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Special Education Articles: Education Articles: The Real Guide to Surviving IEP

The Real Guide to Surviving Individual Education Planning (IEP) Meetings
(A Parent's Perspective)

Author: Theresa Kelly Darr
Freelance Writer and Parent of a Special Needs Child

With the advent of early intervention programs in local schools, parents of disabled children have to be part of their local school's special education system earlier than they expected. An important part of making the system work for your child is handling the yearly IEP (Individual Educational Planning) meeting to plan your child's education for the current or next school year.

Parents are on equal footing with the professionals during these meetings and need to believe it. You'll be given a booklet of your rights but it's tough to translate that into reality. I have been through many of them for my 8-year-old daughter Caroline who is mildly mentally retarded. I look at the process as a challenge to get what I think she needs. Here are some real life methods that have worked for me.

Meet with your child's teacher well in advance of the meeting to review the IEP document. Your child's teacher usually holds the real power and influence at these meetings. Review the proposed IEP document with the teacher and discuss any additions or deletions. Teacher recommendations are given heavy weight when making decisions about placement and programming.

Get an independent evaluation of your child's condition in advance of the annual IEP meeting. An independent evaluation gives parents an advantage in understanding the progress made in their child's current handicapping conditions. My daughter has poor fine motor skills due to low muscle tone. This one aspect of her disability entails many special adaptations. An occupational therapist she sees periodically is able to do an evaluation and explain to me how the adaptations should be set up in school.

Remember, the only dumb question is the one you don't ask. If you don't know what an IEP, ARD or IDEA is, ask them to explain. This does not diminish your status as an equal partner in the meeting. Your child's education is at stake and you need to understand absolutely everything.

Know the difference between what therapy you would like your child to have and what the school system is legally obligated to provide. This is a tricky one. Well-meaning parents often want more speech, occupational or physical therapy than the school will provide. A child on "active"status for speech therapy might get 20 minutes of speech therapy twice a week. If you want additional therapy, this usually comes from private providers.

These meetings are not inflexible. During these meetings, your child's teacher and other school professionals will be giving their reports on your child's progress, testing results and recommendations for a change in placement if necessary. All of their reports should have been presented to you before the meeting. Even still, if you are feeling confused, overwhelmed or unsure about what to do or what your child needs, you have the right to say, "I need to look these documents over. Let's schedule a followup meeting." You don't have to sign anything at that moment. These are important decisions that you have the right to think over.

Cultivate your child's teacher and school administrators. The vast majority of teachers and administrators are motivated and have a genuine interest in their students. Be visable at your child's school and gradually get to know people. By having a friendly relationship with the assistant principal of my daughter's school over the years, I was able to cancel an IEP meeting in November that would have probably meant mainstreaming her in the middle of the school year. I explained to her that it would be too disruptive for Caroline to leave her school at this point. We agreed to postpone the meeting until May. It is human nature to want to go the extra step for
people that we like and respect.

Join parent support groups within your school district. I can't stress this one enough. Your child's teacher will tell you about programs that may be appropriate for your child and you should insist on visiting them. However, your best source of information is talking to other parents of special education children. You gain a perspective about the overall situation in your district.

Knowing how to maneuver around the special education system is a long term, fascinating challenge for parents. You have a lot to say about what your child learns and what takes place in their education. Parents don't need a degree in special education to get the best possible education for their child.


Theresa Kelly Darr is a freelance writer, specializing in special education issues. She has a degree in English from Waynesburg College. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband and two daughters. She can be contacted at darr1202@gateway.net

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