Navigating IEP Meetings
When my son first entered our school system in preschool, I was inundated with a new set of acronyms and the like to know, including a term that I had never heard before: IEP. Over the last few years, our experience with our son’s IEPs and the accompanying meetings have been mostly positive, but, over time, I discovered other parents were not having the same luck. This month, because many children with special needs qualify for IEPs, I want to talk about IEPs and offer some tips to help ensure successful IEP meetings.
What Is an IEP Exactly?
For school-age children with special needs, both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that school systems provide children who need them the necessary accommodations for getting an education at any level. Students can receive those accommodations under two different types of plans: IEPs (Individual Education Plans) or 504s, which cover students who don’t qualify for an IEP but still need some sort of accommodation.
Because IEPs are individual, each child’s IEP, even if the child shares a similar issue with another child, will not look like another’s because each child is treated uniquely. The IEP will give the frequency of the therapies and the goals for each therapy along with anticipated dates for reaching stated milestones.
Some Tips for Next Time
As each school year ends, you and your child’s teachers will get together and review your child’s IEP and discuss what has been accomplished as well as what the next school year will look like. This is your chance to advocate for your child, but also to listen to what those who spend day in and day out at school with your child have to say about their progress.
Because such meetings can be intimidating and stressful for you as a parent, here are some tips for your next one:
Get as much information as possible in advance.
If your child recently went through an assessment, make sure you have those results before you discuss any IEP. My son’s teacher usually sends me a draft of the IEP prior to each meeting so my husband and I can review it.
Prioritize your desires.
Remember that you are just as much of an expert as your child’s teachers and counselors. Their expertise might be in educating a child with special needs, but your expertise is your child. The goal of any IEP to make sure that your child is receiving an education that gives him/her the tools for succeeding in the future. You can provide expertise on your child so that the IEP meets the needs of everyone involved.
Make a list of everything you want discussed.
Bring a list of questions and concerns with you and don’t leave without having them addressed.
Help set a collaborative tone for the meeting.
Make sure you are familiar and comfortable with at least one person who will be there. Your notice for the meeting will include the people who will be present so, if you’re not familiar with all of them, feel free to inquire about each person beforehand.
Don’t let anyone rush you through the meeting.
You have the right to record the meeting if you want, especially if you have concerns.
Request assessments, not services.
Those assessments are the precursor to receiving the services your child may need. If you don’t agree with the results, you can have those done by an outside professional and the school system may be required to pay for that second assessment.
Make sure goals are quantifiable and assessable.
Do not agree to anything or sign anything unless you are sure it is the right decision for your child. Don’t feel compelled to sign the IEP if you feel you need more information or if it needs modifications.
All of this might seem intimidating, but IEPs are fairly straightforward: they are meant to be another tool for you, your child, and the educators who will be helping you both through these years in the classroom. You will find that teachers and aides often care a great deal for your child and want to do everything they can to help both of you. Trust that this process, which may seem overwhelming at first, can become a symbiotic experience where you can learn more about your child while teaching others about him/her as you all craft the plan for their future.
You Might Also Like…
- Alabama’s New Dyslexia Legislation
- Finding Support When You’re a Special Needs Parent
- Early Intervention for Special Needs Kids
Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.
I had a meeting once to decide if my child needed an IEP or not – I asked them for an assessment for ADHD and was told they don’t provide it. What type of assessment do they provide then?
If they won’t provide an assessment, then ask them what your options are. If they won’t answer, then ask them for someone else in the school system to contact. All school systems should have someone in charge of special education services. Keep asking questions until you get an answer.
Jennifer – I had the principal, my son’s teacher and the head of special education in the meeting with me. They basically said I was on my own with getting any type of assessment done. They wouldn’t pay for it outside of the school, and the school wouldn’t provide one, period. It was very frustrating.
ADHD diagnosis/assessments are not usually done through a school, but through your child’s pediatrician. A school would do IQ or academic testing or testing to see if speech services or other services need to be provided.
Because my son is ASD, we had our ADHD eval done through a practice that works with kids on the spectrum. The school didn’t provide that either; we paid for that, though our insurance did cover a chunk of it. 504s will cover students with ADHD, but they only guarantee services; they don’t track outcomes. Start with your pediatrician and go from there. If you need an ADHD eval, you may need a referral from your pediatrician and then insurance may cover some of the cost of the eval, depending on the insurance, of course. Huntsville has several practices that will do ADHD evals if your pediatrician won’t do them. Basically, they will try to rule out some other issue, such as a learning challenge, before going for a definitive diagnosis of something like ADHD. You can get services with a developmental delay label until a child is seven, but, after that, you need a diagnosis. By age nine, if the school system is concerned, they’ll do IQ or academic testing to suss out any issues. I would talk to your pediatrician first before doing anything else. If your pediatrician won’t listen, I would consider consulting with a different pediatrician.
Thank you ladies!! I appreciate all of the information.