It can be intimidating for parents of children with autism to address school teachers and leaders in IEP meetings. Over the years, my husband and I have attended many IEP meetings together. We’ve found that mutual success occurs when good negotiation skills are learned and practiced. We hope you’ll find the following tips helpful as you customize them to suit your own situation:
Make a List of IEP Items to Address
Before the meeting, jot down what you want to accomplish in the meeting. You only have a set amount of time to address everything, and you don’t want to accidentally omit something important. Not sure what to include in your child’s IEP? Brainstorm ideas beforehand. What are your child’s greatest needs at school? What does he or she need the most help with?
Attend with a Partner
Come as a couple, or bring someone to help. My husband, Cole, attends every IEP meeting with me. We’ve been told many times that it’s highly unusual to see both parents in attendance. I think it makes a HUGE difference in the outcome. Before we even say one word, we’re showing how important our child is to us and that we want the best education for him. After the meeting, it’s helpful for us to discuss what we heard. Usually we each catch something that the other didn’t.
Don’t be a passive listener. Cole takes copious notes. I take some too. It’s amazing how many follow-ups we’d miss if we didn’t jot them down. Even though someone from the school will be taking notes, make sure you take your own as well.
Keep Emotions in Check
If you tend to get frustrated easily, you may not be your child’s best advocate in an IEP situation. You cannot yell, swear, or insist on unrealistic expectations. If you do, you’ll lose credibility instantly. Instead, you’ll need to bring someone who’s good at discussing your child’s needs in a calm manner. You might even invite them to nudge you under the table if you’re starting to lose control.
Stick to the Facts
If there are problems, state specific instances. Keep a journal or notes of your child’s behaviors or struggles in a planner so you remember what those facts are. Save examples that show homework struggles or poor test results. The school team can’t help you with generalities that aren’t clearly defined or well thought out.
Pick Your Priorities
Your child may have a huge list of needs, but it’s not realistic to think the school can address every single one. Choose the most important ones; we recommend focusing on the top three. When those have been addressed, you can mention more.
Make Sure IEP Goals Are Realistic
Yes, teachers and school staff are required by law to accommodate your child based on his or her IEP requirements. But are the IEP goals you’ve set realistic? Given the time constraints of teachers, you’ll see better results if you make sure the goals can be done in a reasonable amount of time, given the teacher’s constraints. Your child is probably 1 of 25-30 students, each with needs for the teacher to address.
Set Concise Goals at School
A therapist worked with our son and determined that he could achieve at least an 85% success rate on academics. She wrote a letter to the school stating so, and we were able to use that statistic as an IEP goal, meaning our son could achieve A’s and B’s on his schoolwork. Think of what your child needs. Be as specific as you can about them. Then work with the IEP team to set measurable goals.
Set Goals at Home
Tell the school team what you’re doing as parents to supplement your child’s education at home. You might also ask them for recommendations to try. You’ll gain their respect if they know you’re making efforts at home too.
Volunteer in the Classroom
Ask how you can help the teacher or the school. You’re asking them to do extra things for you and your child. That takes time for them. Be considerate and find out what you can do to relieve some of their workload. Can’t volunteer in the classroom? See if the teacher has a project you could complete at home. At the very least, see if there are much-needed supplies you could donate to the classroom and offer support when you can.
Communicate Regularly with the School Team
Follow up with teachers and the school team when needed. IEP meetings aren’t the only time you can talk about your kid’s needs. Send short, concise emails as concerns arise or new solutions are needed. Meet after school if you need longer discussions. Don’t expect the school to initiate follow ups or read your mind as to what your child needs.
We recognize that circumstances for each child with autism vary. These tips are primarily suggestions for children who are capable of a mainstream education, but we hope they’re also helpful for any parent who needs to become an “IEP expert.” When parents learn to be their child’s best advocate, they can do much to help educators find win-win solutions, creating the most optimal educational experience possible.
What tips would you add?
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