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IEP 101

It’s IEP season.  That magical time of year when we devise goals for our kids in hopes of empowering them to reach their maximum potential for the upcoming year.  We prepare for the day with mixed emotions, anticipating goals that have been met and some that haven’t.  We reach out to teachers and therapists to work together to determine the best wording and criteria in each area.  It’s sometimes exciting, sometimes daunting, usually a lot of both.

I have 2 kids in special education, and between the two of them I have almost 20 IEP meetings under my belt.  For most of the IEP’s a few simple practices optimize the process. Obviously there are extenuating circumstances in which the preparation and meeting are difficult, but for the vast majority of the time, these tips have improved my experience.

  • First and most importantly, you are a part of the professional team.  It’s beneficial to prepare for this meeting as you would for a professional meeting.   This includes dressing in appropriate clothing, even when you are tired and your yoga pants are calling your name.  Presenting as part of the professional team and carrying yourself in a businesslike manner will garner respect.
  • Set the tone.  Start out on a positive note, even if you anticipate a tense meeting (I would argue especially if you anticipate a tense meeting).  Think ahead of an item of praise or gratitude which you can use to establish a positive atmosphere.
  • Communicate clearly.   Ask questions, including asking for clarification of any professional jargon used.  Make use of the opportunity when they ask for your concerns to voice as many concerns as you can think of.  Write them down so you don’t forget anything.
  • Connect with the teacher(s) and therapist(s) in advance.  Technically they’re supposed to reach out to you, but don’t hesitate to be the one to make the connection.
  •  Keep copies of the progress reports so that you know which goals have been met, and what the progress is on those that aren’t yet accomplished.
  • Advocate calmly and clearly.  There will be times when you disagree with team members, and it’s natural to go Mama Bear when someone makes a negative statement about your child. Think ahead about how you can respond in an even tone and don’t be afraid to pause and take a few deep breaths or excuse yourself for a moment to avoid losing your cool.  You can’t undo an embarrassing moment after it’s played out.
  • Know your resources and laws in advance.  If you suspect that you won’t see eye to eye with the team regarding the best course of action for your child, research your rights in advance. Wrightslaw is an excellent resource, and local branches of The ARC often offer free professional advocates to help clarify your child’s rights and even attend meetings if necessary.
  • If you don’t agree with the IEP don’t sign it (if you live in an area that asks parents to sign IEP’s) .  Respectfully decline, go home and research your rights.  Once you have your information, write a respectful letter to the school stating your disagreement with the IEP and asking to reopen the IEP.
  • End the meeting on a good note. Even if there’s tension or disagreement, you can almost always find a positive note to end on, or at least thank the team for their time.

While addressing the potential negatives is necessary, the majority of IEP meetings are not negative events.  When approached proactively, you can often set the tone of the meeting and you’re relationship with the team, and accomplish good things on behalf of your child.  Whether this is your first or twenty-first IEP, best wishes!

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