The IEP process can be daunting for families, especially for those parents who are new to the concept of special education. When you combine the lengthy documents, clinical terminology, and educational/legal jargon, the individualized education plan can seem like a beast to be conquered. However, it is imperative for parents to always remember this: you are your child’s greatest advocate. With your participation and advocacy throughout the IEP process, parents can ensure that their child’s needs are prioritized.
For the initial evaluation and any future reevaluations, it is crucial that parents vocalize any and all concerns regarding areas of need. The IEP team is obligated to test and evaluate the suspected disability or disabilities; however, you know your child best. If you suspect other learning disabilities not originally identified as a concern, speak up about them. Be specific about what you have seen. What does the specific struggle look like for your child? What have you observed over the course of several months? How would you objectively define this need? It is your job to make sure that all avenues are explored when it comes to your child’s learning needs.
Do your homework
Unless waived by the parent, schools are required to send the IEP 5 days prior to the meeting so that parents can review. Please do your due diligence. Comb through the documentation thoroughly; highlight areas where you have questions or need clarification. Ask specifically what certain accommodations will look like in the classroom. If possible, seek assistance from your own private consultants, including an advocate, psychiatrist, pediatrician, etc. You want to maximize your time during the meeting by coming prepared, as opposed to reviewing documentation at the table.
Creating and sharing an easy-to-read reference sheet with teachers at the start of the school year can be very beneficial when it comes to supporting your child’s needs. Of course, teachers have access to students’ IEPs; however, they are rarely given direct/full copies of the documentation. They also are not typically given ample time to review the IEP thoroughly, unless that teacher is also the child’s case manager. To ensure that your child’s needs are met and areas of concern are known, consider making a “vision statement” to share with your child’s teachers. Include a recent photo on the sheet to familiarize the teachers with your child. It may be beneficial to include the specific learning disability; however, it is not required. The important information to include on the vision statement should be as follows:
- Your child’s motivators
- Personal interests/hobbies
- Successful learning strategies
- Most beneficial accommodations from the IEP
- “Look-fors” or areas of concern that may require extra attention or support
Talk to your child
Discussing learning needs directly with your child is a great way to build self-advocacy skills. Ask about where they sit in each class; the time they are given during class to work on assignments; the relationship that they have with the teacher; the additional adults/supports in the classroom; the resources that are provided to help them through a difficult task. All of these questions allow parents to see more closely inside their child’s learning.
Sign when you are ready
Too often, the IEP meeting flies by with questions still lingering. Since changes to the IEP are typical during meetings, it is important that parents take time to review those changes to look for inaccuracies, unclear language, or missing details. Do not feel pressured to sign the documentation until you have had the chance to thoroughly review it and get clarification where needed. Parents can request that all other parties sign the document and send the “draft version” home for further review before signing.