When your child’s school acknowledges that your child needs accommodations for his disability, it’s time for an IEP meeting. Some parents feel intimidated by this process, while others see it as an opportunity to work with the school to create an optimal learning environment for their child. Here are some ways to make the most of your child’s IEP meeting.
When attending the IEP meeting, it is particularly helpful to have two sets of ears to process what is being said. As a parent, you are entitled to bring an advocate to the meeting as long as you inform the school that you are doing so. However, an advocate can sometimes convey a message to the professionals that you do not trust their work. In order to best facilitate a positive relationship with the school, attendance by both parents is particularly meaningful.
For parents, that could be very challenging, as work schedules may conflict with meeting times. But attendance by both Mom and Dad demonstrates a strong family commitment to your child. If your spouse cannot attend, or if you are a single parent, consider inviting a close family member or friend who knows your child well.
One of the most important elements is to be highly organized as you head into the IEP meeting. By planning ahead, including making a list of all pertinent questions prior to the meeting itself, you will maximize your time with the professionals involved.
Prior to the meeting, request copies of any testing that has been done, as well as any behavioral assessments or teacher observations that may be presented at the meeting. Take the time to read those documents so that you will fully grasp the essence of what the professionals report at the meeting.
In reviewing the test documents, you may find you need further explanation. If so, request a separate session with the test examiner prior to the IEP meeting to review those results. You might also consider discussing the results with your child’s health care provider and see if they have specific recommendations for accommodations
At the meeting, as materials are shared, be aware that many educators use acronyms for a variety of educational terms. The IEP is just one example, the PET process another, WISC testing a third. Whenever such acronyms are used, be sure to ask that they are clarified. Many special education teachers deal with these terms daily and the shortened versions are simply easier for them to use.
In addition, ask clarifying questions regarding proposed therapies or accommodations. Discuss proposed services and therapies to determine if any disruptions will occur in your child’s current schedule. If the therapists who will be working with your child are not present at the meeting, be sure to set up a meeting with those professionals to ask further questions.
Remember that you, as the parents, are an integral part of the IEP team. Federal special education law requires that IEP teams include the parents of the child. As the school staff review the relevant assessment data and observations, listen carefully to what they are saying to be certain that what you are hearing is consistent with the reports that you have read and what you know about your child. Be willing to share information about your child’s behaviors and accommodations at home and outside of the school setting.
At the same time, do not be defensive if some aspect being shared is not as positive as you would like to hear. It is the responsibility of the professionals at the table to compile the data and observations to provide an appropriate plan for your child. Remember, in order for your son or daughter to be successful, issues must be discussed frankly if they are to be fully addressed.
Most importantly, remain focused on the larger picture and seek help from the professionals to formulate the specifics of the plan. Actively discuss your child’s plan and ask questions, suggest your own ideas, and get copies of all documents formed at the meeting, including the IEP document itself.
Seek to develop a positive relationship with the classroom and special education teacher, the case manager, and the special education director. Developing a collaborative relationship with the professionals involved with your child ensures a collective approach to his or her wellbeing. Those professionals will be far more apt to call you with concerns or issues if they feel that you will work together towards solutions.
Finally, always seek out active approaches that you may use with your child at home to reinforce the school’s method for addressing the relevant issues. Raising a child with special needs today is an enormous challenge, but it becomes far more manageable when everyone involved is working collectively toward a common goal.