In the United States, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. But for many parents and guardians facing their first meeting, the letters “IEP” might as well stand for Intensive Experience of Panic.
The IEP is a legal document outlining the learning goals of an individual with autism or another disability. Essentially, it’s an accountability measure that ensures teachers, clinicians, specialists, parents, and other supportive figures each do their part to facilitate a child’s education.
If you’re getting ready for your child’s first IEP, know this: there’s no need to stress out. In fact, there’s a great deal that you can do ahead of time to prepare for the IEP meeting.
Preparation beats panic any day of the week. So with that in mind, let’s run down a list of suggestions to help you feel ready for your child’s IEP meeting.
First, address the basics.
Check and double-check the meeting date, time, location, and other relevant details. Plan to make a positive personal impression by dressing appropriately (business attire is ideal) and arriving early. Build margin time into your schedule for traffic, parking, and other unexpected delays.
It might sound obvious, but we’ve seen many an IEP meeting delayed by team members who wrote down the wrong date, showed up late, or drove to the previous year’s meeting location.
Likewise, review a checklist of items to bring with you to the IEP, and pack evaluations, progress reports, and schedules well in advance. Not sure where to start? Understood.org offers this free list of what to bring to an IEP meeting.
Next, check in with yourself.
What do you envision for the IEP meeting, and how are you feeling about the prospect of attending? Are you imagining the IEP as a time to vent grievances, or as a time to partner with your child’s team in coming up with productive solutions?
As a parent, your emotions and beliefs help set the tone for the meeting, so it’s important to approach the IEP with a spirit of collaboration. If you come into a meeting with a posture of defensiveness and hostility, you could set up a difficult dynamic for the whole team.
As the Wrightslaw post, “8 Steps to Better IEP Meetings: Play Hearts, Not Poker” notes, “When parents feel like they have to battle educators for benefits, they lose confidence in those educators. When parents lose confidence in their educators, those educators (who are often acting in good faith to do an extremely difficult job) feel unappreciated.”
When you approach an IEP meeting from a place of contention, no one wins, least of all your child. So consider yourself as one member of your child’s support team, and value the contributions that others make to your child’s education and development.
All of that said, the IEP is an important time to discuss your child’s challenges, as well as any gaps in their current educational experience. So don’t shy away from tough topics. Instead, make a list of your concerns and ideas.
In doing so, make sure to include several positive observations for your fellow team members if possible. If your child’s ABA clinician or teacher is doing a great job working with your child, speak up and say so! It’s helpful to give credit where credit is due.
In addition, enlist the help of a supportive person to attend the IEP with you.
There are a plethora of wonderful autism resources, professionals, and others you can enlist to help you with your first IEP meeting. You might choose a family friend, a specialist, or a fellow parent who has experience with attending IEPs … anyone who you feel can contribute to the discussion. Just be sure to let your child’s case manager or school know about the attendee ahead of time.
Zero in on what matters most when it comes to setting goals.
Before the meeting, brainstorm ideas and narrow down your list to present the essentials to the team. Our free IEP checklist is a great place to start your planning.
As UNCO.edu’s website says in their “How Can Parents Prepare for an IEP Meeting?” page, “Parents should decide what they think are the three most important goals, skills, or strategies to implement or work toward for the child in the coming year. While we want much more for our children, by narrowing the focus, it helps all the team members stay on target.”
In turn, think about your child’s educational goals in terms of measurable practicality and daily data collection. The clearer and more concrete the goals, the better the IEP.
“I want my son to learn to be more polite,” is a vague, non-specific goal, whereas “I want my son to say ‘Please’ when making requests of his teacher, 75% of the time,” is much more concrete and actionable.
As the Wrightslaw post cited above says, “Make sure [IEP] goals are realistic, specifically stated, and penned in layman’s terms. As the school year unfolds, the team can look at these goals to objectively assess the child’s progress. To this end, IDEA requires that the goals as they appear on the IEP form must be something that can be objectively measured.”
Remember to request a copy of the completed IEP.
Be faithful about following up with any other post-meeting action items. As you do so, know that the IEP is a living document, meant to be revisited and revised often.
For example, if your child’s support team agrees to try a new behavioral strategy or scheduling change and it doesn’t work well, you can request changes to the IEP.
Finally, download FirstPath Autism’s free IEP Readiness Checklist.
In it you’ll find:
- The answer to, “Who and what comprises an IEP Team?”
- Special factors to be considered for your child with Autism. written by Amalie D. Holly, Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
- An explanation of timelines and rules with regards to signing an IEP.