5 reasons parents play a key role in the IEP process

By Kristin Stanberry

At a glance

  • Parents are, by law, equal members of their child’s IEP team.

  • You may not be an expert about special education, but you are an expert about your child.

  • Your input helps the team assess your child’s skills and develop IEP goals.

If you’re new to , you may wonder what your role is as a parent or caregiver. You may worry that you’re powerless in the process.

But parents are crucial members of the team that develops a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Here are five reasons you have the power to shape your child’s IEP.

1. You’re an equal member of the IEP team.

As a parent or caregiver, you have the right to participate in all of your child’s IEP meetings. And you’re not an afterthought. The puts parents first on the list of required members of a student’s IEP team.

As a member of the IEP team, you play an important role in deciding where and how your child will be taught. This includes which classroom and which services your child needs. And the school can’t change your child’s IEP without giving you a chance to challenge those changes.

2. You share unique insights about your child.

The school knows your child as a student. And some members of the IEP team may only know your child “on paper” — through test results and other documents. But your input about how your child functions at home can provide a fuller picture.

For example, maybe your child has meltdowns while doing reading homework but has no problems with math. These kinds of observations help the team figure out strengths, challenges, and skills. And getting an accurate picture of your child’s current skill levels helps the team develop the IEP and measure progress.

3. You have input on your child’s IEP goals.

The IEP team has to write measurable annual goals for your child. Your input helps the team develop and refine these goals so they’re realistic but still ambitious.

Setting IEP goals gives your child and the teachers something concrete to work toward. It also helps hold the school accountable for addressing your child’s needs.

4. You keep an eye on your child’s services and supports.

The IEP team is supposed to tailor supports and services to meet your child’s specific needs. But busy special education departments may try to use a “standard” set of supports and services for all students with a certain disability. As a parent or caregiver, you can make sure the IEP is designed with your child in mind.

What if the promised services and supports aren’t being provided? Follow up with your child’s teachers, special education director, or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to. Try to partner with the school. But you can take more formal steps if you don’t get the answers and actions you believe are needed.

5. You’re a consistent presence.

Your child’s teachers, special education providers, and schools may change from year to year. But you are a constant in your child’s life. You can provide the long view.

Remember this: You may not be an expert about special education, but you are an expert about your child.

It’s not always easy to speak up about what your child needs. Understanding the special education services available to your child can boost your confidence. This may take time. But gathering information and asking questions along the way can yield big benefits for your child.

Key takeaways

  • You have the right to participate in all of your child’s IEP meetings.

  • IEP teams change from year to year, but you are a constant in your child’s life.

  • Your knowledge of your child can help shape the IEP.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Patricia H. Latham, JD is an attorney and mediator and the co-author of eight books on disability and the law.