It's IEP Time!
It’s individualized education programs (IEP) time y’all! Exciting or terrifying?
IEP time brings many emotions to the surface for parents of a child with disabilities. It can be super stressful some years, and other years it can be smooth sailing.
It is a season ending, but a new season of worry about to begin, for the fall school year.
When asked what advice I would give to a family, I said this, “Be Strong. You are the expert in the room. Look to the future, and where you want your child to be. Do you want them to have a job? Live independently? Then they need to be in the general education classroom with their typical peers — to model them, to work next to them, and become friends with them. If you think they can, they will.”
We have always pushed for my son to be fully included. This process can be challenging and stressful as we create expectations, shape goals and a envision a future of who my son will grow to b — and use our IEP to create tools and resources to capture all of those dreams.
Here are some IEP 101: Basics for Parents
1. When: IEPs are typically held once a year in the spring to prep for the next school year. NOTE: an IEP meeting can be called at any time, and you can have multiple meetings throughout the year as needed or requested. It’s suggested that while spring is a good time to get ready for the next year, a meeting in fall may be a necessity. At that time, you can assess what is and isn’t working, you know who the team is, and they can then modify and change the supports and goals as needed just a few weeks into the school year, not losing an entire school year.
2. Who: The IEP team will consist of approximately five to eight school staff and you. It can be intimidating, so be prepared mentally. NOTE: Never Go Alone. Bring your own team with you including your spouse, one to three friends, and possibly an advocate or another experienced mom to help balance the numbers at the table. Invite outside therapists to give their expertise in person or at least in a report. Inviting the principal may be a good suggestion.
3. Timeline: Put in writing a request that the draft IEP and all assessments be received at least 48 hours in advance. This is a must. A favorite advocate suggests the draft be given one week in advance, to research your own goals/ideas, add verbiage, write in the parental portion, and return for the team to see your vision and suggestions. NOTE: This is a legal and binding document. You need to prep for this meeting. You are the CEO of your child. A lawyer or CEO would never read a document for the first time in front of five other people, nor should you. Having a draft allows you to read it and bring new ideas and resources to the table. Remember: you know your child best! You are the one with the most knowledge at that table. Be knowledgeable in the strengths of your child, how they learn best and what your goals and visions are. Think big — think college!
4. Lead the meeting: Be the leader. Start the meeting off with an “About Me” handout. Allow the team to see your child outside of school, their interests, involvement in the community and their strengths. This vision will drive goals. NOTE: Goals drive services. What services does your child need to reach your vision? Develop goals that are accountable and specific. Be clear on who works on the goal, when, where and time of day it is being implemented, and how assessments are completed. Example of a poorly written goal: learning the second-grade Dolce words. The team knew there were 40 words, but when the month of April came it was realized they had only worked on 10 of the words. They stated that until mastery of the first 10 words was complete, they couldn’t move on. A well-written goal would be: “Mastery of the first 40 second grade Dolce words with no more than one verbal prompt, with data collected weekly. This would include benchmarks of: 10 words by October, 20 words by December, 30 words by April, 40 words by May, with 80 percent accuracy” — much more clear, concise and accountable. Be clear and concise. NOTE: You can record the meeting. Some states may require advance notice to record. Recording it is a suggested common practice.
5. Be the resource of the resource: if they need it, you can find it. If they need ideas on how best to teach reading, you can bring suggested reading programs for children with Down syndrome. Bring accommodations and modification suggestions to the team that your child may need. NOTE: not all children will learn alike; not all children with Down syndrome are the same. While phonics may work for children in general, many children with Down syndrome do better with “whole word” or the Fast Flash method. Keep in mind that teachers may not have worked with a child with Down syndrome before. They may be fearful and worried. Assure them that you are a team; you are there to help, to support, and most of all get the supports and resources your child needs to access the general education curriculum like every other student.
6. Signing the IEP: signing the IEP at the end of the meeting is not necessary at that moment, nor should you be pressured into it. You absolutely may go home, sleep on it, discuss it, and sign the next day or even days later. You may want to read through it again, notate questions, rewrite goals, etc. NOTE: not all states require your signature to move forward with implementation of the IEP. If you have issues or questions, be sure to email within 24–48 hours those questions or concerns or request a second part of the meeting be scheduled.
7. For example, in the state of Kansas: all IEP meetings are scheduled to be 45 minutes long. This indicates that the team is communicating ahead of time, is working as a team, and is doing a lot of the work in advance. This is a great goal to have! This allows the actual IEP meeting to be short and simple. I suggest this as a part of your team IEP goals. NOTE: This is in a perfect world. Don’t hesitate to have two or four meetings to complete the IEP. Be strong. Be the voice for your child and push for what they need.
8. Try to be professional: Some parents bring treats and snacks to the meeting; that is up to you. Remember a little honey goes a long way. Remember that these teachers went into teaching to help children. Underneath the gruff exterior of that teacher, there may be fear and worry about failure! If you can relieve that fear, you can find a way to go forward together!
Best of luck on your next IEP!
Excerpt from the book, “Fully Included: Stories to Inspire Inclusion” by Michelle and Stacy Tetschner.