You are sitting in your child’s IEP meeting and the education team wants to know if you have any further input on your child’s education. You know your child is entitled by special education law to be prepared for further education, employment and independent living. But you are just not sure how to get there. What’s the best way to begin?
- decide on your family values
- write down your goals
- research age-appropriate skills and activities
- think outside the box
- request a parent teacher conference
- be afraid to remove goals
- think the teacher is more of an expert
- assume your child can’t
- be stubborn without reason
- go unprepared
Do decide on your family values
What one parent wants their child to learn can be very different from what another parent wants or needs. Your child’s education is customized, which means you have the opportunity to fine tune your child’s IEP goals to meet your family’s needs. For example, your family may be involved in many sporting activities and waiting patiently is a crucial skill. At the same time, another family may love family game night and want their child to learn turn taking, so everyone can join in the game.
Do write down your goals
Writing down your goals and describing your vision for your child is vital. You need to paint a picture for the team before, during and after the IEP meeting to assure you are all working on the same end result. You also need to be certain that your goals, input, vision and concerns are clearly documented within the official IEP document. If they are not, a follow-up letter with this information must be sent with the request to add this information to your child’s file.
Do research age-appropriate skills and activities
Researching age-appropriate skills for parents can be tough. Your child is in special education because he/she has a disability and is behind in skills. No parent needs more reminders of their child’s deficits. However, when you look at same-age peers, you can get a better idea of how to make your child’s IEP more fun and interesting. If your child is in middle school, sports can be a huge influence. Can you include IEP goals that focus on math and adding by 2’s and 3’s, so your child can understand scoring in basketball? Maybe you can include the concepts of greater than and less than so your child can better understand who is winning. If you have a high school student who loves movies, learning to better answer WH questions (what, when, where, why) can help your child socialize with family or peers after seeing a movie together.
Do think outside the box
As an equal member of the IEP team, you have the ability to bring creative ideas to the table. How can your child further use technology? How can your child be inspired by becoming a leader in the school? How can your child’s school day be improved with less stress? Your child is not limited to workbooks and boring flashcards. Find your child’s strengths and make them stronger by thinking out of the box.
Do request a parent teacher conference
The pressure of an IEP meeting can be overwhelming for everyone involved. If you meet with the teacher and support service providers prior to the actual IEP meeting, you can all work together to bring well-written, measurable and objective IEP goals to the table. You can be assured that your child’s IEP is truly individualized by taking 15- to 20-minute conferences individually with each member and discussing your vision of where to drive the IEP for the next 12 months.
Do not be afraid to remove goals
If your child has been working on the same goal for years, you can ask to have the goal removed. This does not mean that you will never attempt the goal again. It simply gives your child a chance to be successful in another area and leave behind the stress of failure, at least for a little while.
Do not think the teacher is more of an expert
You know your child best. You have been with your child since the beginning, and you will be the only person sitting at the IEP table who will be on this long-term journey. Your child’s team should be experts in methods, approaches, curriculum and management, but they are not experts in your individual child. When your gut says an approach, a goal, a service or a decision is wrong, stand up for your child with confidence. This does not give you permission to bully the team, but it does give you the courage to know your child best.
Do not assume your child can’t
Many times, parents don’t ask for services, curriculum or approaches because they assume their child cannot achieve in this area. Reflect back on your vision for your child and work with the team to explore every avenue possible for success. Your IEP team may see successes where you never thought possible.
Do not be stubborn without reason
As a parent of a child with special needs, you often have to stand your ground. However, in an IEP meeting when deciding on goals, you need to choose wisely on where to be stubborn and where to let go for the moment. Your education team may have good reasoning for requesting your child work on specific skills, even though you can’t see the reasoning. Give the team a chance to explain, be willing to compromise and always put your child first in your decisions.
Do not go unprepared
Creating goals for your child and looking into the future can be exhausting and emotional. You can never go to an IEP meeting and expect to be an equal member of the team without preparation. You may not like the process, but if you do it well, you won’t have to be back at the IEP table again for another 12 months.
Deciding IEP goals and designing your child’s special education plan can be one of the most frustrating and rewarding experiences. The law supports not only your child receiving an appropriate education, but also supports you as an equal member of the IEP team. Do not let this important role intimidate you. With proper preparation, out-of-the-box thinking and vision planning, you can become the best advocate for your child.