Our first IEP meeting was a lopsided affair. Inside a cramped office at my child’s school, my husband and I occupied two of the seats around a little table. Staff from the school took every other seat in the room, plus an extra chair they pulled in from the classroom next door.
There were six of them: The case manager, school social worker, classroom teacher, resource room teacher, occupational therapist and speech therapist. And just two of us. We felt outnumbered and overwhelmed.
Our 7-year-old son had only just been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia and a slew of other learning differences. We were still trying to process the news and accept that a long and unpredictable road lay ahead. We were nervous—and clueless. We asked few questions during the meeting, and left in a fog when it was done.
Fast-forward a year and, thankfully, we were in a better place. Our son was seeing a tutor and was making slow but steady progress. We knew much more about his issues and about special education. And we’d come to the conclusion that we needed more support—and extra ears—at the next IEP meeting.
So we assembled our own team of advisors, including family members as well as three professionals who knew our son and us. The professionals included the tutor, a local child psychologist we’d consulted and the neuropsychologist who’d done an independent evaluation of our son. We brought all three to the IEP meeting.
This time, it was standing room only in the office at the school. From the start, it was a better experience. There was a real dialogue about our son and his needs. The professionals we brought asked fantastic questions that we would never have known to ask. They provided information that we couldn’t provide. And we were better able to communicate our thoughts and requests.
We still left in a daze. There was just too much information to absorb. But as we walked out of the building, each of our professionals shared their thoughts about the meeting. They explained the things we didn’t understand, and gave us new things to think about.
Their insight was invaluable. But their support was equally important. They weren’t just there as hired experts; they cared about our family. And it made all the difference in the world. Unlike the year before, we didn’t feel alone at the meeting—or afterward. We had people we could call when we couldn’t remember something that was said, or when we needed a sounding board.
We never brought that many people to an IEP meeting again. But in the years to come, we continued to call on our team of advisors when we needed to. Until we felt confident and comfortable with the process, we always made sure we had someone else on our side of the IEP table to compare notes with and draw strength from.
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