I know how you feel. You've got therapies and doctor appointments, not to mention all the typical things that moms of toddlers need to worry about. The last thing you want to think about is the looming IEP meeting. You know it's coming but the thought of it is so overwhelming.
Eli turned 3 recently and I wanted to share with you the things that I learned through the process so you can be prepared for when the time comes for your child’s first IEP meeting.
Terms and Abbreviations to know:
IEP: Stands for Individualized Education Plan. This plan contains goals written specifically for your child to help them learn in the best way they can.
Push in: When a therapist comes into the classroom for a service.
Pull out: When a therapist takes your child out of the classroom setting for a service.
Accommodations and Modifications: Changes that allow a person with a disability to participate fully in an activity. Example: extended time or alterations to a classroom.
FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education (rights)
IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (rights)
ESY: Extended School Year (Summer school)
LRE: Least Restrictive Environment (placement with the maximum possible for inclusion)
SDC: Special Day Class (not general education)
APE: Adaptive Physical Education (PE with accommodations)
What to expect:
Typical IEP Timeline according to your child’s age:
2 years 6 months: phone call from Regional Center
2 years 8 months: initial meeting
2 years 10 months: assessments
2 years 11 months: IEP meeting
Our timeline didn’t look like this (so if yours doesn’t either, take a deep breath, it’s all ok and it will work out). If your child's birthday is after any major holidays you can expect a delay in hearing from the school district. When I didn’t hear from Regional Center or the school district by 2 years 10 months, I sent the following letter to the school district psychologist:
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to schedule an initial meeting to review my child's transition from early intervention into the school district. I have to share my concern that he is already two years and ten months old and we still need to assess and meet to determine his services and placement. We are eager to start this process as soon as possible.
We understand that it is necessary to wait as long as possible in order to get the most accurate picture of his abilities, but we do want to ensure that enough time is built into the timeline to allow for us to receive his assessment reports for our review prior to the meeting, and for us to observe any program(s) that may be recommended prior to our agreeing to his IEP.
We do not want for Eli to get his services terminated through Regional Center's early start program before we have a program agreed to and in place for him. We appreciate any assistance you can offer to support this! We look forward to hearing from you soon so we can get these important next steps scheduled!
Of course they responded immediately and we got his initial meeting scheduled along with his IEP date. The initial meeting is basically where you bring your child to the school and you meet with one or two people who will schedule your child’s assessments. They’ll answer any questions you have and you’ll fill out some paperwork.
Each school district has a different way of doing their assessments or evaluations. Some come to observe your child at their global program (if you are in one), some schedule a day for you to bring your child in to the school and you can stay with them while they asses, or, as in Eli’s case, they do what’s called a diagnostic classroom. I dropped him off for at the school M-W from 8-11 for 3 weeks. It was a great way to see how he would do being dropped off at school. The unfortunate part was I was unable to be with him during his assessments so I had to trust he was being himself and performing his true potential for the therapists.
Bring All About Me To Assessments:
An All About Me is a quick way for the team to get to know your child.
Things to include: your family goals, your future goals for your child, family life, medical history, milestones, what they can do (say or sign), your child’s strengths and areas that need improvement, current medical needs (equipment, medication), allergies.
Make sure to bring a handful to hand to each therapist doing the assessments. These people don’t know your child and it’s important for them to see your child as an individual and not as a number. The more information you provide, the better picture they’ll have of your child’s needs.
Here is Eli’s:
Ask For a Draft Prior To The IEP Meeting:
I asked for a draft of the IEP to be delivered a week prior to the meeting so we could be prepared. It is important to keep a record of all correspondence. I hired an advocate to go over the assessments and goals before the meeting so I could have a second set of eyes. She asked me to look at the assessments and to see if they line up with what I see at home because sometimes kids don’t perform for a stranger - they do things at home while they are comfortable and you want to make sure that the goals they are proposing are true goals and not things they have already mastered. Also, make sure that the goals make sense and are attainable. If you want your child to skip rope, a goal may be to hop. You need to see goals as steps along the way to a bigger goal. She also was able to tell me the red flags that she noticed. One of them was a part in the draft that mentioned using a stroller. Eli was not walking yet by his 3rd birthday and part of his IEP was for the school to provide a gait trainer for him to use to get around, but they said they may want to use a stroller for long distances. This hurt my mama heart so much. He already stands out in his gait trainer, the last thing I want his classmates to view him as is a baby.
Make a list of your own goals/wants/red flags/questions before the meeting:
Some examples are: you’d like your child to say 2 words together, you’d like daily report from the teacher (about what they ate, if they used the potty, etc.), you want only females to change your child’s diaper, you don’t want them to push your child in a stroller :)
Day of the big meeting:
1. Bring a friend to take notes if you think you won’t be able to focus or remember anything. My person got sick, but they ended up having a note taker there.
2. If you can, bring snacks and water. I’ve heard some people bring coffee and full on meals, I didn’t have the time or the mental capacity to do anything beyond snacks - don’t put any added pressure on yourself- this is stressful enough as it is. If you can’t do snacks, they won’t notice. When I came in they all commented that it was a pleasant surprise - they aren’t expecting anything! *Edit: it has been brought to my attention that some districts do not allow any food in the IEP meeting, so check with the team first to make it's ok that you bring food
3. Be Kind - some people say you need to come in guns blazing and show them who’s boss. But I personally believe that you are going to want to get on the good side of the people working daily with your child. Remember the old saying - you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
4. Be prepared to cry. The nature of an IEP is to focus on your child’s weaknesses so you can get them the services they need to succeed and it’s emotional to sit around and talk about all the negative things.
5. Listen to what the team is saying and if you don’t understand something, ask them to stop and explain. Several times they used abbreviations and I had to ask what they meant.
6. Bring up your list of goals/wants/red flags/questions. Make sure if everyone agrees to something you want to add or change, that it is recorded during the meeting.
7. Ask to schedule a time to meet the teacher, tour the classroom and the bus.
8. Do Not Sign anything! Even if you agree with everything! Don’t sign! Take the IEP home with you and think through everything. Does it line up with your family goals? Are the goals too easy? Too hard? Are there too many goals? Not enough?
I’ve had friends that want to change things around and I was fully prepared to fight tooth and nail for Eli, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these are the professionals, if they think push in OT is better for him than pull out OT, who am I to argue? I decided to go along with all the services they offered us and I told myself, I’ll see how it goes and if it’s not working, then I’ll say something. As long as it’s working and Eli is benefiting, I won’t rock the boat. If he’s not meeting any goals, if he’s falling behind or regressing, then I’ll say something. I’m going to trust the professionals. Not everyone has this outlook- you do you. If you feel very strongly that your child needs pull out PT and they are offering you push in - say something! If your child starts meeting their goals early you can ask for an IEP meeting mid year with new (and maybe not so easy) goals. Remember, you have rights :)
You are a Warrior Mama (or dad!) You’ve got this!