Surviving the IEP Meeting
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a child who qualifies for special education requires an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a written treatment plan that describes your child’s speech therapy needs and how they will be met within the public school system. After your child is evaluated by an interdisciplinary team of professionals, you will receive a notice for an IEP meeting. During this meeting, the team will discuss your child’s needs and write his IEP if he is eligible for special education.
How to Prepare
The IEP meeting will be an exhaustive review of your child’s speech and language issues and possibly his related behavioral problems. As your child’s advocate, be prepared to address any of these issues. Request a copy of the comprehensive evaluation report (CER), which is a record of the findings of the team members, and review it thoroughly before the meeting. You may request a meeting to discuss the CER prior to the IEP meeting. Before the IEP meeting, read the IDEA regulations and know your child’s rights. Talk to other parents with children in speech therapy in the school and ask them about the services that they receive.
What to Bring
Before the IEP meeting, write down a list of all of the questions you have and any points that you wish to discuss. Bring this list to the meeting, along with your copy of the CER, a copy of the IDEA regulations, and all other paperwork that you have received from the school. Bring all written assessments from any private speech therapists that may have evaluated your child. Bring your child’s medical records, samples of his schoolwork, and any audio or video clips of him that may highlight his speech disorder.
Parents often find that bringing along a tape recorder is useful. An IEP meeting is often lengthy and exhausting; having a record of the conversation can be helpful. Ask other advocates for your child to attend the meeting. You have the right to bring a family member or even a close friend who can provide moral support during heated discussions. You may also bring a private speech therapist to represent your child’s needs and a legal advocate, such as an attorney who is familiar with the IDEA law. Check with the National Disability Rights Network and the Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities for listings of advocates. Inform the school ahead of time about any additional participants.
What to Say
Listen to each team member carefully and take plenty of notes to refer to during the meeting – even if you decide to bring a tape recorder. If you feel that a team member is rushing through a particular topic, do not hesitate to ask her for clarification. Ask all of the questions that you have. Feel free to disagree with the opinions of the evaluators. They may be professionals in the speech therapy and education fields, but you know your child best.
Try to disagree civilly. For the sake of productivity, turn disagreements into discussions, rather than debates. For example, the team might recommend that your child receive two 30-minute speech therapy sessions during the school week, but you feel that your child needs more help. Instead of immediately demanding longer sessions, ask the team why they think that your child would improve with less speech therapy. It’s likely that they will not have an acceptable explanation for this, which makes it more likely that your request for longer sessions will be fulfilled.
IEP meetings can sometimes become heated. If you feel that the emotions of any of the participants are getting in the way of the objectives of the meeting, request a continuance at a later date.
Once you and the team develop the IEP, you will be asked to sign it if you agree with it. Even if you agree with the team’s recommendations, never sign the IEP immediately. Bring it home and read it several times. Bring it to your child’s private speech therapist, his doctor, and any other professional who has evaluated him. Discuss whether it really meets the needs of your child. Sign the document when you feel completely comfortable with the entire treatment plan.