If you’re new to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, you may wonder what your role is and how much you can offer. 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 dividends for your child.
How can you be involved in developing, monitoring and revising your child’s IEP? Take a closer look at your role.
Parents are equal members of the IEP team.
As a parent, you have the right to participate in all of your child’s IEP meetings. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law governing special education, lists parents first on the list of required members of a student’s IEP team.
You play an important role in decisions about where and how your child will be taught. This is referred to as “placement.” This term covers not only which classroom or school your child is placed in, but also which services will be included in his IEP. Services can include things like one-on-one sessions with a speech therapist or the use of assistive technology.
“You may not be an expert about special education, but you are an expert about your child.”
IDEA says that the IEP team cannot change your child’s placement without giving you a chance to challenge that change. During the process (which is called dispute resolution), your child has the right to remain in his current placement.
Parents participate throughout the IEP process.
Your input is important throughout the IEP process. This starts with your child’s first evaluation and continues right through to the transition plan in his high school IEP.
The school knows your child as a student. Some members of the team may only know him “on paper"—through test results, for instance. But you represent your child in a very personal way.
- Helping the team assess your child’s skills: The IEP is based on something called “the present level of academic achievement and functional performance” (known as PLAAFP, PLP or PLOP). In short, this means they need to how your child is doing now so they can measure his future progress. Your input about how your child functions at home is valuable to PLOP. You might share that your child has meltdowns while doing algebra homework but has no problems with other kinds of math. These observations help the IEP team figure out his weaknesses, strengths and level of academic skills.
- Coming up with educational goals: Once your child’s PLOP is established, you and the rest of the IEP team are required to write measurable annual goals for your child. Your input can help define and refine goals so they’re realistic but still ambitious. Annual goals give your child and his teachers something concrete to work toward. They also help hold the school accountable for addressing your child’s needs.
- Keeping an eye on your child’s services and supports: Your child is supposed to receive supports and services that are tailored to his needs. But it’s easy for a busy special education department to apply a “standard” set of supports and services to all students with a certain disability. As a parent, you can make sure the IEP is designed with your child in mind.
What if you’re concerned that the promised services and supports aren’t being provided? Follow up with someone on the team your child’s teachers, special education director or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to. Approaching the school in a collaborative spirit is usually the best way to start. But you can take more formal steps (such as writing a letter of complaint) if you don’t get the answers and action you believe are necessary.
Parents create continuity.
Your role as a member of the IEP team is valuable from start to finish. Your child’s teachers, special education providers and schools may change. But you remain a constant in your child’s life. You’ll watch him learn, stumble, adapt and succeed.
When your child reaches high school, he’ll be expected to participate as a member of his IEP team and help develop a transition plan. He’ll take the lead as you shift from being his primary advocate being his “coach.”
Through it all, you can support your child and help him develop the self-awareness and self-advocacy skills he’ll need in the future.