5 Ways to prepare for child's IEP meeting

Mar 11, 2010 at 11:09 a.m. ET

Navigating the world of special education can feel overwhelming. When you receive notice of your child's upcoming IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meeting, it's tempting to sign the papers, send them back, and forget about the whole thing completely until the day of the meeting. Instead, do these five things to arrive at the meeting ready to advocate effectively for your child.

Woman reading IEP paperwork

If your child is at the beginning of his special education, you may feel completely lost. But there are plenty of parents out there who have been doing this for years and have learned a lot along the way. Reach out to them, and ask questions. Find them here on our discussion boards, on other online groups, on Twitter and other social media sites and in real life. You'll find plenty of people who can help you help your child reach his potential.

Preparation for an IEP meeting doesn't have to be all-consuming. If you set aside half an hour a week for a few weeks prior to the meeting, you'll have plenty of time to do everything you need. Here's how to start:

1. Gather your paperwork.

Your child has probably had assessments, seen specialists, been evaluated, and so on. Get together your copies of everything and review them. You should also take the time to read over last year's IEP carefully and identify goals your child has met, details that are no longer relevant or accurate and things that need to remain in the IEP. If a goal hasn't been met, ask questions. If you have ideas for new goals, jot them down.

Learn more about the IEP team.

2. Review your child's report card.

The IEP is only one part of the picture. If your child is meeting all the IEP goals, but the overall trend on his report card is falling grades, what can be done to address the disparity? On the other hand, if you don't see any progress towards the IEP goals, but your child's grades are steadily rising, what's really going on?

3. Make a list and check it twice.

Don't count on yourself to remember everything at the meeting. Write down a list of everything you want to discuss ahead of time. In fact, you should also send a copy of that list to your child's teacher before the meeting so that the school can prepare any important information. You won't gain anything by springing surprises on the IEP team at the meeting.

4. Set some goals.

Write out realistic goals for your child for the school year -- and for the future. Providing long-term goals can help the school see your child as you do. Where do you think he'll end up? How can you work together to get him there? When you know what you're really working towards, it's easier to set meaningful short-term goals.

Read about educational therapies that help kids with autism.

5. Plan to be heard.

Many parents don't realize that the IEP has a space for parent input. Generally, the person taking notes will write up a parent statement based on what you've said, but you can submit your own pre-written statement -- and it can say whatever you want. Of course, your statement should be polite and professional. Consider using this space to formally note any disagreements, or to record informal arrangements you've reached. If you'd rather wait until after the meeting so that you can address any issues raised, just let the team leader know that you plan to deliver a written statement -- and then do so within 2 business days.

Learn how to handle inappropriate teacher responses.

With a little time spent on prep work, you can have a successful IEP meeting and increase your child's chances for success.

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