How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting
Take an active part in the creation of your child's Individualized Education Program by educating yourself on your child's needs and the IEP process.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that schools develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with special needs. It includes information about your child's current performance, specifies annual goals and identifies services and accommodations that your child requires to receive an appropriate education.
At the IEP meeting, you'll meet with your child's general education teacher, a special education teacher, a school administrator and appropriate service providers, such as occupational therapists and speech language pathologists, depending on your child's disability.
"It is your time to advocate for your child," says Sue Robinson, writer, television host and Special Education PTA member. You'll want to be well informed so you may take an active role in your child's education.
Here are tips on how to prepare for your child's IEP meeting.
Study Your Child's Evaluations
If your child's teacher believes your child may have special needs, an evaluator will conduct a series of tests to determine if your child has a disability and is eligible for special education services. Request copies of the evaluation results before the IEP meeting, so you understand your child's progress and needs.
Know Your Role
As the parent or guardian of a special needs child, you're an important part of the team that develops the IEP plan. "The biggest mistake that parents make in these meetings...is they don't realize they are an equal part of the IEP process," says Jonathan Carroll, a Chicago-based special education consultant and founder of IEP Experts. The parents he's worked with don't always realize they have rights and can ask questions, make suggestions and disagree with the plan.
Think About Goals
Terri O. Johnson, founder of Eden Prairie Disability Awareness Committee and director of LearningRx in Chanhassen, Minn., advises parents to reflect on their own goals for their child before the meeting: "Think about the vision you have for your child's next 12 months, as well as long term aspirations. Be mindful of potential new concerns with transition to new schools and possibly higher expectations that will happen within the next 12 months."
Discuss Your Child With the Evaluator
Carroll believes the best source for information about your child's difficulties is the person who conducted the evaluation. The professional that actually diagnosed your child is generally the best person to contact for answers to any questions you have and to obtain more information about your child's disability.
Seek Information About Your Child's Disability
Read up on your child's specific issues. "Research online or contact an appropriate national or state level agency specializing in your child's disability for information on common services, accommodations and assistive technology," advises Johnson.
Be aware that not all information is good. Carroll, who works with people that have ADHD, notes that there is a huge amount of information about ADHD out there, and not all of it is reliable.
Create a Binder
Johnson suggests you create a binder with tabs for evaluations, report cards and sample work. Keep this binder updated so that you have all the information about your child's progress in one place.
List Your Concerns
"To make the most out of the IEP meeting, create a list of your priorities and concerns before the meeting and share them with your child's IEP case manager," advises Johnson. "Document your child's strengths, interests and needs."
You know your child and can offer a unique perspective. For example, your child may have difficulty riding on the regular school bus. This is something that you, as a parent, will see, but a teacher may not.
Robinson suggests bringing a voice recorder to capture the proceedings (inform the school ahead of time if you plan to record the session.) Bring a notebook to take notes and write down your thoughts and questions.
Keep an Open Mind
"The biggest detriment I see to the IEP process is parents that come into the room thinking they know all the answers and don't really listen to what others have to say. That makes the whole process so difficult because then everybody gets on the defensive."
If you disagree with one of the IEP team members, ask for their reasoning. Try to understand their point of view by asking questions. Getting angry or belligerent is not productive. These professionals are your allies.
Discuss the Process With Your Child
Older children are usually included in the meetings, but even younger ones should know about the people that will help them through the school day and the accommodations they will receive.
"Have an open and honest dialogue with your children," suggests Carroll. "Let them know what's going on and why you're doing something a certain way."
Review the Plan at Home
You don't need to agree with the IEP immediately. Johnson recommends bringing it home for review. "It is often less stressful to review an IEP at home. If you disagree with any part of what is proposed, tell the school as soon as possible, and work to resolve any disagreement."
It's easy to be intimidated by the process, particularly when other members of the team have professional credentials that you lack, but remember, your input is valuable. Dealing with your child's problems can be stressful. Strive for a cooperative atmosphere, but make sure your concerns are heard.
"Teamwork creates better outcomes for children," says Johnson. "You are the expert on your child, and the school has expertise in education. Together, you can help your child succeed."
Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer in New York. Her writing focuses on education, public policy and family issues. Her work can be found here.
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