Parents of children with any special needs face the exhausting and stressful experience of yearly IEP meetings. Often times, these meetings may be more than once a year. It is so important to be prepared, so that you can be the best advocate for your child and make sure that he or she gets ALL of the accommodations that they need. The services that will best suit their behavioral, developmental, educational, and/or physical needs.
Here are 10 tips to help you conquer the IEP meeting process:
- Get everything in writing: I cannot stress how important it is to have everything in writing. When requesting a meeting, make sure you send a letter explaining when you would like this meeting (give a few day & time options) and why you are requesting it. Be clear what you want to change or add to your child’s IEP document. How do you think this would benefit your child? And any other important information that you believe your child’s school needs to know. After the meeting, did you realize something was written in the IEP that you don’t agree with or want changed? Do you have questions about something mentioned in the meeting or the IEP document? Send your questions in a letter or email to your child’s school IEP committee. Written documentation is also important from the school if they are requesting a meeting. If you cannot agree on a time for the meeting, your child’s IEP committee must send you written documentation explaining what decisions were made during the meeting and why.
- You can request a meeting: Your child’s IEP committee is required to schedule IEP meetings once a year to discuss your son or daughter’s progress. Remember that your child is constantly developing and therefore changing. As a parent, you may observe that your child is not making much improvements. Make sure you first ask yourself – are your expectations realistic? Is he or she improving but maybe just not to YOUR standards. If you truly believe that your expectations are realistic and that you feel your child should be performing certain tasks or making certain milestones (given the accommodations, they are receiving in school) – then contact your child’s IEP committee addressing these issues and requesting a meeting.
- See evaluations in advance of the meeting: Before the meeting, ask if you can see any evaluations or paperwork ahead of time. Does this evaluation accurately describe my child? Is there anything you want to add or subtract? Look at your calendar and see what was going on with your child around the time of the evaluation. Was he or she sick or getting over being sick? Was there some kind of change of routine or stress in your home that would have affected your child’s behavior? Evaluation may not accurately depict your child because of these circumstances. You know he or she can perform those skills if they were medically healthy. But, again you need to be realistic!!! Do not use this as an excuse because you haven’t come to terms with your child’s weaknesses. Having this paperwork will also allow you to know what to expect when walking into a meeting. You can prepare notes and questions ahead of time. Maybe there was something in the paperwork that you never noticed in your child. Now would be the perfect time to really observe your child’s behaviors before the meetings.
- Talk to other parents who have gone through the IEP process: Try to find moms and dads who have had similar IEP committee members. They can always give you suggestions on how to cope with the process. They can help you figure out the best way to approach communicating with your committee members. Make sure to ask about things such as personality and bureaucratic issues.
- Stay organized!!! Develop a binder that includes documentation such as your child’s evaluations, any doctors’ letters, previous copies of IEP’s, any written communication you have had with the committee, your notes and questions, timeline of dates, and any other important files. Imagine all the time you will save if you can find these files right away without any stress or anxiety!!
- Bring a friend or family member with you to the meeting for support: They can help you stay calm and it can be refreshing to see a familiar loving face in the room. He or she can also help you remember information and take notes. Make sure you notify your IEP committee members ahead of time that this person will be coming. No one likes surprises!
- Your child’s IEP goals should be S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-frame. I believe it is most important for the goals to be realistic. Can your child realistically complete that task? Including a goal that is beyond your child’s skill level is huge disadvantage to them and their development. The goals should also be focused, encourage independence, and properly align with your son or daughter’s current level of performance. If the same goal is being repeated from a previous IEP, make sure the goal or service is still appropriate for your child.
- Share observations from home: During the meeting, explain to everyone what you are doing at home. Tell them what is and what is not working. Share specific observations and ask if the committee can help you find ways to build upon them in the classroom. Ask for suggestions as to what you should be doing more of at home. They may be able to give you information about different equipment, effective educational IPAD apps, or behavioral methods that you and your child could use together.
- Remember, YOU are an expert: Don’t forget that you know your kid just as much or even better than the rest of the IEP committee. Don’t be intimidated by their fancy degrees and jargon. You are the parent, advocate and expert. Make sure that your voice is heard and all of your questions are answered. Do not let them rush you out of the IEP meeting because another family is coming in. Your child’s academic, behavioral, and educational development is your most important priority.
- You’ve got this: Stay calm, rested, and ready to conquer every obstacle that comes your way!!!
Frances Victory is a Developmental Psychology PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. You can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org