I have been attending IEP Meetings since June of 1998. Some years have resulted in five meetings between my two children on the Autism Spectrum. Most of the time they are amended IEPs to add services or discontinue a service.
One time several years ago the teacher did not believe that Matthew was suffering from PICA because he did not display this behavior in the classroom. PICA is the eating of non food items, like paint and tree bark. I was receiving through an agency counseling/therapy for myself for several years. This was a resource I initially found through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. It helped to discuss organizing all the services and have someone to bounce ideas off and help me deal with an ex-spouse with mental issues.
The therapist was well aware of the PICA since Matthew was doing it while she was here. I asked her to attend one of the IEP meetings and listed her as someone I was bringing. The off-site clinic therapists would fax over their reports since they could not attend due to their caseload. The Service Coordinator sometimes attends IEP meetings. Matthew's Feeding Therapist has been attending meetings since he started the sessions as well. The Family Therapist from the same clinic facilitated a meeting with the teacher and Assistant Principal and Feeding Therapist. The Teacher had sent a letter to the feeding therapist without my knowledge or consent asking for personal information relating to Matthew. I was not able to learn of the details of the letter until the meeting when all were present and the teacher was told this was inappropriate.
Other than these people attending I am the only one that has been to each and every IEP Meeting for both my children. If the date is inconvenient I have the meeting rescheduled. One year an amended meeting was held in Matthew's classroom with both my children in the room playing. It is best to have the meeting held during school hours, but sometimes they cannot get a substitute teacher, so we worked around that.
I have contacted twice a lawyer for a phone consultation and emailed advocates on various yahoo groups for some advice prior to attending a meeting. There has never been another person in attendance to represent me or be my voice. I prefer to have my own ideas discussed and take an active role in the IEP Meeting.
Over the years I have heard of many families spending countless dollars on advocates and/or attorneys for an IEP meeting. Personally this is not my recourse, and I have been surprised lately to read of newly diagnosed families contacting groups asking for referrals to lawyers who specialize in Special Education Law for their first IEP Meeting. It seems such a negative way to start off the relationship with a school and the District to bring in the legal team for a meeting to discuss and devise goals for a child on the Autism Spectrum.
Perhaps it is my experience with the court system when I fought for supervised visitation for the non-custodial parent, and observed other parents in court not being able to speak in the court room because they paid a Lawyer to do so. One parent was reprimanded by the Judge for speaking to the Lawyer at the wrong time.
I have received positive feedback and encouraging praise for my involvement in my children's schooling and having the knowledge to make the decisions and ask appropriate questions. I would not feel comfortable having someone of the legal profession sitting in on a school meeting. I am my child's advocate and can share the most relevant information pertaining to his functions and personality.
Here then are some tips based on my experience on what you can do to prepare for the IEP meeting:
Bring a bottle of water and a snack, wear comfortable clothing, dress casual. Remember you will be sitting in small chairs for a long period of time. Nothing low cut or flashy, limit the jewelry and makeup. The focus is on the child.
Have a folder with a picture of your child taped to the front of it. Have a notebook, pen and highlighter with you.
If you have information to share that you will be reading, type it out in a large font with plenty of space between lines. This will make it easier to read. I have done this for many meetings and when in court. This is probably similar to what anchors do on television since they tend to have many papers in a pile.
Get copies of assessments and if necessary records from school prior to meeting. Include the name of any outsiders you will be bringing to the meeting therapists, advocates or a family member.
Visit the classroom prior to the meeting. Make contact with the therapists a few weeks prior to the meeting and go over any issues at that point and ask for a copy of their report.
Read a book on the subject of IEPs
Develop some goals and write them down to discuss cover language arts, speech, reading, writing.
Make sure the meeting is at an early time and that the day is empty without other appointments to attend.
Get a blank copy of an IEP form so you know what will be covered this might be available online. Search around and then ask the school.
Learn the lingo know the terminology beforehand - FAPE, IDEA, ADA, SLP, OT,
Look into the transportation needs, what accommodations are needed, does child need a special pencil, a grip, a weighted vest, special chair, breaks from sitting, a sensory diet, do you want individual or group therapy, in the classroom or alone with the therapist.
Is an aide necessary, what are the qualifications, how long is the process
Toileting issues need to be addressed if the child is not trained to use toilet
Medication issues need to be discussed if the child is on any, bring the side effects data, write down all the information about the med, prescribing doctor and phone number.
Does your child have reading, seeing or hearing problems, do they need to sit closer to the teacher, what about distractions, visual supports,
Lunch and eating issues are there any restrictions, ask how often they eat, what is the class schedule
Do they attend music, go to the library, computer room, what about assemblies? Does your child need some fidgets to deal with transitions to other rooms?
Field trips how often do they go, can parent attend, how far in advance is notice?
What is the discipline policy, how does it relate to special ed students, do they have time outs, do they believe in restraints, is there a policy, discuss a scenario to find out how they deal with the situations that may arise.
Be a good listener
Know the present level of performance, who is responsible for implementing the goals? How will communication flow from school to parent on progress
Related Services find out which days they will be seen and try to make sure that they are not the same day and should be done at the same time every week. Make note of which time of the day is the best for your child and suggest these times be held for the sessions. Does your child do better in the morning or directly after lunch?
Short term goals and long term goals usually 6 months and then one year
Write down some of your child's favorite items - puzzles, books, toys. Has your child ever worn headphones, will that be an issue? Do you have a computer at home, any experience with the mouse and any software programs?
Two sites I recommend to visit that will help you learn about Special Education and Laws - Reed Martin - this site has a chat every Thursday evening that I have participated in many times.
Wrightslaw is the site of Pamela and Peter Wright. The site has sample letters and sends out the Special Ed Advocate Newsletter that every parent needs to sign up for.
Both Reed Martin and the Wrights have seminars across the country that are beneficial to parents and teachers. Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind
Physical Education Lesson Ideas
Parent Guide to IEPs
Forms to Develop IEPs from Circle of Inclusion
Parents Helping Parents IEP Prep
Measurable IEP Goals
Reflecting on the First IEP Meetings I attended