Monday, May 4, 2015

Parent IEP Success - 6 Not So Easy Steps

Since Kindergarten, my one daughter has required an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).  The annual meetings have become routine. Students who receive additional services such as Speech Therapy etc. have a specific academic plan to support their particular area of challenge. The plan articulates the goals for the upcoming school year.  Those goals are put together by a team that includes teachers, specialists, therapists, and parents.  Today, I write this for the parents.

Several years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting a mother who had gone through the process and was a pro. Due to certain requirements of her child's IEP she had to be very "hands on".  Over the past several years our conversations have been instrumental to my success as a parent in this process. There are many of you out there that may not have an advocate or a sounding board.  You could feel very alone in this process.  So, I wanted to share some of things I have learned along the way.


Since the day you brought this child home from the hospital you did everything to get to know your child. You learned the difference between the "I'm Hungry" cry to the "I'm poopy" cry. (ok so that last one comes with a smell enhancer).  You know your child.  As you are working with the teachers and other professionals in the IEP process listen to your inner voice.  If an assessment doesn't ring true to you (or the recommendations) - say so.  If you feel as if the services or the plan in place is not accomplishing the goals speak up.  Let's face it as parents we have far fewer children to guide through this world than your child's school teacher. Regardless of how great the teacher is, things can get overlooked. Speak up.


We aren't all educational professionals with multiple publications in Child Development.  And we don't have to be.  However, at times you can feel that way because of your lack of educations or maybe even lack of experience with whatever challenge your child is facing.-You  can feel like you don't have a voice.  Most people at your IEP meeting do want your insight and your perspective.  Now, some may not. I recently had a team member degrade my preparation as "just a google search" (I wonder what Google thinks of that?) and was coolly reminded that I was surrounded by experts, so this wasn't necessary.  You know what I did?  I made it clear that the team member was being offensive and then I continued on with the discussion at hand. Be very wary of the team member that chooses to diminish your preparation. You are just as much a member of that team, as is everyone else at that meeting.  Don't allow yourself to be daunted.


Try to get a draft of the IEP prior to the meeting. You may encounter some push back.  Some schools actually have a policy of not distributing it until the meeting. However, I argue that the advance draft, allows you to review it, ensuring that your input has been characterized properly. Also, most of these meetings are run on a tight schedule - so to waste valuable meeting time reading through the report as opposed to discussing it, seems wasteful.

If you can't get the IEP ahead of time - using the most recent IEP - make a list of changes you would like to see in the new IEP.  Then use that as a checklist as you walk through the IEP in the meeting.  Also, make a list of goals that you believe were met during the duration of the most recent IEP.  Ensure that those goals are struck from the new plan.  Doing these simple things should help you be as prepared as you can be.

Worst case scenario is if the meeting has to wrap and you are left with unanswered questions or concerns.  If that happens, then you must demand a second meeting before you are willing to agree with current IEP.  Understand, that this request will not be very welcomed. However it is your right.


You may very well be a cold-hearted negotiator when it comes to making deals.  But, when it comes to IEP meetings it can be emotional.  Maybe a new observation catches you off guard.  Or maybe, hearing someone voice the same concerns you have may be very touching.  Talking about your child's challenges can be sensitive and if you aren't in agreement with the team it can make you feel very volatile.  Just remember, take a breathe (often if you must).


As a part of preparation, compile a list of questions you presently have. As the meeting progresses, if those questions are asked, check them off.  If more questions arise during the meeting jot them down.  Then just be certain to get them answered before you leave.  Also, don't let the other team members deter you from asking your questions.  If it is important enough for you to jot down, then you must ask it.  You of all the team members, need to leave that meeting confident that the best plan is in place for your child.


After the meeting, you will be sent a final copy.  Go over that copy with a fine tooth comb.  Make sure your changes have been made and ensure that everything is as it should be.   Don't be surprised if you come up with an additional concern or goal after meeting. It happens to all of us.  If there are any changes required, simply send a note of to the teachers with your notes. They will make the adjustments and send you the final.

Remember, that as a parent you are the ultimate advocate.  That can at times require you to do things that take you out of your comfort zone.  The process can be time consuming as well.  But, your child's development is well worth it.

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