Having a child start school can be a daunting process for any parent. When you throw in an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting to make sure your child’s most basic needs are met, it can be even more overwhelming. Having just experienced our first of many IEP meetings, I wanted to take a minute to share some insight we gained from the process – in hopes that it may make the road a little smoother for the next parent!
1. Start the process way in advance! I thought I would just call the principal to set up a meeting date and that would be that, but in reality, we had to first have Maddie do an entrance evaluation with the school district to evaluate what they thought her needs were. After that, we had to pick a day that would work for an interdisciplinary team of almost 10 people in the district so it takes time!
2. If you decide to take your child along to the IEP to meet the teachers and see the school, make sure to bring maybe a tablet and some headphones. Some of the discussion of their evaluation of your child’s skills and weaknesses may not be appropriate for them to hear. Part of the talk can be tough, so prepare for that mentally, and realize they are trying to identify where their efforts should be focused to most effectively provide for your child’s needs.
3. Know that some school districts have floating nurses that aren’t stationed at one school at all times. We got lucky and the school our child is zoned for has a nurse at all times so she will be available to cath her. Some schools, from what I hear, train their para pros if no nurse is available at the time needed.
4. Do not assume that the things that are obvious to you are obvious to everyone. Spell out your child’s needs in detail, all the way down to things as simple as making sure to buckle your child back in their chair when placed in and out. They may be professionals when it comes to caring for children, but you are the expert when it comes to caring for your child!
5. Ask to tour the school to determine areas of need. We asked to see the playground and found there was not any accessible equipment available. Be your child’s advocate! There was not an accessible swing so I asked for an accessible swing and the principal is finding the funds to have one installed before school begins.
6. Make sure to address time outside of the classroom such as cafeteria time, special programs, gym time, hallway time, and recess. We have requested a single para pro be assigned to Maddie at these times to ensure she is properly taken care of.
7. ASK ABOUT EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS! We got the school to agree to have one person in charge of ensuring our daughter’s safety in the event of a fire or natural disaster. We asked for specific names of people who would be in charge and for back-ups to be assigned as well.
8. Don’t feel guilty for asking for extra things to make your child’s time at school as safe and productive as possible. The teachers and staff are there to meet your child’s needs, and if you don’t verbalize what your child needs, they may not know fully.
9. Be proud of your child and all they have accomplished no matter what side of the spectrum they may fall. It can be discouraging for a parent to sit and listen to areas of deficiency stated so bluntly. Remember all that your child has overcome and know they are fighters like no other! The things they can and will accomplish with proper nourishment know no boundaries!
IEP meetings do not have to be intimidating if you do your research upfront. Ask advice from others, seek out great resources online that are abounding, and search for topics on social media groups that provide valuable insight. Your child will be in better hands and have more chances to thrive if you are their number one advocate.
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The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution.