You may even get caught off guard in the meeting if you’re not properly prepared, like I was at my son’s first IEP. I went in pretty naive, thinking it would be a fairly simple process, and came out wondering, “What just happened here?” I found out quickly that there is much information the school district will not necessarily clue you in on, and if you don’t get the information on your own beforehand, you may get some unexpected surprises.
Knowing all of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights, as well as knowing how to request ‘appropriate’ educational services for your child, is a lesson every parent of a child with special
needs should learn. Even if your child’s teacher is great and supportive, there may be other school officials who don’t know your child as well. These folks may be the ones in the IEP attempting to deny certain services you believe your child needs. Therefore, educating yourself before the IEP is key.
By my son’s second and third IEPs, I knew better. I had reached out to family support agencies in my area (i.e. Support for Families Organization in SF, Family Resource Network in the East Bay). There, I found great counselors and workshops that helped prepare me for my son’s IEP. They made sure I knew all of my rights,the laws regarding IEPs and how to bring up issues that were important to me and my son. By the time his next IEP rolled around, I felt much more confident. Having all of this information at my fingertips also made the meeting flow more smoothly.
One time I even recruited about four other friends and family members that know my son well to come to an IEP meeting with me. When I have a whole table of school officials talking at me, having my own ‘team’ gives me extra support and extra pairs of ears to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Of course, I realize it’s not always a possiblity to have a whole team of friends and family come with you. So basically, just knowing my rights and coming prepared with my own notes and questions seem to work best, whether I’m alone in the IEP or not.
Books written on the IEP process can also guide you through the best way to handle the meeting. Three books that I have found very helpful are
1) Autism: Asserting Your Child’s Right to a Special Education by David A. Sherman, a retired Bay Area based special education attorney.
2) Wrightslaw: All About IEPs by Peter Wright and Pamela Wright.
3) Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide by Peter Wright and Pamela Wright.
These books outline every step of the IEP process, guide you through your rights, and
explain how to use the information in several different IEP situations. They also give advice on how to communicate with the school district in a professional, calm way so you that you hopefully don’t get too stressed out during this process.
Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but with practice, I’m getting better at it 🙂
Reaching out for help from local family support agencies, is one of the best decisions I made when prepping for the IEP. There’s so much to know, but with advice from parent counselors who’ve been through it before and a few good resource books at your side, you can grow more confident in your abilities to advocate for your child in the IEP. And to possibly help other families through the process as well.