When you hear the word IEP, what do you think? A bunch of fancy words that you don't understand? Another opportunity to hear about how well your child is not doing at school? Do not fear fellow special needs families. There is HOPE!
When I hear the word IEP (Individual Education Program), I think "Here is a great opportunity to develop and monitor a plan specifically for my child's success!" Now where, you may ask, does my optimism come from? Well, after twenty years of working in special education in the public school system and five years of attending IEP meetings for my own child, I have learned a few things. Let me share a few tips with you...
1. Start with the end in mind.
Remember that the ultimate purpose of your child's IEP is to prepare them for "further education, employment, and independent living”. Even as early as preschool, we need to keep this in mind as we develop goals and plan for the future.
2. Document, document, document.
As quoted by one of the leading authorities on special education law and advocacy, "if it isn't written down, it didn't happen" (Pete Wright, wrightslaw.com). Documenting your conversations and concerns is the best way to keep IEP teams accountable. In addition, this will help you to streamline your efforts in monitoring progress and may save your sanity. For example, when you pick up your child from school and chat briefly with your child's teacher about a problem behavior that arose that day, you may want to follow up with a quick email to recap the conversation. If the behavior becomes a recurring issue, you'll have documentation to review to help you help your team in developing smart solutions.
3. Don't go it alone!
If at all possible, always attend an IEP meeting with someone. The law allows you to invite individuals who have knowledge or special expertise about your child. As the parent, you get to decide who meets this criteria. You may invite one of your child's private therapists, your Regional Center case worker, or your parent as an example. Having another set of eyes and ears present at an IEP meeting relieves you of pressure and allows you the freedom to listen and absorb the information.
So, the next time you hear the term IEP, don't be afraid. Remember that an IEP is an excellent opportunity for you to make a positive impact on your child's academic progress. Document everything as much as possible and enlist your support network for assistance.
References: https://sites.ed.gov/idea, wrightslaw.com, understood.org
Crystal Sanford, M.Ed., M.A. CCC-SLP is an Educational Consultant, IEP & Autism Advocate and Speech-Language Pathologist. She is also the host of inspiring podcasts, Thriving Special Families and Thriving Autism Families! Her passion is advocating STRONG alongside fellow Autism and other fellow parents of neurodiverse children, helping them to persistently pursue what their children deserve at school. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and two children in San Diego, CA.