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To the Parents Who Dread IEP Meetings

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To the parents who dread IEP meetings, who feel overwhelmed with special education procedures, vocabulary and timelines, there is hope.

To the parents disenfranchised and devastated with the seeming sterility of assessments and evaluations, there is purpose and a path for progress.

As a parent advocate, I get to witness parents becoming empowered as they increase their knowledge of the special education system as well as their confidence in their own abilities to be informed, empowered participants and effective advocates for their children’s educational needs. I get to observe teachers, administrators, therapists and paraprofessionals seek out, brainstorm and embrace interventions and programs that will help a student reach well thought out, measurable goals. My biggest pleasure as a parent advocate comes from seeing a student achieving and owning their own successes. This is why I’m so passionate about what I do.

A significant amount of time, research, charting, correspondence, collaboration, persistence and even insistence is involved. There is a great amount of dedication and effort poured into creating a truly mindful, individually tailored and intentionally specific IEP.

But for as many educators and other professional members of the IEP team who work with sincere heart, creativity and awareness in helping students achieve their goals, there will always be a character here or there who will need more encouraging and information to fully appreciate why an intervention or goal is so important.

The IEP process can also be difficult for some parents when they hear where their child is currently performing or when they receive a diagnosis. During these moments, I remind moms and dads that their child is still the wonderful little boy or girl they knew before hearing such assessment results. The only difference is now we know where they’re at so we can create a plan to chart out where they’re going. Now we know more precisely what we’re working with so the most effective, evidence-based interventions can be utilized. Assessment results help us know where and how to begin bringing a child to a new, higher level of achievement.

An IEP meeting and IEP aren’t complete without also highlighting your child’s strengths and interests. A team can design a much more comprehensive and effective plan when these factors are carefully factored in. I’ve been part of an IEP team that saw the benefit in allowing a student do his book reports in a comic book format. We paired his love for comic books and art with a reading weakness in a successful and motivating way. When another student’s team saw the value in assigning her to a leadership role in the classroom, her anxiety and feelings of inadequacy decreased while her ability to attend to her schoolwork increased. When a team is able to think outside the box, see the student as a whole and identify individualized, purposeful strategies, I believe the IEP is more effective and the student is more successful.

For parents who are new to the special education process or who feel their child’s IEP isn’t meeting their needs, I encourage you to arm yourself with information and seek support from a parent advocate, state parent organization, parent support group and even from other more veteran special education parents in your community.

An IEP meeting may not be the most fun you’ll have all year, but I believe it can be a powerful catalyst that ignites the collaboration necessary to create just the right road map for your child’s future. 

woman at an IEP meeting

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Originally published: October 28, 2015
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