Let’s be honest, preparing for your child’s IEP meeting – whether it’s the first or the 20th – can be overwhelming, especially if your child was recently diagnosed with autism. What is an IEP and where does one begin?!
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a plan or program developed to ensure that a child with an identified disability receives specialized instruction and related services who are attending school. It should paint a picture of the student’s strengths and areas of need relating to the school environment.
An IEP meeting can be stressful and often fast-moving, leaving the parent feeling anxious and unprepared. Here are some helpful tips and strategies for both new and seasoned parents.
First, know your rights as a parent.
You have the right to call an IEP meeting at any time. Some reasons to call an IEP meeting may be increased behaviors, the child does not seem to be making enough progress toward one, or several, of the goals written in IEP goals, and/or you feel your child’s services need reconsideration, so the child makes more progress and/or their current level of needs are met.
A parent can request amendments to the IEP at any time. An amendment is when a change is made to the IEP without formally meeting with the entire IEP team. For example, if a parent and an EC teacher agree that a child needs a new functional goal, and all agree, the change can be made without everyone coming together for a formal IEP meeting.
A parent can invite anyone for support during an IEP meeting. You do not have to be alone! Ahead of time, decide if you want someone to attend the IEP meeting and identify someone that is supportive of you and understands the needs of your child. This person can be an Autism Resource Specialist, advocate, family member, friend, and/or a service provider (speech/OT therapist, ABA provider, counselor).
A parent’s ideas and suggestions should be welcomed and are necessary! Some IEP settings can appear as if the teachers and school professionals are the decision-makers and experts. The reality is that each person’s role serves a purpose. The goal is to collaborate, based on everyone’s area of expertise, for the overall benefit of the child. Therefore, as the parent, you are the expert in your child’s history, strengths, challenges, and needs. You bring great value to the IEP team! Let’s discuss how a parent can be effective in an IEP meeting.
Preparation is key!
Create an agenda. Any meeting runs smoother when an agenda is created and provided for the team, and the same applies to an IEP meeting. Creating an agenda is particularly helpful for parents in the following ways:
- It allows parents to identify and prioritize their concerns.
- If the parent is bringing support, it allows the support to provide feedback and insight on the parent’s concerns.
- It provides the school with an idea of what the parent will discuss during the meeting.
Review previous minutes from IEP meetings. In some cases, an IEP meeting can run longer than anticipated or it can be rushed, leaving the parent feeling as if they were not able to address the concerns on their agenda. That is ok; remember to prioritize your concerns, starting with the most urgent. It is helpful to review the minutes from previous meetings. Here are some questions you could ask yourself as you review them:
- Were all my concerns addressed since the last IEP meeting? If so, are there any updates (think in terms of the child’s progression or regression) that are important to share with the team?
- How have behaviors improved or worsened? Are there any new or ongoing crisis behaviors such as elopement? Has the plan in place been successful?
- What is working or not working at home that is important to share with the team?
Prepare to collaborate! It is important to move in the spirit of collaboration and to believe that the school wants the best for your child! Believe, until otherwise proven not to be true. In some circumstances, parents can feel their concerns are minimized by a school professional’s response. Here are some phrases that raise concern and ways you can respond in a collaborative way:
When a school professional responds with “Let’s just wait and see…” a follow-up response to consider:
- “Could you provide feedback as to why this issue is not a priority right now?” If you do not feel comfortable with the response, you could also follow up with “When is a date and time we can revisit this concern more in-depth?” Lastly, ensure the IEP minutes capture your request.
When you are in an IEP meeting and have asked for a service or accommodation that has been denied by the LEA (Local Educational Agency), make sure that this is clearly written in the “Prior Written Notice” under refusals and why it was refused. To find out more about IEP/IDEA please see our IEP toolkit.
Whether you are brand new to autism and special education, or a seasoned parent who’s advocated for many years, there is always something new to learn! It can be daunting for parents to understand the world of special education within an ever-changing system. Our Succeeding in School page has resources that can keep you up to speed and provide guidance and support, and our Webinar Library includes a section on IEPs. The Autism Society of North Carolina’s Autism Resource Specialists can assist you in preparation for upcoming IEP meetings, and in some cases can attend with you.
Tags: autism, autism education, autism iep, autism resources, IEP, special education