It’s hard to believe that we are nearly at the end of another year. And that means it’s already time to start thinking and planning for the next one.

If you have a child with special needs this time of year usually heralds the annual IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting to discuss your child’s needs in the classroom.

IEPs are personalised learning plans that set out individual goals for students based on their specific needs. They can focus on academic goals, behavioural needs and learning support.

Personalised plans for your child are developed during the IEP meeting which includes input from the school, from parents and from relevant specialists and experts working with your child.

These meetings occur in both mainstream and special education settings and can also be called PLP (Personal Learning Plan) or LST (Learning Support Team) meetings.

At our school they are known as PLPs and we had a combined one for both our school aged kids a few weeks ago. We have had IEPs in the past in previous special education settings too.

For first timers, the idea of the PLP or IEP can be intimidating. Meeting with the class teacher, school principal or deputy, teaching support staff and possibly the school counsellor en masse can seem quite daunting.

But if you are prepared,  aware of the purpose of the meeting and comfortable in your role in it, IEP meetings can actually be very productive and lead to positive outcomes for your child.

Here are 5 tips that have helped us participate in productive IEP meetings and achieve positive outcomes for our kids over the years.

1. If you need support, take an advocate with you to the meeting

One of the most daunting parts of the IEP process is the prospect of facing 4 or 5 school representatives on your own. And if you are like me, you may get quite emotional in these meetings too. Our most recent meeting marked the first time that I didn’t break down and cry – and I have been doing these for 8 years now!

This is why I need to take an advocate with me to formal meetings with the school. Anyone can be an advocate – a specialist, allied health practitioner, family, a friend. Most of the time my husband attends these with me but I have also had family members come with me in the past to provide much needed support and assistance.

Don’t think you have to do this on your own because you don’t have to. If you don’t feel capable or confident of facing this alone, ask someone to come along with you, even if it’s just for moral support.

2. Take some time to prepare for the meeting

Remember this meeting is all about identifying and addressing the needs of your child. You are an equal in this process so prepare yourself accordingly. Think about what outcomes you would like to see come out of the discussion. Think about any questions you might have about areas of concern. Think about what you know of your child and how you can best help them.

Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • what are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • what is being done to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses?
  • in your opinion what does it look like when my child has a good day?
  • what strategies have been put in place to help my child so far and what do these look like in practice?
  • how is my child coping in the classroom and in the playground?
  • are there any troubling behaviours that may affect social interactions?
  • how is my child going socially in the classroom and in the playground?
  • how often is my child receiving adult assistance during the day?

Of course, you will have lots of questions of your own but these may help guide your discussion in a more objective and less emotional way. In the end you want the best possible outcome for your child – to make this a reality you owe it to them to be prepared and proactive during the formulation of their IEP.

3. Concentrate on the positives

Unlike a funding application meeting where you will, by necessity, have to concentrate on all the things your child can’t do to ascertain their eligibility for funding, the IEP is a place where you can (and should) focus on the positives. Ask the school about your child’s strengths and think of ways you can both encourage them.

Tell them what your child likes to do and ask whether their interests can be incorporated into the teaching program for the new year. Remember, the purpose of the IEP is to identify your child’s individual learning needs. Don’t be shy in suggesting ways in which your child may learn best – you are your child’s best expert, after all.

4. Ask for the minutes of the meeting and for a copy of the signed off IEP

It really is important to obtain a copy of the minutes of the discussion and of the signed-off IEP. Having this information will assist you in future meetings with the school, will help hold the school accountable for the agreed outcomes of the plan and will form the basis of your next IEP discussion.

Don’t be afraid to ask the school about the IEP during the course of the year. It is important to have open communication to ensure the agreed goals are being progressed and regularly reviewed. In the unfortunate instance where you may be in direct disagreement with the school, having a copy of the IEP to refer to should help your case and could assist in the resolution of the issue in dispute

5. Remember you are the expert on your child

If you are like me you are not a teacher nor an expert in special needs and you may feel overwhelmed by the IEP process. You may ask yourself “What am I doing here?” “How do I know what’s best for my child?” “What do I know about my child’s education needs?”

But, you know what? You ARE an expert. You are an expert on your child. You are possibly the most valuable part of the IEP meeting and you should back yourself to effectively back your child.

Trust your gut instinct and if you don’t agree with the school, voice your concerns. If you have any questions, ask them. The better informed you are, the more trust you will place in yourself and the more effective you will become as your child’s best advocate.

I hope these suggestions will help you prepare for your next IEP meeting and contribute to more positive outcomes for your child.

Do you have any other tips for approaching IEP meetings? I’d love to hear them if you do!