totally okay to do that. Especially I think teachers who've been teachers for a long time, we didn't probably talk much about differentiated instruction, and those sorts of things, until more recent, educating. And so a lot of teachers just don't know. And it's not that we feel like teachers aren't doing their job. It's that we feel like maybe they're not hearing us, or they're not open to doing things differently. And just that openness can make such a difference in that relationship between parent and teacher to if everybody's just open and saying, Okay, well, the goal here is to help this kid succeed. And in more ways than academic socially, emotionally, right?
All of these things, when they're with you, what can we do together to make that happen? It's really powerful. And we get caught up so much in the emotion of it. We really want our kids not to struggle, right? We really want our kids to just have it a little easier, which isn't always possible. And I found one of the biggest strategies for me, was leaving my emotions at home. I had to learn how to keep that aspect out of it. Because when I did spew emotion, I was always met with a wall. Even if it was I'm really upset, and I really want you to help my kid. But I'm so upset. I'm crying in the meeting and running out, then what have you accomplished? You haven't. And so it's really just been so valuable to me over the years to say in sometimes, actually, a lot of times, I wrote my email response, and I waited a day and then I went back and I edited it, and I took that personal emotional stuff out of it. And then I was able to send the communication, because I did need to dump that somewhere. I didn't need to let that out. But I did not need to send it to the school, it was not going to be helpful. And that was just one of my tricks. And at first, I'd be like, okay, my husband can read it and tell him that you will, he was emotional about it too, right? That wasn't helpful. He also wanted the best for his kid at school and thought that xy and z should be happening. So I learned to just give myself time to recover from the emotion and then communicate in a much more collaborative way. That way. Yeah, that's fantastic. Anything else you want to make sure we touch on before we close?
Beth Liesenfeld 30:37
I think that's perfect. I think that, you know, the three part process it can, it can sound really simple. And I know it's harder than that. But I think that's enough to get people started and thinking about what they want out of their next IEP meeting.
Penny Williams 30:50
And sometimes the simplest things are the most helpful. I love the idea of a brain dump. I in a past life was in marketing and communications, and did a lot of you know, creative brainstorming. And for me, even this just most ridiculous idea, I had to write it on paper, to get it out of my head and onward. Right. And so I can move forward. And so when you say brain dump, we mean like, everything you've thought of, because you can always cross it out and say, Okay, that's not realistic, or this really doesn't matter, or whatever it is. And that can be really cathartic to it's not just like this process about figuring out what your priorities are for your kid. But it's also helping you work through some stuff, which is really amazing. It's a really amazing sort of side effect of that, right?
Beth Liesenfeld 31:39
I haven't thought of that. But you're totally right, that would be so helpful to process your own priorities and what you're seeing for sure, that's awesome.
Penny Williams 31:46
Well, I can't thank you enough for sharing your process and for helping parents get sort of this Jumpstart, to being able to really navigate a little more clearly, and with purpose. And for everyone listening, I want you to go to the show notes at parentingADHDandautism.com/198 for episode 198. And you're gonna find links there to the IEP lab, and Beth's website, and podcast and social media and lots of ways for you to learn more from her, and maybe to connect and work with her as well. So I really encourage you to do that. And I just want to thank you again, Beth, for giving us some of your time and some of your experience and sharing what you do with the world to help our kiddos to be able to succeed. It's really important work.
Beth Liesenfeld 32:42
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on.
Penny Williams 32:44
And I'll see everyone on the next episode. Take good care.
Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and thebehaviorrevolution.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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