Cheering your child on to success – how to prepare for an IEP

Cynthia Falardeau

I am a fan of public education; I wave my pennant because I am proud to be a product of it. I also shake a big pom-pom to show that I believe in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is the game plan to help students with special needs score the ultimate “touchdown” to become an educated and an independent individual.

What is an IEP?

An Individualized Education Program, commonly referred to as an IEP, is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires public schools to develop an IEP for every student with a disability, who is found to meet federal and state requirements for special education. The IEP must be designed to provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The IEP refers to the educational program to be provided to the child with a disability, and to the written document that describes the program.

What is Great About an IEP?

What I love about this approach is that a team of professionals interact with you and your child, and help develop a customized plan. The team evaluates many factors including access to the general curriculum, how the student’s disability affects the student’s learning, it helps develop goals and objectives that make the biggest difference for the student, and ultimately, it helps to decide a placement that is the least restrictive for the student.

The Role of the Parent- It All Starts With You!

The reality is that it really doesn’t matter how great the school district is, or how wonderful the teachers are, if a parent or guardian is not actively involved. One of the most vital members of the IEP team is a member of the child’s home unit.

Be Pushy With a Purpose -Fight For Your Kid!

Our son, Wyatt, just turned seven. He started in the public School system’s Pre-K ESE program at the age of three. I will tell you that I have not always been a fan. I have made many mistakes in my effort to fight for Wyatt. But during the course of four years (and more than a dozen IEP’s), I have learned a lot. I have cried, anguished, and alienated people who tried to help. I still have not mastered it all.Here are a few tips that I hope will help other parents be “pushy with a purpose” for their kids:

1. Imagine What You What For Your Child

You have to think about what it is that you want for your child. What goals do you think need to be set? How will these goals be supported by what you do at home? What support(s) do you think need to be put in place to get there? It’s OK to dream big! We longed to hear our child speak. It took almost four years to make it happen, but we did it!

2. Remember that There is No One 'Cookie cutter' Plan for Every Student

Just because a friend was able to secure a one-to-one aide does not mean that you will also be afforded that opportunity.There is no access by association. It is also important to remember that you probably do not have all of the information regarding how other children’s needs are being addressed by the school. An IEP is intended to be an individualized process.

3. It Pay to Have a Meeting(s) Before the Meeting

Reality can often be a hard pill to swallow. There is nothing wrong with believing in and pushing for your child’s achievement. But you may need to have meetings with your child’s teacher, aide(s), and support personnel to gauge what you want for your child’s plan, and where they are actually performing.

4. It Pays to Get a second Opinion

Even though I am a fan of the IEP structure, I have not always loved the opinion of the team. We have sought the outside opinions of private testing centers. Often, the centers may use the same tests. However, I found that the way the information was explained at the testing center Gave me a greater understanding. It also brought new ideas back to the team. A good team will be open to outside support.

5. Calling All Troops!

You have a right to bring who you want to the IEP meeting. Don’t be afraid to invite therapists, family, and friends. The more input, the better! Of course you need to let the school know so that they have room for everyone. Participation from everyone makes the IEP more successful.

6. Put Your Cards on the Table

Perhaps it is because I wear my heart on my sleeve that I embrace this tactic, however, I believe you need to tell the team what you want before the meeting. It could be a phone call, a handwritten list, or even a typed outline. I have discovered that it is helpful to give the group this information a week or so in advance. This way they, too, can prepare. I have also found it to be instrumental in making the meeting more productive. It makes it clear what your expectations are prior to the meeting. My husband, Jim, believes that it also reduces the replies, “We will get back to you”.

7. Speak Softly and Carry a Big Binder

I learned this one from another parent. Remember to keep your energy in check. If you can’t, then bring someone else with you who can help remind you. You also need to bring Your child’s records. If you have all of the reports and documents pertaining to your child’s education in a binder it shows you are organized. It also helps when a statement is made that you don’t agree with. You are then able to calmly say, “I was not aware of this. Please show me where this information was documented?” Remember that statements about performance must be supported by data.

8. It's OK to be Pushy with a Purpose

Jim always reminds me that it is OK to challenge the team; however, you must keep it realistic and rational. He will always say, “Use your head not your heart!” For me this is a challenge, as I do everything passionately or not at all.

Fortunately, the great majority of teachers and professionals we work with “get it”. By this I mean they are happy to have an involved parent. Despite how I may come across, they know I want the very best for our child and appreciate my efforts.

9. It's all About Your Child!

The most important piece of your child’s education is you. You need to be their voice, their advocate, and their cheerleader. You must be the one to lead the effort. After all, they can’t do it without you!

To learn more about your role, contact your child’s teacher or their school’s support personnel.

Courtesy of Parenting Special Needs Magazine

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