Now that you’ve determined your child qualifies for special education services, first and foremost pat yourself on the back! You’ve taken a huge step toward getting the services and support your child needs in the classroom, and that is no small task! You’re opening doors to his or her future success in school and that is awesome.
Next, there’s the matter of creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a document that describes your child’s goals for meeting their educational needs, and the special services they will get in order to meet these goals. It is a legal contract between you and the school that you revisit and update once a year. It addresses academic and other services, including different kinds of therapies, counseling, and transportation.
Let me guess what you’re thinking: “What? I’m not a lawyer, a teacher, or a specialist. How am I supposed to do this?!”
I completely understand how you feel. Five years ago, I was right there with you. I felt lost, overwhelmed, and unprepared. The extent of my experience with a legal document was the medical paperwork I filled out hurriedly before being rushed to an emergency c-section, of which I understood nothing.
It took the kindness of two practitioners, the understanding of fellow special needs moms, and no small amount of determination to learn the best way to build a strong IEP for our son. We’ve now created five strong IEPs for him, and over the past five years, I’ve coached countless parents on how to do the same. It all starts with preparation. So, let’s get started!
First: Know What the IEP Looks Like
Getting yourself familiar with the IEP document is the first step toward developing a strong IEP. Did you know you can view, download, and print a blank copy of the IEP for free? You can view and download the form in our Special Education Guide).
Next: Get Familiar with the Language Teachers and Specialists Will Use in the IEP
In order to write an IEP you need to know the language and vocabulary teachers, specialists, and the state will use. You can learn more about terminology and the IEP process by using our free Special Education Guide. Click here to learn more!
Then: Prepare Answers to These Questions Before the IEP Team Meeting
Many parents arrive to the IEP meeting without ever having seen an IEP or preparing answers to the questions in it. You can be ahead of the curve by considering the following questions, which will help prepare you! I’ll also include examples of responses to the questions. Every child and family is different, so be sure to tailor your response to your unique situation.
1. What are Your Goals for the IEP Meeting?
(Note: this question isn’t on the IEP, but you should think about it first.) Think about what you want for this meeting. Do you want to have a positive connection with the team? Do you want to establish strong goals for your child? Do you want to feel comfortable and confident? Channel your desires for the meeting into goals for the meeting. Though this won’t be a part of your child’s IEP, it is important for you to know what you want. Carry the spirit of these goals with you into the meeting.
An example response might be: Our goals for the meeting is to establish a working relationship with our child’s IEP Team. To express a clear vision of what we want for his short-term goals and long-term goals. And to identify both his strengths and challenges so that the services he receives will best lead to success in the classroom and, subsequently, his life.
2. What Are Your Child’s Strengths and Challenges?
Your IEP team will be looking to better understand your child’s strength’s and challenges. Be honest, and always start with the strengths. Then, shift into sharing about the challenges. This sets a positive tone for the meeting and the IEP process.
An example response might be: John is a sweet, kind-hearted kindergartener who loves to play with and talk about trains. Though he has strong interests and wants to share them with friends, he struggles with social dynamics and behaviors. He wants to make friends, but has difficulty reading social cues and doesn’t have the necessary skills to carry on conversations with peers.
3. Are There Any Evaluation Results That You Can Present at the Meeting?
Bring any evaluations conducted by Early Intervention specialists, the school’s evaluators, or private practitioners your child has seen to the meeting! Be sure to read through the material. If you have questions about the results, write your questions down and bring them with you to the meeting to ask.
4. What is Your Vision for Your Child?
Most parents don’t know this is a question in their child’s IEP. It is such an important one! Bring a prepared statement to have put in the IEP. Think about short-term goals (current school year) and long-term goals (school career) when answering this question.
An example vision statement might be: Our vision for John is that he’ll be able to apply his caring heart and his desire to learn and socialize in an environment that will support his social and academic needs. We would like him to come to understand himself, and, in time, to be able to successfully manage his needs independently so that his gifts may shine. We would like to see him make continued improvement with his social skills, in addition to his academic skills, so he can enjoy lasting friendships throughout his school years and his life.
Finally, Express Your Willingness to Work with the School to Achieve the Vision and Goals for Your Child
Often, parents go into these meetings feeling they must be on the defensive. I advise the opposite! Teachers, specialists, and administrators are people, too. When you treat them with kindness and respect, they generally do the same in return. Go into the meeting with a positive attitude. Also, express your appreciation for their time and the opportunity to work together as a team. Acts like these go a long way!
If you have any questions about the IEP process, I highly recommend our Special Education Guide! It is written by experts in the field and is 100% free! Start your own personalized Special Education Guide today: