It is no secret that one of the biggest “woes” for parent’s of kids with special needs comes yearly in the form of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Often times, parents walk into an IEP meeting as if walking into a battle in which they are outnumbered. Parents vs. School (teachers, therapists, support staff, etc.) and the child’s future is in the hands of the winning party.
I want to share with you 5 simple tips that can help you as you prepare for your child’s IEP meeting.
1. Make a list of goals you have for your child.
Ask yourself: “What do I hope my child will accomplish in the coming school year?”
Break it down into the different areas where your child will be receiving extra support, therapy, or special education modifications.
Remember, IEP goals are for school settings only. What does your child need in order to excel in an academic setting? I would love for Nichole to learn how to ride a tricycle, however, riding a tricycle is not necessary for academic achievement. Building leg strength and coordination, on the other hand, is important as children participate in Physical Education. Riding a tricycle might just be a great way to get her to achieve those goals.
Here are some examples I came up with before the IEP:
Speech: Nichole will be able to spontaneously use 3 word sentences.
Speech: Nichole will respond to “wh” questions: what, where, which, who
Fine motor: Nichole will independently cut a 6 inch wide piece of paper using adaptive scissors.
Fine motor: Nichole will trace her name with capital letters.
Gross motor: Nichole will climb safely on the playground equipment.
Gross motor: Nichole will demonstrate proper gait when running.
Social/emotional: Nichole will engage in dramatic play with a peer.
Social/ emotional: Nichole will take turns.
Academic: Nichole will rote count to 10 consistently.
Academic: Nichole will identify “on” “under” “besides” consistently.
The more specific you can be with your goals, the better!
2. Ask for a copy of your child’s IEP draft before the IEP meeting.
One of the reasons you might want a copy before hand is to deal with the emotional aspect of an IEP on your own, at home. I know how overwhelming it can be to read tests results and have your child’s delays “packaged” together in a document. As we do life with our kids day to day, we do not deal with all of their delays at once. At home, it really doesn’t matter that your child is not able to identify letters when they have finally mastered using a fork at the dinner table (and you are over the moon with this new accomplishment). But with an IEP, every single area where your child struggles is documented and this can be difficult. It is okay to cry. Deal with those emotions so that when you are meeting with the team, you can put those aside and remember that your child does have great potential. The goal of the IEP meeting is to make sure there is a plan set in motion so that your child’s potential is achieved, so keep that in mind.
The IEP will have a list of goals from the teachers, therapists, and other support staff that might work with your kid. Remember the list of goals you came up with for your child? This is where you get to compare the goals. Were some of them the same? Are some of them confusing to you? Is there anything you think is important and should be added? Make sure to bring a list of the goals you want to see added, as well as questions you have concerning the “why” or “how” of certain goals listed in the IEP.
Remember, parents are team members in the IEP meeting. Do your part and be prepared!
3. Bring food.
Yes, I did just say to bring food. Why? Because food breaks an unspoken barrier, it says, “I want to be friendly, I don’t want to fight and I am thankful you are here.” Bring paper plates and napkins too.
The last few weeks I have seen one of the special education teachers stay for IEP meetings after school almost every day. She has kids at home and it means she is not making it back to her family until late. Yes, it is part of her job, but she is also a wife and a mom. Bringing some brownies, donuts, cheese and crackers, or other snacks says, “I appreciate the time you have taken to be here for my child.” It speaks volumes when you do something to show appreciation for someone’s time.
Gifts is one of my love languages, if I could fit it in my budget, I would have taken orders from all of them to Starbucks, no kidding! Instead, I bring granola bars and cheese and crackers. (Granola bars have chocolate chips in them, we are mostly women, chocolate is known to sometimes brighten a woman’s day. Enough said).
4. Know the law.
You want to be friendly, but you are your child’s advocate.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
A woman I trust and admire gave me this verse as I asked her questions about the IEP process. She is the mother of an adult child now, and was reminding me that yes, you want to be nice, but you also have a responsibility to be an advocate for your child!
Bring food, be friendly, but when it is time to speak up, you speak up. In order to do that, it is important that you are familiar with the special education laws!
Here are some great resources for you.
Wright’s Law: This is a website dedicated to special education law and the law surrounding IEP’s.
Wright’s Law: From Emotions to Advocacy:the Special Education Survival Guide: This is one of the most valuable books you will read if your child has an IEP. It details and explains the law, your rights, your child’s rights, and what the school can or cannot do. Seriously, get this book! I in no way benefit from you buying this book, but it has been a valuable resource as I learn to navigate the world of special education.
5. Take lots of notes and ask questions.
During the IEP meeting make sure you are taking notes. Things will be said and comments will be made that you might want to come back to. Jut down where you asked for a goal to be included. Write the comment from the physical therapist that was encouraging. Make sure you take notes of the teacher’s concern about your child’s safety in the playground. With your notes in hand, you can go home and do some brainstorming as you process the conversations that took place.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you are confused why your child is not getting more time in speech therapy, ask. If you still don’t understand, ask again. Be polite though, don’t point fingers, and make the questions about yourself. For example, you can say, “I am still puzzled, if we all agree speech is the greatest area of concern, why is my child only getting 40 minutes a week of speech therapy?”
So that’s it. Five simple tips that will hopefully help you feel better prepared for an IEP meeting.
Remember, you are an important and valuable member of your child’s IEP team. Your know your child best. Be professional, be an advocate, be prepared!
And pray! Ask God to help you through the emotions of the IEP, to help you be a good advocate, and to help you build strong relationships with the rest of the team.
What has your IEP experience been like?