Advocating for Your Child in School in an IEP (Individualized Education Program) -- Part 1
What can I do to help advocate for my child in school?
That is the question many parents have as they try to navigate an education for their child. From personal experience, I can say navigating an IEP meeting can be very challenging and intimidating. My number one suggestion is to get an advocate or a second support person (friend, professional, colleague, etc.) to go with you. Why? Meetings are often emotional and draining. As parents, we sometimes get stuck on a thought during the meeting, especially if it is negative, and then we miss what is being said for the rest of the meeting. We also are busy thinking about what we want to say during the meeting. Add to all that the fact that we all hear and interpret things differently. You have a recipe for disaster and hurt or angry feelings.
It is always helpful to have a second ear to help you interpret and remember what was said during the meeting, as well as help you from getting overly emotional. It can be hard when you are alone. My second suggestion would be to make an IEP binder to keep all your paperwork in one place.
What is an IEP?
Let’s start by defining an IEP. An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. It is designed to meet each person’s individual needs. It is like a map that lays out a plan for special education supports. The plan is covered by the special education law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or as it is known IDEA. IEP’s are part of public education which includes charter schools if the child is eligible.
Private schools do not offer IEP’s but students may be eligible for Individualized Service Plans (ISP). Children under the age of three can receive early intervention services before attending school. After they turn three, they can get IEP services through the public-school system if they are eligible. Once your child goes to college, they no longer qualify for an IEP but may be eligible for disability services.
The IEP process starts with an evaluation done by the school. You may decide to pay for your own private evaluation if you choose. The evaluation will look at strengths and weaknesses. The results will create the IEP for the child. The IEP should address specific skills. Some of the things that can be considered accommodations are extra time on tests, assisted technology, preferential seating, speech-language therapy, and the list goes on.
So, how do you get an evaluation? You will need to request in writing that you want an evaluation done to your child’s school. I suggest you make a copy for yourself. Often the school will say they did not receive it and this will give you proof. You can either hand it in at the office or send it through certified mail (they have to sign for it). If you are handing it in at the office make sure you document the time, the date and who received the notice for evaluation. Sometimes the school will start the process for you. They may suggest evaluating your child, BUT they can’t do an evaluation without your consent.
After the evaluation is complete, it will be determined whether or not your child qualifies. Not all children that struggle will qualify. They must qualify under at least one of these 13 categories below AND need services or accommodations to succeed in school:
• Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
• Emotional Disturbance- anxiety, depression and mental health disorders
• Intellectual Disability
• Deaf-blindness-severe hearing and vision loss
• Specific Learning Disability (SLD)- Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Auditory processing disorder, Dyscalculia and Nonverbal learning disability
• Traumatic brain injury
• Visual impairment
• Speech or language impairment
• Deafness- can't hear with hearing aids or devices
• Hearing impairment
• Orthopedic impairment
• Multiple disabilities
• Other health impairment
If the school determines the child meets the requirements, they will schedule an eligibility meeting. This meeting will include the family, teachers, specialists, evaluators and any other people involved in the process. Together an IEP will be developed based on feedback from everyone.
Part two of this series will cover the actual contents of the IEP, so stay tuned for that next Monday!