What can I do to prepare for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting with my son's school so that my son gets the help and resources he needs?

I've heard some horror stories from other parents where they were rushed through an IEP meeting. I've also heard stories of the school refusing to give certain services, or of offering inaccurate assessments.My son has special needs and I have a sense of what resources will be helpful, but I'm not great in meetings and confrontations. How can I prepare?

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Laura Burgess Martin, Special needs parent; work in non-profit sector

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I completely agree with the previous answers. I, too, always heard horror stories about IEP meetings. When I became a teacher and sat in on IEP meetings, I always tried to focus on positive comments for the student. Yes, we were in the meeting to talk about the student and their goals and needs but I always wanted the parent to know the good their child demonstrated in my class.

I am now the parent of a child with multiple special needs and have been in my fair share of IEP meetings and I have always left so encouraged. We all come to the meetings with a positive attitude. There is no pointing of fingers or blame. We all work together to determine what is best for our son and how we are going to help him achieve his goals. His teachers and I established a very open relationship from the first time we met. They keep us informed of our son's progress so that when we come to the IEP meetings, no one is in for any surprises. On the flip side, I also express any concerns as they arise to keep the relationship open.

As was previously stated, you do not have to sign anything in the meeting. If you don't feel comfortable with the recommendations, ask for more time to think about the decisions. Ask for more information. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Best wishes to your family!

Lisa Beymer, University Faculty & Supervisor, Education Blogger, Special Education Teacher & Advocate, Certified Principal

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I agree with Lisa, that going into the meeting with a positive mindset will help the process immensely. We should assume that the teachers working with our students are very capable, very compassionate, and very focused on meeting the needs of our child. The special education process should be a collaborative one, where the intention of all parties involved is to put the student's needs first.

Second, I think it's important that you know your rights as a parent of a student with a disability. It can be daunting to face the special education process, with all of its legal requirements and unfamiliar vernacular. One of the best ways to advocate for your child is to know your rights, understand the process of special education, and work with the team to create the best education plan for your student.

Third, do not hesitate to ask questions throughout the meeting. You may be tentative to do so, because finding the right questions to ask can be tough. But there's no harm in saying, "I'm not sure how to ask a question here, but I am unclear on the discussion that is taking place." If the meeting is a successful one in which you were an equal contributor to the conversation, you should walk away with little to no questions about how your child will be supported in the school.

Finally, I would reiterate what Lisa said above: "Remember that you do not have to make any decisions on the spot." You should not make decisions until you feel comfortable with how the decisions will affect your student, and confident that the decisions will support the individual needs of your student. Take your time, absorb the information, and call for another meeting if necessary.

Lisa Friedman, Inclusive Educator, Religious School Director, teacher, writer & parent

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I think that the best advice I can give is to keep calm and go in expecting the best. A positive attitude and the belief that the professionals responsible for your son's education will look out for his best interests will go far to ensuring the meeting is cordial and productive.

Remember that you do not have to make any decisions on the spot. Even if you feel pressure to do so, it is your right to take all materials home, process the information and read through everything at your own pace. It is also your right to request additional information if anything is unclear.

As far as advance prep goes, I'd say it would be worth speaking to your son's current teacher to learn how he/she feels your son is functioning and what he/she is planning to recommend by way of placements or services. It would also be worth speaking to another parent in the same school who has worked with the same child study team or case manager. Basing your expectations on horror stories from other schools/districts will only serve to elevate your stress level.

Good luck!

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