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Ask A Parent Advisor: Preparing for IEP Meetings

Ask A Parent Advisor: Preparing for IEP Meetings

Question: 

"I always prepare to be positive and put my best foot forward before my child's IEP meetings, but as soon as I walk in I feel overwhelmed. The meetings tend to begin with what's wrong and what's not working, and I immediately feel the need to be defensive. Do you have any suggestions on ways I can prepare for my child's IEP meeting and also tips for being positive during the IEP meeting?"

Answer:

Preparing for an IEP meeting means you are preparing for a school business meeting. Think of it that way. For this business meeting, you will need to do your homework. First, gather the information and data that you need. This can include,

  • Past and current IEPs
  • Progress monitoring reports
  • School evaluations
  • Therapy reports
  • Work examples
  • Independent reports (if you have them)

Have them as organized as you can, such as in a notebook with the most current information in the front, so it's easy to find.

Be prepared.  

IEPs are intended to be the results of a team process. Teams create the IEP document together at the IEP meeting. Gather your ideas for the IEP meeting and write them down before you go so you are prepared for the meeting. Some districts prefer to prepare a draft IEP before the meeting. If your district prepares draft IEPs, ask that a copy be sent to you at least one week before the meeting. Then you can read, think about their ideas, and add your ideas for the next year before you get in the meeting.

Know your rights. 

This is a basic responsibility of all parents. When you have read and understand your rights, then you will have more confidence in your discussions with the school. Read the Parent and Child Rights In Special Education document that your school district is required to provide to you annually (or upon request). Highlight portions that you don't understand and want to talk about.

Communicate effectively.

Effective communication is the true secret to any successful meeting. Communication is an ongoing process and doesn't end after the meeting. Before your IEP meeting, write out questions that you feel MUST be answered. Leave space between your questions so you can write the answer. If a question wasn't answered, or you need more explanation, you will still have the question after the meeting that you can follow up on by phone, email, or during an in-person meeting. The IEP team meeting is not the only chance for communication with team members. It is a great time for face-to-face conversations about your child, and the conversation should continue throughout the school year.

Sometimes speaking up during IEP meetings can be intimidating for parents because of the importance of the decisions being made. To help alleviate these potential feelings of intimidation or fear, PEAK has developed "Communication Tip Cards" that can help with communication when you are in these situations. Here are a few tips from those handy cards:

  • BREATHE - I mean it! Deep breaths relax the body, and oxygen helps you think more clearly.
  • Have your child share something about himself/herself at the beginning of the meeting - an interest and a strength.
  • Share a list of supports and strategies that have worked for your child in the past, staying focused on the positive.
  • Ask questions. It will increase your knowledge and encourage others to share their thoughts.
  • Use a calm tone and body language when you speak.
  • Express thanks and gratitude for positive things that have happened. Tell people what they are doing right!
  • Ask for breaks if needed – no need to rush.
Check out the blog Effective Communication – It's Key to get even more positive communication tips!
Use resources for families.  

There are many good resources available to assist you in understanding your rights, your role as an IEP team member, and your child's right to have an individualized education that makes sense for him/her. PEAK and many other groups have developed resources that can help make parent rights very understandable. PEAK Parent Center's Resource Library has many useful links and resources. Additionally, the topical briefs and videos on the US Department of Education's website are useful and a good place for information.

Remember that you know your child better than anyone else. And, the "I" in the IEP is for the Individual. Be confident in your knowledge. Prepare information, ideas, and questions before the meeting to help keep the conversation focused on what will help achieve the goals for your child. And remember, you can have more than one meeting and there are many ways to communicate between IEP meetings.

Best of luck in creating successful, productive, individualized IEPs and being the best communicator that you can be!

~ Shirley, PEAK Parent Center, Parent Advisor, parentadvisor@peakparent.org 

References and Resources: 
  • Carroll, G.H., (2010). The IEP Toolkit: Helping Families of Children with Down Syndrome Become Knowledgeable, Prepared, and Empowered Partners in the IEP Process. The Jane and Richard Thomas Center for Down Syndrome. Learn more at http://bit.ly/fsys8H.
  • PEAK Parent Center (2008). Communication Tip Cards. Two communication tip cards to help parents - or professionals - keep on track and remain positive in meetings. One card is on communication openers and the other is on tips for creating success. Contact PEAK by email at info@peakparent.org to inquire about purchasing.
Copyright 2011 © by PEAK Parent Center, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce may be obtained from PEAK Parent Center.