In recognition of National Parent Leadership Month
by: Katie Conklin, LPC, Program Director

Recently I attended an initial IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting where mom walked into the room, pulled out a framed picture of her beautiful, smiling little boy sitting on Santa’s lap and set it down on the table. One of the team members commented on the picture, to which mom replied, “This is to help all of us, most importantly me, remember that he is a great kid”.  I have had the opportunity to attend many IEP meetings throughout my professional career but I have never witnessed a parent bring such an impactful visual reminder to the table.  Creating and fine-tuning an IEP is an emotional experience for families. It is a time to remind yourself that you are the leader and expert on your own child. This can be difficult to remember when you are sitting around a table of individuals who have multiple acronyms after their name. Through the years, I have created a running list of tips to remind you that you are a leader on your child’s IEP team:

  1. Be prepared for the opening question of “what are your child’s strengths? Weaknesses?”
  2. Think about what you would like to achieve from the meeting and write down your questions ahead of time.
  3. The other members of the team participate in the creation and implementation of an IEP every day, multiple times a day. While they might not mean to they often forget that this is your only experience with the process. If someone says something you do not understand, politely ask them to explain.
  4. Bring an advocate with you—this can be a professional who works with your child, a friend, relative; someone whom can help support you
  5. Know that you are a part of the team and your input makes a difference in the creation of goals and services
  6. An IEP is a running legal document. You can always come back to the table to adjust and tweak it if necessary.
  7. You never need to sign a document at the meeting. You can ask for a “draft” version of the document. If someone says that this will be a delay in services, it is fair to say I can wait one more day…we have already waited 60 (school days).
  8. Remember that the school system is required to do what is “educationally appropriate” for your child not what is “best”.
  9. It is easy for the team to get lost in all the things your child cannot do…remember to focus on the things he or she CAN do.
  10. Educate yourself on key acronyms such as; LRE, Eligibility, D.D., OHI, EBD, FBA, BIP, FAPE
  11. This is a collaborative effort. Mutual respect and trust for the members at the table will allow for a more effective document.

The IEP process and special education can be tricky and cumbersome. As we celebrate National Parent Leadership Month it is important to reflect on the strong leader you are for your children. Your insight and contribution to their educational journey will help lead them towards a lifelong love for learning.

Being A Leader for Your Family During an IEP Process