IDEA gives parents the right to equal participation in their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. Yet parents–new and veterans to the IEP planning process–often report finding it difficult to know how they can contribute. I was one of those parents. But that changed.
Here are a few ways that made a big difference. There are many more.
Parents as Experts
I consider myself an expert on my child. I served as the visionary and historian of the IEP team. At the beginning of each IEP meeting, I shared our vision for my daughter, Leigh’s future. Sharing our vision was a gentle way of stating our high hopes for Leigh’s education.
The purpose of IDEA is to prepare students for further education, employment, and independent living. Everyone at our IEP had to value our long-term goals. I also needed them to realize the role they played in helping Leigh reach them.
I talked about the impact Leigh’s disability had on her life. I wanted the IEP team to set aside any ideas they already had. I needed them to consider supports specific to her needs. And I needed them to have high expectations.
Discussions at our IEP meetings often focused on Leigh’s weaknesses. To change the focus from what Leigh struggled with, I created and shared a list of her strengths. Many were not measurable through standardized testing. I would then ask each team member to share a strength they had seen in Leigh. Focusing on Leigh’s strengths helped us create a strengths-based IEP.
Schedule of Services
Special education is a service, not a place. The schedule of services discussion focuses on where a student will receive those services.
My husband and I believed the best place for Leigh to meet her goals was in the general education setting. Without our input and knowledge of our rights, this would have never happened.
We took the lead in making sure that the IEP team followed the meeting agenda. Where a student receives their special education services is the last decision an IEP team should make. Before we took the lead, all decisions (goals, modifications & accommodations, related services, etc.) were based on a predetermined placement in a special education classroom.
We had to learn about and teach others:
My husband and I were the ones who requested an Assistive Technology assessment. We were the ones who requested training and additional support for staff. All of these things were vital for everyone’s success – Leigh’s and the staff.
At first, I found the role of “advocate” or “that mom” unsettling. It made me a nervous wreck. Once I saw the difference it made, it became easier. My input was critical to Leigh’s success. I couldn’t let her down.
There is more information about your child’s educational choices in Education and Schools.
After high school, your child can still learn skills that will help them find a career. Here’s how.