IEP Meetings can often be rough on a special needs parents! If you’re looking for tips to help you prepare for your child’s next IEP meeting you’re in the right place! From IEP goals to IEP binder organization this post will help you prepare for an IEP meeting like a boss!
My son’s first IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting was a nightmare. I could barely make eye contact with the SPED director. Partly because I had never heard anyone say my son’s diagnosis out loud over and over and over again. All the things he could not do-the skills he lacked-the words he wasn’t saying. I’m ashamed to admit this because I do not consider myself to be a week person, but at that moment that’s what I was.
And that my friends, is no way to be at an IEP meeting.
You see, I wasn’t prepared-I didn’t understand half of the words/acronyms they were throwing around like confetti at Mardi Gras. Since that day I have spent many sleepless nights educating myself about everything IEP. I had to funnel my anger and rage into something. Something meaningful & worthwhile instead of a rant. I wrote a Special Needs Acronym Guide to help other moms like you & me-special needs moms. Autism moms.
Now I’m writing this, to help you with your next IEP. I don’t want any special needs mom or dad or grandmother-or caregiver-or my worst enemy to experience the emotions I did that day. So I’m telling you how to prepare for an IEP meeting. Like a boss.
Download the Special Needs Acronym Guide. It’s free & I don’t require you to sign up for my newsletter or give your first born in return.
Ok, now that you’ve gotten the lingo down, let’s go through some other things you need to do.
Let’s review who’s going to be at the IEP meeting (AKA The IEP Team)
Mom & Dad. Parents play a major role here, so make sure you attend all of your child’s IEP meetings. I know it’s not always do-able, but I believe having both parents there makes a difference.
Teachers. If your child has any general education classes, then one of those teachers should be at the IEP. Same goes for special education teachers.
School district representative. A representative who has knowledge of general and special education & who has the authority to commit resources from your school district should also play a role.
School Psychologist (or another specialist) needs to be on the IEP team so there is someone who can read/interpret results from any evaluations or tests.
Your Team. You are allowed to invite professionals/someone who knows your child’s needs, friends or advocates, as long as you have notified the school ahead of time. Do this please!
I highly recommend bringing one or ten guests. I strongly advise against you going alone! Why? Well, for starters there’s no way you’re going to remember everything you need to address. And your memory will also fail you when it comes to who said what. An extra set of eyes and ears will help.
Some parents feel intimidated by the number of school district representatives. In most IEP scenarios, you & your team are on one side of a table facing who knows how many reps from the school district. Trust me; you don’t want to go in alone. At our last IEP, I brought my husband, my son’s ABA therapist, and a friend who happens to be an attorney and a state autism board member. Boom. It made a huge difference. Now, If you decide to round up a posse for your next IEP meeting make sure you’ve discussed your goals with them ahead of time. You don’t have to show them a powerpoint presentation-just be sure you’re all on the same page.
IEP Meeting Prep
This isn’t something you can throw together the night before the meeting. You need to be
organized methodically organized!
You’ll need two three-ring binders-the large kind. Make sure you get the ones with the plastic covers on the front and back. You’re going to put a photo of your child on the front and a school calendar on the back!
I like these notebooks because they are durible and easy to open! You’ll also need dividers and binder folders. I am including links because if you are anything like me you’ll want to go ahead and buy this stuff now. Please note those are my affiliate links-meaning if you make a purchase through them I may make a commission. Of course there’s no extra cost to you.
Inside the IEP Binder
Current (& old) Copies of your child’s IEP + Notes
*If you don’t have it/can’t find it, call the school and request one before the meeting. Do not allow shame or fear to cause you to hesitate and not make that call. I have spoken to moms who didn’t know they could request another copy of their child’s IEP! It’s not a big deal; happens all of the time. Get another copy!
All of your child’s school reports-report cards, progress reports, any disciplinary records
Copies of tests and evaluations from your school district
Your child’s work
Any & all correspondence from the school (This is why I love e-mail. I have a folder for this purpose, and I can print it out easily)
List of all the professionals/school therapists/ anyone who works with your child + their contact information
Medical. Make a section in your binder dedicated to copies of medical documents. In some cases, you may need a separate binder for this! If your child takes any prescription medicine or supplements, list the names and the mg and the dosage. If your child has seen a new physician or therapist since your last IEP- be sure to give copies of reports or other relevant information to your school district representative. They will need to put this info in his/her file.
A section with your thoughts & observations regarding school & home progress/behavior, etc
A section listing your goals for your child’s IEP & what you expect from the IEP meeting
I know this is a lot of work and a ton of information. If you do not feel prepared, it’s ok to reschedule the IEP meeting!
