30 July 2007

Autism dads and IEPs

Last summer 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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Suzanne said...

You know, I hadn't thought of the gender bias men might face at an IEP. maybe because my DH doesn't attend. I can just imagine They speak to the other parent without acknowledging your existence. Much like Joel's post on restaurant checks not going to the person with a communication device. sort of incredulous that a Dad could be aware of educational goals and strategies. Not just tagging along because the Wife 'made' him go.
thanks for making me think!

VAB said...

My wife doesn't speak English well and is extremely shy so I do all the school stuff (my wife comes to IEPs for the "both parents" effect), all the psychologist meetings, all of the parent support groups, etc. I'm almost always the only man. I do sometimes wish men were better represented in these processes. For one thing, women sometimes have difficulty differentiating between autism and ordinary maleness.

mcewen said...

Most of the time, I go on my own because his work commitments, but occasionally he comes to and you're right, it completely changes the dynamics.

christschool said...

Junior will have an IEP within the next year, I wonder what they will think of me???, lol.

Anonymous said...

My child is nearing the end of grade school and I have never been to an IEP. Without too much elaboration, I'm neither good at this type of thing nor doctor appts. So, my husband does this. I do lots of other stuff, including volunteering at school and they seem to understand that I just can't do it. I DO go to private meetings at school, but not IEPs. My child has gotten a lot of good services and I must admit, I might have compromised things had I been there. My husband is an excellent advocate and father. I know lots of men who are very involved with their autistic children's lives and several of my best on-line friends are dads of auties. I don't know where the "it's just the moms" thing comes from; it's not been my experience, but I know it's there. Thanks for blogging about this.

Club 166 said...


Thanks for bringing this up, as I think it's important. I blogged about it earlier this year here

I read Fox's comment after I had attended several IEP meetings, and it rang true. The presence of a male at a meeting changes the dynamic (usually in your favor), even if they don't always want to formally recognize you.

As I commented today at autism.about.com, in many ways I don't think that a male presence at an IEP meeting is very different than a male presence in any female dominated workplace. Having worked in a female dominated department (hospital laboratory) there is a very different dynamic that takes place there. It takes awhile for a male to become accepted in such an environment, and not just seen as an interloper. But even if you're not "accepted", you can still effect positive change for your child.


Brett said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments. It is interesting to see that sometimes the reasons that dads go to IEPs alone are the same as for the other way around. It all depends on our individual situations.

I was thinking about this some more, and one of the most interesting experiences I had was at an IEP with a male team-leader for the school district. He was very used to having mostly mothers (usually young mothers) at the IEPs and wasn't quite sure how to react when another man who was used to being in charge (I was an Army officer at the time) was thrown into the mix.

Needless to say, that one was fun ;-)