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5 Ways to Advocate for Your Child’s IEP

February 14, 2024

Many look for any kind of IEP support for parents, and rightfully so. As a school-based occupational therapist (OT), I found the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process overwhelming at first – and I worked there! For parents, it’s a big challenge that might seem overwhelming and difficult.

 Yet, in my years as an OT and sitting in on 80+ IEP meetings per year, I’m noticing trends of amazing advocate parents. They captivate their IEP teams with a story about their family journey and know what kind of support their children need.

By the end of meetings with these parents, the whole team is excited about the child’s vision and the optimal ways to support their complete well-being, extending beyond just academics. The best part? They avoid all the conflict and drama! Read below to find five ways I’ve observed these incredible parents elevate their advocacy.

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1. Vision

Parents who create a long-term vision for their child in older grades or when after-school services end (at 18 or 21) have the power to steer the IEP ship. Even in younger children, having a long-term vision for the basic skills they need to develop will inspire the IEP to strive to meet your vision. 

2. Review

The IEP process is very paperwork-heavy. You should have a copy of the last evaluation report and annual review. If you don’t, ask your district for a copy. Review these documents and highlight anything you don’t understand. 

Make an appointment with your child’s case manager, school psychologist, or director of special education to ask questions so you fully understand what is in the report and plan. Ask yourself: “Does the past IEP support your current vision for your child?”

3. Plan

Now, take that vision and break it down into skills your child needs to learn in order to get there. Do they need strategies for attention? Do they need social skills to have a community and make friends and relationships with co-workers?

Maybe they need leisure skills to calm their mind so they can manage their stress to live a healthier life. Whatever the skill, it can and should be part of the IEP if it is impacting the student’s ability to learn and grow.




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4. Empower

As a parent, you are likely seeking out all kinds of information about one specific diagnosis (or possibly diagnoses). The school team may or may not be as “tapped” into the community as you are.

If there are groundbreaking strategies or techniques, you may know about them before they do. Don’t be afraid to share if you think it would be helpful for your child.

5. Communicate

As a parent, I wouldn’t be satisfied with just quarterly updates on how my child is doing in meeting their goals. There are many ways to increase communication with your team: from a daily or weekly “back and forth” notebook to just stopping in at teacher conference time. 

There are also plenty of apps that provide a quick and easy way to increase communication. Any communication decided on at the IEP meeting should be documented in the IEP as a requirement. Ask your team what they already use with other parents and see if that would work for you.

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IEP support for parents

Advocating doesn’t have to be intimidating or contentious. Think of the IEP as a contract between the family and the school. Everything is negotiable, and everything should be written, but negotiations should always be respectful. 

When you advocate using these five strategies, suddenly, the team gets excited about problem-solving to find what helps your child learn best, and your child will have a supportive and comprehensive learning plan for the next year.

FAQs

Q: What are the three most important parts of an IEP?

A: The three most important parts of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are the present levels of performance and individual needs assessment, the measurable annual goals, and the description of special education and related services provided to meet those goals. Additionally, the IEP must outline how progress will be measured and reported to parents.

Q: What is considered a learning disability?

A: A learning disability is a neurological condition that affects a person’s ability to acquire, process, or use information effectively, often leading to difficulties in reading, writing, math, or other essential skills. It is not related to intelligence but rather to how the brain processes information.

Q: What is a smart IEP goal?

A: A smart IEP goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It provides a clear and concise statement outlining what a student is expected to achieve within a specific timeframe, ensuring effective and measurable educational outcomes.

Q: How can I actively participate in the IEP process as a parent?

A: To actively participate in the IEP process as a parent, attend all scheduled meetings, share valuable insights about your child’s strengths and challenges, and collaborate with the school team to develop meaningful and achievable goals that cater to your child’s individual needs. Stay informed about your child’s progress, ask questions, and advocate for necessary adjustments to ensure the IEP effectively supports your child’s education and well-being.

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