IEP meeting group
The Individual Educational Plan, or IEP, is the cornerstone for every special needs child’s education. It is a legally binding document designed to meet the child’s unique educational needs and will include your child’s classification; placement; services; therapies such as speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy; academic and behavioral goals; a behavior plan if needed; percentage of time in regular education; special accommodations; and so forth. The IEP is planned at an IEP meeting and at that meeting the parents are a key element.
As a parent, IEP meetings can appear to be intimidating. Advance preparation before the meeting will give you the confidence to become an active member of the team and will greatly improve your chances of having a positive outcome.
Ask for a draft of the IEP so that you can review it. If your child is already in school also ask for your child’s CUME (cumulative file) folder. This should include copies of all evaluations, records, correspondence and any other documents that the school has that is related to your child. This will give you an understanding of the purpose and format of the meeting and who will be there ahead of time so you know what to expect.
Share the burden
Ask a friend to attend the IEP meeting with you. This person can help take notes and advocate for your child. When you are emotionally involved it is sometimes hard to stay objective and to pay attention to everything. Make sure you contact the school prior to the IEP meeting and let them know who will be attending with you.
Get to know your child and his disability
How can you ask for what your child needs if you are not sure of what those needs are? An IEP will be based on the child’s present levels, as evaluated by the school. But don’t rely solely on the professionals at school to tell you what they believe is good for your child--you must find out for yourself. This means observing your child, researching about where he should be developmentally, socially and physically for his age and learning all you can about his disability.
It is extremely important for parents to obtain an independent medical or developmental assessment for their child. An evaluation done by a third party will be objective and give you recommendations based solely on the child’s needs without taking into account the school district’s policies or budget restrictions. In fact, third-party reports also may give a willing school administrator a way to justify a difficult decision to grant services. Although these tests may be expensive they are worth the investment, and you may even get the district to reimburse you if you can prove that the school’s evaluations were inaccurate.
Remember that the awarding of related services by school districts is driven by goals related to educational, not medical, benefits. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) only requires school districts to provide for special services like speech, occupational or physical therapy if doing so gives an educational benefit, not just a medical one. In other words, the disability has to affect learning.
Write down your child’s strengths and abilities as well as all the examples that describe the special needs or challenging behaviors that may not be obvious but need to be taken into consideration. I have gone as far as videotaping my children in challenging situations so I can show school personnel things they might miss.
Define your child’s areas of need based on the information you have gathered, specify how these relate to your child’s disability and how they affect your child’s progress in the general education curriculum. Based on these needs, prepare a list of educationally relevant goals and objectives. Good goals must be SMART (specific, measurable, use action words, be realistic and relevant, and be time limited). The goals and objectives also should be related to the purpose of IDEA 2004; to prepare your child for further education, employment and independent living.
Know the law
The school has to provide the most appropriate education for your child, with no restrictions of budget, staff or school policies. Know your rights as a parent and IEP team member. Review your rights as the parent of an exceptional child.
Connect with other parents
Since I started on this road I have read many books, attended numerous conferences, consulted numerous specialists, and researched incessantly on the internet. But the most valuable information has come from other mothers. Other mothers that have been through the same things can offer advice on everything from what has worked best for their children to the best schools and programs in your area. You can usually find support groups in your area specifically for a disability or even join a group online.
Have a fallback plan
Some of the things you want to accomplish at the IEP will be more important than others, so concentrate on those and have a fallback plan that takes in account the possibility of a calculated failure. Be prepared to compromise on those things that are not so important and will not cause real harm to your child.
Share the information
If you wish to share the results of a private evaluation with the IEP team, send copies of the reports to the team in advance so they have time to review it before the meeting. If you have a good relationship with the school staff it is also a good idea to send them a written document outlining your concerns, suggestions, your child’s strengths, and your list of goals and objectives ahead of time. During the actual meeting, then, everyone can focus on what is most important: getting what your child needs.