Over the years, I’ve accompanied many parents to their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. Here are some strategies I’ve seen be effective in securing a set of services and supports that ensure a child can be successful at school.
1. Know what the law requires. Section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out the process and elements of what needs to be explored to develop and revise an IEP. States and local school districts add their own policies on top of what is required under the federal law.
2. Think about the specific supports your child may need. You know your child best. Think about the strategies you use to help your child at home that might translate into a school setting.
3. Explore if you want to bring someone to the meeting with you. This person can be anyone you want, including a friend or someone with special knowledge about your child.
1. Start with a statement about your child’s strength. Every child has a strength. He might be happy, or social, or be caring, or like to sing. Make everyone in the room, not just you as the parent, make a statement about the child’s strength. This statement sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. The IEP team is building on strength.
2. Focus on educational achievement. Focus on the outcome you want for your child and then leverage the expertise of the IEP team members to develop jointly a plan of service that is unique and appropriate to your child.
3. Placement is not the first decision. Where your child is educated is determined after you decide what services and supports she needs.
4. Don’t get hung up on the unit of service. Truthfully, it really may not matter if your child gets occupational therapy three times a week for 45 minutes or 2 times a week for 60 minutes. What matters is that the IEP spells out the goal and establishes the services needed to achieve the goal. For example: He understands and can write all the letters of the alphabet. Plus, there can be more than one way to achieve a goal, like understanding the ABCs.
5. Trust your gut. If a piece of the IEP doesn’t feel right, and you can’t reach agreement with the school, make the IEP document this lack of agreement. The IEP is not an all or nothing document. You can agree with the majority of the elements, but not every element.
6. Think about your child’s future. Aim high. Don’t wait until high school to start planning for what your child can do as an adult. Every skill your child achieves in elementary school will help him be independent as an adult.
7. Establish a clear communication plan with the school and your child's teachers. Stick to this plan. You and the school are partners in your child's development and learning.
1. Enjoy and celebrate your child. Many parents, myself included, focus so much on what it takes to care and nurture a child that we can forget to find time to simply enjoy her. Every stage of a child's life has its own set of challenges and rewards. Make sure you and your child know you both are in this life together, for the long run.
Know your rights. Review Section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.