Years of experience participating in individual education plan (IEP) meetings as a speech-language pathologist did not prepare me for my own child’s IEP. No matter your background, the experience is emotional. I wondered if the staff even liked my child and when it was over, I cried in my car.
Early IEP meetings for my son were difficult, but with experience and preparation I found I could get through them and find value in communicating with his team face-to-face.
Here are suggestions from teachers, counselors, psychologists, lawyers and advocates that helped.
1. Read IEP meeting invitation carefully
Call to reschedule if you can’t make the date. Note who is listed to attend, so you won’t be surprised at the size of the group and you are sure your child’s full team of professionals will be present. Let the school know if you will be bringing a support person.
2. Review all reports
It is vital to gather reports from all team members at least three days before the meeting. Read the summary first, then the rest of the report to see how the conclusions were drawn. Review recommendations for the classroom, support services, materials and more. Highlight anything you don’t understand so you can ask questions during the meeting.
3. Get support
Talk to your child’s case worker about what to expect and read up on services and accommodations specific to your district. Ask other parents from your child’s school for their advice. Bring a spouse or friend to be your extra eyes and ears or consider an advocacy service if you feel you need professional support and help.
4. Take an active part in the meeting
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the vocabulary used is unfamiliar, ask if it can be restated in simpler language. Bring any questions and take lots of notes. Agree or disagree with the summary and recommendations. Remember that although labels can be scary, they allow your child to receive additional services and won’t limit their potential.
5. Advocate for the child you know
Remember that the school team sees your child in a different perspective and their remarks are based on deficits and deficiencies. Write your own short report that highlights your child’s strengths, personality and behaviors, so they know what a terrific kid you have.
When you’re done with your next IEP, remember it’s OK to cry. With the right preparation and mindset, it will not be from frustration, confusion or submission, but from relief. You have advocated, supported and communicated with the people who help your child develop skills for life.
Visit kidspeech.com for more information on their speech, language, sensory motor and social connections services.