Prepare for Your Child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP)
I love the poem below. It puts into to words the feelings I had the day I learned my “plans” were changed and rewritten forever. I sat in my child’s first Individual Education Plan (IEP} hearing words I didn’t understand, outlining the “possibilities” of my child’s future.
Attending my child’s initial IEP meeting was scary, unnerving, and confusing. I attended the meeting alone because it was JUST a school meeting right?! I was not prepared for this meeting; in fact, I didn’t know whether I should or could have prepared. The internet was so new that my phone was of no help (Google what?). I sat on one side of the table as five educational professionals sat across from me, files full of papers, test scores, and the underlying belief that my child…..my beautiful, bright, funny, sweet, curious, and loving child would not be successful in school, maybe even in life…WTH!
Thankfully, in over 20 years of raising kids (and teaching), things have changed. No longer do professionals blindside parents with confusing terms (hopefully 🙄). Today, parents and students with special needs or educational disabilities are encouraged to participate in the preparation and development of their educational plan. Unlike those many years ago, today you have a voice in your child’s IEP.
Understanding The Process
Let’s start with the basics: What is an Individual Educational Plan (IEP)? An IEP is an educational plan that outlines the services and support your child with a specific disability will be provided so that he or she can successfully access learning. An IEP is a legal agreement between school district, teacher, parents, student, and support providers. Easy right? The IEP outlines the support and services your child will be provided. I call this a “living” document as it can and will be changed and adjusted as your child develops. This document has a set of target goals to achieve with set time frames and must be reevaluated at least yearly. For a deeper and more formal information check out Undersood.org
A Parents’ Role
Use your voice and gain knowledge! Ask questions of teachers, and support providers working with your child. Do research regarding your child’s specific disability, gain an understanding of possible supports that may be helpful for your child. You know your child best, so share your insights with the team that will be developing your child’s IEP.
Get the Ball Rolling
After you receive the “invitation” for your child’s IEP get started planning for your part of the process. Start by compiling any questions you have prior to the IEP meeting. Talk to your child’s teacher and/or counselor to get a basic “objective” understanding of the focus of their upcoming IEP. Research support groups and communities of parents that have and are dealing with a child’s disability. Do research to understand what your local district offers as far as programs and support services in general for students with special needs.
When a meeting is called, an invitation that includes the parent’s/student’s rights should be provided. Keep notes about both school successes and challenges. Prepare a list of questions and ideas you have for your IEP team. Remember: you’re a part of your child’s team and an advocate of their voice.
The Week Before Your Child’s IEP
Request a copy of the IEP draft. You have a right to view reports and assessment data via the IEP draft, which is a basic working draft of your child’s individual education plan documents. At this time, present in writing any questions you or your child want to have addressed in the IEP meeting. It’s important to understand, team members usually have large caseloads of students that they must have IEPs for. Helping them by providing written questions and concerns beforehand will benefit your child as the team is better prepared.
Relax. Knowing you have prepared will help you to join together to support your child. Have someone attend the meeting with you; a family member, a friend, or an outside support provider can sometimes help you to sort through the information that you will be given during the meeting. Ask your support person to take notes during the meeting. This is very helpful because often with so much information, scores, samples, etc, coming at you it can become overwhelming. Feeling this is completely normal. In fact, confusion, and even sadness is normal when hearing information regarding the challenges your child may be facing. Having notes will help you to look back and better understand the information you were given.
Bring your questions to the meeting, even if you have sent them to your team beforehand. Having them handy to refer to is helpful and keeps you focused on your objectives. Remember, your child’s team wants the best support for your child. Looking objectively, ask for what your child needs and be prepared to negotiate.
Look for Success Stories
Stay optimistic and look for success stories! The one thing I know as a teacher and parent of a child with a disability is that your child and others you meet will have small and large successes along the way. Stay positive and build on the success your child experiences both large and small! Look for resources to support you and your child. Join a support group and share with parents just like you. I’ve added links to some books and CD’s that I find helpful, and I’ve included a link to my FREE printable worksheets (IEP PARENT FORMS) to help you prepare!
Below, find the poem I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Holland can be a wonderful place. Enjoy the journey!