It’s That Time of Year…

1 May

…it’s IEP season.

We had The Princess’s annual IEP yesterday in which we established goals for the upcoming year and also went over the recent re-evaluation she had done to remove the area of her eligibility for services from “Developmentally Delayed” (DD) to “Autism” (AU). This particular IEP went swimmingly. The majority of my IEPs go pretty well and I have theories as to why that I won’t address here. Nor will I address the one that was horribly wrong but I will try to give parents new to the IEP process some suggestions of things that have worked for me in making the process as painless as possible. Keep in mind these are only suggestions, not guarantees.

1. Be punctual. I have found that in life in general, things tend to go better when you make the extra effort and show up on time, or even, on occasion, early. In my case, it showed the IEP team that I had my act together and valued their time which went a long way. It also sometimes allows for things to get started earlier which has the potential to mean everyone gets done earlier.

2. Know what y0u are requesting going in. It sounds like it should go without saying, but it does need to be said. And write it down. It is easy to forget in the process if you are relying on memory and it can be difficult to get all these people together again for just one item.

3. Know how to ask for what you want. Going in guns blazing and demanding, unfortunately doesn’t typically set up either a good working relationship with the team nor does it come across particularly friendly. I choose to pre-empt my requests with a question. An example is I wanted The Princess in a social skills program given in general population so I asked, “Will the school still be doing social skills next year? Is that something The Princess would be able to participate in?” I got her in.

4. Subtly remind everyone why you are there. The common goal is what is best for your child. An IEP that disintegrates into a power struggle between parents and the school typically does not spell the best results for your child. So bring a picture of your child for every member of the team. Including yourself. It’s not about who dies with the most toys, it’s about your child’s success.

5. Bring along a parent advocate. I’ve been doing this for four years and I do not enter an IEP without a parent advocate. These people are (or should be) highly trained and knowledgable about laws in your state and the federal laws that protect your child’s education. Having that person there will help you request what you need to and also make you feel less alone.

6. Bring a treat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be a bag of Hershey Kisses. I have a friend who bakes cookies. Most IEPs are done outside of school hours and it tends to make people happy if they’ve been fed. Especially after a long day.

7. Be realistic. Understand that while most districts try, it is impossible to give your child every single service possible. I have heard stories of IEPs that broke down because a parent went ballistic about not being able to get Hippo therapy or music therapy when the district was already strapped for funds. Some things you may be able to get outside of school at reduced cost through non-profits or local organizations. While it never hurts to ask for these things, we have to remember when they are over and above, it may not always be possible through the schools.

8. Make sure there are no conflicts in your schedule and if there are RESCHEDULE. Nothing is more stressful than a rushed IEP.

9. Request a copy of the draft goals a few days ahead of time. Not every teacher will be able to accommodate that request, but this year, The Princess’s teacher proactively sent them to me and it gave me a lot of time to read them over, make sure I understood what they were suggesting, ask questions ahead of time and offer my suggestions. It really made the process so easier (I also forwarded a copy to my parent advocate) and quicker.

10. Don’t forget what you will go over first, your child’s strengths and your vision for your child. Take time in the days leading up to really make sure you know what you want to say here and go ahead and write it down. This is probably my favorite time of the entire meeting because it makes me happy.

I realize that these ten things won’t work for every IEP or in every situation. I realize that some IEPs will always be contentious and there will always be team members out there unwilling to be true team players, but it’s worth your time and effort to try and make it the best experience you possibly can.

Best of luck to everyone going into this season!

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