How to create an effective IEP & build a strong team

Books and binders

When my son was diagnosed with autism, our doctor told us he would need an “IEP.” At the time, I had no idea what an IEP was or how to go about getting one. It wasn’t until later that I started to understand what an IEP, or an Individualized Education Plan was.

Today, I am passionate about helping families create good IEPs for their children and developing a strong, collaborative team to implement them. In this post, I want to share with you a few of my top tips about the IEP process.



Tool #1: Know the key IEP terms

You don’t need to be an expert, but it’s good to have a working knowledge of the terms schools use around IEPs. First and foremost, you should know what an IEP is. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. It’s a legally binding document that ensures your child with disabilities receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Put another way, an IEP is a legal document that you and your child’s school develop to meet your child’s needs in the classroom.

NOTE: Your child’s IEP may include accommodations and/or modifications.

Accommodations are changes the teacher makes to help your child learn the same content or material as their classmates.
Modifications are changes to the educational content itself.

In other words, accommodations change how a student is taught or expected to learn. Modifications change what a student is taught or expected to learn.


Tool #2: Come prepared

Parents often ask me what to bring to their first IEP meeting. My recommendation is to bring a binder with relevant testing, letters from providers or therapists who regularly interact with your child, and a list of questions you have for the team. Bring something to write with and a notebook, as you will likely take notes throughout the meeting.

You can also bring a photo of your child with a brief letter explaining their strengths, interests, and talents. This provides the team with a well-rounded picture of your child and makes the meeting more personal.


Tool #3: Foster teamwork

Your child’s IEP team consists of you (parent or guardian), their classroom teacher, special education teacher, principal or special education director, and any other specialists that work with your child. You may also invite others to join the team meeting, such as a service provider or family member who knows your child well. It’s a good idea to let the IEP team know if you’re bringing a family member, friend or advocate to the IEP team meeting ahead of time.

One of the biggest things I encourage parents to avoid is approaching the meeting in an aggressive manner. At the beginning of every IEP meeting, thank the teachers and staff for being there. When it’s their turn to speak, listen to their suggestions and write them down. Point out the positives they present before addressing the negatives.

By approaching the meeting with a positive attitude, you demonstrate a desire to work in tandem with the school for your child. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how far these small gestures of kindness go toward developing a strong team for your child!



Tool #4: Create a Personalized IEP Guide

Over the years, parents have told me again and again, “I wish there was a manual for parents to guide them through the IEP process.” My answer used to be, “me too.” Now, it’s, “there is!”

Exceptional Lives provides a FREE IEP Guide for individuals with disabilities and their families. The Guide walks you through the IEP process step by step. It also provides access to a full list of terms, keywords, and insights from a team of special education experts.

If you have not yet explored this incredible tool, click the button below to start your own personalized Guide, today!




Tool #5: Advocate when needed

If you are working diligently for your child and have exhausted the top four tips without any progress, an education advocate may be the best next step for your family. Education advocates are experienced professionals who help families work with their schools. When hiring an advocate, make sure they are experienced, know about your child’s school district and disability, and take the time to get to know your family.

Advocate services are not provided by the state or district, so be sure to ask for references and information about their fees.

If you need help finding an advocate in your area contact the Federation for Children with Special Needs and ask to speak with an Information Specialist. The Federation provides training for advocates in your local area and is a great resource!

As always, if we can help or answer any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to support you on your journey!