IEP Meetings: What to Expect, How to Prepare

An individualized education program (IEP) is critical for any ADHD student. Here's what to do before, during, and after meeting your child's teacher to set up classroom accommodations.

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IEP meetings can be emotional, and it is hard to hear and understand everything that is said if you are keyed up or anxious. Keeping a positive tone is tricky, but it can be done.

At HOPE Educational Consulting, in Ohio, Katie Wetherbee -- a former special-education teacher and a mother of a child with special needs -- shows families how to do just that. Here she shares advice that has worked wonders for herself and other mothers of special-ed and ADHD children.

1. Prioritize your child’s needs. Before the meeting, write down your child’s academic, social, physical, and emotional problems, in order of priority. Request that the top three problems in each area be addressed. Some things may need to wait, but don’t budge on the ones that are most important now.

2. Write everything down. Keep a daily log of time spent and of the specific activities you do at home with your ADHD child to support his needs in school. For example, monitor the time spent on homework, or on completing daily organizational tasks. This will show the team how hard you work. It will also make it easier to set up programs at school that can work in conjunction with routines at home.

3. Do advance work. Find out which teachers will attend the IEP meeting. If you know that the speech therapist will be there, e-mail questions to her ahead of time. If you prepare well, the meeting time, about an hour in most school districts, can be used more effectively.

4. Make it personal. Nida Parrish, a proud parent of seven-year-old Collin, always brings along two items to IEP meetings: a photo of her son and a piece of his artwork. “Collin is artistic, and it may be a side of him his teachers don’t know about. Bringing something personal sets the tone for the meeting and allows everyone to be on ‘Team Collin,’” she says.

5. Prepare a presentation. Bring a written list of questions and subjects to discuss, so that you don’t forget anything important. When Collin started kindergarten, his dad created a slide-show presentation that illustrated his concerns. It ended with two photos of Collin, side by side: One picture showed him smiling and the other showed him crying. The family left the slide up and asked, “What kind of year will we make for Collin?”

6. Invite a friend. Ask a friend or family member to come with you to act as a second set of ears and eyes. Your surrogate can take notes, so that you don’t miss or misunderstand anything important. After the IEP meeting, while everything is fresh in your mind, review your friend’s notes, jotting down questions.

7. Have an open mind. An education lawyer, from Ohio, explains that parents must have faith in the system. “Parents may get stuck on a specific reading program that they feel their child can benefit from. But there may be another program that would better suit your child’s needs. Your goal is to explain that Johnny can’t read, and to ask for the ‘best’ program the school can recommend.”

Parrish was surprised to learn, before her IEP meeting, that the school had assigned her son a teacher she thought might be problematic. Instead of entering the meeting defensively, she asked why the school thought this would be a good match. Nida agreed with the school’s assessment.

8. Designate a go-to person. At the meeting, determine which participant you feel most comfortable with, and ask him or her to be your contact when questions arise. Select someone who interacts frequently with your child.

9. Schedule a follow-up. After the initial IEP meeting, request a 60-day review with the team to see how the year is going. This can be arranged in person with the team or written down in the section of the IEP titled “Summary of Services.”

10. Keep everyone on the same page. After the meeting, send everyone an e-mail or a letter summarizing the meeting goals and listing the people assigned to do specific tasks. This will serve as a record of the meeting.

11. Say thanks. Most people who work with special-needs children do it because they love the kids. Send a note that includes examples of how a teacher’s actions made a difference.

12. Catalog the journey. Keep a notebook or file for each school year. Include copies of correspondence, the current IEP, test results, report cards, and samples of your child’s work. This will help you keep the documents organized, and create a record of the progress your child has made. Refer to the notebook to remind you of how far your child has come, and of the new goals you want to help her work toward.

You are the expert on your child. No one -- coach, teacher, or therapist -- knows more about her strengths, her passions, her dreams than you do. What’s the best way to convey your insights and practical knowledge to her teacher, so your child can succeed at school?

For many parents, the home/school checklist, developed by the Learning Disabilities Association of Minnesota, has been the answer. The document, which serves as an MRI of your child’s learning profile, helps identify academic shortfalls and the strategies you’re taking, or have taken, to solve them. This handy tool facilitates communication between you and the teacher, and sends the message that you are a valuable resource and part of the team. The checklist may also prompt the teacher to share classroom strategies that you can use at home.

The home/school checklist is especially useful at the beginning of the academic year, but can be used at any point during the semester with good results. To download the document, log on to ldaminnesota.org.

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This article comes from the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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