When Mason was 3 and we went to his first IEP meeting, I had NO idea what to expect as a parent. Luckily, I had a BOSS cousin come with me and help me rewrite everything in a way that was more appropriate for Mason. And you know what? I was STILL overwhelmed.
At home Mason was… exhausting. I was blaming myself a ton, I was SO tired from the constant demands he had and I would have been willing to do anything anyone told me to make things better for him and I. Heck, I tried all the things y’all. Red Dye? I eliminated it. Gluten Free? Tried that. More exercise? We signed up for soccer. Essential Oils? Bought them all. Parenting classes? Yep, I did that too. The thing was that I couldn’t parent the behavior out of Mason. He lacked certain skills he needed in order to comply with expectations or sit still when asked. He just didn’t have the abilities. So when I sat in a room with a whole stinkin team of people who wanted to help him… GIRL. I was SO relieved. Everything they offered me, all the things they said they would help him with, they sounded great. I walked into that meeting, nervous and not sure about what was going on and walked out feeling like HALLELUJAH! Someone is finally going to FIX all this!
The thing is though, I still didn’t understand what was being offered. I still was unsure if what they were offering us was ENOUGH. And I was NOT an active member of the IEP team. Yep, it’s true. Even with my background in special education, I STILL wasn’t prepared for these meetings. Fast forward to third grade and… it all caught up to me. Gone were the days of collaborative team. It was Mason and I against the world at that point. His team stopped working with us. They stopped listening to my concerns. They stopped providing solutions and started BLAMING my child for his disability. I decided at that point that enough was enough and I was never going to walk into another meeting feeling like I wasn’t in charge of my child’s education. And you shouldn’t either. Here are my 10 tips to help you prepare for your next IEP meeting, LIKE A BOSS.
1. I’ve said it before and I will say it a million times because it is THAT important. ASK FOR A DRAFT COPY PRIOR TO THE MEETING. In a perfect world we all sit at the IEP table and write the IEP together in real time, but in reality the team is sitting at home writing a draft copy to prepare for the meeting. You are an equal team member and should have the same opportunity, the same information that everyone else has access to. Get your draft copy, grab your free IEP checklist and get to work.
2. Create your parent input statement. What is that you ask? Quick. Grab your IEP and scan the first few pages. There should be a section that explains your parent concerns and goals. If it isn’t included… Make sure you write one for the next meeting! It doesn’t have to be anything long, but should include academics, communication, self-regulation, sensory and peers, relationship goals or concerns. This is your chance to draw and accurate picture of your child, what your concerns are and what goals you have for them this year.
3. If you’re anything like me, you have a list of concerns a mile long. I worry too much! Realistically the team can attempt to address all of those concerns, or I can Prioritize my concerns, so the team can focus more time in the important areas. By doing this, you are creating momentum to achieve goals more quickly than you would if the time was spread thinner across multiple goals and concerns.
4. How is the school communicating with you and how often? In tip 1, I said “You are an equal team member and should have the same opportunity, the same information that everyone else has access to.” You deserve to know what is happening at school and any progress or bumps in the road. Writing a Communication Plan into the IEP will ensure that the team keeps open lines of communication so that you don’t walk into the next meeting and feel bombarded with information you weren’t aware of.
5. If you follow me on social media… you know this happened to me this year. Ask your gen ed teacher (and all the other educators your child works with) if they have a copy of the IEP. In our case this year, the social worker left the school and no one made sure the staff had a copy. What this meant was that on day 1 of school, many teachers and support staff, had never even looked at the IEPs. I know that sounds crazy, but it happens all the time!
6. Schedule a follow up meeting. Sometimes waiting a whole entire year to meet isn’t appropriate. This can be especially true if you have made a lot of changes or your child is struggling. Scheduling a follow up meeting for 60 days after the IEP meeting can help you and the team stay on the same page but also allows you all to rework what isn’t working.
7. Stay Organized. Remember back at the beginning when I told you I wasn’t prepared? Yep, I also was NOT organized. Keeping a binder of the current IEP, past IEP, Progress Reports and any data or testing done, will help you identify where there is room for improvement. This is a great way of feeling prepared for your next meeting.
8. Keep track of progress reports. Report card time is when progress reports are typically sent. Take a look and make sure your child is making expected progress on their annual goals. Refer back to your binder for the present levels to see what kind of growth is occurring. This is an opportunity to ask questions or re-evaluate the appropriateness of goals if progress isn’t being made.
9. Bring a friend. Legally, you are allowed to bring a support person to every meeting you attend. I am available to support you in meetings in person or by phone. But this support person can be anyone! Whomever you feel would help you to understand what is going on. Having a second set of ears helps you keep track of what is being discussed and allows for a different perspective to ask questions or voice concerns.
10. Be confident! Mama, do not for one minute second guess yourself. YOU are the only person at that table that is an expert on your child. YOU know your child better than anyone else in the room, so do not allow yourself to feel unsure. If you need to, you have 10 days to agree or disagree in writing to the IEP. So don’t sign it, take it home and breathe. Review it the next day or ask me to review it for you. But be confident in what you know. Your opinion matters.
Need help at your next IEP meeting? Schedule a 1:1 consultation HERE so we can work together to ensure your child is achieving their potential.