MY CHILD HAS AN IEP... NOW WHAT?
There are several ways your child may have been identified as a child with an educational disability requiring specialized instruction. You may have noticed concerns and requested a meeting with the school-based IEP team.
The school may have been implementing interventions with little to no progress. You may have sought outside testing or support in the identification and qualification process. No matter how your child was identified for special education services, it’s a long and daunting task.
But once your child has an IEP, the work does not stop - it’s truly just beginning. IEPs do not solve problems. IEPs are not magic wands. The IEP is almost like a recipe. It shows all the ingredients and steps, but they have to be implemented and perhaps revisited more frequently. Parents of children with educational disabilities do not have an easy job. If you want to be more involved in the IEP process or want to change up what you are currently doing, below are my recommendations!
Expand each step below to learn more about being a parent/guardian of a child with an IEP.
Read your parental rights handbook!
This is not light reading! IEP teams often joke that it’s great bedside reading (as in it will help you fall asleep) as they hand the large packet to families. The handbook helps provide guidance on special education. This is so you can advocate for your child. These are heavy in jargon! As you read it with intention, write down your questions about specific rights, words, or processes. Ask your child’s case manager, administrator, or coach for clarification!
Each state will have its version of a parental rights handbook. IDEA requires the following:
The right to participate
The right to invite others
The right to share the IEP with others
The right to review documents at any time
The right to prior written notice
The right to an independent evaluation
The right to dispute
The right to final say
Keep all your documents organized.
Find a binder or large folder that you keep in a spot you remember. When you come home from a meeting or your child comes home with IEP-related documents, put them in the binder! Add important IEP meeting dates and report to your calendar. Print my Family IEP Binder Organization Resource here. In this resource you receive the following:
Yearly calendar to document meeting dates, data reports, and other important dates
"Notes" Page for you to record any questions or thoughts you have about your child's IEP
5 Section Dividers
IEP and Consent - This is for the most recent IEP and any signed consent you are providing
Meeting Minutes - In this section, you will store the detailed meeting report. This describes all proposals, rejections, and decisions by the IEP team. You should also get the participant page, and signed receipts for documents.
Progress Reports. - You should be receiving progress reports about their IEP goals and objectives. The frequency of receiving progress reports depends on the team's decision, but should at least happen quarterly.
Evaluations and Assessments. - To qualify for special education services, assessments and evaluations must be completed. Please keep them! Reports need to be reviewed every three years. This helps the team determine the need for updated assessments. If you reread them before the re-evaluation planning meeting, you can compare the previous assessments to what you see in your child now.
Procedural Safeguards. - Handbooks, pamphlets, rights, and guides should be held onto and kept with your IEP documents so you know where they are! You will be provided a new copy each year.
Previous Years - It is always good to keep at least the last 5 years IEPs, Meeting Reports, and Progress Reports. This way you can always go back and look to make sure things are progressing!
Know your child’s accommodations and goals.
Knowing the accommodations lets you advocate for your child. If you notice your child is struggling on a series of assignments ask them (if they are old enough) if they were provided their accommodations (be specific!). Communicate with the teacher about your concerns in a collaborative manner. If accommodations are used and they are still struggling, talk to the case manager. An interim review may be necessary to review current accommodations and if different ones s are needed.
Grades are not goals - if you think about it, your child is performing below grade level. The goals are there to help address gaps and bring them closer to grade level. Look at progress reports to ensure they are making progress or not. If not, you need to be meeting with the IEP team to determine why.
Work on self-advocacy.
The best advocate for your child is your child! If they can ask for the things they need to be successful, they will take ownership of their education. Work on them recognizing when an accommodation is needed. Practice advocating at home and problem-solving. Encourage them to speak up with their teachers. These can be goals or supplementary aids on the IEP as well!
Communicate with your team.
Communication is key! Let the team know of any significant changes your child has had at home. Share your concerns. Communicating with the IEP team should not be limited to progress reports and IEP meetings. If concerned, communicate in a way that opens up dialogue. As a teacher, I often receive emails that are written at the height of emotion and are very aggressive. The knee-jerk reaction is to become defensive. None of the above supports the child. If you feel emotional or that your communication is not productive, consider talking to an IEP coach. An IEP Coach can help ease and bridge any communication gaps. IEP coaches have an understanding of Special Education Law, Policy, and Educational Practices. IEP Coaches also want the student to be successful and support the family in reaching their goals.
Track IEP Progress.
Have you noticed a frequent thread? Hold on to and read the progress report! I have received many progress reports from rising students where the report does not even relate to the goal they are reporting on. Trust me, I get frustrated. If you are actively tracking their progress too, you can ask more specific questions to the team and at the annual IEP review. For your first few, have the case manager review the progress report with you and explain what it means. Or, meet with an IEP coach to review and help you become a stronger advocate and train you on what to look for.
IEPs are not magic wands. We need to have the patience to let the team implement the IEP. It can take six to eight weeks before we start to see if the plan developed is leading to progress or continued struggle. Progress is also not linear. There will be peaks and valleys along the way. If you’re not sure if you are expecting too much too soon, talk to your case manager or reach out to an IEP Coach.
Request Interim Reviews
This is one that I stress to all my families. You have the right to request an IEP meeting! If you think something is not going right. If you think something needs to be updated. If you think something needs to be removed… REQUEST A MEETING! If requesting an IEP meeting, make sure you know what you want to discuss and be specific on what you want to meet about. Writing down your specific concerns and patterns over time will help the team create positive outcomes, rather than go in circles. They may not see what you see. If a school team does not see what a parent sees or if a parent does not see what the school team sees, it does not mean either party is not correct. But, having specific examples and discussing patterns they see, can help your school team make decisions to support your child
Look for additional resources.
This may be a group, educational resources, or outside tutoring. When the case manager or school sends home information, take a look to see if there are agencies or offices that you can reach out to for support. This may be for you, or your child. You can also take a look at my previous blog post “15 Resources for Those Who Support an IEP” for great websites, podcasts, books, and more! If you are still not sure what additional resource you may need, consider reaching out to an IEP coach. They can help with short-term and long-term needs!
Self-care is a buzzword right now, but it is so true! And it looks different for everyone. Maybe it’s having a beverage and a short walk, turning off the computer after 5:00 pm, watching a preferred show, or a nice skincare routine. Being the parent of a child with an IEP, regardless of the severity of the disability, is hard work. The saying, “You can’t pour from an empty bucket” is true. If you want to be involved, you have to be ready to pour into the process and work. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone! Find a support group, an IEP coach, or a knowledgeable friend that you can lean on.
You may feel overwhelmed. You may be curious. You may be frustrated. No matter what, you are not alone. Whether your child just was recently identified or has had an IEP for several years, it's never too late to continue learning about special education. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can schedule a free 15-minute consultation or send a message through the contact page!