We recently had an emergency IEP meeting, the second one we’ve attended, for our 4-year-old son who has autism. My husband and I were woefully unprepared for the first meeting. We didn’t know how to prepare, what our rights were, or how to work with the system.
This second meeting came almost 12 months afterward. I have learned a lot during that year about what goes into IEPs, what to say, what not to say, what rights parents and our children have, and how the meetings are run. I am here to share tips about navigating an IEP meeting during the coronavirus shutdown without shedding tears. The goal is always to get the appropriate IEP for your child. (Bonus tip: Never say best or most, just appropriate.)
Tip #1: Find Advocates
Find someone who has a great deal of knowledge and ask, ask, ask! This can be as informal as a friend who has gone through many IEP meetings, contacting the Parent Training and Information Center through your state, or hiring a formal IEP or disability rights advocate. I used the free services through my state. They were kind enough to offer me three people to talk to. These individuals provided documents about our rights, important buzzwords, as well as IEP document phrasing, and what to say if the team denied an accommodation we deemed necessary. They helped me to create and word several goals and services that would be the most useful to my son at his present age and stage. They also provided snippets of case law should our rights be violated.
Tip #2: Attend Workshops
Many states have free workshops through their school systems. Different disability societies also have free workshops dedicated to children’s education, disabilities and IEPs. We attended a workshop before our IEP meeting. They went through every page of a blank IEP and discussed what services are appropriate when, how to ask for what’s needed, how to have it phrased in the actual document, and what to do if the IEP team pushes back. On top of that, they said our local school system has a free disability lending library. They also brought a large selection of books specific to IEPs.
Tip #3: Read Books about IEPs
I flipped through many of the books at the workshop and selected the four I found most useful and relevant. They discussed each component of the IEP, the case law related to the IEP, and step-by-step ways to solve problems. The books had templates for letters to write to the IEP team, examples of questions to ask, instructions for writing effective goals, and strategies to resolve disputes. The four books I recommend are:
“The Art of Advocacy” by Charmaine Thaner, M.A.
“Negotiating the Special Education Maze” by Winifred Anderson, Stephen Chitwood, Deirdre Hayden, and Cherie Takemoto
“The Complete IEP Guide” by Lawrence M. Siegel
“From Emotions to Advocacy” by Pam and Pete Wright
Tip #4 Attend a Local Support Group
We attended several local autism support group meetings. The individuals who attend these meetings have often been in the disability world for a long time and have experience with IEPs. They provided tons of handouts, resources, and had another lending library! They were supportive, understanding and tried to answer my questions.
Tip #5: Access Online Resources
I have used the internet to find local support groups and Facebook groups. I found local Facebook groups to most beneficial as other ones were either too general or didn’t provide helpful enough information. Websites specific to a specific disability explained what should or could be included in the IEP for that disability. These websites have copious information related to laws and IEPs:
Tip #6: Listen to Podcasts
I love podcasts that provide useful help with IEPs, important perspectives, and information on disability rights. Here are my favorites:
Don’t IEP Alone by Lisa Lightner
Thriving in The Midst of Chaos with Jessica and Lewis Temple
Tip #7: Coronavirus and IEPs
Coronavirus has thrown a monkey wrench into IEPs. These resources may be very helpful for you to learn more about how this may affect your child, what to do in this unprecedented time, and what your rights are:
Tip #8: Coronavirus and Homeschooling
The following resources may be very helpful to keep your child’s IEP and services on track until schools are in session again and help you with homeschooling:
IEP meetings are stressful. They are a lot of work, and there is a lot to know. However, if you utilize these resources and arm yourself with knowledge, I believe you will be tearless, successful navigating an IEP meeting during the coronavirus shutdown, and satisfied with the IEP you and your child’s team put together.