As the 2022–23 school year winds down, many parents’ thoughts are turning to family vacations, or to heading off the dreaded “summer slide” (the problem of kids forgetting what they’ve learned before school resumes). If your child has a disability that requires accommodations, you may have something additional to think about: the annual review for an Individualized Education Plan/Program (IEP).
Legally, any student with a disability has the right to an IEP and to an annual meeting for the purpose of reviewing it. Teachers, school-district representatives, case managers, and parents/guardians—and, often, the student—gather to assess what was accomplished on this IEP, upcoming goals, and any IEP revisions needed for the next school year. Though a team effort, it can be unnerving for parents, especially if they had bad experiences at previous IEP meetings.
For today’s article, four of our BridgingApps team members draw on their parenting and teaching experience to contribute favorite tips for IEP reviews.
Cristen Reat, Co-Founder and Program Director at BridgingApps, mother of a young-adult son with Down syndrome and autism:
In preparing for the review, I do two things as a parent:
- I take the goals and objectives from the IEP and organize them into a separate Word document, in table format, to make it easier to review what my child is actually working on. If I don’t do this, I tend to get lost in all the other sections of the IEP, which is over 100 pages.
- I review my child’s progress in each of the goal areas, and then check my favorite resource, the IEP goal section on the A Day In Our Shoes website, for additional ideas.
Amy Fuchs, BridgingApps Program Manager, special-needs advocate, former special-education teacher:
- Prepare in advance with your child, as far as the child is cognitively able. Note whatever they communicate about their needs and preferences.
- To head off “summer slide” problems, consider: in what areas and tasks does your child struggle the most: reading, writing, numbers? Ask the teachers for examples. Then incorporate fun versions of the tasks into your vacations and play time. For example, a reluctant writer might enjoy gathering pictures from a family vacation and using speech-to-text apps to create a story about the family’s adventures.
- Stay close to your support network and advocates. Sometimes you just need someone who knows your child’s story and can be a sounding board. It is great to have a friend who provides a “safe place” to vent, scream, or cry when things are not going well—and who can help you really think through problem-solving.
Daryn Ofczarzak, speech language pathologist, experienced in Early Childhood Intervention and special education:
I compiled these tips with help from the Children’s Therapy Program staff team:
- Get advance advice from those (such as advocate groups) who understand your child’s specific diagnosis, and can suggest acceptable accommodations (e.g., using a “fidget“ during class) with objective information to back them up.
- Emphasize your child’s strengths and positive attributes!
- Bring visuals to help the IEP team see the child you see at home.
- Have the child present if possible.
- Never be afraid to ask questions and advocate for your child!
Marjorie Reichard, BridgingApps Project Manager, mother of two children with disabilities:
We’ve had difficulty in the Houston Independent School District with my daughter Olivia’s IEP. My best tips are:
- Bring goodies to the first meeting to set the tone.
- Try to get the teacher in agreement beforehand. Olivia was about to have her speech services stopped until the teacher said she could not understand Olivia in class.
- If you want action and the school is not cooperating, you may have to bring in a professional advocate. But don’t threaten it unless you’re sure you’re willing to pay for it!
- It helps to get the media on your side. Olivia was among several children featured in the Houston Chronicle when they wrote about how arbitrary limits on special education were hurting students. After that came out, the school called the next day and said I could have whatever services I needed.
- Remember: you can say no! You are part of the team, and everyone has to be in agreement.