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April 13, 2012

by Raphael James

People go to school to become many things…doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers.  But I have yet to meet the person who went to school with the goal of becoming parent to a child with special needs.

In fact, at times it seems the person least qualified to help the child navigate a life of special needs, is the parent.  Teachers, doctors, and social workers spend years getting specialized training in their field.  Parents, usually don’t get that luxury.

Want to be intimidated? Try sitting across the table from educational experts talking about your child in  weird alphabetized code.

“We think this amount of ABA will provide XYZ for your child’s IEP. Is that OK?”

The thought of IEP (Individualized Education Plans) meetings can be frightening. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In America, children with special needs have the same rights and expectations to quality education as anyone else. But oftentimes it takes the parent standing up to demand what’s best for his or her child.

You have rights and there are many websites out there that detail what those rights are.  Here are a few that I have found helpful.

In South Carolina, there is an organization called Pro-Parents. They offer training in the community for parents to understand the special education system.  Rene Sharkey, a regional director, says don’t go into an IEP meeting unprepared when her group is just a phone call away.  “If a child has an IEP and they’re not sure the school is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they can call us and ask what types of services are available to them.  We can also go over an IEP with the parent to see what is going to be the best services for that child in school.” (The number for Pro-Parents is 803.772. 5688).

Another website that I found helpful was   This link has a list of frequently asked questions concerning special factors of IEP’s that you might find helpful. The website appears to be the brainchild of two law professors who teach a course on special education law and have published several books on the subject.

The third resource is an article from Jaketta Davis of the Detroit Autism Education Examiner. She highlights 5 things she learned at her son’s IEP meetings and shares strategies for avoiding some of her pitfalls. It’s helpful, practical advice that’s easy to understand.

Don’t be intimidated. You’ve got this!

No matter how many degrees THEY have, no matter how many alphabets come behind their name YOU ARE qualified to be sitting at that table. You know your kid better than any of them.

Come prepared to fight. No matter how nice they may all seem, you may have to scrap a little bit to get what your child needs. Remember, in that meeting the school administrators are not solely looking out for the best interest of your child. They have the interests of the other kids, teachers and ultimately represent the concerns of the district.  If anyone is going to stand up for your child it is going to have to be you.

Feel overwhelmed? Ask someone to go in with you. The saying goes two heads are better than one and it’s possible that another set of eyes and ears can pick up on things that you may have missed.

Know your rights and stand firm. You can do this! You have to do it! Your child is counting on you.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2012 9:47 am

    Thank you Raphael for posting this. I agree with Shelli to get a draft of the IEP before the meeting. This helps you to be as prepared as all the others sitting at the table for the IEP meeting and helps the parent be an equal partner in the meeting. Also, having good documentation helps to make a parent an equal partner and advocate for their child. If you feel that your child needs more/different services, coming in with concrete reasons on why they are needed will go a long way. Obeservations you have of your child at home while doing their homework that you keep track of on a daily basis, can be great information to give to the IEP team. And if those observations also focus on their strengths, it can be invaluable.

  2. April 13, 2012 2:43 pm

    My top two tips: (1) request a draft copy to review prior to the mtng; and (2) record the meeting.

    A draft copy will give you time to thoroughly review the present levels as determined by the school-based team. Alot of the jargon (two standard deviations below the norm, 45% percentile, ROM, etc.) are found in the present levels section. You should be able to draw a clear line from present levels to the goal and then to the objective, measureable outcome, and then to the instruction or services provided.

    For example, if the present level in communication states that your child is using appropriate greetings 35% of the time upon the student or teacher/therapist entering a classroom, you should expect to see a goal about appropriately using greetings upon entering or leaving a classroom with a stretch goal of 75% of the time, with time and services from special education teacher and speech therapist. Remember that most IEP goals are written for a one year period.

    Although I’ve oversimplified the information you will find in an IEP, the point is that you should be able to connect the dots across these sections of the IEP.

    Record all meetings as a habit. Typically there are at least 4 people on the school-based team and sometimes only 1-2 on the home-based. That means that you literally have fewer resources at the table to catch every word. The recordings allow you to review the discussions and decisions with a parent whose job may have prevented him from attending a midday meeting or to compare the recording to the written notes. Just remember to advise the school-based team ahead of time that you plan to record. They will want go have their own recording device too.

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