10 Things to Consider Bringing to Your Next IEP Meeting
You know what school personnel will be bringing to your next IEP meeting. Test scores. Classroom observations. Lots and lots of big words. Lots of certainty. Piles of papers. Many expert opinions. Maybe, if you’re lucky, some respect for your opinion. Definitely a desire for you to sign and be done with it.
So what are you bringing, besides the fragile hopes and dreams of your child and family?
Some parents will want and need to attend with an advocate. Others will attend armed with righteous anger. Some will wish they could pack an escape hatch or a cloak of invisibility to just disappear. We’ve all had those days.
From a practical point of view, the following ten items can help you make the most of your time in a room full of people who work with your child and help determine his or her chances of educational success.
1. A notepad and pen
Just like kids need to be able to take notes in class, you should bring a notebook along when you go to school. As the parade of professionals make their reports, make a note of anything you want to think about, ask a question about, research, or remember for later. If you also want to doodle little daggers and rude words, nobody needs to know.
2. A list
Pre-load that notepad with things you want to bring up at the meeting. Include questions and concerns about the current plan, things you’d like to see in next year’s plan, and things that might get forgotten if you don’t bring them up. Don’t wait for the first day of school to realize that bus service or a special carseat never got put into the IEP, for example.
Bring some evidence for the things you want to ask about, complain about, or recommend. That might include copies of homework, doctor’s recommendations, reports from outside therapists, information you’ve found in books and websites, and records you’ve kept of past conversations. (You have been keeping records of past conversations, right? See #1.)
4. Last year’s IEP
Read it before you go to the meeting. Highlight anything that needs discussing, questioning, or changing. When you’re given a copy of the new IEP, compare the two so you can notice and question any changes or omissions you don’t understand or haven’t agreed to. That document’s so dense, not even the people who wrote it always remember what’s in it.
5. A friend
You may not need an advocate with you, but a second set of eyes and ears — and a person you know is in your corner — can help. Maybe your spouse will fill that function, but if not, consider bringing a friend or relative to have your back. (Be sure to let the IEP team know you’re bringing a plus-one.)
6. Your child
At a certain age, depending on your state, your child’s presence in meetings will be required. But even before that, if you think your child is ready to be part of the planning process — or he or she wants to be — add the subject of all this planning to the guest list. Your child may not need to be there throughout the entire meeting, but it’s not a bad idea to make everybody remember you’re talking about a living breathing kid and not a set of statistics.
It goes without saying that you are going to that meeting, right? And you’re going as a participant in a planning team, not as a human rubber-stamp? You don’t have to go to war, but you do have to get your head in the game.
8. An open mind
As you want the professionals to be open to your thoughts, wishes, and opinions, be open to what they have to say and consider what parts of it you find true and useful. Keep in mind also that the people you are meeting with are humans trying to do a job, sometimes under pressures you don’t know about. It may be difficult and sometimes impossible, but when you can, come to the meeting in a collaborative frame of mind.
One of the best things to bring to a meeting is ideas and strategies you’ve discussed with those professionals beforehand. Chat with teachers, therapists, and IEP team members in advance of the meeting if you can — and better still, all through the school year — so you’re not starting cold turkey and not being ambushed by information or suggestions.
Doesn’t hurt to set things off on a friendly note with some baked goods. And if worse comes to worse, you won’t have to wait until you get home to drown your sorrows in carbs.