How to Handle IEP Meetings

How to Crush Your Child’s IEP Meeting with These 5 Tips

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IEP Tips due to my son’s third birthday quickly approaching–I find myself worrying more and more. I decided to reach out to a fellow blogger who has experience with navigating the world of 504’s and IEPs.

The Beginning

When my firstborn started Pre-Kindergarten, I knew we would be in for some noteworthy experiences as he traveled his way through the school system.

Though he formed strong relationships with his teachers and fellow classmates in Pre-K, he had difficulty from the beginning with doing expected tasks such as staying seated during circle time.

He had a meltdown each time something unexpected came up in the daily routine or he had to change classrooms for specials, causing further cause for concern.

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Introduction of the 504 Plan

By the time Kindergarten rolled around, the suggestion to form a 504 for his unique needs in the classroom was not surprising. We communicated openly with his guidance counselor, program director, classroom teacher and school director. We even discussed ways to make daily life easier for Corey.

There were suggestions of visual charts and daily discussions regarding the agenda for each day. There were similar guidelines to ease Corey’s anxiety from classroom transitions. Sensory objects were introduced to help him with fidgeting during periods where quiet was expected. All seemingly simple “tweaks” to his school day to keep him calm and anxiety-free.

The 504 was great for the remainder of kindergarten and even through first grade, with some minor changes each quarter. We kept in constant contact with many staff members at his school. Ultimately felt we were truly staying one step ahead of the game in keeping Corey’s academic needs satisfied.

504 turned IEP

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was mentioned late into the first grade school year. Meetings were becoming far more frequent as Corey’s behavior crept further and further from control.

Following a stint where he was suspended for the day for becoming extremely angry and throwing objects around his classroom in anger, the school professionals recommended an evaluation by the school psychologist.

An evaluation, it was explained, would be the first step in getting Corey further services that it seemed he may need going forward in his school career.

IEP services were not available to a child like Corey, who had an official diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He has a combined type, but was not otherwise considered to be a special needs student.

Due to his academic progress still being on par with other classmates, it was mentioned that it could be difficult to convince the school board that he needed further accommodations to be successful. 

It took several meetings with the school district psychologist and school administration to convince him to do a full evaluation on our son. To begin, he had questionnaires to be completed by us, Corey’s parents, and Corey’s classroom teacher.

He also received written statements from Corey’s pediatrician, outside of the documented ADHD diagnosis, regarding observed and discussed behaviors both in and out of school.

The Psychologist visited Corey several times without Corey’s knowing he was present. Then also a few times where he worked alongside Corey, gathering additional data about him.

To say the whole process was lengthy and overwhelming is a severe understatement, if I may be completely honest. The amount of information flying around was startling and when it came from individuals we’d never heard from before, it piqued our anxiety further.

We weren’t sure at that point exactly what needed to be done for our son to be successful in his school years and how we could help him get it.

IEP Pro Tips

Looking back, I think it’s important to let other parents in similar situations know that the process is going to be long, inclusive and at times, redundant.

Stay calm, take it one step at a time and keep your child’s best interests at heart, because at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to OK the plan put together for your child – not anyone else.

For anyone on the brink of setting up an IEP for their child, it is important to note the differences between a 504 plan and an IEP.

Tip #1 | Know Your Rights

You must go into the initial meetings knowing yours and your child’s rights. Familiarize yourself with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) and note the differences in a 504 plan and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

504 Plan

  • Covered under a broad federal civil rights law protecting any person with a handicap
  • Less “official”, outlining services and/or accommodations to be made
  • Unique to the school the student is attending – a copy of an existing 504 plan may be supplied to a new school but the receiving school will need to draw up their own version for the student
  • Some limitations of accommodations or services may exist due to the student not falling under the special education “umbrella”

IEP – Individualized Education Plan

  • For a student who has been identified by school district professionals to be eligible for special education
  • Covered under IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act
  • ANY accommodation or service may apply to the student based on their disability and unique needs
  • Universal – can travel from one school to the next without needing new documentation

Tip #2 | Prepare

We were lucky to have school professionals who really wanted to include parents in the formation of the IEP. Did not have to “push” our current thoughts or recommendations, we simply got to state and discuss them with administration.

We were given a worksheet to document our current concerns with Corey’s behavior and academic situations. Given recommendations on what may or may not help him moving forward.

We were also asked about Corey’s favorite hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes to better understand him on a personal level. This also helped find services that could be tailored to him based on this information.

If you are not given a worksheet like this, however, be sure to make one yourself to bring to the IEP preparation meeting! The process works best when all who know and interact with your child get to have their suggestions heard.

Consider others who have frequent interaction with your child. Do they have a camp counselor, grandparent, therapist, older friend or Karate instructor who also know them well?

It might be a good idea to have them document their typical interactions with your child and other observations that might be helpful when making a plan for them for school.

Any person who has input regarding your child’s personality, academic learning style, disciplinary needs, etc. will be a valuable asset to the IEP development process.

Tip #3 | Listen

I will say that sometimes it’s downright disheartening to listen to various professionals speak about your child. Though it might be about things you’ve already heard, when anyone talks about your child in any way other than highly positive, your parenting instincts are sure to kick in. However, resist the urge to defend your child and understand all who are part of the process simply want what’s best for your child – you all share that common goal.

Tip #4 | Take Notes

When there is a lot going on at one time, I tend to zone out or become too focused on one thing that was said, instead of listening to each sentence spoken. Therefore, taking notes proved to be a worthy habit to look back on what else was said later, when I was alone and calmer. I could look back at what each person contributed, note future questions or comments and reflect on the overall goal.

Tip #5 | Speak Up

Remember when I said to fight the urge to defend your child, as you listened to others talk about their documented weaknesses and struggles? I do recommend you listen as much as possible but be sure your voice about YOUR child is heard!

If you hear something that does not align with the outlined goal or even something you know your child will not do/like, speak up. The goal of the IEP is to HELP your child in the best ways possible.

Though it can be intimidating to speak with so many eyes on you, remember why you’re there and the common goal you share with these school professionals. They want to hear from you because they know you know your child best, above all else.

Final Thoughts

Last but not least, remember that communication is key during all stages of the process. If you have questions, ask them. Be sure you are very clear in what is currently going on and what your child will experience once the IEP has been signed.

Communicate openly with teachers, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, school nurse, etc. so that any changes or challenges that arise may be properly documented and discussed.

Remember that common goal! Everyone is there to help your child do their best, so be a part of the team and your child is likely to thrive!


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