Note: The following blog is intended for parents who have kids with an active IEP and third-party services such as ABA, speech, OT, etc. outside of school hours.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2016, 13% of kids between the ages of 3-21 years have an Individualized Educational Program, a.k.a. an IEP. This require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the student’s disability.
An IEP process starts with an evaluation of the child’s current performance at school by a team of experts. The purpose of the evaluation is for the IEP team to understand the strengths and areas where the student would benefit from additional support. The IEP team & parents then come up with an agreed upon list of goals and objectives, along with services, accommodations, and assistance, to help them thrive in a classroom setting.
In order to help us understand this better, we spoke to an Opya parent, Lisa, who shares some tips from her experience. Lisa’s child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), over 2 years ago. Like every parent, she felt anxious about the process. However, she has come a long way with the support from the school and is grateful for her son’s progress.
Lisa found that prepping before IEP meetings led to more productive conversations and showed the school that she was invested in the process.
Here are some helpful tips that you can do to be prepared and assured that you have a great long-term relationship with the school and the IEP team.
Before the meeting
- If it’s your first meeting: Know your rights and familiarize yourself with the IEP planning and process. This can be done by reading blogs and books, attending seminars, and/or watching YouTube videos.
- Review materials sent by the school: The time during the meeting is well spent when both parties are discussing the details of the goals and services, rather than ingesting it during the meeting. IEP reports are usually handed out 24 hours in advance.
- Unify your therapy and IEP goals for faster progress: Unifying the treatment and IEP goals were found to improve the child’s rate of progress. Sharing the third-party treatment goals with your school and vice versa is the most effective way of unifying the overall treatment program. Check with your third-party treatment provider if this benefit is covered by your funding source.
- Take notes during the meeting: It is important to keep notes from an IEP meeting. Most parents find it challenging to take notes, participate in a conversation, and retain all the details of the meeting. Find someone you trust who can attend the meeting for the purpose of taking notes.
- Get to know your child’s IEP team: It is not a coincidence that parents who are happy with their child’s IEP have a good relationship with the team. Getting to know them and working collaboratively is often the best way to be aware of your child’s behavior and progress. Actions such as volunteering in the classroom and meeting periodically with the school therapists for parent training are excellent vehicles to help with this. If you have an inflexible work schedule or if your child is distracted your presence, ask what you can do to help outside of classroom hours.
- Initiate communication & track progress: If your child is already receiving services as part of his/her IEP, don’t hesitate to proactively reach out to the team to get an update on the progress on a regular basis.
- The IEP Binder: Something as simple as a physical binder that summarizes your child’s treatment services, goals, interests, reports, etc. is extremely effective. It is crucial in helping the IEP team create a plan that plays into the child’s strengths and weaknesses and grows as the child does. You can learn more about this on understood.org.
During the meeting: After you have prepared yourself, the material and have your Binder. You’re ready for the meeting.
- Setting the tone: Be calm, focused, and remember that you’re working as a team. Parents have found that this approach has always led to desirable results. When a difference of opinion arises, the recommendation is to use words such as “What can we do to help this situation … “, rather than getting upset.
- Ask questions: Many people have different opinions and that’s okay, ask a lot of questions, understand their point of view, get creative, and work collaboratively. The role of the school district to support the child based on the agreed upon curriculum-based goals and objectives. If you find yourself unable to get on the same page, contact your county’s special education representative. Their role is to play the neutral party and help both teams get on the same page.
- Finalizing goals & services: Please be sure that you agree with everything on the IEP report before signing it. Once it’s signed by you and the team, it becomes a legally binding contract. This purpose of this is to protect both the parents and the school. Please note that it is not a requirement to sign the IEP report and hand it in after the meeting. Even if you agree with all the details in the report, it is highly recommended to take an extra day to review the final details and turn it in the next day.
- Copy of your rights: Always accept a copy of your rights during every IEP meeting and file it in your binder, even if you already have multiple copies. In doing so, you show that you’re invested in the process.
After the meeting
- Keep monitoring the goals & progress: It’s important to see your child make progress on goals in school, home, and any social setting. Lisa was able to accomplish this and can be done by getting regular updates from teachers, school therapists, and the Opya treatment team.Start prepping for the next IEP meeting, rinse and repeat!
The amount of work and effort that goes into the IEP is without a doubt a shadow a mountain of work. However over time it does get easier and a little bit of time investment will not only help the child, but it also makes parents more confident, in control, and less stressed in the long run. Like Lisa, we believe that anyone can advocate for their children, even working parents, since they know their child the best.
About our Opya Contributor:
Lisa is a client (parent) at Opya. Besides being a mom, she is currently working on her Masters in Nursing (Leadership & Management) and works for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital where she works as a nurse. She has been an advocate for patients going on 14 years and is now putting those skills to use in treatment and educational environments, including IEP meetings. She is also the President of the PTA at her child’s school.