Your child has been identified with a disability and placed in Special Education…. now what?! While teaching Special Education and taking on large caseloads. I led many IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings and noticed many parents of students with disabilities were at a loss about their role in the meeting. Many times, parents would appear a little like a bobble head and nod at everything I had to say. It would seem they didn’t have a clue what it was they would be signing at the end of the meeting.
Time and time again, as I meet other parents, there is an outpour of questions once they find out I worked in special education. I must admit there isn’t a lot of information out there for parents, so I hope to change that!
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law which makes certain children with disabilities receive early intervention, related services and Special Education. It is beneficial to familiarize yourself with this law. I found idea.ed.gov to be a helpful link. You may want to refer to it as we go through my 6 simple steps for your first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting.
- Read Rights And Responsibilities
Each year, every parent of a child with disabilities should be given a handbook with you and your child’s rights and responsibilities in the realm of special education. If your child is new to special education, make sure you are given one. Yes, it is a lot like reading a textbook and can be super boring, but you gotta read it!
- Request A Copy Of IEP Before Meeting
I found in most schools, the case manager will write the IEP ahead of time and presents the information at the IEP meeting. Many parents thought these goals and accommodations listed where final or unchangeable. This is not true! Ask for a copy of the IEP so you can be prepared with questions or changes you want to apply.
- Research And Envision!
Do some research about your child’s disability, helpful classroom accommodations, curriculum adaptations (if needed), and useful goals you would like your child to reach. Talk to your child’s doctors and teachers to dig for information.
Imagine what the accommodations might look like in the classroom. Many times, your child’s case manager/teachers/administrators might add a classroom accommodation to an IEP with good intentions but without thinking about other consequences the change might have on the child or the entire classroom. Here are two examples:
- A child with autism or ADHD might have a habit of continually tapping their feet on the ground displaying a tick or simply to release energy. In a classroom with tile floors, this causes a major distraction to other students in the learning environment because of the added noise. I worked in a middle school where the IEP team decided an appropriate accommodation would require the student to carry around a carpet square from class to class and place it under her desk. Although the accommodation would stop the distracting noise, this child was 13 years old! No teenager wants to be caught dead carrying around a piece of carpet. It made her stand out, peers asked questions and then, inevitably, bullying towards this student became a new area of concern. There were other age appropriate options for this student such as giving her something to fiddle with or allowing her to slip her shoes off so the tapping wasn’t so loud.
- Another problem is the ease of the accommodations. Can teachers apply the accommodation in the classroom easily and seamlessly? Before I worked in Special Education, I taught middle school health. I had a student whom had a visual disability and could not read black lettering on white paper. (Now, I wish I knew more information about this disability.) I was required to copy or print EVERYTHING asked of this child to read on green paper. Let’s just think this through a minute, every time I made copies for the class I would have to send a request to the copy attendant to have 150 copies made +1 copy on green paper. If I had the class read from a textbook, I had to send in a request to get those pages copied onto green paper. What if the copy attendant failed to copy the page in green? The child could not do his work. This seemingly easy accommodation became a HUGE problem. It was a constant issue in my classroom. If I changed the lesson plan last minute then all hell would break loose for this child. Eventually, I went to the case manager and explained how difficult this was for my classroom. After, much debate, we came to the conclusion each teacher should have a translucent green piece of plastic in the classroom. This child could simply place the plastic over the page and ta-da! It was green! No more special requests to the copy room, no more sending texts to be copied, and no more worrying about whether this student would be able to do his work.
- Attend IEP Meeting
I know this seems obvious to most parents, but it’s important to attend the meeting. It’s good to have a list of questions, concerns and/or suggestions to talk about as the IEP team goes through each section of the document. Here is an IEP Meeting List Printable. All of the topics in the headers must be included in the IEP document.
- Follow Up With Teachers
After the meetings, allow time for your child’s teacher(s) to make the changes necessary. Observe the impact the new accommodations are making on your child. Follow up with the teachers to see if grades and/or behavior has improved. I feel it is important to keep communication with your child’s teachers. Ask them how things are going and what you can do at home to help. Also, remember to keep an open mind.
- Request An Additional Meeting If Necessary
After some time, if you feel any changes need to be made, it is your right and responsibility to call another IEP meeting. A yearly meeting is required, but if you feel another one is necessary please call your child’s case manager.
What are your experiences with IEP meetings? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions!
Here are a few items I found useful but not disruptive in my classroom.