Negotiating an IEP

This is part three in a three-part series covering how to navigate the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process. The first article talks about the process of determining if your child is eligible for a IEP. The second article helps define a few basic terms and the purpose of the IEP.

Article at a Glance

  • Be familiar with and realistic about your child’s strengths and weakness before attending the IEP.
  • Talk beforehand to your child’s teachers about challenges in the classroom and any solutions.
  • Be patient with yourself and your team. It takes time and experience to develop good negotiation skills and relationships with the professionals involved in your child’s education.

Once you have undergone the necessary paperwork and screenings qualifying your child for an Individual Education Plan, you will officially meet with your child’s team of educators, administrators, and potential therapists to draft the IEP. It can feel overwhelming to enter a classroom full of professionals to discuss the right educational path for your child. You have a specific viewpoint and expertise, and often a flood of emotions concerning the well-being of your child.

What I’ve found helpful, over the years, is to remember that every single person in the room is also overwhelmed by the same issues based on their own experiences with your child. The big challenge is making sure that everyone’s expertise and observations are voiced and addressed in the time you meet together. As a mother of an autistic child, I’ve had my share of good and bad IEP meetings. Over the years, I’ve discovered five important things to remember when participating in an IEP meeting to ensure my concerns and goals for my son Joshua are met, while at the same time considering the concerns and goals of his team.

1. Be honest with yourself

It is really easy to become overprotective of your child. It can be difficult to acknowledge and accept some of the problems your child is experiencing. Know where your child is socially, emotionally, and educationally before you go into the IEP. Be really honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging your child’s strengths and weaknesses and being able to discuss them with your child’s educational team is what will produce the most productive and effective IEP. Make sure your vision is realistic. It’s okay to have big goals, but realize it may take years of baby steps to get there.

2. Meet with teachers before the IEP meeting

Discuss with teachers the strengths and problems happening in the classroom and at home. Let them know what strategies you are using at home. Ask them what strategies they are using in the classroom. Brainstorm ideas with teachers and think of solutions to problems before going into the IEP meeting. Teachers are required to share a brief summary of their observations during the IEP meeting, but if you have had a chance to meet personally with the teachers beforehand, this will help reduce the amount of time focused on “background” information on your child and help allow for more discussion time on strategies and goals.

3. Prepare

What are the questions you need answered by the end of the meeting? What are the specific goals and accommodations you want to see in the IEP? As parents, you will most likely be outnumbered in the meeting, and teachers tend (for better or worse) to dominate the conversation. Be patient and listen to their observations, but also make sure you press for any answers you may not be getting. Are the teachers on your child’s team making the accommodations for your child in the current IEP? Why or why not? What is working and what is not? If it is your child’s first IEP meeting, what questions do you have about your child’s current educational environment? The answers to these questions will be important in developing accommodations. For example, a few years ago, I discovered during an IEP meeting that Joshua’s paraprofessionals were making the accommodations for his assignments and tests because his teachers weren’t fulfilling their responsibility in communicating with us or the case manager. Teacher accountability for accommodations was not something I had asked about in the previous IEP meeting, but now it is something I always check on during the meeting.

4. The importance of an agenda

Agendas are an essential way to make sure information from your team is shared in an orderly, efficient, and effective way. Agendas serve as outlines, allowing the team to see who is sharing information in an organized, predetermined manner during a specific time in the meeting. Often teachers or specialists can dominate or sidetrack the conversation, so an agenda is an essential tool in ensuring the meeting remains focused and pertinent to your child’s needs.

Communicate with your child’s case manager to make sure an agenda is prepared for your child’s IEP and express to the case manager any concerns you have or topics you wish to discuss during the meeting. Make sure there is time allotted for creating goals. Often teachers spend the bulk of the meeting discussing their observations and concerns, leaving little time for the discussion of goals and IEP action.

5. Follow-up

Take note of ideas and plans discussed during the meeting. If teachers are proposing strategies, make sure that these strategies are included in the IEP. Shortly after the meeting, you will receive a draft of the IEP from your case manager and this will be a great opportunity to compare the ideas discussed in the meeting to the official document. If you feel like accommodations or goals need to be clarified, contact your case manager to make sure the IEP reflects those specific things. It is also a good idea to follow up with teachers in the weeks after the IEP meeting to make sure that they understand the IEP, the accommodations it provides for you child, and assess how they feel the new goals and plans are working.

Be patient with yourself and your team. It takes time and experience to develop good negotiation skills and relationships with the professionals involved in your child’s education. It has been helpful for me to remember that although the IEP meeting is a one-time, annual event, there are many opportunities throughout the year that allow for the program to grow and change, just as your child is growing and changing. Open communication with your child’s teachers is always the most important element in ensuring your child’s educational success.

Should I get an advocate?

Most families are able to navigate the IEP process without a special education advocate, but for some families it can be very helpful. Advocates can help you understand a lot of the legal jargon, reports, and testing in an IEP. They are also aware of the laws, so they can be sure your child is being provided with the right services. If you feel outgunned, overwhelmed, or don’t agree with your child’s IEP, it might be worth talking to an advocate.

Sarah Beck and familyAbout the writer:
Sarah Beck lives in Fargo, ND, and is a writer, blogger, wife, and mom of two great kids: an 11-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son who has autism.

You can read about her autism-meets-middle school adventures and the challenges, victories, and learning curves that happen along the way at thisautismlife.com.

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