As psychologists, we have sat in numerous IEP meetings with a team of professionals and parents to discuss a student’s academic progress. The meetings vary in duration, topics, and outcomes but one thing that is consistent is the parent’s passion to get the best supports for their child. As the passion is always present, the knowledge, communication, and other skill sets to obtain the best supports are not. Some parents are very demanding and come across as rude, throwing demands at the school staff, others appear intimidated and withdraw from the conversation, and some are perhaps frustrated and may break down and cry. I get it, IEP meetings can be very stressful! The professional language, scores, long reports, diagnostic labels, communication barriers and differing opinions can make the meeting unpleasant. Therefore, I understand why emotions are high, but remember the impressions you give reflects on your child. There is a wealth of information about IEP meetings across the internet and most come from a negative standpoint. Parent vs. The School. However, there is a better way, one that involves collaboration and avoids the power struggle. Here are three-point guidelines to help you through your child’s next IEP meeting.
- Create a plan: Navigating special education services can be difficult but you do not have to do it alone. Create a plan before attending the meeting. The plan should include a list of things you feel are important for the IEP meeting such as concerns, goals, and expectations. The plan can also include any important questions that you may have. If reports will be reviewed in the IEP meeting, request you receive it in advance so you can highlight the information you did not understand in the report and/or make notes to receive clarification on specific topics. A plan can help you become an active participant in conversations.
- Prepare for common barriers: Be prepared for barriers that may block the communication and progress of the meeting. Some common barriers include: Language, school not designating parents as experts on their child, unrealistic IEP service request, differing definitions on disability, cultural assumptions, parent denial of severity of child’s challenges, lack of empathy from both parents & team members. Approach barriers from a collaborative standpoint and focus on your child’s needs rather than what you believe they are entitled to receive. Listen to the opinions of the team while also sharing your concerns. Remember, the IEP is not a fixed document, parents can schedule meetings with the school throughout the school year to discuss amendments.
- Ask Questions: One thing for sure is that the IEP meetings are full of acronyms and jargon. Even the name, Individual Education Plan (IEP) is an acronym. School professionals sometimes are not aware of when they are using such language, which can leave parents feeling intimidated and confused. If you are not sure or do not understand something in a meeting be sure to ask. Some parents may feel “dumb” or “uneducated” for asking questions, especially when sitting at a table full of professionals, but don’t be, most IEP team members will be more than happy to break down language and ensure you understand. Below are a list of common acronyms and words used in IEP meetings….