Blog Date: 
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Melissa Riccobono

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings can feel overwhelming. Seated around the table are members of the team—a teacher of blind students, the classroom teacher, and the IEP team chair person. There may be an orientation and mobility specialist, speech pathologist, school psychologist, school administrator, special education director, physical therapist, and occupational therapist as well. Then, of course, there is you—the parent. Surrounded by all of these “experts” it can be easy to feel intimidated, especially if you are new to the IEP process. However, you are at the table for a reason. You are an expert as well—an expert on your child. You are your child’s first teacher, and you have just as much to contribute as anyone else on the team. Don’t sell yourself short! Here are some tips for taking full advantage of your status as a team member.

  • You can call the shots: As a team member, you have the right to attend your child’s IEP meeting in person. You have the right to invite anyone you would like to the meeting as a support to you. Also, you have the right to request a meeting of the team at any time during the school year in order to discuss concerns, ask for additional assessments or services, or to review the IEP and your child’s progress. Do not feel bad about requesting an additional meeting or two to get your questions answered, or to get the IEP to be as perfect as possible. Your child deserves a quality education; by requesting these things, you are doing your part as a team member to insure this happens.

  • Do not be afraid to ask questions: Assessment data can be interpreted at lightning speed. Abbreviations and other educational jargon can be thrown around. And, there is often the pressure of the clock. But asking questions is your right and responsibility. You need to understand everything that is being said. Ask questions, and slow the pace of the meeting if it is going too fast. If you are constantly told that the team needs to hurry because of some type of time constraint, request a second meeting at a time when the team can meet without being rushed.

  • Come to the meeting prepared: Take some time before the meeting to review any documents you are given, write down questions and concerns. Also, do your own research. Explore all sides, whenever possible, and decide which one feels most right to you. If you feel your point of view might differ from the team’s, gather articles and other resources supporting your feelings, and bring these with you to the meeting. This can be especially helpful if you are going to be asking for increased or new services, or further assessments.

  • Find an expert: Some people learn best by reading blogs and articles. Others would much rather learn in a different way. If written material is not your thing, find a person you can talk to. The National Federation of the Blind has fifty-two affiliates filled with blind adults and parents of blind children. Reach out and get connected with others who have been through this process before. Ask your questions, listen to their stories, and use this knowledge to help your child.

  • Forgive yourself: In your exploration, you may find information which makes you feel guilty for not pushing harder for certain services, or not asking for services because you did not realize they existed. You might also find that you have not been expecting as much of your child as you should. Look at the upcoming meeting as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. You cannot go back in time, and the important thing is that you are taking steps to educate yourself and turn things in a new direction.

  • Be Objective: Unfortunately, there are a lot of IEP horror stories out there. There are also many teams who do a fantastic job putting the needs of the child first and getting each child the services he or she needs. And often teams are in between. You may not like every team member. You may not agree with the philosophy or approach of every team member. But, these are the team members with which you and your child have to work. So, as much as possible, try to take what is said objectively. Pick it apart and find at least something you can agree with in what is said. Then, when a discussion starts, begin with the things you agree with—then go on, politely, to discuss what you do not agree with and why.

  • Bring someone: It is often difficult to remain objective and to state your case for something you feel passionately about. This is why bringing an advocate, spouse, or friend can be very helpful. Someone else may be able to explain things to you or the team in a different way, and someone else will also hear things in a different way, and can help you not only understand better what is being said, but put what is being said into perspective. There is strength in numbers; make sure to get the support you and your child need.

  • Find allies: Who on the team seems supportive? Who really listens to you? Who seems to agree with you? Find those allies and develop a relationship with them. They can help you and your child.

  • Bring it back to basics—high expectations: You want your child to achieve all he or she can. Ask what your child’s sighted peers are being expected to do in the classroom. If what your child is expected to do is vastly different, ask why. Especially if you believe your child needs more or different services, this conversation can be exactly the opening you need to make the argument that something needs to change in order for your child to keep up with his or her peers.

  • Trust your heart: If something doesn’t feel right to you, then it is worth fighting to change. Listen with an open mind, but do not be afraid to disagree. Again, you know your child best.

Editor's Note: 

Participating in your child's IEP meeting is extremely important to ensure that he or she is set up for success. In the third installment of our blog series on this topic, Melissa Riccobono gives us tips on how to be an active member of the team.

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