We had our very first IEP meeting last week and despite being worked into an absolute panic in the days leading up to the whole thing, I think it went pretty well.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, an IEP, or Individualized Education Program, contains goals and a description of services that will be included in the education of children with disabilities to help them reach educational and developmental milestones according to their individual needs (see Wikipedia for more).
I gotta be honest. I didn’t know what to expect from the meeting. Friends who had been through the process warned me of having to fight tooth and nail to get their children the services they needed. Others advised me not to sign anything until I had my daughter’s pediatrician look at the IEP and translate all the goals for me. I was terrified that my husband and I would be in a goal-setting death match with people who were determined to trick us out of getting the services our daughter needs.
Of course, I tend to worry a lot.
When I worry, I prepare — usually for the worst. I wanted to have everything I needed for an all-out war at my fingertips when that meeting started. Now, the “all-out war” never DID break out at my daughter’s IEP meeting and it turns out that the school professionals really did want to help me and my family get Little Miss all the services she needed. But my husband and I were better prepared to answer questions from the school staff and really work together as a collaborative team when it came to Little Miss’s best interests because we were prepared.
So what can you do to get ready for this all-important meeting? Here’s a list of the things that worked best for us:
1. Re-read the school’s recent evaluations. I can’t emphasize this enough. Prior to the IEP meeting, we met with the preschool program director and the school psychologist to discuss my daughter’s needs. When I brought up SPD with the psychologist, she quickly brushed off the idea and suggested that my daughter’s issues were more adoption related. I was not pleased with the reception.
But as we read through the play-based evaluation my daughter had participated in a few weeks before, it became obvious that the occupational therapist for the school had picked up on Little Miss’s SPD-related issues and that she was making a case for accommodations in the classroom. If I hadn’t bothered to re-read the evaluation before going into the IEP meeting, I would have forgotten entirely that my husband and I had a valuable ally already on our side.
2. Invite all of the professionals who are currently working with your child to the meeting. Yes, we had a REALLY full house at the meeting. But the input we were able to get from the other people who had already spent close to two years working with our daughter was invaluable. For example, our early intervention specialist was able to provide great information about Little Miss’s ability to play together with other children and her typical behaviors when asked to share.
Folks you should consider inviting:
- Early intervention
- Social workers
- Current therapists
- Caregivers or current teacher (if your child spends most of his/her time in day care or already attends another school)
3. Obtain copies of all your child’s latest goals and notes from therapists and other professionals who won’t be in attendance. This is especially important if you intend to continue working with your existing therapists while working with the school professionals. The goal is to get everyone on the same page and try to keep them there. For example, based on updated accomplishments from my daughter’s current physical therapist (PT), we were able to set more challenging (and helpful) goals with the school’s PT.
There is one thing to keep in mind with this item — if you intend to give copies to the school to keep in you’re child’s file, go through the notes with a dark pen and cover up medical ID numbers, etc. before photocopying the documents.
4. Complete a copy of the SPD checklist (available from SPDParentZone.com). We actually began the meeting by distributing a copy of the SPD checklist with notes on Little Miss’s behaviors to everyone. This allowed everyone to get an overview of Little Miss’s specific behaviors and understand where some of her sensory problem areas were from the point of view of the two people who know her best — mom and dad.
Remember that the school professionals may have had limited contact with your child up until that first IEP meeting so any tool that can give them a leg up on what to expect will be appreciated!
5. Splurge on a copy of Hartley Steiner’s This is Gabriel Making Sense of School and read it cover to cover. This short book is a great tool for educators who are struggling with what SPD is and what kinds of accommodations can be made in the classroom. We actually brought our copy of the book with us to the IEP meeting and passed it around to the people present. I also plan on getting a copy for the school’s library in the near future!
6. Have someone watch your child while you’re at the meeting (if applicable). This final piece was critical for us. Because my daughter is only going on three years old, she can get very bored very quickly in meetings like the IEP. I actually took her to the initial meeting with the program director and school psychologist only to find that i could barely remember half the things we discussed even as we were walking out the door. In order for the IEP meeting to be productive (for us), we knew we had to leave Little Miss with her nana and pap-pap.
She may be included in future meetings, but only once she gets a little better self-control.
So… that’s my two cents. Granted, this advice comes after only one IEP meeting, so I hope all you veterans will chime in now with your best tips. I’m looking forward to getting a few new ideas for our next meeting!
**Editor’s note: You can also download the Sensory Accomodations Page. Over 100 of the most common and useful sensory accommodations for your child in the classroom. It is a FREE and helpful tool for parents to communicate their child’s sensory issues to the entire school staff.