Saturday, May 12, 2012

Five Tips to Help You Prepare for an IEP

It is no secret that one of the biggest “woes” for parent’s of kids with special needs comes yearly in the form of an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Often times, parents walk into an IEP meeting as if walking into a battle in which they are outnumbered. Parents vs. School (teachers, therapists, support staff, etc.) and the child’s future is in the hands of the winning party.

The end of the school year often marks a time where IEP’s are being drafted for the 2012-13 school year.

I want to share with you 5 simple tips that can help you as you prepare for your child’s IEP meeting.

    1. Make a list of goals you have for your child.

Ask yourself: “What do I hope my child will accomplish in the coming school year?”
Break it down into the different areas where your child will be receiving extra support, therapy, or special education modifications.

Remember: IEP goals are for school settings only. What does your child need in order to excel in an academic setting? I would love for Nichole to learn how to ride a tricycle, however, riding a tricycle is not necessary for academic achievement. Building leg strength and coordination, on the other hand, is important as children participate in Physical Education. Riding a tricycle might just be a great way to get her to achieve those goals.

Here are some examples I came up with before the IEP:

Speech: Nichole will be able to spontaneously use 3 word sentences.
Speech: Nichole will respond to “wh” questions: what, where, which, who

Fine motor: Nichole will independently cut a 6 inch wide piece of paper using adaptive scissors.
Fine motor: Nichole will trace her name with capital letters.

Gross motor: Nichole will climb safely on the playground equipment.
Gross motor: Nichole will demonstrate proper gait when running.

Social/emotional: Nichole will engage in dramatic play with a peer.
Social/ emotional: Nichole will take turns.

Academic: Nichole will rote count to 10 consistently.
Academic: Nichole will identify “on” “under” “besides” consistently.

The more specific you can be with your goals, the better!

    2.  Ask for a copy of your child’s IEP draft before the IEP meeting.

One of the reasons you might want the copy before hand is to deal with the emotional aspect of an IEP on your own, at home. I know how overwhelming it can be to read tests results and have your child’s delays “packaged” together in a document. As we do life with our kids day to day, we do not deal with all of their delays at once. It really doesn’t matter that your child is not able to identify letters when they have finally mastered using a fork at the dinner table and you are over the moon with this new accomplishment. But with an IEP, every single area where your child struggles is documented and this can be difficult. It is okay to cry. Deal with those emotions so that when you are meeting with the team, you can put those aside and remember that your child does have great potential. The goal of the IEP meeting is to make sure there is a plan set in motion so that your child’s potential is achieved, so keep that in mind.

The IEP will have a list of goals from the teachers, therapists, and other support staff that might work with your kid.  Remember the list of goals you came up with for your child? This is where you get to compare the goals. Were some of them the same? Are some of them confusing to you? Is there anything  you think is important and should be added? Make sure to bring a list of the goals you want to see added, as well as questions you have concerning the “why” or “how” of certain goals listed in the IEP.

Remember, parents are team members in the IEP meeting. Do your part and be prepared!

    3. Bring food.

Yes, I did just say to bring food. Why? Because food breaks an unspoken barrier, it says, “I want to be friendly, I don’t want to fight and I am thankful you are here.” Bring paper plates or napkins too.

The last few weeks I have seen one of the special education teachers stay for IEP meetings after school almost every day. She has kids at home and it means she is not making it back to her family until late. Yes, it is part of her job, but she is also a wife and a mom. Bringing some brownies, donuts, cheese and crackers, or other snacks says, “I appreciate the time you have taken to be here for my child.” It speaks volumes when you do something to show appreciation for someone’s time. 

Gifts is one of my love languages, if I could fit it in my budget, I would have taken orders from all of them to Starbucks, no kidding! Instead, I brought granola bars and cheese and crackers. Granola bars had chocolate chips in them, we were mostly women, chocolate is known to sometimes brighten a woman’s day. Enough said.
    4. Know the law.

