It’s that time of year when we look forward to the coming of warmer weather and signs of spring. For some, it’s that time of year for the annual IEP review, which you may not be looking forward to. Meeting with school staff, hearing updates on progress and reviewing the written plan can be a daunting process for parents. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through it and be sure your child’s needs are being met.
1. Prior to the meeting, review your child’s progress over the last 6 months to a year. Make notes about skills he’s improved in and what skills need to be addressed. Not sure about skills? Just look at performance and behaviors. Is homework easier to complete, with less crying or frustration? Is her handwriting more legible? Does he seem happier heading off to school or are mornings difficult at home because he doesn’t want to go? Write these things down and bring the list, good and bad, to the meeting.
2. If you notice positive changes and improvements, tell the staff! Parents often head into a school meeting armed and ready to fight for their child’s needs and rightly so. You are going to spend a lot of time at this meeting working on problems. Try to identify an area where your child is doing well and has shown improvements. Educational staff want to hear about your child’s strengths, too. They also want to know when their efforts are working. Notice that a teacher has spent extra time with him to advance reading skills? Tell them you appreciate that effort.
3. If there are many issues on your mind, choose one or two to focus on for this meeting. Sometimes a child’s needs are many. Where to start is overwhelming and it’s difficult to address all the needs at once. It can be more productive to focus on the most crucial need first which can then indirectly address other needs. Look at your list (see #1) and decide which area is of most concern to you. This allows the team to focus on solutions for the problem that will have the greatest impact on you, your child and your family. Issues not addressed at this meeting can be tackled at another time.
4. Take notes or bring a scribe along with you. It’s always important that you write down your understanding of what is agreed on at the meeting. Listen to the reports being presented and make notes of your questions for later. Ask for clarification of actions to be taken or follow up needed and write down the responses. If it is too much for you to take notes while listening and talking, bring along someone who will be able to do that for you. There is always a lot of information offered up at an IEP review, especially if it happens to be a three year re-evaluation. Taking notes means you don’t have to try to remember all that is said and will help you organize your thoughts later.
5. Ask questions, share your ideas. You are a part of your child’s educational team. While it often seems like a room full of people telling you all about your child, the IEP process is a team event and that team includes you, the parent. Your role is not just to receive the information from the staff but to give them information that will help them help your child. By sharing your concerns and helping them understand your child you help the teachers and support staff better meed your child’s needs. By asking questions about school performance you may find a way to do things better at home.
6. Make a connection with one or two members of your child’s team. Sometimes a child’s team may include just a few people but sometimes there are as many as 10 professionals and paraprofessionals supporting your child’s needs. While it is hard to be in regular contact with everyone, you can reach out to one or two people who may have the best connection with your child or who are in a position to help the most. This may be the classroom teacher but may also include the special education case coordinator, the speech therapist, OT or social worker (or other staff member) depending on your child’s needs. As a parent you will have a sense of who connects with your child, that staff person who really understands. Reach out to this person and stay in contact with them after the meeting. They can help you advocate for your child to the whole team.