Advocating for your child with an IEP

The school year is kicking off in a few short weeks and for parents of children with special needs, that includes a host of checks and balances as you review the IEP plans set forth for this school year.

As parents cross their fingers and send their kiddos to school, it’s always with a bit of angst and fear, as our children are released into the care of a team of professionals put in place to help them thrive. Your child’s IEP serves as a guide to teachers and a team of specialized professionals. 

For parents new to the special needs community, an IEP is an Individualized Education Program. It is a legal document that is carefully and thoroughly written and later discussed in a meeting with all professionals involved in the overall learning plans for your child. Initially, these meetings can feel like you are in the midst of some sort of judgment day that dictates the adequacy of your parenting. However, this is never the intent of these meetings.

IEP meetings are designed to be a collaborative meeting full of synergy, to create a plan that suits your child best, and prescribes them with the best educational trajectory that allows them to thrive in school.

Angela Searcy, Ed.D., college instructor and education coach shared, “I would bring doughnuts to meetings–as a message, look I am not here to fight you—I am just advocating for my child.”

This idea is brilliant! It’s an ideal way to break the ice and create an atmosphere that is inviting. Sometimes, these meetings can feel stressful, so starting it off on a positive note is always important. 

While many of these specialists are there to share information with you, they also welcome a collaborative think tank type of meeting. This is an opportunity for parents to sit at the table as a professional with expertise on their child. It’s important for parents to advocate for their child during these meetings in an effort to see optimum results.

Here are some tips I’ve found to help:

Organization.

Keep a record of pertinent information and previous IEPs or other educational and medical information about your child. You want to be prepared just in case there are questions from the team. Being organized helps you tremendously if there are individuals who may not be familiar with your child.

Ask why, don’t settle.

Challenge the system. The team may suggest ideas. However, since you have the “inside scoop” on things that really excite your child, you need to share that information. Do not leave the meeting without questioning anything. You have those rights. You want to make sure you have a clear understanding of everything. Do not feel you have to rush out of the meeting. You should leave the meeting feeling confident and hopeful.

Set realistic goals

We all adore our children and we want the best for them. While desiring the best, it also requires us to be realistic about their current abilities. Setting unrealistic goals can hinder your child, leaving lackluster morale and progress. Carefully consider everything and share your goals with the team. Nothing is ever off the table, but we have to remember to be realistic.

Master IEP Coach, Catherine Whitcher, M.Ed, suggests being clear on your goals. You want to make sure the goals you are setting are within reach. 

Solicit help from others

“Get help. I have been to many IEP meetings as a professional and that has helped but with my own kids’ meetings, I was SO emotional, I would cry. So having an advocate help you is good. It helped me and I have been in education for 30 years,” Searcy says.

We are not in this alone. If you are uncertain about the information being presented to you and for legal reasons you would prefer an attorney present, you have that right. Additionally, you can hire an IEP specialist who understands the document through and through. These specialists are a great resource during meetings and after. For some parents, IEP specialists give them a peace of mind.

Take notes

IEP meetings are full of information. Depending on the needs of your child, you can have more than five professionals in the room sharing information. It’s important for you to write down those key points you hear should they come into question later. Besides, this is great to keep as a reference over time.

Nicole Schlechter, master IEP coach and advocate, suggests to ask for a copy of the IEP ahead of time. “IEP meetings can be emotional and overwhelming, making it hard to make decisions on the fly. The draft copy allows you time to think without the pressure of sitting at the table.”


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