You want to be friendly, but you are your child’s advocate.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31:8-9

A woman I trust and admire gave me this verse as I asked her questions about the IEP process. She is the mother of an adult child now, and was reminding me that yes, you want to be nice, but you also have a responsibility to be an advocate for your child! 

Bring food, be friendly, but when it is time to speak up, you speak up. In order to do that, it is important that you are familiar with the special education laws!

Here are some great resources for you.

Wright’s Law: This is a website dedicated to special education law and the law surrounding IEP’s. 

Wright’s Law: From Emotions to Advocacy:the Special Education Survival Guide: This is one of the most valuable books you will read if your child has an IEP. It details and explains the law, your rights, your child’s rights, and what the school can or cannot do. Seriously, get this book! I in no way benefit from you buying this book, but it has been a valuable resource as I learn to navigate the world of special education.

    5. Take lots of notes and ask questions.

During the IEP meeting make sure you are taking notes. Things will be said and comments will be made that you might want to come back to. Jut down where you asked for a goal to be included. Write the comment from the physical therapist that was encouraging. Make sure you take notes of the teacher’s concern about your child’s safety in the playground. With your notes in hand you can go home and do some brainstorming as you process the conversations that took place.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you are confused why your child is not getting more time in speech therapy, ask. If you still don’t understand, ask again. Be polite though, don’t point fingers, and make the questions about yourself. For example, you can say, “I am still puzzled, if we all agree speech is the greatest area of concern, why is my child only getting 40 minutes a week of speech therapy?”

So that’s it. Five simple tips that will hopefully help you feel better prepared for an IEP meeting.

Remember, you are an important and invaluable member of your child’s IEP team. Your know your child best and you are your child’s advocate. Be prepared, be professional, and be ready

And pray! Ask God to help you through the emotions of the IEP, to help you be a good advocate, and to help you build strong relationships with the rest of the team.

What has your IEP experience been like?


  1. Thank you so much for this great post! We just had our son's IFSP meeting and I wish I would have read this first. But I will be better prepared next time. I definitely will get that book. THANK YOU!

  2. Excellent, Ellen! All points are good ones, but I think #2 is especially helpful because it's something many people might not anticipate. The emotional impact of having everything laid out in front of you in that already-stressful moment can make or break you.

  3. Thanks for these tips Ellen. Now that Isaac will be getting regular therapy, we will be getting into doing regular IEPs.

  4. These are perfect and I'll add that the food is more important than people might think. Since my social networking community is a lot of moms who do IEP's I just assumed everyone brought snacks and so I almost didn't bring them. I thought they would think I was "just another mom trying to butter us up". In the end I brought snacks and they were SOOO appreciative! I don't think anyone else at our school does that for them. I was thrilled...and yes, even the fact that I thought to bring napkins was noted by them. It sounds so unimportant compared to the other 4 ways to prepare but it sure says a lot to your team!

  5. My experience with IEPs comes from the other side of the table as a former special education teacher. I'm so glad you shared this - it is all great advice and so important. It is imperative that everyone remember they are working together as a team. Sometimes that can get lost in all the forms and explanations. It truly does take a village to help a child. I loved my years as a special ed. teacher - so rewarding! "My kids" will always hold a piece of my heart!

  6. Anonymous6:35 AM

    These are great. I would add to bring a picture of your child, especially to a transition meeting. I've given everyone photos and my huge school info binder has a photo cover. Helps to remember why we're here. In addition to the goals, I come with a list of accomplishments. The IEP has to have a present starting point so I'll say, I love that Aidan is walking up stairs so now we can start on walking down. Last thing i would add is that since my husband rarely can attend meetings, I record them. It's legal and helpful and has never been an issue. In fact, it's been great to clarify things later at home when I'm less emotional.
    Thanks for sharing this list.

  7. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Ellen, I've never been to an IEP, but appreciate learning what's involved and what it's like for you. I think the preparation you go through is great, and is something that all mom's can apply when thinking proactively about their child's school year. Thank you for sharing with us at NOBH!


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