Monday, June 4, 2012

Getting to Know Your IEP Team

IEP meetings are not just about the paperwork.
Photo by Luigi Diamanti

When you go to your child's IEP meetings, do you feel like you know the people there, or do they feel like strangers?  Are they, in fact, strangers?

If you've been struggling to get anywhere during your meetings, you probably feel quite a bit of animosity, or even anger, toward the members of your child's IEP team.  Building resentment is not going to help you in your quest to get the best possible placement and education for your child, and lashing out at the team is likely to build resentment on their part as well (sure, they should be professional, but we're all human after all -- which types of people are YOU more likely to want to work with?), and now a vicious cycle has been created, and nobody is managing to get anything done.

To make your voice powerful and heard, get to know the members of your child's IEP team.  Do you know who they are?  Take a look at the back page of your last IEP report.  It should contain the signatures of everyone who was at that meeting.  To follow the regulations set by the IDEA, your team should include, at the very least:

  • You (the parents)
  • One or more general education teachers (if your child is main-streamed)
  • One or more of your child's special education teachers
  • A representative of the school who knows the system and the typical general ed. curriculum (maybe a principal or vice-principal)
  • A person who is qualified to interpret results from school evaluations (typically a school psychologist)
  • Others with specialized knowledge or expertise, if desired (maybe your child's therapist or a professional advocate that works with your family)
  • Your child (if appropriate)
Do you have a face for each of these names?  If you feel yourself starting to grind your teeth just thinking about some of these people, it's time to put your animosity to the side.  You don't have to love these people, but you do have to work with them.  Small gestures can go a long way.  Start up an email conversation.  If you've ever been short or snarky, apologize.  Say you were having a bad day or whatever.  This is about your child, not you, so suck it up.  Ask how things are going.  If you have some ideas, talk about them.  

If you really feel like you aren't getting anywhere, and the team isn't responding to your friendly overtures, work your way up the chain.  Start by contacting the district office.  Find out who is in charge of overseeing the special education program for your child's grade level.  Send an email or call on the phone.  Don't be pushy, be friendly.  Schedule an appointment to talk about what is going on.  If your district has a coordinator to deal specifically with your child's diagnosis (for example, our district has an autism coordinator), this person can also be a powerful ally.  Keep this in mind as well:  There could very well be a good and personal reason why they are working in this particular position.  

The school year is winding down.  Now is a great time to schedule a meeting to discuss the possibilities for next year, review the IEP, and make any necessary changes.  


  1. Amelia,

    Informative post!
    As a Mom of 2 sons with special needs, I naively believed that the IEP team was working in their best interests - wrong!! I became a better informed parent of my children's educational rights & available resources to help them achieve their goals. A Child Advocate worker(who was a parent of a special needs child, who had already navigated the educational system) helped me the most.
    Also, I *highly* recommend the book "How To Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child: a Field Guide For getting Effective Services for Children With Special Needs" by Gary Mayerson, Esq. This is a "must read" for any parents of special needs children, to help them navigate the educational system.

    1. I'll definitely check out the book! We work with a parent partner as well, through the wraparound program. She's been fantastic, and I've learned so much from her.

      Thanks so much for reading and stopping by!

  2. You're welcome. Keep up the good work with your blog!