By Kristin Stanberry
Are you uncertain about the IEP process and IEP meetings? These tips can help you get familiar with IEPs and build your confidence.
There’s no doubt about it: Parents must learn a lot to understand the IEP process. But you don’t need to go it alone. Do you already have a good relationship with another member of the IEP team? Maybe your child’s general education teacher or the school psychologist would be willing to help you learn the ropes. You also can ask the PTA or the school to provide information sessions for parents of students with disabilities. Having a friendly guide will make the learning process easier.
Maybe you already keep in touch with your child’s teacher. But lots of new information is covered during a typical IEP meeting. A family member or friend can provide an extra set of “eyes and ears”—plus a sense of comfort. Before the meeting, decide what role she’ll play. Take notes so you can focus on the discussion? Help you think of questions to ask during the meeting? Be sure to tell the school in advance that you’re bringing a guest.
Become familiar with the IEP process, terminology, special education services and your legal rights. This website is a comprehensive resource you can rely on. Try to pace yourself, and take time to absorb and understand the information. You can start by reviewing our IEP roadmap.
Accept yourself as a full and equal member of your child’s IEP team. The other team members may be experts in education, but you’re an expert on your child. The intimate knowledge you have of your child is valuable. Share what you know about your child’s development and learning experiences, past and present. Watch and listen to your child, and document what you observe. What’s revealed to you may be the “missing link” that will help the IEP team serve your child well.
The IEP process involves many timelines and deadlines. Find out if the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or your state requires the school district to respond to your request (for an evaluation or another decision point) within a certain time frame. Mark that deadline on your calendar. The reverse is true, too. If you have to sign an IEP or file a complaint within a set time frame, jot it down. This can keep you from worrying and help you stay on top of things.
Build a network with other parents through our online community. You can also look for local parent groups. When families share strategies and successes, the IEP journey is easier to navigate. With time and experience, your confidence will grow.
Preparation is the key to being an effective, confident advocate at your child’s IEP meetings. Here are five important things to do before an IEP meeting.
Emotions can run high at IEP meetings. But it’s important to focus on the end goal: helping your child. Here are 10 stay-calm phrases you can use to redirect conversation and defuse tense situations.
Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education and consumer health/wellness.
Whitney Hollins is a special education teacher and adjunct instructor at Hunter College.
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