For any meeting on a child’s education to be successful, parents must be prepared. The first step is to understand both the basic terminology and process of how documents such as IEPs are created. The following are some suggested steps to help you be prepared for these meetings.
- In Special Education, there are 13 categories of eligibility. The categories are used to help educators create a meaningful ETR/IEP for your child. Parents should familiarize themselves with the 13 categories.
- Take time to understand the 13 categories of eligibility so that you can confidently speak about them in your ETR/IEP/Planning Meeting. Think about specific examples of the categories you suspect apply to your child. Is it strictly autism, a learning disability, or an emotional disturbance? Try role-playing with a trusted friend or family member on ways to share your opinion with the educational team. Be prepared to share your findings and observations in the meeting, and to ask the team for its opinion. This will validate the team’s experiences and qualifications but will still allow you to convey all your information.
- Parents should understand the ETR Team’s Purpose. The ETR Team’s Purpose is to qualify your child for specially designed instruction, using the 13 categories. Be mindful that a medical diagnosis (DMS-5) is very different from the school’s evaluation team report (13 Categories). A medical diagnosis does not automatically qualify a child for specially designed instruction. A medical diagnosis is used to support the school’s evaluation.
- As a courtesy, email the school district or school board one week before your ETR/IEP/Planning Meeting. Attach your child’s medical documents, outside reports, reports from tutors, writing samples and other relevant information. This will give the school district an opportunity to review the documents and come prepared for the meeting.
- Carefully consider who you will bring with you to each meeting. You can bring an advocate, a friend or a family member who will be productive in the meeting and who will commit to actively listening to the information. Parents might also consider bringing a teacher from previous years to the meeting, or a notetaker who will quietly sit off to the side and document the items discussed.
- To prepare for your ETR/IEP/Planning meeting, gather any relevant medical or personal notes. Write down any questions you have, as well as positive thoughts, to bring them to the meeting. It may also be useful to bring printed copies of your child’s history/evaluations in case education participants do not have this documentation on hand. I recommend starting a binder that you can take with you to all your meetings. It should include evaluation team reports/multi-factored evaluations, IEPs, progress reports, PR-01s (prior written notices), work samples, outside evaluations, and your notes.
- Dress up for the meeting to show confidence. Be prepared to actively listen and work together. Remember that you and the educators have the same goal in mind: to provide the best possible program for your child’s success. Opinions on the best approach may differ at times. It is important to consider the educator’s point of view while, at the same time, advocating for what your child needs. Be friendly, kind, and constructive.
Some Other Considerations Regarding the IEP
- The IEP team will create your child’s IEP. Parents and advocates can advise and give input, but do not actually write the document.
- The IEP team is required to consider the child’s strengths.
- The IEP team should consider the child’s current and past medical evaluations.
- The IEP includes both the functional and academic needs of a child.
- The school must inform parents/guardians about their child’s educational progress at regular intervals.
- The IEP is a living document and can be changed as the child grows and progresses as needed. When a change is made to the IEP, it is called an “amendment.” Parents should not be discouraged by amendments. In fact, an amendment indicates that the IEP team is listening to your concerns and is changing the IEP to better meet the needs of your child.
- Social, emotional, behavioral, and functional objectives are just as important to include in an IEP as academic objectives. In fact, children can qualify for functional assistance without having any academic objectives.
O’Neill, Mary-Jo. (2020). Advocating for your Child in the School System. Autism Advocate Parenting Magazine, April 2020 Issue. https://www.autismadvocateparentingmagazine.com/