7 Trade Secrets For Getting The Most Out Of IEP Meetings

I recently went to an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting for a client and was so shocked by what I experienced.  I was so amazed and disappointed that I feel like I should call all of the parents of my past students and apologize for their IEP experiences with me.

Is the following typical of your IEP meeting experiences?  You’re sitting around a table with the “school experts” (some who have never even met your child) as they ramble on about your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  In the meeting that I went to with the mom, the therapists were not the original evaluators and the family had not seen the report until having been seated in front of five other people.  Talk about being under pressure!

I feel like I’m giving away “trade secrets” here, but oh well!

  1. Don’t go to any school meeting alone.  (Take the mailman if nobody else can go!)
  2. Ask for the evaluation report ahead of time so that you or any of your home therapists can review it.  (It really should be a team approach, anyways.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  I think the biggest problem for parents is that they don’t want to look or feel stupid.  My answer is this, if you knew everything, all therapists would be out of business!  There are times when it is appropriate to rely on the therapist, but even so, ask questions.  If any therapist is worth their salt, he/she will be able to clearly explain their rationale for their results and goals.
  4. When the teacher or therapist calls to set up a meeting, ask for the Prior Written Notice form. This form is generated so that a team cannot discuss any topic if you weren’t informed ahead of time.  For example, one of my “parents” went to a Review of Existing Date (e.g. RED) meeting.  This is where the team decides if more testing is required to determine eligibility.  The mom went in with that in mind but the psychologist ended up talking about alternative placements.  The mom was so taken aback that she ended up calling me crying.  That’s what we, as parents, should call “out of compliance,” according to IDEA.
  5. (Here’s the biggest trade secret.)  You don’t have to sign the IEP at the meeting if you have concerns or want more time to think about the proposed IEP.  You can ask for a copy of the proposed IEP if you want others to look at it.  An IEP is never set in stone.  You can always request a meeting to review the IEP if you have concerns about the goals or adaptations.
  6. BUT, as a parent of a child with ASD, I need other parents to know that we cannot expect the school district to take care of everything.  I remember sitting in an IEP meeting where the advocate wanted the Special Education teacher to brush the child’s teeth in the morning.  The school will attempt to meet your child’s academic and vocational (after high school) needs, but some things should remain the family’s responsibility.
  7. Here’s my final thought.  Work as a team member rather than as the enemy.  Use language like, “Let’s think about this as a team,” or “I don’t have the exact answer, but I think we need to consider…” or “I know what’s happening right now isn’t working, so what can we do?” I remember going to an IEP meeting with one of my “parents” to discuss appropriate placement of her child who had been self-contained since Kindergarten.  After working with him on a 1:1 basis for three years, I felt that a self-contained “mild mental retardation classroom” was not the “least restrictive environment” for this particular child.  (Let me know if you want more information on “least restrictive environment”.)  I felt that he had the potential to be included in a mainstream classroom with the right aide.  I didn’t come to that meeting saying, “ This is what we want,” I went in and said, “I’m concerned about [John’s] placement.  Do you think this is the best place for him?” or “[John] doesn’t belong in this classroom, what are other alternatives?”

I would love your feedback and questions regarding this topic.


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