Strategies for Great IEP Meetings
I have attended countless IEP meetings and worn a variety of hats: mother, friend, advocate, and professional. Without a doubt, the most difficult were those IEP meetings for my (now 20 year old) daughter. The most trying IEPs usually involved differences between our dreams and the opinions of the other team members. For my daughter to be the first child, with an intellectual challenge/ developmental disability, to graduate from our home school was no small feat. Yet, with collaboration from committed teachers and administrators, she was able to be included while balancing specialized instruction when needed.
How can parents prepare for an IEP Meeting? (Part 1)
Over the years I have come to learn that there is no better gage for your child’s education than your experience in the IEP meeting. Each year, based upon who is in attendance, those meetings can shift in both conversation and attitude. I can still remember the day I walked into our first IEP meeting. My daughter was 2 years old and transitioning out of early intervention services and into early childhood. After requesting an inclusive prekindergarten placement for my daughter, my husband and I were both questioned about whether or not we were “aware that your child has a disability”.
Over the years, I have used these strategies to foster empowerment, collaboration and teamwork while also focusing on the strengths and spirit of our daughter and creating a great IEP.
Should My Child Attend the IEP Meeting?
Bring your child to the meeting. If your child cannot attend the entire meeting, consider a shorter time. My daughter has been attending her IEP meeting since the 2nd grade. Over the course of the years, her participation has changed from attending for 15 minutes (as she listened to each team member share positive feedback with her), to now, at age 20, presenting reports from her iPad, and participating in goal setting.
Allow your child time to discuss his/her dreams, even if they seem superfluous. Hope never is.
Discuss the short and long term hopes and dreams for your child. Never allow anyone to tell you to stop dreaming. No one can predict the future.
Use creativity to build goals around those dreams. For example, math goals can be built around your child’s dream of being an astronaut by using sets of items related to stars and rockets. The issue isn’t about whether or not your child will BE an astronaut, but about the HOPE of being one. Hope is very motivating. Be aware that many people will want to dwell on the former.
Acknowledge to yourself that you are not only part of the educational team; you are THE most powerful member.
The Politics of Special Education: The Information You Need Right Now
Give careful consideration to who is on the team and whom you will bring to the meeting. If therapists whom you admire are not able to attend, request a written report so that it may be shared. Consider bringing a friend or parent advocate for moral (or legal) support. Remember to fill your team with people who believe in the spirit of your child.
Enter the meeting with a plan of action. My husband and I always go for coffee the weekend before the IEP meeting. This gives us time to focus on what we hope our daughter will accomplish in the upcoming year(s). It also allows us to strategize in case we are faced with opposition. And, of course, actually finishing a cup of warm coffee renews our spirits as well.
Communicate with your child’s teacher and therapists consistently throughout the year. Discuss possible IEP goals BEFORE the meeting.
Use pictures or graphics to explain things to your child. Request team members to do the same so that your child can actually see his/her progress.
Be aware of your child’s rights. Request a copy if you don’t have one.
Don’t feel rushed to make a decision. If you need time to think about something, agree to reconvene the meeting. Never sign anything with which you do not agree.
Don’t allow the spirit of your child to be dissected. If something feels wrong to you, it is most likely wrong for your child. Trust your instincts.
Remember, you know your child the best.
Bookshelf Essentials: Life Skills Books
Kathy Lavin, MSW Kathryn received her master’s degree in Management and Policy (Jane Addams School of Social Work) and has worked in the disability field over 20 years; worked at the Institute on Disability and Human Development; served on the board of the National Association for Down syndrome; founding member of the Belle Center of Chicago; currently serves on the Chicago Community Trust’s Persons with Disabilities Fund.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Pre- IEP Worksheet
More IEP Help
- Three Tips for Highlighting and Color-Coding Your Child’s Draft IEP
- Whether it’s Your First IEP or You’re a Pro: 10 things to Cover at the Meeting
- Is the IEP Individualized or Cookie-Cutter?
- Rock Your Next IEP: Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting
- Big Picture of Parent Participation in an IEP Meeting
- Beyond the IEP Team: 6 Tips for Parent Participation at School
- IEP Meeting Overwhelm? How to Avoid It!
- Calm Your Nerves – Know What To Expect At An IEP Meeting
- The Importance of S.M.A.R.T IEP Goals
- IEP Prep: Using the Mama Bear Strategy
This post originally appeared on our September/October 2016 Magazine