If you are a parent of a child in school and that child has a special need, you have experienced the IEP – Individual Education Plan - meeting. Endless information about IEP documents and meetings can be found at conferences and in magazines, books and websites. Unfortunately, there are many horror stories about IEPs. Anxiety, fear and dread would probably be on most people’s list of how they feel about the meeting.
I do not love the IEP meeting, but I do not dread them anymore either. I believe that this meeting can be successful – meaning your child’s educational goals are met with little stress and anxiety. These suggestions are based on what I’ve learned from researching and participating in IEP meetings for the past three years.
Bring Food. Donuts, muffins, cookies and juice and/or coffee make friends. Food puts everyone in a good mood, and it makes the atmosphere less tense. And in some cases, it may serve a very practical purpose - teachers and other school staff do not get much time to eat during the day, especially during IEP time. Everyone will appreciate your effort.
Bring a Photo. Set a framed photo of your cutie pie on the table for all to see. Before the meeting starts or when you have the opportunity to introduce yourself, simply say, “We are all on the same team, and here for the same reason, to make sure this child gets the best education he can get. This photo will help us to remember this.”
Bring your Posse. At an IEP meeting, the school is required to have several people there to represent many different aspects of the educational system. You could walk into a room with 5 or 6 school members and feel intimidated. Bring a friend, a husband, past teacher and/or private therapist. The people you bring may never have to speak up, but you know they are there for you and will provide support if needed.
Do your Homework. Look at the Wright’s Law website, read about what to expect in the meeting, review current laws and the draft IEP, attend any local workshops about IEP’s and write down questions to ask. Know what is most important to you in regard to the IEP. What goals will you not budge on? What services are you not willing to give up? What changes do you want made? What do you want to stay the same?
Take the Pressure Off. I made the mistake early in my IEP experience of bringing my one-year old with me to a meeting. I was stressed trying to take care of him while trying to understand what the school was saying about Ben. And I had to rush things along because one-year olds don’t do 2 hour meetings. So, arrive to the meeting early, get a babysitter for any little ones and clear your calendar for many hours.
Adjust your Attitude. At a Wright’s Law Conference I attended a few years ago, they stressed the importance of the way in which you present yourself at the meeting. Entering the meeting feeling angry, frustrated or defensive will only set the tone for a stressful meeting, sometimes placing the school staff as the “enemy.” Another common mistake parents can make is to come into an IEP meeting with the “know-it-all” attitude. An open mind and a positive disposition can help people hear what you have to say; especially if you have done your homework and can discuss points intelligently.