One Special Needs parenting milestone that NO ONE looks forward to is attending your first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting for your child. You are absolutely BOMBARDED by messages, some from seasoned vets who sound like conspiracy theorists- “Don’t sign anything!” (umm- some states you HAVE to!”) “Know your rights!” (but I don’t even know half the terms in this new world, and I only understand about 7% of the Procedural Safeguards packet they give me).” “Don’t let them force you into a placement that isn’t right!” (But I don’t even know what placement options are available in the first place.)
(And so on.)
The truth is, this post could be seventeen novels long because there is so much information. If you are like me, you will gather lots of research, you will buy all the books, and then you will just stop reading and then go stress eat a row of Oreo’s because it’s simply too much to learn. I’m here to tell you, that’s OK. Just like anything else hard and complicated in life, you will learn it bit by bit. You will not become an overnight expert. Seek people from multiple areas whose feedback you can trust (teachers, parents, therapists).
Here are some general ideas to help.
How can you prepare before the big day?
For the newbies, make sure you are continuously becoming an expert on your child’s disability, and how it affects your child in school. Occupational Therapy, Assistive Technology, Speech Therapy, a secondary diagnosis- Apraxia, Attention Deficit, seizure disorder, and so on. I do this year round, and not just in preparation for an IEP meeting. If you are newly on this path, it might make you sad at first- all the talk of can’t and won’t and deficit. I don’t feel that way any longer- now I feel like knowledge helps me understand and support my boys better.
Are there any therapists or experts you work with outside of school that know your child? Invite them to your IEP meeting. It helps to have someone you have worked with and know and trust. I’ve had the most success in situations where collaboration is welcomed. Assume people working with your child are trustworthy and knowledgeable. know you’ve heard some horror stories- the truth is, I’ve lived some. However, I still go into every situation assuming the best about all parties at the table. People can’t hide who they are- amazing or awful- it will show.
Ask for a DRAFT in advance.
Some Districts have rules about this. As far as the Federal Reserve- it says, “The public agency also should provide the parents with a copy of its draft proposals, if the agency has developed them, prior to the IEP Team meeting so as to give the parents an opportunity to review the recommendations of the public agency prior to the IEP Team meeting, and be better able to engage in a full discussion of the proposals for the IEP.”
“It is not permissible for an agency to have the final IEP completed before an IEP Team meeting begins.” (FR 46678)
Ask for a copy of all evaluations/assessments in advance.
These assessments are complicated and statistic’y and wordy and a lot to take in. It’s so helpful to be able to read these at your own pace in your own home before the meeting. These reports are mainly focused on what your child can NOT do. Some parents get emotional reading them, and would be best served reading them alone first. Here’s the thing about assessments- I’ve seen so many of them being done. They are weird. Some of the questions are outdated. They are often not an indication of what they CAN do. I see them for what they are- a current snapshot, a required standardized evaluation the schools have to complete, and ideas for goals and starting points. It still makes me feel a little sick in my gut to see words like “Severe” used to describe my son Greyson’s speech disorders, because I know how hard he works. However, I know how far he has come, and it’s nothing short of amazing. I’m not crying over a dumb black and white report, when the full color reality is so awesome.
My son Parker (8)
Greyson (10) Both of my boys have autism, and I have been to eleventy hundred IEP meetings.
Observe the potential placement setting(s) before the meeting if possible. I’ve realized the hard way, some things sound great on paper and scream NOT RIGHT FOR YOUR KID! in real life. If a change of placement is not in order, observe in the classroom before the meeting. It helps to visualize a lot of what is being discussed, it shows you what is working great, and what might need to be tweaked.
ALL ABOUT THAT BASE(line)
Baseline (noun): a minimum or starting point used for comparisons. Know the starting point of goals. It should be listed for each one. A baseline is a MUST to one day be able to compare where you ended to where you began= GROWTH.
Review your previous goals/benchmarks if this isn’t your very first IEP. You can request work samples, data, and/or a video of student working on goals. Make sure these goals can generalize to settings outside of a classroom environment. If you are being told that your child can count to ten, yet can’t count at home, and can’t apply it to their everyday life (get two books)- more work needs to be done to make sure this goal is truly mastered and met.
You are supposed to have goals in all areas of disability. Work with your team to focus and fine tune these areas.
Federal Law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that every IEP include a statement of measurable annual goals, they should address the areas of need that result from a child’s disability and enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. I loooove this post by Sasha on Writing Good IEP Goals.
Be on the look out for SMART goals. Ones that as written, any teacher should be able to come in and pick up where the last teacher left off. SMART goals are:
Specific (You should be able to understand exactly what the student will be able to do- well enough to teach it to another person).
Measurable (how will it be measured and who will be measuring it )
Attainable (Realistic yet challenging. Making meaningful progress after a year, If goals are carried over year after year, either they weren’t attainable, or they need to be taught differently!)
Relevant (Is this just busy work, or is it meaningful to make progress in school and in life?)
Time-Bound (when will goals be measured? How often will progress be reported?)
Parents are MEANINGFUL contributors of the IEP, and should be treated as such. You have been with this child since the beginning of their life, and you will be with them long after this school year. Your cohesive overview, and specialized knowledge of your child is invaluable. Your input can be shared by writing a Parent concerns statement- write it out, bring it with you, and ask for it to be included in the final IEP.
Think about it- What concerns do you have? Are these things that can be addressed at school?
A diagnosis like autism will look different for each child. Do they struggle with auditory processing? Impulse control? Explain your concerns in relation to how your child’s disability affects your child. Explain what your child needs to succeed. Explain the specifics about your child.
Not all teachers are aware of the specifics of the disability they might be working with. Most teachers we have worked with did not know what Childhood apraxia of Speech (CAS) is- a motor planning disorder my oldest son has which affects his speech intelligibility. So I try to share information on what it is, how it affects Greyson, and what this means for him when participating in school and when working to access curriculum.
Some things you might want to share:
- Therapies/strategies that are working/are not working outside of school- Here I would make sure to mention that ABA strategies are imperative for my child’s learning, and have learned successfully by using (name specifics).
- What does NOT work: punishment approach (instead positive reinforcement- Lessons that rely heavily on receptive language- concepts being taught without supporting visuals)
- What will your student need to be successful?
- Anything new you will be asking for- changes in services, placement
- Be concise, measurable, evidence based, and professional.
Don’t forget- this feels hard because it is. Each year you will get better and better at understanding the school systems in place, and at learning how to advocate for your child.
If you have any questions or want to see more information on IEP’s from a parent perspective, please let me know!