Tears streamed down my face as I sat in my car in our elementary school parking lot. I picked up my daughter’s first special education evaluation a week before my first IEP meeting for her was scheduled.
The school special needs team is required to deliver the paperwork ahead of the meeting, so you are prepared. The problem was that I wasn’t prepared for what I read.
My fourth grade daughter met all the classifications for autism spectrum disorder, and I felt a bit blindsided as I sat in the car. New rule, never, and I repeat never, read evaluations in the car alone. I was angry. Angry that the staff at the elementary school handed me this envelope without a thought.
I went through this process a few months prior with my older child, who was in middle school and also found his butt on the autism spectrum. The middle school team sat me down with the school psychologist to get the evaluation results so that I wouldn’t be alone when I read it. Why would the elementary school team not give me the same courtesy?
It turns out it’s the school’s discrepancy in how these things are handled, and even within the same town, it can be vastly different from school to school.
Five years have gone by since that day I cried in the car. I’ve had many IEP meetings for my two older children. IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. When a child has special needs, this detailed plan puts into place how the school will handle those needs.
I wish I had a breakdown of how to prepare for those first few IEP meetings, and I am now sharing my list with you all in hopes of preparing you for what to expect if your child needs an IEP. Here are eight ways how to prepare for an IEP meeting:
1. Bring tissues.
During the first four years, I cried during the IEP meetings, and someone always had to run and find me tissues. Make it easy and bring your own. You will cry. It’s your baby.
2. Bring another set of listening ears.
I wasn’t always able to do this and wish I did, especially for the first IEP meetings. You are given a lot of information, and it’s difficult to remember all of it or write it all down. Voice recording of the meeting is allowed. If you are bringing someone or recording the meeting, let the team know ahead of time.
3. Communication is key.
Being forthright and honest helps everyone. I always go into the meetings with a sense that everyone in that room is there to help my child. I know families who don’t feel that way in their meetings. Tell the team that. Ask questions and find out who to contact if questions arise later on. Write that information down! I didn’t, thinking I would remember. I did not.
4. Read the paperwork before the IEP meeting.
It is a law the school must give you the IEP paperwork at least five days before the meeting. The forms are complicated but do the best you can to grasp what they see from their testing, how your child is currently doing, and the goals they have set.
5. Prepare talking points ahead of time.
Do you agree or disagree with parts of the IEP? What do you want to be added or taken off? Have your questions and comments ready.
6. Details matter.
Our middle school team initially explained how important the details are when writing an IEP. Details that might not matter now but will matter as your child moves into the next school level, takes the SAT, applies for colleges, etc. Detail the locations the IEP takes effect, like on the bus, and what standardized testing will look like. These are just some of the details that may come up.
7. Know your rights.
This one is tough because it just takes time. Some families hire advocates to come to the IEP meetings, someone who knows the special ed laws. If you feel unhappy with how things are going, you have every right to seek outside help. Here is a link to the Special Education section of the Connecticut Department of Education for resources.
8. Get organized.
I cannot stress this enough; start a filing system for the paperwork you will start receiving regarding your child’s special education. I started a binder with folders. In all honesty, my papers are shoved into the top of the binder, and it slides back into my kitchen cabinet, where it calls home. Hey, at least everything is in one place.