This post will cover the main event, a.k.a., the actual IEP. You’ve done your research, invited your guest advocates and written out your concerns about your child.
Note: this post is about a first IEP for a soon-to-be three-year old child.
Immediately Before the IEP
Don’t forget to bring:
1. Your list of concerns
2. Water or something to drink during the IEP
3. Driver’s license or other form of ID to get through school security
4. Something on which to take notes (smart phone, pen and pad of paper, etc.)
5. Marked up copy of draft assessment, if applicable
The meeting may begin with some sort of feel-good discussion of your child’s strengths. I’m guessing this is probably in the IEP handbook because the meeting can get super emotional.
Immediately after, the concerns listed in the assessment are discussed and parents and other participants can add their two cents about new items to add to the list.
Then the long process of going through the assessment begins. For our son, that included the psychologist’s report as well as those of the speech therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist and special ed teacher. It took at least an hour to review.
At that point, the school district informs the parents whether or not their child is eligible for special ed.
This can be a surprise if your child is already in an early intervention program, because often the school district’s assessment is mysteriously different than other assessments and they deem the child’s case to be less severe than all prior tests.
One of my son’s friends was assessed as not autistic despite significant social and emotional issues. His parents fought and are still fighting for him to be placed in an autism specific program.
Our son was assessed as autistic which means he was eligible for special ed. That led to the goals and services part of the IEP. The meeting continued for another hour and a half. The therapists and the special ed director left for their lunch period. Our guests had all left except for our case manager.
We negotiated over some of the gaps in the plan and still ran out of time and had to agree to end the meeting and review the draft IEP over the few days before our son turned three.
You do not have to sign the IEP at the meeting, though if you’re worried about a gap in services, you may need to at least sign off on portions of it. There are two options if you’re not satisfied with the plan–either sign and call another IEP after 30 days to discuss why the program isn’t working, or fight for specific parts you think should be included.
This is a personal decision so there is no magic formula that helps a family determine how it should be handled. I will say that fighting the school district requires a lot more effort than wait and see, but in many circumstances the initial plan is inadequate and so the choice is obvious.