Here’s what you’re going to put in your other three-ring binder: copy of current IEP, all of those old IEP’s, the prior written notice you received about the meeting, copies of medical records/medications, copies of evaluations/tests from the school district, important names & numbers/contact information, a list of your rights in the IEP process, due process information .
Ok. Now you’ve got two super organized IEP binders with your child’s most recent IEP in the front. Now you’ve got to read it.
Give yourself some time to read your child’s last IEP and review those goals. If you’re stumped, ask yourself these questions.
How is he doing on his/her current goals?
Has he met the goals?
Were the goals realistic?
Do you understand the goals?
Are they measurable goals or do they seem vague? IEP goals that are poorly written can be confusing-I’ve had more than a few IEP goal review induced headaches. Here’s what helps me.
It’s (yet another) acronym. But you’ll like this one, I promise!
IEP Goals should be S.M.A.R.T. Well, they have to be SMART according to IDEA. Here’s what that means.
Use Action Words
IDEA 2004 requires your IEP team to describe your child’s “present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.” Let me break that down for you.
Specific goals will target your child’s performance in academic and functional areas. A specific IEP goal will be clear on what your child will learn and how he/she will learn it. Specific goals are not vague, but rather clearly described actionable goals that are time limited.
Measurable goals contain your child’s skills that can be observed and/or counted. They typically include what’s referred to as baseline data (where your child is at this moment) and the goal you are trying to reach.
Action Words. Use action words
Time Limited goals are there for you to measure your child’s progress.
You may want to review your child’s goals again and make sure the goals are SMART.
Do not rely on the school alone. They are doing hundreds of IEP’s. Your input is needed!
What about behavior? Are there any issues? If so, there needs to be a plan in place, in writing, in the IEP. If there isn’t one, address this at the IEP meeting.
What about your child’s individualized supports and services? Does your child receive speech, occupational, and/or physical therapy? ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis)? Think about the services your child is receiving and the services you believe should be added (and why). The IEP meeting is the place to discuss any concerns you are having!
Special Education Laws
You need to be familiar with the laws related to Special Education to be your child’s best advocate.
I know you’re busy-I understand you’ve got your hands full, but this step is too important to skip!
Start with IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Here’s a great article that explains the law in a way that’s easy to understand.
Wright’s Law is another reliable source.
Not every teacher and principal understands these rules and unfortunately not all SPED directors are forthcoming. Sometimes it is best to bring an advocate or, in some cases, an attorney. You can find one here.
AT THE IEP MEETING
Do not sashay into the boardroom in your regular Mom Jeans and T-shirt with the juice stain on the front. You need to look and feel professional & confident. This sounds so sexist, but it’s true. You need to dress up. Wear makeup. Wear the shoes that make your back hurt.
The IEP Meeting should not be all about what your child cannot do! Remind the IEP team they are discussing a real child-not a statistic. You can do this by sharing a photo with them-the one on your notebook and/or another photograph to pass around.
You’re going to be hit with a ton of information. As in, your head will be spinning, and you will forget what your name is. Do your best to focus on a few-ideally one- primary goal for the IEP.
Is it behavioral?
Ask what you can do at home to assist your child in achieving this goal.
DAY TO DAY SPECIFICS
Ask who will be working with your child to provide supports to meet his goals? Will he be getting speech therapy/occupational therapy/physical therapy or ABA? Will that therapy be one on one or in a group session? It is imperative that you get down to the nuts and bolts of it while you are at the meeting. These specific supports need to be documented in the IEP.
As in, they need to write them down!
You want to know what your child’s day at school is going to look like.
When does he eat lunch?
Does he eat lunch with general education kids or just special needs kids? You need to know this!
Try to build a relationship with your child’s teachers and the Special Education Administrators.
It’s easy to see them as the enemy at first because they have something you want and they may seem resistant to give it to you. Remember they are doing their job and you are doing yours.
I know it’s hard to put your emotions aside, trust me, I know, I’m a disaster before an IEP Meeting-no matter how much I’ve prepared, but I know that I have to be level-headed.
I have to think things through and factor in every circumstance and possibility before I present my case. It’s easy to carried away-especially if you feel like your child is being slighted or the SPED department is hesitant or just says no to services you believe your child needs
Do your best to be calm, cool, and collected. Don’t burn bridges. Remember that these people will be on your IEP team for a long time.
Ok, so that was a lot of info! I hope this has helped you prepare for your child’s IEP. The more prepared you are the better off you will be!
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